Tuesday 12th February 2013 ko 19.45
OXFORD UNITED 1 (Davis 89)
FLEETWOOD TOWN 2 (Crowther 28 Brown 55)
Att 5,003 (76 away)
Programme £3 (reissue from postponed game with insert that cost £1 if sold separately)
A few years ago I watched a man get fired. It wasn’t the brief, loud, slanging match, with the loser being shown the door, that you see in tv dramas, it was a slow painful process. The man concerned was gradually demoralised, and when he realised that there wasn’t a suitable job for him to resign and slip into, he grimly held on, until one Monday he wasn’t there. The whispers amongst the staff over the next few days confirmed the awful truth.
Since then I’ve learned the signals, the isolation of the dismissee, with the head bowed, the body language, and the repetition of the mistakes that got him into that position in the first place. I saw many of those signs in Oxford United manager Chris Wilder last night. A man lost in his own thoughts, alone yet surrounded by his management team and just over 5,000 supporters.
The groundstaff managed to produce a new line in appalling pitches, this one had trenches made by tractor tyres pulling the spikes to aerate the grass/mud. With Justin Richards out for the season (was he given a medical?), Deane Smalley accompanied James Constable up front, without there ever being a jot of understanding between the two. United had enough possession, but on the odd occasion it produced a chance it was wasted. Alfie Potter’s choice to pass when it looked simpler to shoot, spoke volumes for both his, and the team’s lack of confidence.
You knew it was going to end in tears. Fleetwood moved the ball neatly, but hardly devastatingly from right to left, and there was Matt Crowther in a Damian Batt shaped hole to slot past the Oxford United keeper. On the subject of the keeper, Max Crocombe spent the end of the first half warming up, and the player brought in his place played the second half with his left thigh heavily strapped up. If that’s his hamstring, then I suspect Crocombe will get the nod on Saturday.
With few options on the bench and still fewer ideas on the pitch, the second half carried on in much the same vein as the first. Even Fleetwood’s second goal bore similarities to the first, a high ball was nodded back across the 6 yard box, and the defence stood a watched at Junior Brown stooped to nod home.
James Constable hit the post then watched as Sean Rigg blazed the rebound into the stand, and Damian Batt watched his strike well saved by Scott Davies. Eventually United did score, Liam Davis’ fine 25 yard pile-driver, which was out of character from the dross that had preceded it. And here’s the rub, Fleetwood were no more talented than Oxford. Better organised, fitter, and definitely more aggressive, all traits that United should be showing. Either they want to make the playoffs, or there’s a relegation battle looming. There are no half measures in League 2 this season.
I left pondering how long you can leave someone in a position this hopeless, when it would clearly be kinder to take the burden away. With as many as 14 players’ contracts up in July it’s now the time to look at what should be retained, and what should go. Its become clear, sadly the man to do that isn’t Chris Wilder.