Monday, 30 April 2012

Remarkable Turnaround for Andy Whing

Picture from
Saturday's events were too depressing to dwell on at any great length, but there was one aspect that was greatly satisfying. As is customary before the final home match of the season, the Player of the Year Awards were announced, with Andy Whing winning the Andrew Knapton Supporters' Player of the Year award. This marks a notable turnaround for a player who we referred to as 'the much-maligned Andy Whing' back at the start of November.

Even then, when I was rushing to his defence, I couldn't have foreseen what a vitally important player he would become for Oxford. Whing's 'utility man' tag was certainly well-deserved, and he has filled in competently at right back and centre back when required, but he has also made himself one of the first names on the teamsheet with his committed performances in midfield. Whing has become more than the versatile backup I had envisioned earlier in the season, his blood-and-thunder playing style bringing some much-needed steel to a midfield that is otherwise pitifully lightweight and powderpuff.

With the benefit of hindsight, it's easy to see how a player like Whing could become a fan favourite. Yes, we can all reel off the list of Oxford's most talented players (John Aldridge, Joey Beauchamp etc) but some of the most appreciated players are the big lumps whose sole task is to flatten players like Aldo and Joey (Gary Briggs, Billy Whitehurst), who are remembered not for their quality, but for cancelling out the quality of the opposition. Of course, Andy Whing's task is far more nuanced than simply injuring opposition players, but his tenaciousness in the tackle and desire to fight for the cause is a trait that will always be appreciated by the notoriously tribal English football supporter. Few things are as satisfying for a football fan as seeing the opposition's cocky winger taken down a peg or two by a crunching challenge.

The recent chants of 'all we want is a team of Andy Whings' say as much about the team's spineless end-of-season capitulation as about Whing's popularity in the stands. Of course, this is an exaggeration – we've all marvelled at the skills of Peter Leven at times this season – what is really needed for a team such as ours is a sensible balance of grit and skill. However, the fact that the honest, hard-working Andy Whing's stock has continued to rise, whilst patience with the mercurial Dean Morgan has long since worn thin (and, unlike with Whing earlier in the season, it seems unlikely that Morgan will ever win over the fans that have turned against him now), suggests that perhaps the scales have tipped too far in favour of skilful players, leaving us rather lacking in grit.

After falling behind in rather harsh circumstances on Saturday, it felt like we gave the game away rather too easily. The team tried to attack with little success, but you really need a battering ram to break down a physical side like Southend when they're defending a two-goal lead away from home. As soon as we fell behind it was inevitable that we'd lose, even with 70 minutes still to play.

Next season in League Two (and although the faintest of chances still remains that we'll sneak into that final playoff place, we're all resigned to the fact that next season we'll be taking our place in the fourth tier once again) we need a stronger physical presence – particularly up front – we need players to scrap when necessary and we need to learn a bit of cynicism from a Southend side who have beaten us five times in the last two seasons.

To end on a more positive note: congratulations Andy Whing on such a stellar season and here's hoping for many more!


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