The start of the season has been something of a mixed bag for Oxford, and we have already witnessed a high point of victory away at Swindon followed by frustrating results in our last two fixtures. At the time of writing the Us currently find themselves in 13th, and if this form is carried throughout the season we're likely to witness another year of midtable mediocrity in the basement division. The inconsistency of the performances so far have inspired a sense of d
éjàvu amongst Oxford supporters, and left many of us asking if this season is going to be more of the same.
Six matches in, we find ourselves in 13th position with 8 points. At the same point last season, we had 9 points and were in 7th place. Despite the discrepancy in league places, our form at this stage of the season is clearly not so different, having won 2, drawn 2 and lost 2, compared to our record this time last year of won 2, drawn 3 and lost 1. If we had turned one of our two defeats into a draw we would have a mirror image of last season's start.
So is this season likely to turn out like the last one did? Of course it's too early to give any definitive answer. Last season we were not simply an average team, but one capable of playing incredibly well at times and incredibly poorly at others. Periods of good form (for example, during January) were cancelled out by other spells of poor form (November) and of course we should expect similar periods of good and bad form this season. What will determine how successful we are is if we are able to sustain a period of good form for longer than we did last season, and achieve those results on a more consistent basis – something which, so far, we have been unable to do. While we obviously cannot predict the many twists and turns that will inevitably come this season, we can delve into the realm of the hypothetical and use current data to make projections for the rest of the season, which can be compared to last season's results.
For example, we are currently averaging 1.3 points per game. If continued throughout the course of the season we would finish with 61 points at the end of the season, compared to last year's total of 63 points. This would, in all probability, see us finish somewhere between 12th and 14th in the table, again almost identical to last season's 12th place finish. Our goal difference is currently 0, having scored 7 and conceded 7. Again, if these averages were to continue over the entire season we would have scored and conceded 54 goals, which is slightly lower than last season's total of 58 goals scored and 60 conceded, though not by any significant margin.
Clearly the stats suggest that this season has not yet been an improvement on the last one, but numbers can be misleading. Are our performances subjectively any different to last season?
Well, there are a few improvements. Defensively, we appear to be much more solid, and the addition of Michael Duberry has certainly improved us in this area, while Liam Davis at left back also appears to be an improvement over Anthony Tonkin. It's this quality which will hopefully prove the difference this season and will enable us to grind out results more consistently. A shining example of this is the way the team were able to hang on to clinch three points at Swindon a few weeks ago, whereas last season the defence would probably have caved in under the pressure.
More noticeable, however, are the familiar problems that have apparently not been rectified since last season. Our performances against Bradford and Aldershot give significant cause for concern, as we failed to break down defensive sides and failed to see out those matches. In both cases, we can look on those draws as two points dropped and it will be incredibly frustrating if we continue to drop silly points over the course of the season, just as it was last season when we lost at home to Aldershot, Stockport, Gillingham and Southend (to name just a few). The Crewe game at weekend also gave reason to be concerned, and again the manner of defeat was recognisable to anyone who watched Oxford regularly last season. Despite dominating possession and creating numerous chances, we failed to convert them and were punished by a more clinical team. It is concerning that such fundamental problems have not been solved during the off-season and if they are not corrected soon it seems likely that we will continue to drop points in games we shouldn't.
While it's clear that the side has improved and added new dimensions to their game, the same bad habits and fatal errors from last season are already being repeated again. Last season our squad had a lot of potential and played some great football at times, but ultimately was naïve and inconsistent and it is concerning to see the same pattern surfacing again. Since Chris Wilder took over as manager the club has improved its league position every year and before the start of the season not many Oxford fans would have bet against that trend continuing. Recent performances have sowed a seed of doubt in many people's minds and a sense of anxiety that the club's progress is beginning to stall has begun to creep in. A failure to improve on last season will inevitably lead to uncomfortable questions being asked of the management and with the financial backing they appear to have received going into this season, an improvement on last season is the least that is expected. Of course, at such an early stage in the season such talk is purely speculative and not serious, but our early form gives reason to be concerned and failure to at least reach the playoffs at the end of the season should be viewed as a golden opportunity missed.