Oxblogger was relieved to hear Jim Smith being so lucid on the radio before the Halifax game. Last season he stumbled and drawled through interviews, which raised questions about whether age was starting to get the better of him. Oxblogger's natural reservation was that could a man of 65 be as effective and successful as he was when he was 45. There seemed to be no plan b, no succession. Jim would come in and steady the ship and settle the nerves, but where was the infrastructure that would ensure we wouldn't lurch into another crisis as soon as he decided to kick back and retire.
Further confidence has been instilled with the introduction of the 3-5-2 formation. This shows that Jim's thinking has evolved with the modern football world as he was resolutely a 4-4-2 fan back in the 80's.
The 3-5-2 formation is extremely effective for a team like Oxford. Fundamentally it is a conservative formation; in the early part of this season teams are likely to come at us, raising their game to achieve a notable scalp. With a solid unit, the Us can start to dishearten teams; leading them to believe that they're a team that cannot be penetrated and if they concede, cannot be caught. Even if a goal is conceded, the scorer is so shocked teams can become defensive and insular, fearful of of the reprisals. As the season goes on, teams will start to look at the Oxford fixture as impossible to win. Well, that's the plan.
It's a tactic used very effectively by Chelsea. The first thing Jose Mourinho's did when taking over the job was to make his team practically impossible to score against. He is not keen on flare players; Robben, Duff, and Wright-Phillips have all played bit parts in the Chelsea success whilst Cole has had his natural creative instincts dampened. It's interesting to note that recent Champagne signings of Ballack and Shevchenko are rumoured to have resulted more from Abramovich wanting to buy some new toys rather than Mourinho building a winning team.
The ability to maintain the discipline and control of the system throughout the season is at the core of its success. Still, with tonight's 1-0 win against Dagenham and Redbridge, two games down, 6 points, no goals conceded. So far so good.