Friday, 5 August 2011

And so it begins...

Que sera sera
Whatever will be, will be
We're going to Don Valley....

Excitement is in the air, as the season kicks off tomorrow when the U's travel to Sheffield for their season opener away at Rotherham. The Don Valley Stadium, with its masses of grey, empty seats and its running track separating supporters from the action on the pitch, is hardly the most glamorous of surroundings to start a promotion campaign from, but it will nevertheless be the site where Oxford begin theirs. Due to the atmosphere-sapping nature of the ground, Rotherham would probably not usually be among the most attractive of away fixtures for Oxford fans, but because it's the first match of the season a large travelling contingent is expected to be straining their eyes from one corner of the stadium tomorrow.

Rotherham will present one of the toughest starts we could have got; star striker Adam Le Fondre has still not left the club and after scoring against us last season he'll be looking to open his account for the new season tomorrow. However, speculation abounds that he'll be leaving the club soon, with Sheffield Wednesday and Coventry City both reportedly interested in securing his services before the end of the transfer window, which may have an unsettling effect on both him and the team. In fact, the ongoing transfer talk threatens to overshadow Rotherham's preparations for the season opener tomorrow. However, they should still prove a significant challenge regardless of any off-field distractions and, with the undoubted quality of Danny Schofield in their midst, our injury-ravaged midfield must be on top form. A tough start should not act as an excuse for a poor start though, because if this is to be our season these are the kind of matches we'll need to be getting results from.

But how important is the first match of the season as an indicator of how the club will fare over the coming season? Perhaps the most obvious recent evidence to the contrary comes from Norwich's 2009 opening-day demolition, when they lost 7-1 at home to Colchester, but by the end of the season they were promoted as champions. But for Oxford, opening day fortunes do seem to provide an accurate indicator of the club's chances. Last season began with a goalless away draw with Burton and, in keeping with this, a season of midtable mediocrity followed. Of course, the year before that was bookended by dramatic encounters against York City, with injury time goals from Matt Green and Mark Creighton securing a dramatic comeback to secure victory and kick-off the promotion season. The previous season had promised so much prior to its beginning, but Darren Patterson's side were demolished on the opening evening by Conference new-boys Barrow, which was embarrassingly broadcast to the nation on Setanta. It took an injury time penalty against Forest Green to secure victory in 2007, as Jim Smith's second attempt at Conference promotion started slowly and got even slower as the season progressed. The club's first ever match in the Football Conference was a 2-0 home victory over Halifax Town. Of course the season didn't end well, but a victory in opening match of the season was a prelude to the 18-game unbeaten streak which saw the club soar to the top of the table at the beginning of the season.

Of course, defeat tomorrow won't spell the end of our season and victory, encouraging though it will certainly be, will mean nothing if it isn't followed by positive results through the season. However, we all know just how important a good start can be.


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