We don't make a habit of writing match reports here on The Boys from Up the Hill (there are plenty of other people who write fantastic match reports that we couldn't match), but the match against Crewe has raised several points which seem noteworthy and worth reflecting on.
We can look at today as yet more points dropped and at the upper end of the table these points can be vitally important. The six points dropped against Crewe would put us in fourth position, and when we combine these with the points dropped at home to Aldershot, Bradford and Burton – just three matches where we failed to win when we should have – we could well be ruing those missed opportunities at the end of the season. Fortunately, we're still in a very healthy position in the playoffs at the moment, but if we had been as ruthless and consistent as we should have been our season could finish so differently.
The most striking thing today is the huge disparity between our performance for the first half an hour and the dire display we saw for the rest of the match. For the first half an hour Oxford were like a well-oiled machine and looked to be pulverising their opponents with a mechanical efficiency. However, as the game wore on the engine began to run out of steam and the gears began to grind together. Where, at the beginning of the match, our passing was precise, our movement fluid and our understanding almost telepathic, in the second half we looked laboured, our passing went to pieces and our players lacking in movement.
This is not the first time we've struggled as the game has worn on. Our poor record in the second half of matches has been noted before on this blog (way back in September) and we will be returning to analyse this point in more detail during the week, but we would be leading the division if our performances in the second half could match up to our first half showings.
Alfie Potter was uncharacteristically poor today. He failed to trouble Crewe's left back, didn't do his usual chasing and seemed to pull out of several challenges during the match. It appeared as if he had an injury or was distracted (maybe I'm just paranoid about transfer speculation at the moment!), but I hope that today was just a blip and he will return to his usual self next week. When on form Potter is one of the most dangerous players we have.
In total contrast, Jon-Paul Pittman has been a total revelation on the other wing since his return from Crawley and he again looked sharp and committed, and has made a very strong case for his inclusion in the side until at least the end of the season. I could continue to wax lyrical about Pittman's revival, but Oxblogger has already said it all far more eloquently than I ever could.
It was sad to see Paul McLaren so far off the pace today. When he arrived last season the assuredness and quality he brought to the side was a joy to see. Unfortunately, it now appears as if his best years are long behind him and I would be surprised to see him playing at this level beyond this season.
On a completely different point, does anyone remember the last time an opposition player scored in front of the East Stand without running over to taunt the home fans? This happened again today, with the entire Crewe Alexandra team running to join their team-mate in inciting the crowd. Perhaps footballers think they're invincible now, but there was a time that no player would dare to incite the crowd for fear of attack. Having witnessed this so many times now, I would not be surprised if it leads to trouble one day – Swindon are obnoxious enough to do this, and should it happen on March 3rd tempers will flare – and I can foresee a pitch invasion or missile-throwing incident occurring at some point. This would be awful, especially when it is so clearly avoidable.
The most ridiculous aspect of this is that referees can see this happening and allow it to continue, yet if a goalscorer chooses to remove his shirt it's an automatic booking! However, having said that, these are professional footballers we are talking about and therefore they should act responsibly and professionally when they are doing their job. That some players would rather taunt the opposition fans than celebrate a goal with their own fans says a lot about the negative mentality that characterises the English game.