There will be some familiar faces in the away dugout this weekend, with Rotherham United the opponents. Managed by Andy Scott, with Darren Patterson as his assistant, Rotherham sit in tenth place – five points behind us in the final playoff position. Between them they spent a combined total of eleven years at Oxford, but it was a miserable period for the club as it decayed under the ownership of Firoz Kassam, eventually wallowing in the Conference.
Of course, that's not to lay the blame for this at the feet of Scott and Patterson, both of whom did their best to have a positive impact on a club in the doldrums. Signing for Oxford in the first months of 2001, Scott and Patterson were joining a side in the middle of the worst season in its history and heading for the basement division for the first time in over 30 years. Scott would score five times at the end of that ailing campaign (the first of those happened to be against Rotherham), having the distinction of scoring our final goal at the Manor.
However, neither player was helped by the deterioration of the squad over the following couple of years, and as two hard-working, honest footballers, they found themselves sticking out like a sore thumb in a squad filled with talentless mercenaries. Patterson was forced to retire in April 2002 due to injury, while Scott left the club in March 2004 to join Leyton Orient. Despite their best efforts, Scott and Patterson left the club in a lower position than when they had arrived and continuing to sink.
Of course, 'Patto' was to get another chance to guide Oxford back to glory when he was named manager in 2007. He had always been lined up as Jim Smith's replacement after he was turfed out of the hotseat just days into the job following the club's takeover by WPL. However, with the club scrapping to get out of the Conference and struggling under the weight of financial pressures, the reign of inexperienced Patterson proved to be nothing short of disastrous. Perhaps the circumstances were too challenging, perhaps Patterson just wasn't up to the task of management. Either way, he again failed to arrest the club's slide and found himself out of a job in November 2008.
Scott had proven himself to be rather more adept at management, winning the League Two title with Brentford in his first full season. He followed that up with a ninth-place finish in League One the following season, but was harshly sacked last year after a poor run of results. He was appointed boss of Rotherham for the final month of last season, bringing Patterson in as his assistant (via Bristol Rovers) in the summer to reunite the two for the first time since their playing days at the Kassam.
Rotherham have, I feel, underachieved slightly this season. They assembled a strong side at the start of the season and were tipped to do well in many season previews (including our own) but have not entirely lived up to those expectations. They certainly began well, as we discovered on the opening day of the season when we fell to a 1-0 defeat, but faded alarmingly after the early stages. They have since steadied themselves somewhat and will no doubt view this as an important opportunity to reel in a promotion contender, and with our inconsistent form it really could go either way this weekend.
However, there is just something about the names of Andy Scott and Darren Patterson that fill me with dread. Their names recall that past era when the club appeared to be cursed, in terminal decline. As our season hangs in the balance, Andy Scott and Darren Patterson return to haunt us, as if to remind us of those past failures of the last decade. It's nothing personal against these two – I know they gave their all for this club while they were here – but I will feel very relieved to see the back of Scott and Patto, and maybe begin to lay that particular ghost to rest.