Monday, March 12, 2018

The wrap - Wimbledon 2 Oxford United 1

When does a transition become a debacle or a debacle become a transition?

Do you remember when Nick Merry turned up in his cowboy boots to install Jim Smith as manager and take us into the Conference?

Or when Darryl Eales took over and installed Michael Appleton as manager to lead us to lower-mid table in League 2, playing 42 players in the process?

With both takeovers, things got worse before they got better (Merry was a front for Ian Lenagan, who eventually funded our promotion back to the league), both involved managerial as well as ownership changes. One was at the end of the season, one was during the summer, and both brought significant levels of disruption.

Takeovers cause disruption, particularly in smaller clubs which don’t have a big corporate infrastructure with the ability to keep things stable. Just how much of this is avoidable is open to debate. But, whether it's at the end of the season, the start or in the middle, it inevitably causes a problem.

Perhaps the disruption could have been reduced by keeping Pep Clotet in position; but he was rapidly losing favour with the fans and Darryl Eales largely confirmed that his sacking was more complicated than simply a bad run of results.

The appointment of Clotet’s replacement has clearly been caught up in the transition from Eales to Tiger. For Tiger to sanction Eales’ preferred candidate – Craig Bellamy – would have been daft. Lining up a replacement without actually owning the club would have been similarly difficult. He would already be on the back foot had it gone wrong. Tiger needs to be comfortable with the appointment so that he can back his man - with words and money.

What is certain is that the club isn't moving forward until the management issue is resolved. Staff don't know whether they'll have jobs, players don't know whether they'll have contracts, everything is on hold. Football games are won and lost in the margins, which is why you have to play over 40 games to decide who is best. If we've lost a few percentage points from the disruption, then that's what is turning draws into defeats.

Inevitably, much will be forgiven once the new man is in place, with the exception of a few names - Graham Westley, Steve Evans - almost all new managers bring a sense of optimism and purpose, and I'm sure that this will be the case with us. In the short term, at least.

The delay is damaging to Tiger's credibility, something he may not be too worried about; rich people understandably tend to have a high degree of self-worth. But the problem comes in the summer when it's time to renew season tickets, if fans can't see a substantive move forward, they are more likely to hold back on renewals, particularly as it seems we have reached a ceiling price for watching Oxford in League 1, judging by the criticism received after last year's price rises.

Whether relegation is as inevitable as some fans seem to think is open to debate. It is far from certain that we'll avoid the drop. However, although there is a gap of 4 points between us and Fleetwood in 21st, there's 10 between us and 22nd. Assuming that three of the four slots are all but confirmed, in a mini-league table where we, in 16th, are top, the potential of going from top to bottom by the end of the season remains distant.

But, a win is what we need, of course, to settle the nerves and remind ourselves that we can do it. A manager coming in to instill a sense of direction will help that immeasurably.

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