There is a problem at Oxford United. Five straight defeats in Npower League Two have left us in 17th place, a full sixteen places below where we started the month of September. Now perhaps some of those looking in from the outside would say it is just a blip, a dip in form that every team suffers. At first I thought the same. But on closer inspection, it is not this. If anything, the blip appears to have been winning our first three games of the season.
The statistic that keeps being pulled out of the hat is five wins from twenty-four league games. It doesn't take a genius to realise that this is a very worrying stat. Last seasons capitulation and subsequent failure to reach the playoffs meant Chris Wilder faced a lot of criticism over the close season. This criticism died down after our good start but has since reared its ugly head again and is growing day by day. I witnessed a truly awful performance at Burton Albion just over a week ago which ended in a 4-0 defeat. The performance at Cheltenham was allegedly better but still resulted in defeat whilst Saturday's loss to Bradford was apparently terrible.
I've never been a big fan of calling for a managers head even with the likes of Dave Kemp, Graham Rix and Brian Talbot having been in the hotseat at United. However,the decline in performances is a major worry. Wilder will always be remembered as the man who finally got us out of the conference, but I don't think he can live on that achievement much longer. New chairman Ian Lenegan has expressed his hope that the club will end the season in the automatic promotion places and each step in the opposite direction from this can only leave Lenegan closer to doing an Alan Sugar (that's the you're fired bit, not buying Spurs).
I'm hardly a massive Wilder critic - I like the brand of football he is trying to play, but his tactical mobility is limited. The defeats at York and Burton showed this. Players such as Tom Craddock should be played in their natural position where they are most likely to shine. Perhaps try a front two for a whole game - I still think Craddock and Smalley as a pair would be fantastic. I also don't agree with the "here today, gone tomorrow" loan players argument. That may have been the case last season but this season, the additions of Lee Cox and Jake Forster-Caskey have been for at least six months which avoid a Robbie Hall-esque recall saga like last season. And in addition to this, they have been two of our better players so far this season.
There is no doubt that injuries have also hit hard - players such as Andy Whing, Harry Worley and Michael Duberry are yet to play a minute of football yet - but a number of these injuries were known during pre-season so cannot be entirely blamed for the lack of success on the pitch in recent games.
It's a case of getting on with it and looking for something to spark a revival.
If Mr Wilder goes, who would I want to replace him? Absolutely no idea! We are not going to pay a big compensation fee so that would rule out the likes of Paul Tisdale (Exeter) and Mark Yates (Cheltenham). Other names that have been mentioned by fans include Dennis Wise and Phil Brown - would they really drop down to L2 level? I doubt it. Of those managers who are unemployed - names such as Gary Waddock, Steve Cotteril and John Sheridan who have at least one promotion from L2 already under the belt - jump out but would they be interested in the job?
Whatever happens, it's going to be an interesting time at Oxford United. The story continues at Rotherham on Saturday and I'll be there, Come On You Yellows!