Oxford United 3 Exeter City 0
Dunkley has been one of our outstanding players in recent weeks, but he is a player that is susceptible to pressure; some of his early performances were shaky to say the least but once he was in the groove, he looked a real asset and a threat to the Wright/Mullins partnership. On Saturday the wind, coupled with the pace of the Exeter attack put him in all sorts of trouble. Although I don’t think he deserved to be sent off, he was just a minor infringement from a red card; it was the right thing to do to replace him at half time.
It wasn’t Dunkley’s replacement that changed the game in the second half. We had been, just about, the better team throughout, although the overall performance was similar to most of this season, lots of possession, not enough penetration. But, it began to feel like when I compare my bike speed against others on Strava. While they may only be a few seconds faster than me over a mile, over 20 miles, they’re out of sight. Straight after half-time it looked like the elastic snapped; we were faster to everything. The goal came at the right time, I suspect another 10 minutes and it would have been a familiar scene, with us looking to snatch a single goal as Exeter regressed to defend a point.
But the goal stretched the play and everything fell into place. I was in the North Stand with a friend who occasionally joins me for the Boxing Day game. As I always do, I took him through each player he was likely to see. This is typically a summary based on 20 games of performances and, in reality, very few of the players I describe show anything like what they can. But for the first time everyone played to their potential; Roofe’s trickery, Lundstram’s passing, Sercombe’s surging, Baldock’s endless overlapping. The results were obvious.
Yeovil Town 0 Oxford United 0
Yeovil always felt like the forgotten game. When Christmas falls late in the week, it seems slightly odd to try shoehorn another fixture into the schedule. As much as I like the 'busy Christmas period', it would have been perfectly fine to play the game on Tuesday evening or even not at all. Two games in 48 hours, 110 miles apart seems slightly unnecessary.
But, this isn't going away any time soon and we may be suffering a degree of fixture overload. That risks mental rather than physical fatigue. When you're always going for the win that requires a higher level of concentration and application and the pressure of games where the margin of error is smaller can have an effect. When you're mid-table an away point is a good one; where you're trying to average two points a game to get promotion a point isn't enough and the pressure keeps building.
If we are feeling a bit of a slump, it's not a bad one at all; 4 points in 2 games is hardly reason for panic. However, as well as just getting our heads down and getting through this period, some fresh faces may be helpful.