10 December 2006

Footy season nearly half done...

We're into December now and nearing the half way point of the domestic football season. I've not commented about this here before but, hailing from and living in Oxford, I am - for my sins - an Oxford United fan.

Ironically it was only when I first moved away from Oxford that I first really started following results: in a house full of others away at Uni and following their home town clubs I became acutely aware of it all; doubly so at the time as that season (1998/99) was Oxford's last in the second tier of English football. It has been made all the more acute in the 8 years since then as it has been all downhill on the pitch since then. Until this year.

Last year was the nadir - after 8 years of continuous struggle which saw the club relegated from the old Division 1 (now the Championship) to Division 2 (now League One) then down to League Two, the 2005/2006 season saw Oxford relegated from the Football League after 44 years of league participation. 44 years that had included a brief stint in the top flight of the game and a major domestic honour - the League Cup in 1986. It came down to the last game of the season, and Oxford needed to beat high-flying Leyton Orient at home in order to have a chance of staying up. Orient won, got themselves promoted to League One and dumped Oxford into the Conference.

Things weren't all doom and gloom though: towards the back end of last season the club was taken over by a former player and fan and the manager that had brought so much success to Oxford 20-odd years ago returned to lead the ultimately unsuccessful fight against relegation. Jim Smith was responsible for Oxford's best years - back to back promotions in '84 and '85 taking the team to the top flight and followed by the cup success in '86. Smith is still in charge and this season has seen the club start to right the wrongs of the past decade or so.

This season Oxford were unbeaten until a few weeks ago when defeat in the first round of the FA cup (to League Two side and local rivals Wycombe). This poor result (though 2:1 away to a team a division higher isn't awful) has begun a slump of sorts - since then Oxford have lost 2 more games in the Conference (away at Gravesend and yesterday at Rushden) and drawn another they should have won (at Stevenage, where the home side ended with 9 men). So the team are wobbling some now to judge not only by recent results but the performances to match.

But doom and gloom has yet to return. The side are still top of the Conference table and hot favourites to get back into the league at the first attempt. After 22 games (out of 46) Oxford are 2 points clear at the top on 48; with 2nd place Dagenham also losing yesterday the Rushden result may not be as bad as it looked. But the team need to get over their wobble fast and back to the form that had some claiming they may last the season unbeaten. Sadly that didn't happen, but a swift return to the league is planned, expected and looking likely.

At last, a season with something to smile about.

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