Text message is a heinous way of analysing football. One text into Radio Oxford yesterday simply said '4-4-2'. 4-4-2 is an Oxford obsession. It was the formation which took us into the glory years, and gave us promotion in 1996 but that was eleven years ago and things change.
Theoretically more popular formations, such as, say, 5-3-2 should offer much more flexibility. Greater fitness should mean that wing-backs can play as flying wingers, compact a midfield and join a five man defence all within the same system. The concern, perhaps, is that our backline is mostly the wrong side of 30, and perhaps fitness levels at this stage in the season aren't what they might be. Either way, I doubt very much that 4-4-2 would have seen us in a much better position; as Jim Smith points out, we have the talent, the key is mental strength.
The problem with immediacy of modern broadcasting is that it invites knee jerk analysis - of course we should be beating teams like Grays - however it is sometimes useful to get out of the today and start looking at more general trends and movements.
I have previously said that we would go through a tough time, perhaps even conceding the lead in the title. I've also said that I think the real title fight does not start until March. However, February is an important month because it will define whether we go into the key month needing a haymaking run like the 1995/6 promotion push, or whether we'll control the destiny of the season from the front. Also, February is a balanced programme; alternating home and away and only playing on Saturdays. All evidence suggests we're slowly coming out of the slump, we're starting to get goals, and take leads, the next bit is to hang onto them; which could simply be a case of Santos, Quinn and Gilchrist finding an understanding. A bit of stability might be just what we need to get the season back on track.
For me, the Rushden game is the barometer. TV games have a habit of making or breaking sequences; I don't know why this is; maybe the atmosphere in the ground is different; players wanting to perform on the high profile stage, fans generally being more supportive because even they don't want to be seen in a bad light on the TV. Either way we'll be able to read a lot into the rest of the season.
It's been a horribly disjointed few months; strings of home games, strings of away games, Christmas, a lot of marketing puff about record crowds, and a smattering of FA Cup and Trophy games. At least the Trophy games have offered the opportunity to find a bit of confidence away from the braying hoardes who expect 5-0 victories every week. The transfer window is beginning to close and Dagenham's ability to maintain their title challenge will be tested when, finally, Blackett and Mackail-Smith head for Peterborough. The opportunity to start grinding out some workaday victories like earlier in the season is there for the taking. For once, the opportunity to focus on the league is more than just a hollow consolation.