And the most predictable result of the weekend goes to…
Another game against Oxford, another defeat. What’s their record against us in the AFCW era stand at now? I shudder to look.
STTA was on hand at KM to witness history continue to fail to be in the making…
We may have been exceeding expectations on the road lately but three words guaranteed to bring any Wimbledon team back down to earth ‘Oxford at Home’.
The Dons started nervously, as did the officials. 5 minutes in and a blatant foul throw hurled into our box lead to a scrambled effort and old ‘fans favourite’ Danny Hylton (what?) made it 1-0 Oxford.
I feared the worst, were we going to see exactly why we’re a play-off outsider and not a serious contender for an automatic promotion slot?
Answer – no. In fact we had much the better of the rest of the first half.
We outmusled Oxford and they struggled against our physical approach. It was just reward for our efforts when Andy Barcham fired home for 1-1 on 33 minutes.
We looked really dangerous from set pieces, Robbo met one with an excellent header that Buchel did well to keep out. Tom Elliot buried the next one only for the ref to blow up against Lyle Taylor.
Second half we continued our good play and looked the more likely to increase our tally. John Meades going close with a goal bound shot that was cleared off the line. Reeves put Sean Rigg through on goal but again he failed to find a way past Buchel.
Then the disappointment. Jake Reeves misplaced a pass in midfield, Ryan Sweeney got the wrong side of his defender and 10 sceonds later Bowery dispatched the ball into our net. 2-1 Oxford.
Andy Barcham was withdrawn 7 minutes after their second, he went off with a tight hamstring and such is his influence on the side you can understand Neal not risking a more serious injury.
On 78 minutes Neal decided the excellent Tom Elliot looked tired, off he went taking any chance we had of rescuing the game with him. Instead of the ever-likely Azeez we got the never-likely Beast. He did the target man role as he does but we needed a goal not pretty hold up play.
We created very little from that point on, the only decent chance falling to Sean Rigg who managed to hit the bar with the whole goal to aim at.
Plus points: outplayed the team in 3rd. Andy Barcham. Tom Elliot. One of the best games I’ve seen at KM for a while.
Minus points: Losing. Poor finishing. Ardley’s substitutions.
The referee’s a…: missed a blatant foul throw for their goal, picked that corner of all the corners to penalize Lyle. Won’t be refereeing in the Premier League any time soon but a pretty standard (unfit and incompetent) L2 official.
Them: don’t mind Oxford other than the monumental bellend that is Daniel Hylton. If his time with us is anything to go by their fans probably don’t like him either. Hope they fook off to L1 asap so we have an additional 6 points to play for if we’re still in L2 next season.
Where now for us? Well yes Sixfields on Tuesday.
We take our record of 9 unbeaten including 6 wins to Northampton. They had a long trip to Hartlepool and a 0-0 draw on Saturday, not a result that will have us quaking in fear. All runs come to an end and they are long overdue a defeat.
I think we’ll carry our usual attacking threat. My concern is in the centre of our defence. For the first time we really missed Osborne. I am in favour of Ryan getting his chance but his inexperience cost us a goal.
I worry that our inability to find someone in the loan market could end up costing us points in these fixtures against the better clubs who can exploit any weakness.
Our last 5 or 6 fixtures are very winnable games. By hook or by crook we just need to keep ourselves in the mix in March.
Ah, “very winnable games”. Get your money on the opposition now.
I suppose if you’re at the top of your game, and you still can’t beat a certain opponent, they’ll always have that over you. I guess if you stripped AFCW down to our bare bones, it will have “owned by OUFC” etched on our arse.
In the grand scheme of things, this result doesn’t quite matter – it was semi-expected anyway, and unless you’re one of those dangerously optimistic people who thought we could get in the top three, it’s not going to damage us.
None the less, a couple of things that may ultimately work against us have sprung up. The one that cropped up a lot after the game was Akinfenwa’s effectiveness, or lack thereof.
Our current form has happened in no small part to the potent duo of Taylor and Elliott firing together at the right time. By the sound of it, we really noticed it when they were broken up.
Especially in the case of our man-mountain, who has found himself third choice at best, and perhaps not even that.
He’ll probably put in a blinder at his old club tomorrow, but I think it’s fair to say that he’ll be finding a new market for his self-promotion come the summer.
One has to wonder if apparently deciding not to go Stateside in January counts as a missed opportunity. Not only for him but for us too – he would have got one last playing career payday, we would have got something ourselves, and we could have maybe improved our strength in depth.
As it stands, our continued good run relies on Elliott/Taylor remaining fit/good more than ever. Azeez does great cameos, but you wouldn’t start him…
At the back, as STTA said, not getting in a centre back to replace Osborne might undo us. Obviously, this is going to be a great learning curve for Sweeney, as he’s probably learned double in the last two weeks as the last couple of years.
(As an aside, doesn’t that put a bit of sober context on the step up the yoof players have to make? The whole #homegrownandhungry mantra is all very well, but there’s a reason most youngsters don’t make it – look at Ben Harrison now sitting on the bench at Tonbridge).
To be fair, we have looked for reinforcements at the back, although having five rejections is a bit of a slap in the chops. Which does make you wonder who we’ve approached to begin with.
Obviously, if our options are a promising youngster then best stick with Sweeney. If it’s a Dave Winfield-esque donkey, then perhaps only if we really have to.
The loan window closes the day before we play Hartlepool on Good Friday, so it’s something we don’t need to do right now. Although Satan help us if Robbo gets crocked…
Many remain unimpressed with the midfield, except Barcham. That’s always been a bugbear this season, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see an overhaul in the summer in that area, regardless of where we’re at.
So all in all, the giddyometer has cooled down a little bit over the weekend – and that’s definitely a good thing. We’re still in the playoff chase, and everything from now on comes down to a bit of luck and a lot of momentum.
There’s still a lot of football to be played. We’re currently on 51 points, one point behind fifth, but any team even down to Barnet** on 40 points is still within a shout.
** – that’s an extreme example, but with so many games ahead then any team who can hit winning form can close some seemingly large gaps quite quickly. Don’t be entirely surprised if by the time we play Pompey the table looks a fair bit different…
Starting tomorrow, we have seven games in a month ahead of us. That is probably going to make or break us for this campaign, as it will quite a few teams around us.
But then, the Ides of March has been an unwritten rule of football for many a year. Remember in the Conference South days, about this time of year, when we were flying and then we won once in a whole month?
Equally, in NA’s first season, we actually won four of the seven games we played in March 2013. OK, we know what happened after that, but without that run we would still probably be playing Altrincham this season.
So things start getting real from now on. If it’s as good as it gets for us, so be it – it’s been a pretty fun couple of months. If it isn’t, and we’re in touching distance by April 1st, then get ready to change your underpants a lot.
Hell, if even losing to Oxford doesn’t seem to be quite so bad this time around…