Thursday, 10 May 2012

Sitting on the Fence: A Disciple, A Rebel or just a Fan?

"The league table doesn't lie."

How many times in a season are those five words said by football managers across the country?
If you take a look at the final table for Npower League Two this season, it will tell you that Oxford United were the ninth best side. A total of 68 points, finishing 4 points behind the playoffs, 16 behind the automatic promotion slots and 25 behind arch-rivals and champions Swindon Town.

The aim for this season was to finish in the play-off positions and see what happened there after. This clearly hasn't been achieved but where should the club go from here? Since manager Chris Wilder joined Oxford in December 2008, the club has improved both on and off the pitch. A points deduction prevented a playoff campaign in Wilder's first half-season in charge after winning 15 of 21 matches. Promotion via the play-offs in his first full season was followed by a mid-table finish last year and yet again, a 5 point and 3 place improvement was achieved this season. But for some fans, this appears to not be enough to impress. I will no doubt be told that I am clutching at straws for considering this season an improvement on last season despite the facts backing up my opinion. And in some cases, I understand their point of view, the things that were wrong last season haven't changed this time round. A ridiculous number of draws - especially at home,- a lack of goals scored and an apparent reliance on loan signings to improve the team. But lets calm down here, he is no Dave Kemp or Ian Atkins - 3 managers who were hated by the fans regardless of league position.

He's no Ian Atkins!
You will notice I say "their opinion" and perhaps are thinking who are they? Well in this modern technological world we find ourselves living in, an opinion can be expressed in many different forms. A tweet, a wall post or a forum reply are just some of the ways that the fortunes of Oxford United can be analysed. In principle, a dedicated forum just to the yellows (hence the name 'yellowsforum') should spark informative, interesting and sensible debate and discussion. In reality, it splits up people and classes them with a tag whilst potentially having a tirade of abuse thrown at you as well. The issue now is that the discussion ends up with you being labelled a "disciple" for sticking up for our manager and pointing out all the positive aspects of his reign here.  I should just ignore the whole site, but for some reason it has that pull to it - a bit like pushing a button that says do not press.

As I've mentioned above, I'm quite happy to bring out negative points about Wilder's tactics and management style. I was one of the first to question the departures of Mark Creighton and Dannie Bulman, I also frowned when we allowed Jack Midson to leave the club at the end of last season. Creighton has had a great season but in the league below and with Wrexham missing out on promotion and falling at the playoff stages, it will be interesting to see if any league club takes a gamble on him - I think I know the answer. Bulman it appears has been a key member of Crawley's promotion side and also the same kind of player who Oxford were screaming out for in central midfield all season. Wilder has admitted he probably rushed the decision to dispense of Bulman's services so early. And then we move on to Mr Midson, a player who in my opinion never got the chances he perhaps warranted at Oxford United. But it has to be said, with cult hero James Constable leading the line, I don't think even Wayne Rooney would have had a fair rub of the green. Midson couldn't really win at Oxford, same as almost all new strikers, if they don't score within 5 minutes of their debut then they are branded "useless" and a "donkey". Midson could have a goal scoring performance and then find himself dropped with fans screaming out for his recall before turning in a poor performance and fans screaming for Wilder to drop him. I'm pleased he has had a goal scoring season at Wimbledon but for  us to be reaching for the next level, I don't think he is or ever would have been the solution. I'm not going to even mention Matt Green, he has always scored goals at Conference level so his exploits this season don't surprise me.

Previous fans favourites Luke Foster, Adam Murray and Yemi Odubade have all been sent through the exit door and it appears to have been the right decision with all three. It will be interesting to see what will happen with Josh Payne (now at Aldershot) and Oli Johnson (released just this week) as they are two players who I would have kept at the club. Payne's inconsistency and alleged temperament off the pitch probably didn't endear himself to the gaffer. Former Norwich City man Johnson, had a good start to his U's career and scored one of the goals in the famous win against the scum but again had an apparent incident off the pitch. We shall see!

So, has this season been a failure?
Well we could have been in a much worse worse position, big clubs such as Plymouth Argyle and Bradford City found themselves fighting a relegation battle all season. But equally, we could have been in a much better position, having been in and around the playoffs for 2/3s of the season and not finishing in them in my book is a failure.
But should that mean getting rid of the manager?
No, having injuries to at least 21 members of the squad at some point over the season has not helped anyone. Players brought in on loan to help improve the situation also suffered setbacks, namely, Jonathan Franks, who injured his shoulder in a friendly match the day after he signed, leaving him sidelined for 3 months and Andy Haworth who looked bright in his few appearances before returning to Bury with a hamstring injury. Goalkeeper Ryan Clarke suffered his first injury in almost 3 full seasons and his replacement Wayne Brown then got injured after training on his way to collect some balls in! In addition to injuries, skillfull loanees Robbie Hall and Lee Holmes departed the club through no fault of OUFC (could have robbed a bank I suppose)

I also believe that Wilder will have learned that he needs a plan B, as a backup to his favoured 4-3-3 system. He has come out in the media this week and said the players haven't been fit enough and that he will seek to use less loan players. This would suggest he has learnt some valuable lessons this season. Lets remember he has only had 2 full seasons as a football league manager and we have hardly struggled! We are heading in the right direction, we play some of the best football I have seen in over 15 years of following the club and that can only be a good thing. We could have Roget and Woozley at the heart of our defence and Neville Roach up front. But we don't, for once we have players who could be classed as real assets and perhaps will even fetch a transfer fee over the summer period.

Leo Roget
At the end of the day, I am an Oxford United FAN, I will get behind whoever is in charge at the club. Negativity never helps anybody (see Blackburn's situation this season) but as a fan, I understand those who pay their well earnt money on watching the team all over the country, week in, week out are entitled to their opinion as well. Just attempt to make it less abusive to those who don't agree will you?

In conclusion, I'm not a Wilder Out campaigner, not a disciple, just a realistic fan who understands the good and bad side of our manager. A poor start to next season and Wilder will be under big pressure and perhaps my opinion may change but for now, lets look forward to preseason. #comeonyouyellows.

Right I'm off to look at all the rumours on yellowsforum (told you I couldn't resist!)

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