Thursday, March 16, 2017

Weekly wrap - Peterborough 1 Oxford United 2; Oldham Athletic 2 Oxford United 1

“Ultimately I got the impression – and I hope I’m wrong – that it looked like a side who had one big game left this season.”

And with that the bell rings for the end of school and everyone rushes for the exits. It’s probably reasonable to assume Michael Appleton’s ‘one big game’ is Wembley after which it seems we're going to be knocking off for the summer.

Only nutcases would begrudge the club a bit of a break; we are, to a great extent running far too fast. The glimpse of the foothills of the play-offs have shown that; we're just not ready for the Championship.

The win over Peterborough and defeat to Oldham gives some indication of our limitations; good enough for most of League 1, but not twice in a week. March is killing us, but that might just be the best thing for us.

Is the announcement that Greig Box Turnbull is standing down a sign that the club is looking to next season? Maybe. Football can be a pretty grim place to work; stability and steady development is hardly an ingrained culture. Also, as an administrator you’re either working with someone else’s money or you have none at all. Box Turnbull may simply be getting out before he burns out.

Or, Darryl Eales is readying himself for the next phase of the club’s development. It was always going to be quite a challenge to match last year’s successes, but this year has been flatter than last. The club didn’t help itself with its stance on the Checkatrade Trophy and there have been issues with flags, stewards and an endless stream of statements.

Good things continue to happen on the pitch, the club has recovered from the gutting of its promotion squad and registered derby wins, cup giantkillings and another trip to Wembley. We are still being spoilt.

But presumably Eales won’t want to hang around in League 1 for too long; it’s a division that can become an elephant’s graveyard. Where fallen giants wallow in self-pity; too big to fall further, not good enough to go up. Their presence sits on ambitious smaller teams who are unable to beat all the elephants and gain promotion.

There’s also the financial risk of League 1 – average salaries in League 1 grow 42% from League 2, but revenues only grow 34% making it more expensive to survive in the higher division. Every season the club stays in League 1 it gets poorer.

The Championship changes much of that; average revenue jumps nearly 400%, so the attraction for Eales is obvious. Plus he must be aware of the need to match Michael Appleton’s ambitions as the manager becomes a more attractive proposition to bigger teams. Throw in greater control over the stadium and you can see why he might be looking for someone more dynamic and aggressive to take  the club onto the next stage.

So, perhaps Wembley is the final hurrah for the season before the club prepares itself for next season and a tilt at promotion.

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