Match wrap: Walsall 0 Oxford United 1

My first proper away game, where I was undeniably part of the away following, was an FA Cup game against Coventry City in 1982. Everything about it felt epic; the M40 wasn’t complete, so we went cross country and it seemed to take hours, we took a huge following having beaten Brighton in the previous round, there was trouble throughout the game which was so bad it was referenced in the Hillsborough report. While we lost 4-0, I loved it.

Standing in a queue for a coffee at Warwick services on Saturday, I became conscious of someone talking behind me. I turned to see a little boy, probably about three, and his dad. The boy was wearing the same Oxford shirt as my daughter and was commenting on it. There’s something I love about services on a Saturday lunchtime, the mix of fans criss-crossing the country to see their team. The little boy was joining the movement, perhaps for the first time. I hope that for him, this all was feeling as epic as my trip to Coventry.

On arriving we found ourselves nestled among the hoodlums and vagabonds of Oxford regulars. Hoods up, glaring menacingly, part excitement and tension, part toxic masculinity.

The world is split into two – those who sit in their allocated seat at an away game, and those who don’t. Behind me was an older couple, South Stand Upper regulars, for sure. They were the former, but that’s what makes an away following; that weird mix of people who wouldn’t normally spend time together.

Then as the warmth of a couple of hours in the car was seeping out and the cold creeping in, I could see the club’s SLO Kath Faulkner purposefully making her way into the stand as a song about James Constable struck up from behind. Eventually I spotted him, Oxford’s number nine. She weaved her way through the fans and deposited one of Oxford greatest players in amongst us; a genuine Oxford legend, about three seats away.

The faces of the regulars behind me, all grim and serious, beamed in awe; they may only have been in single figures when Constable was in his pomp, blasting us back to the Football League. His presence seemed to rekindle the child in them.

There we were; club legends, first timers, old timers, regulars and, well, we’re all irregulars when you stick with a club like ours.

How to judge the current incarnation of the team we’re here to follow? We’re in uncharted water to compare them to most norms of the club. The pace at which we play is bewildering, the results unprecedented, Walsall’s response was to pack everyone together in the hope of withstanding the storm. Despite the crowds of players in the middle of the park, Chris Cadden seemed to hide on the touchline, time and again, he was played down the flank, seemingly unnoticed by the Walsall defence.

Clearly the better team; what was needed was a moment to unlock their massed defence. One wedged pass by James Henry had me yelping at the audacity of it all, there were other moments of trickery which drew gasps.

The minutes ticked on, and though the result wasn’t in doubt, it seemed a question of whether it would be achieved over 90 or 180 minutes. It’s genuinely difficult to see where we’re weak at the moment, the biggest challenge could be our success and the volume of games we face because of it.

Then, in a flash, Chris Cadden finally found a new angle, one that Walsall hadn’t covered, James Henry flashed across and guided the ball into a tiny space between the ‘keeper and post. Like one of those drawings where a new image emerges if you stare at it long enough. Nobody had seen that pattern. 1-0.

The place erupted; it happened so quickly, I didn’t see who’d scored, I turned to see the regulars falling over themselves, and the couple in front of them becoming buried in the melee. The elderly chap was trying to protect his wife who appeared to have fallen over. There was no malice; while some were celebrating wildly, others were trying to give her space to recover.

Momentarily you worry; she could be hurt or even have collapsed, and then she popped up; her hood covering her face. She adjusted it so she could see, revealing a broad grin. She seemed to have enjoyed every moment; that sort of thing doesn’t happen in the South Stand, perhaps it’s why she chose to come in the first place.

And that was that; another win in a tournament whose value is built on its tradition. Old, young, legendary and anonymous all coming together for one purpose. In a world of division, the unifying power of a football club is truly a force for good.

George Lawrences Shorts: Pep-etual emotion

Saturday 23 November 2019

GLS is an aficionado of the game’s finer points; so it wasn’t the four goals that impressed us against Southend on Saturday, it was the build up play. The Southend defence managed to cut themselves to ribbons before playing in Matty Taylor for our first after just 53 seconds. Consistency is the mother of perfection, and they did it again twenty minutes later for James Henry to score. Matty Taylor added a third before Dan Agyei hoovered up the fourth to polish off a 4-0 win.

Sunday 24 November 2019

Southend fans needn’t worry, in Brexit Sol Campbell they’ve got one of the finest minds in football at the wheel. “It’s work in progress and it’s not easy.” said the man who previously said “it’s not like it’s rocket science to run a football club, especially when you get to that level.”

The fans are certainly enjoying Brexit Sol; and have taken to the Southend Echo to sing his praises “Gutless, spineless performance. No fight or passion. Gone beyond embarrassing now.” said one.

Monday 25 November 2019

Old Braveheart himself, Chris Hargreaves has been linked with the vacant Grimsby job. He’s a long-haired lunger from Liverpool Cleethorpes who made millions from signing-on fees having played for nine clubs including two spells with Oxford. After retiring, he wrote the celebrated journal ‘Where’s Your Caravan’ a book about the racial stereotyping of the travelling community.

Tuesday 26 November 2019

There was some proper yellow-on-yellow warfare going down on Tuesday as former Oxford loanee Garry Monk unloaded on his ex-colleague and former Oxford United environmental disaster, PClot, ahead of Birmingham City’s draw with Sheffield Wednesday.  

Monk, who played five games on loan at The Manor in 2000, said of Clotet “You show them [his staff] complete trust and you hope they repay that trust with hard work and loyalty. Sadly not everyone has those values in their character”.

Tough stuff. Of course, there are two sides to every story, so in his defence, PClot had Dwight Tiendelli at full-back. 

Wednesday 27 November 2019

The Argentine Alfie Potter, Diego Maradona, has taken to Instagram to praise long ball merchant Peter Leven who has assistant-steered Dynamo Brest to the Belarussian League title. Leven admits that on being offered the job he had to Google the word ‘Brest’. He’d have got away with it if he hadn’t also claimed to have been offered a job at Sweet Ass Bromwich Albion.   

Thursday 28 November 2019

It was the Eight Minute Fans Forum on Radio Oxford with KRob, who managed to keep a straight face when he revealed the club had put in a bid for Chris Cadden, whose loan deal from Columbus Crew was definitely not a cynical move to avoid paying Motherwell development compensation. KRob also suggested that now he’s retired, James Constable could open a coffee shop, he makes a lovely Damian Batt-enberg Cake.

Friday 29 November 2019

Worrying news as Oxford United’s injury crisis deepens ahead of their FA Cup tie against Walsall. 30-goal-a-season peace envoy Kashif Siddiqi looks set to be out for a few weeks. Siddiqi is on loan at East Bengal, a region of India dogged by war and political instability. Apparently the injury was considered fairly mild until he heard their next opponent had a dangerous winger and a striker who was deadly in front of goal, he could feel his hamstring tightening by the second. 

George Lawrence’s Shorts: For Leven’s sake

Saturday 16 November 2019

If you’re an Oxford fan; when the fun stops, don’t stop. There was no game on Saturday, but the draw for the MySpace.com Trophy more than made up for that. Like the FA Cup draw being on BBC prime time TV, this was given all the prestige it deserved; being made during a 2003 re-run of Top Gear on Dave. We play Exeter away.

Elsewhere chisel faced millennium guy Dean Whitehead left his role at Huddersfield to become coach at Shrewsbury, who are managed by chisel faced millennium guy Sam Ricketts.

KRob had no one to talk to, so he talked to the Blood Red Podcast. He talked about coaching Ben ‘Woody’ Woodburn, Trent ‘Trento’ Alexander-Arnold and Deli ‘Delo’ Ali. It’s so difficult to keep track of all his previous charges, if the players KRob coached were his children, he’d give Boris Johnson a run for his money.

Monday 17 November 2019

When he played for Oxford his head wrote cheques his legs couldn’t cash, but that won’t worry Armand Gnadulliet, who is being linked with Derby County and been added to a team of the season in front of a yellow wall of James Henry, Cameron Brannagan and Tariqe Fosu.

Meanwhile, he may look like he’s just been caught smoking behind the music block, but The Mirror has hailed sulky sixth former Rob Dickie as the new Harry Maguire

Tuesday 18 November 2019

He’s making a list, he’s checking it twice; KRob has asked for a GoPro and a Stretch Armstrong for Christmas, or failing that Matty Taylor. It’s one of three areas he feels need addressing in the January transfer window. 

The claim that Oxford United are by far the greatest team the world has ever seen is a bit of a stretch. But it turns out we do effectively run New Zealand. After the revelation that Ceri Evans is the secret behind the All Blacks miserable semi-final exit in the Rugby World Cup, former Oxford coach Des Buckingham has been talking about taking the footballing Kiwis he’s leading to next year’s Olympics.

Wednesday 19 November 2019

The FA Cup is full of magic, as Walsall and Darlington fought it out for the right to host the Mighty Yellows in the second round. A wave of the wand and slight of hand resulted in all skill and entertainment disappearing in a puff of smoke. In the end Walsall triumphed 1-0.

Elsewhere, a penalty shoot out between Taunton and Truro nearly toppled Oxford’s record after it took thirty-four kicks to settle Southern League Challenge Cup tie.

Thursday 20 November 2019

It was the Six Minute Forty-Six Second Fans Forum with marketing hotrod Matt ‘Kenny’ Everett on Thursday. He answered fans questions in the best possible taste. He announced the intention to have a Student Night in the New Year. The themed game will serve Snakebite for £1, have discounts for dungarees, while a Levellers tribute act will play at half-time. The concern is that with the game kicking off at 7.45pm, it may be a struggle for many of the students to get out of bed in time. 

Friday 21 November 2019

It’s Mark Rawle Day tomorrow as we’re back in action against Southend who are managed by stable genius Sol Campbell. Campbell famously said how easy it is to manage in the lower leagues. His job must be getting easier every week as the Shrimpers plummet down the table.

Meanwhile, Tap-in Tarquin, Peter Leven is on the verge of the Champions League with outsiders Dynamo Brest in Belarus where he now coaches. Leven compares the achievement to Leicester winning the Premier League. Well, we know how much Peter Leven likes a long shot.

The wrap: Walsall 1 Oxford United 3

The Bescot Stadium was a new one for me. I’d often seen the sign off the M6, and the main stand poking above the flyover and thought it an obvious one to tick off the list. The problem was that though we are, in many ways, similar clubs, we haven’t met that frequently. Yes, three times in the last three years, but before that there had been a sixteen year gap.

I was looking forward to it; the stadium is complete and compact in a classic lower league style. The relatively short journey, plus our good form, was sure to draw a decent following. Plus, there was a little less tension now we were sitting loftily in 12th.

In fact, the ground a curiosity, apparently designed by an architect who missed his lecture on cantilever structures. Rather than clean sight lines, socking great girders prop up the roof, obstructing the view. I’ve been to old grounds and sat in areas with poor views, but that’s more because seats had been installed where they were never intended to be, the problem at the Bescot seems to be obviously avoidable.

I’d known about this beforehand, but underestimated how bad it was. To top it off, their main stand, more modern and offering unobstructed views and corporate hospitality – their equivalent of our South Stand – is behind the goal rather than down the side, the whole stadium does its best to stop people from watching the game.

This season, that’s probably not a bad thing if you’re a Walsall fan, they’re a poor team and are surely set to go down. It was only our gift of Curtis Nelson’s dithering, then Marcus Browne’s lunging tackle, resulting in his red card, that made it competitive.

Browne’s sending off could mean we don’t get to see him again. He’ll have a three match ban, which will bring us perilously close to the end of the season, and I wonder whether Karl Robinson will be bothered about giving him game time before he heads back to West Ham.

In reality, Browne’s sending off probably made the game harder for them. Fitness no longer seems to be a major factor when you lose a player, and it probably forced us to be more tactical. They didn’t have the ability to breakdown a team whose first instinct was to defend what they had.

There weren’t many chances, it wasn’t a great game, but we were prepared to attack when we could. Sam Long drove into the box to cross for Luke Garbutt who set himself to bury it. It reminded me of Trevor Hebberd’s goal in the Milk Cup, it seemed to take an age to get his feet right and shoot. I didn’t see it hit the back of the net – those obstructed views again – but there was little doubt from the sea of bodies and the cacophony of noise around me.

Garbutt, the release from a torrid season evident, headed directly to where we were, fists clenched, eyes bulging. Around us were a large number of latecomers from the pub who hadn’t been able to barge their way to the back of the stand. There seemed to be a moment when Garbutt realised what he was heading into – a seething mass of Adidas trainers, Stone Island jumpers and coats with goggles in their hoods. There was fear in his eyes, but he was fully committed and piled in anyway, disappearing into the morass. The unlikeliest player to bond the team with the fans.

Jerome Sinclair’s celebration for his clincher was more controlled; perhaps he’d learned from Garbutt. Cameron Brannagan didn’t hold back though, he’d been fiercely competitive throughout, and ended in the melee, arguing with stewards. In any other world, I’d have been appalled by it all – and there is a post somewhere about the toxicity of patriarchy at football – I’ll save that for a defeat – but in the moment, this was glorious.

Rob Dickie seemed to do some sterling work calming things down. He’s coming of age on and off the pitch. His goal was fairly routine, but his overall game is hopefully showing that we may not miss Curtis Nelson, when he inevitably leaves, as much as we thought we might. The benches cleared, leading to Ahmed Kashi also being sent off, which I found out 3 hours later. He’ll serve a one-match ban, but I hoe we see him again next season; nobody else is as efficient with the ball.

We’re pretty much safe and with no chance of the play-offs we can start to reflect. We may not yet be fixed – particularly as we continue to be dogged off the field – but this run is rebuilding some faith and, more importantly, a bond between the team and those who follow it.

The wrap – Oxford United 1 Walsall 2

It’s easy to be drawn into the idea that the blame for a problem is everyone else’s fault, or worse, that a problem is so normal you no longer recognise it as a problem, it’s just how it is. If you have no concept of what good looks like, you accept that what you have and that’s where you stay.

Saturday’s fan forum confirmed something to me that I didn’t realise I had an opinion about. It’s time to leave the Kassam Stadium. 
A vision isn’t about wild unspecific ambition; it’s about painting a picture of a future state which takes you out of your existing state and sets you on a path to something else. The club said they’re ‘actively considering’ a move; which doesn’t go far enough for me. To actively consider something, says that we’re thinking that we might think about it. A vision should disambiguate that statement – something like; we don’t see the club being at the Kassam in ten years time.
We are in an abusive relationship with Firoz Kassam. While constantly dangling the carrot of a better future – the sale of the ground to the right people – he punishes us with punitive rents and court battles. He paints a picture that we should be grateful to him for first saving the club and then giving us a new home and, to some extent, we have grown to believe all this. It is true, he did save us and give us a new ground, but for nearly 20 years, he’s been mean and spiteful. Our mindset is that he looks after us, so if we look after him, he’ll be happy. Even if, in reality, we’re not happy and even though there is nothing we can do to make him happy.
After such a long time, we have to accept there’s little prospect of anything changing. So it’s time to take control; and the first step is to say that the Kassam Stadium is no longer in our future vision.
This is not to say that any move is imminent, or that a sale cannot be achieved, but it breaks us out of the idea that after 20 years of this behaviour, Firoz Kassam is going to turn up one day in a collaborative mood ready to make a deal. There has been no evidence of that happening in the past, therefore, why should we plan on the basis that it might happen in the future?
Kassam might simply shrug his shoulders, he can always build houses on the land and make a lot of money from the site. It takes a special lack of empathy to be a slum landlord. He’s right, of course, it is his life, his money and his land. But we don’t need to exist to serve him. 
The club has existed in this state for too long, even some diehards on the phone-in talked about ‘good times’ at the Kassam, but in seventeen years, there are precious few and those typically result from the exhaustible generosity of owners – Ian Lenagan when we got promoted from the Conference, and Darryl Eales when we got promoted from League 2. Those successes weren’t brought about by the stadium, in the way The Manor played its part in our successes of the 80s and in 1996. They happened in spite of where we were playing. Even when the ground is full of colour and noise, you can see if the ball has hit your car in the car park like we’re a non-league team. If Kassam had any empathy – or any long term vision of us as a successful club which he could benefit from – he’d have finished the stadium and developed it in line with modern football. He doesn’t, as long as we give him money, he won’t take us to court. It’s no way for us to live.
There is likely to be an explosion of investment as the Cambridge to Oxford expressway is developed; football has always been popular, but it’s now mainstream, middle class and acceptable. It seems absurd that Oxford’s football club is such an outlier in the city’s entertainment landscape. If you live around the city, the local club is hardly a place to take the family for a fun day out. 
Incidentally, I liked Jerome Sale’s suggestion that the club’s nickname should change to The Manors; the U’s is a terrible nickname anyway, and it would reflect a time when we were part of something bigger. Bringing the club and city together, as Tiger has alluded to, has to be part of the vision.
It’s difficult to think that Karl Robinson is part of the grand vision for the club, no manager or player is, or should be. Most don’t last more than a couple of years, so they’re a chapter in the story rather than the story itself. 
He didn’t have a good day, of course; he was the first manager to admit that the ground was poor. The negative tone seemed to seep into the afternoon, which was cold and miserable. The performance was familiar – plenty of chances, lots of corners, very little that lifts you out of your seat. We were beaten by a team that was simply more efficient and organised. 
We played like Robinson’s sideline persona – all energy and no discipline. For the first goal – and the incorrect suspicion that it was offside – he looked up to the gantry in the South Stand wanting to get confirmation either way from those filming the game. He even tried to get the fourth official to refer the decision as if it were some kind of VAR system. It was ridiculous, but Robinson was caught up in the moment and didn’t seem to be thinking straight.
Afterwards he seemed particularly downbeat, he’d encouraged the team not to push it, but they hadn’t responded. Perhaps they’re more influenced by his arm waving than by his words. I think he’s a better manager than he’s currently showing, but he seems to be overwhelmed with his emotions at the moment. Ludicrously high on the field, childlike and sulky off it. 
He’s right, we don’t have the players to naturally simplify our style – Marcus Browne being the most obvious – but Robinson’s own actions can’t be helping. Players are trying hard to make things happen, but it’s their lack of organisation, discipline and clear headedness – the on-pitch equivalent of referring to non-existent VAR – which is causing the problems. The excuses he’s finding, from the stadiums to the injuries to the decisions, will seep into the minds of his players. It’s not down to them, it’s down to bad luck; something intangible that they can’t control. Like the stadium situation, it’s time to own the problem.

The wrap – Walsall 2 Oxford United 1

It’s been a funny week in the cult-like campus that is the Oxblogger empire. At the club it looks like we’ve returned to the policy that has served us so well over the last few years of signing up young talented players looking for a first-team outlet. This suggests that the summer of signings from around the world was as much born out of necessity as a pre-planned change of direction.

This is counterbalanced by the news that Simon Eastwood, Ryan Ledson and Josh Ruffels are all subject to transfer speculation. We should probably expect one to go (probably Ledson), and for those who protest, this is what keeps the club going. And, Jack Payne has gone – maybe we’ll discuss the unfairness of the loan system one day.

Of course we managed to beat Charlton in the Checkatrade, and lose to Walsall in the league. Not an awful week, but most Oxford fans were probably hoping for the results to be the opposite to what they were.

Back to the signings; first up was Cameron Brannagan from Liverpool. As is typical of these signings, Twitter’s hive mind welcomed Brannagan as a hidden superstar. I’d never heard of him. This is no real surprise to me, a year or so ago I watched an England game featuring Eric Dier. I was vaguely familiar with the name, so was surprised to hear that someone I’d assumed to be Norwegian was playing for England. It also dawned on me that I had no idea which club he played for. For the first time in my life, that there were people playing for England I had absolutely no clue about. Being aware of those playing in youth teams, even at Premier League level, is truly beyond my capacity.

There’s a lot to be encouraged about with Brannagan, obviously I hope he turns into another Ledson, Lundstram or Rothwell.

As I’m wont to do on Twitter, on the announcement of his signing, it got me thinking about his first training session, about meeting players, about the alien surroundings of a League 1 club coming from one of the biggest in the world. And about the identikit interviews that you get with players. It then got me thinking about the truly bizarre trend of new Oxford signings managing to acquire long-term injuries practically the moment they walk in the door. The list – Christian Ribiero, Charlie Raglan and Ivo Pekalski, Rob Hall – is so comically long, you’d think it was, in some way, deliberate. Which, for the avoidance of doubt, given what I’m about to say, it isn’t.

So I mocked up a quote supposedly from Brannagan which mixed those bland statements new signings always make with an acknowledgement of the inevitable long-term injury that has to be picked up before a debut can be made.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

It got a goodly number of ‘likes’ from people picking up the obscure target reference in the joke. I once tried to explain one of my more successful Twitter jokes to a non-Oxford supporting friend of mine. It took about 10 minutes to set the joke up bringing in a whole range of obscure characters and incidences from Oxford’s past in order to frame the punchline. My friend looked on blankly and received the punchline with a look of bewilderment as he searched through the detritus of what I had just told him for anything that might resemble ‘funny’. Clearly, this stuff will never translate to Live at the Apollo.  

It wasn’t all positive. A couple of people thought I had ‘jinxed’ Brannagan’s signing and that should he have a long-layoff it would somehow be my fault. As far as I’m aware, scientists have struggled to find an empirical the link between Twitter and sporting injuries, but as Brexit has told us; we’re all fed up with what experts think.

One person chastised me for bringing down the good reputation of my Twitter account and blog.  This suggests that I have some kind of code I adhere to, which really overstates the amount I think about these things. I give very little thought to what my blog should be about, as the lack of Walsallness in this ‘Walsall wrap’ is testimony. It’s very difficult to fail to reach a standard that doesn’t  exist.

Perhaps even more bizarrely, I spotted someone on my timeline exchanging tweets with another user whose responses I couldn’t see. Clicking on the name I found out I’d been blocked. I can’t remember being ‘blocked’ before. A bit more searching revealed that it was Brannagan’s dad, who had enthusiastically been ingratiating himself with the Oxford Twitter community, apart from me.

I hadn’t followed him, he hadn’t followed me, I stumbled across this fact by accident. I assume it’s a (silent) protest against my post about his son (or more specifically, about a particular quirk specific to Oxford United signings over the last couple of years). Had our other signing – Isaac Buckley-Ricketts – signed first, the joke would have been about him.

This assumes he thinks I deliberately want Brannagan to get injured, which you have to say would be an odd thing for any fan to think of in any new signing. I get that Brannagan snr probably hasn’t tracked Charlie Raglan’s injury record, but it is curious to be quite so reactionary. God help us when he hears the response when Brannagan shanks a cross into the East Stand or heaven forefend, passes backwards.

The truth is, the reception of the tweet was much more positive than negative and the people who are likely to get this stuff, got it. Plus, I will enthusiastically embrace Brannagan like anyone if he comes good for us. Generally speaking I try to ignore the (very occasional) negative comment I get – I once got a angry tweet from someone when I suggested Michael Appleton should be sacked for fielding an under-strength side in the Oxfordshire Senior Cup – but it does make you think that, as we get bigger, and more people get interested in us, just how different being an Oxford fans will really be.

The wrap – Oxford United and Bury


Oxford United 1 Walsall 2
Saturday was a bit of a mess from start to finish. So, where did it all go wrong?

Let’s start with the obvious, much discussed, strategic issue. Walsall wanted to overload the midfield in order to control the game, or at least subdue Ledson, Rothwell and Payne. With the pace of Roberts and Oztumer always offering an outlet against our paceless back-four, presumably the plan was to keep going for as long as possible in that vein and see where they were after, say, an hour.

I’m guessing they didn’t expect to be 2-0 up, and that’s because the issues ran deeper than that.

Starting from the back – John Mousinho is no full-back, but I doubt very much that’s why he’s been brought in. It’s difficult to be critical because his role is probably in the middle; in an ideal world, we’d perm any two from him, Williamson and Nelson. On the other side, Ricardinho is very much a modern full-back, but if things aren’t going his way he has a habit of reverting to petty fouls and histrionics. It’s too easy to blame it on his Latin temperament; I suspect it’s because he plays with such flare, he’s more likely to find himself out of position when under pressure. Lunging and fouling becomes necessary because his positional discipline is lacking.

The lack of full-backs has an impact on Rob Hall, he does his best, and usually very well, but he’s isolated and so his impact is more limited. Ledson and Rothwell were OK on Saturday, but they were overwhelmed and couldn’t get a grip on the game while Payne had no space to operate.

Which leaves us with the nub of the issue; the decision to play van Kessel and Obika together. It confused the shape of the team – do you play into Obika or over the top to van Kessel? Is it a question of Obika playing in van Kessel? That worked well against MK Dons, but we had the game more under control in the latter stages. The opening phase of any game is chaotic and the key is to try and bring it to heel before looking for the win. Obika is the better starter in my view; van Kessel better for latter stages. Playing them together also limits options coming off the bench. van Kessel’s pace might have hurt Walsall late in the game, if he wasn’t already tiring himself.

From the sweet spot of Bradford to two frustrating defeats. Curtis Nelson is right to say that we shouldn’t panic, but with a division full of teams with ambition, we can’t let the gap grow too much further.

Bury 3 Oxford United 0
It’s very easy in hindsight to criticism a wrong decision, so there was logic in bringing in Mowatt, Ruffels and Henry to face Bury. The aim, it seemed, was to maintain more control of the game than we had against Walsall.

For an hour it worked, albeit with a liberal use of the long ball to van Kessel. Had we held out for another 10-15 minutes we would have had options to either shut the game down and go for a steadying draw, or become more adventurous by introducing Rothwell and Payne.

We didn’t, of course, the eight minute aberration which resulted in the defeat all came down Ricardinho’s wing, plus some pretty clumsy defending once the ball reached the box. The penalty looked soft and the second goal clearable.

Is Ricardinho a fun liability? Less capable than we’d like to believe? Is he suffering from the imbalance across the back-four meaning he’s being forced to do things that aren’t his strength?

Consider, perhaps the question of Mike Williamson, but then Pep Clotet’s hands are tied to some extent because of Riberio’s injury and his belief that Carrol’s game-time needs careful management. Still, I think that’s the lesser of the evils, and would prefer to see John Mousinho moving inside to partner Nelson.

The underlying theme to all this is the constant juggling that’s needed to cover injured players – we have two long term injuries, while Obika, Thomas and Ribiero look set to be in and out constantly through the season, the disruption plays havoc with team shape and strategy.

Doubts are creeping in, but comparing Clotet and Appleton’s starts is unfair. Undoubtedly Clotet is in a more stable environment than Appleton was and pound for pound he has better players, but the disruption to the squad has been as significant as the one Appleton faced in 2014 and we can’t under-estimate just how difficult it might be to bed the team down. For all the woes of the last three games, we also shouldn’t forget strong performances against Gillingham, Bradford and Portsmouth.

Peterborough on Saturday means we’ll have faced five of the top six, and while we would want to be competing with those teams and higher up the table, there is plenty of opportunity to come to steady the ship and start moving forward again.