Saturday, July 08, 2006

The managers: Brian Talbot (2005-2006)

Brian Talbot - the one in the middleThe Talbotian reign at The Kassam was brief and painful. He arrived on the last day of the 04/05 season and gave an impassioned speech about securing back to back promotions. Mr Kassam, he demand it, he said. You suspect that, so poor are the job prospects of a football league manager and so far the fall from grace of not being one, that although outwardly this sort of challenge is to be proclaimed as an exciting one, inwardly its recipient knows although ultimately doomed, they're just happy to get paid.

Talbot seemed like a good choice, he had been there and done it with Rushden and Diamonds, taking them from the Conference to League 1 in successive seasons. He was a good bloke, spoke in a matter of fact kind of way. A Rushden and Diamonds fan phoned into Radio Oxford that night to clarify that, yes, Talbot's stewardship had brought great things to his club, but he'd taken a long time doing it (four years) and with a lot of Max Griggs' money too. Back to back promotions would be hard for anyone, not least him.

Oxblogger liked Talbot, in part because as a player he played for Ipswich Town, the team of my early childhood. He also played for Arsenal, another team with a soft spot in Oxblogger's heart, as a result of childhood visits to Highbury.

Early season form was stuttering, short periods of success saw, as early season form does, ascendence up the league, but this was barely sustainable. There were some worrying signs that things weren't right. The Rushden caller's proclamations about Talbot's trial and error approach began to bare witness. Leo Roget was told he could leave if he could find another club, then injury and suspension meant Roget had to be played and he turned out to be one of the best players during the season. Craig Davies was publicly slated when the U's desperately needed his firepower up front. Christmas came, Davies left in acrimony, whilst Bradbury and Hackett were shipped off apparently by Kassam, not Talbot. In came desperate signings such as Neville Roach.

A post Christmas slump set in; more desperate signings followed and Talbot floundered to find form. The Us' league position was like hitting turbulence, for a while, despite back to back to back defeats, the position remained mid-lower half of the table. Not great, but safe. Then almost without warning we were relying on superior goal difference to stay out of the relegation places.

In March 2006 Talbot was sacked, Firoz Kassam, hopelessly risk averse on the football side of the club, wasn't being given the guarantees he craved, Talbot's reliance on the planets aligning and the runes being right was simply not tolerable.

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