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Another game against Oxford, another defeat…

I’m not sure if there’s much to write about Merton College 1 Merton Council 0. We huffed and puffed, looked solid in parts but not in others, and ultimately came away feeling meh.

I don’t just mean meh in the most predictable result of the weekend scheme of things, but as a sort of growing acceptance to what we are – mid-table mediocrity.

The talk after the game was of missing chances, and an all-round ineffectiveness in front of goal. While we had one that went over the bar, and another effort that their GK palmed away, I’m struggling to think of too many genuine ways we could have got something though.

Remember that Oxford hit the bar before they scored. While it did sort-of come out of nowhere, it was helped a bit by our positioning (lack thereof).

Perhaps the worrying thing was, it didn’t feel we were going to get back into it. We forced a couple of corners at the end, we ran around a lot, and a few might say we deserved a point, but it was always going to be the case that one goal would settle it…

Depending on your viewpoint of NA, his post-match comments are either being aware of the shortcomings, or of him being Captain Obvious. Mind you, even just reading that transcript, you can sense the downbeat tone of his words.

Semi going off didn’t help, neither was the all-round horror when Osborne replaced him. Although we did seem to settle down again (eventually) with him.

Oh, and Tom Elliott came off the bench. Which was about the maximum of his contribution.

Yesterday suggested that we’re not likely to make the next step up to being playoff contenders. Oxford knew how to score the goal they needed, and we can’t, for starters. And that lack of killer instinct and “identity” seems missing again.

A couple of people have pointed out that we’re only seven points off the top. That’s undeniably true, as is us being 5 points off the playoffs. But to get there, we need to first win two games in a row, something that has been beyond us since (I think) December 2014.

And yesterday, you can see why. It felt like we were trying to play for the 0-0 pretty early into the second half, and again – it was a game that may have been there for the taking (but wasn’t).

All in all, it was the sort of day you hoped wouldn’t happen but you’re not surprised when it did. Which could apply to quite a few games recently…

Plus points: Some parts of the game where we looked all right.

Minus points: We lost. Crap goal to let in. Eunuchs up front. Game seemed lost after they scored. Semi getting yanked off for feeling dizzy.

The referee’s a…: Didn’t really notice him, to be honest. Unsure whether that’s because he was good, or I was about to enter a comatose state of mind.

Them: They are now in the automatic promotion positions, and the difference is that when they’re not playing well, they still know how to find the net.

Were on a high after beating their beloved rivals Swindon during the week, although whether they’ll last the pace is unclear. A team with better goalscoring prowess than us would cause them problems.

Speaking of goalscoring – does anyone like Danny Hylton? Get the impression even the Oxford fans aren’t keen on him, and his missus probably cheats on him when he’s away.

The Kassam looks like, well, the Kassam. That missing fourth stand really kills the atmosphere though, and those cliche “Ultras” banners at the home end suggest a depressing lack of originality.

Of course, it helped they were playing us. I wouldn’t suggest our record is shit against them, but if we were somehow in the Champions League, they were in the Conference South, and we faced their second string in the FAC, they’d still beat us…

Point to ponder: Why are our set pieces so fucking shit? Seriously – even in the dying stages of the game, when we put our arses into gear and forced a couple of corners, it was only luck that a solitary one was in the right area.

They’re either too short, too long, or so predictable that the oppo defenders can suss them out before they’re delivered. What do we do in training? On second thoughts, don’t answer that.

Francomb got the blame for a lot of them recently, but as yesterday proved, it’s a squad issue. And they’re not poor because we’re in League Two, they’re poor for League Two.

Set-pieces are part of life in the bottom tier of the Football League, and your editor (who has now seen more consecutive competitive games in a row for a good few years) is genuinely amazed at how lousy they are from us.

They’re supposed to be an advantage, but when we take them it’s anything but. What makes it worse is that we have four forwards, and none of them are exactly shortarse waifs…

Truth is stranger than fiction: 1) The X-Factor “contestant” at half time, with the Estuary accent and presumably Estuary morals to boot. Still, she took the ribbing well. I think. 2) Speaking of iffy singing, the Oxford pre-match anthem was a rip-off of Slade’s My Oh My. It was even more cheesy than my description suggests.

Anything else? Three years ago yesterday, NA took the AFCW job. One can analyse what he’s done, what he hasn’t done, etc etc, but there’s plenty of chances elsewhere for that.

It’s been some 36 months for him. We’re solid. We look like a side that belongs in L2 these days. We’re probably not likely to go down. And we are finally developing youth. All of these are what NA has achieved since he first sat in the President’s Lounge for an interview and wondered what the fuck he’d got into.

He’s currently in the top 20 of longest serving managers, and I think it may even be close to (if not in) the top ten. That says as much about employment stability in football  as anything, but he’s lasted longer than most of his contemporaries.

After yesterday though, it’s hard not to think we’ve achieved what we needed to achieve with him.

I tried writing a fair amount this morning comparing him to Dario Gradi, but back then he took us to Div 3 (and down again), and was poached by Palace. So you can’t really compare those two.

His problem is that when he does go, and you look back on his time with us, it will be him making us more solid and setting up a youth system worthy of the name.

It won’t be like Gradi in getting us promoted. And I mention his name because he’s one of the unsung people of the WFC era, somebody who didn’t get quite as much credit as he deserved

And we talk about “tenures” because three years is roughly the shelf-life of a modern day football manager. NA has now reached that stage, and that’s a long time to keep telling everyone he’s still learning…

So, was it worth it? Not really.

In a nutshell: I hate Oxford.