Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Why Home Form Will Always Be a Problem Under Chris Wilder

One factor that has been frequently remarked upon this season is the considerable difference between Oxford's home and away form. Saturday's miserable 1-0 defeat to Chesterfield was our seventh at the Kassam Stadium this season, meaning we have taken just 29 points from a possible 60 at home – less than half. In direct contrast, our form away from home would put us in the top seven in the league with as many victories on the road as we have mustered at home all season.

Many supporters have been quick to blame the condition of the pitch (and the presence of London Welsh) for our poor home form, and this certainly hasn't helped. Others have blamed the toxic atmosphere in the stands for destroying the team's confidence. But this problem is not a new one, it's been an ever-present thorn in our side for the last three seasons and is representative of a more fundamental failing which has never been addressed.

Way back in September 2011 I wrote about this very same issue, arguing that the reason we were performing better away from home was because “the onus to attack is on the home team, and as they attempt to venture forward the game becomes more open”. This works away from home because our style of play has always benefited from an open game, but at home we are often facing sides who come looking to knick a goal and then see the game out. Chesterfield were a classic example, scoring with their only chance after five minutes and then looking to slow the game down and frustrate as they sought to cling onto their lead.

And the Chesterfield example is not a one-off, we've seen this happen countless times in recent seasons. Take for example our first home game in League Two back in August 2010. We thoroughly outplayed a Bury side who went on to win promotion at the end of the season – yet somehow finished that game on the losing side. The reception the team got after that match was overwhelmingly positive because although we had lost we knew we had been by far the better side and that could only spell good things for the rest of the campaign. But that feel-good factor soon wore off after repeat performances against Stockport, Aldershot, Torquay, Gillingham, Southend and Hereford. Last season it was the same story, as we dropped points at home to Aldershot, Burton, Bradford, Crawley, Crewe, Hereford and Macclesfield – despite being the better side in every one of those games.

The problem which hasn't been solved here is the age-old issue of how to beat sides who turn up and 'park the bus' and it is a problem which, in three years of trying, Chris Wilder has been unable to solve at League Two level. The sides which win promotion aren't vastly better than us in footballing terms; the key difference between them and us is that they have found a way to grind out results against these sides. The unfortunate fact is that any mediocre League Two side can pass the ball around nicely enough on their day – we're certainly not the only fans who have proclaimed their side 'the best footballing side in League Two' only to come unstuck in matches we should be winning. The true key to success at any level is being clinical when chances are created.

The Chesterfield match was a case in point: on chances created Oxford should have won that match with ease. Chris Wilder himself said afterwards that it should have been 5-1 at half-time, but we were let down by wasteful finishing. Chesterfield won on Saturday because they converted the one chance they created and against an Oxford side which simply cannot finish their chances, that is all our opponents need to do. Again this is nothing new, we've been complaining about this same problem for a while now and it isn't being put right. As this graph from the excellent Experimental 3-6-1 shows, we are decidedly middle-of-the-road when our goals-to-chances ratio is compared to the rest of League Two:
Picture from Experimental 3-6-1
This brings us round to another oft-raised point, which is the absence of any specialist coaching for the strikers. Chris Wilder, Mickey Lewis and Andy Melville might well be very good coaches, but they were all defensive players and have brought with them that defensive expertise. Is it so surprising that our strikers couldn't hit a barn door when the people coaching them on it were never trained in it themselves?

Unfortunately, these issues have never been addressed, despite being painfully apparent for quite some time, and it now seems obvious that they won't be addressed as long as Chris Wilder is the manager. This isn't a call for his head, but simply a statement of what appear to be the facts. Speculation has been rife for quite some time that Wilder will be replaced as manager in the summer, but whoever is in charge next season needs to look at this as their first priority. Find ways to beat defensive sides at home and be more clinical in front of goal.

Of course, that is just my opinion. Here are a range of other opinions of why Oxford have struggled at home this season.

What's you opinion? Leave a comment!

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