As if the blurry mess of turf in front of the North Stand needed to remind us, That Game is coming up next week.
The spectre of That Game was evident everywhere during the draw with Bradford on Saturday. Radio Oxford were banging on about how important form was - we wouldn’t want to go into That Game on a bad run. Because, obviously, there are some games where a bad run of form is completely desirable.
The team doesn’t feel settled; eighteen players in three games; is it injuries? Squad rotation? Panicking about getting the formula right for That Game.
A goal up and holding firm, the three points were bagged and… the mind drifts: “this augurs well for That Game”. It’s not just the players, but the fans too. We concede when, with a bit more concentration and application, we could have been out of sight.
Michael Dubbery confirmed the shadow of That Game after the match, saying that it was all he’d heard about since he’d arrived at the club. It probably doesn’t bother him as much as others; he’s played in big games throughout his career – his form certainly suggests it’s of little consequence.
Players and managers may not feel the spectre of a big game as individuals, but each fragment of doubt, complacency and apprehension within every player, official and fan builds up to be one massive mental barrier.
Expect more tonight, a complete no-win situation. If we take three points, then we’re back on form and ready to take on the scum. If we lose then we’re doomed. The players will be sent off with a flea in their ear and, if they need it, more pressure to perform on Sunday.
And what about the repercussions? There are already preposterous noises coming from some that Chris Wilder has lost it (some even suggesting he never had it). A win in That Game and he’ll be a legend forever, but we lose and the world will surely collapse. The pressure will grow and we could screw the season up before October is out.
Personally, I can’t wait for next Sunday to be over.