Failure to even reach the playoffs this season has sparked heated debate over the future of manager Chris Wilder. Yellows Forum has come to resemble an online battleground since the curtain went down on our ultimately disappointing season, with every discussion degenerating into petty squabbling about whether Wilder should retain his job. Many of the sensible, well-reasoned points from both camps seem to be getting lost amongst the insults and childishness, so we've opened our pages to some sensible debate, starting with those who want Wilder to stay.
“You all thought we’d chucked it.” Wilder’s words were going through my mind at half time vs Port Vale on Saturday. Could we be hearing them again? For the first time in weeks I felt that due to Aldershot winning at Crewe, our first real piece of luck all season, that we might actually make the play-offs, and who knows, maybe a trip to Wembley and another open top bus?
The team could not raise their game, our dismal form in the run-in stayed true to form and our season was over. We HAD “chucked it” and the question is, was Wilder to blame?
I have already alluded to luck. This season the fickle finger of fate has been a middle digit, and it’s been squarely in Wilder’s face from the off. Promising players brought in sustained season long injuries. Key players picked up injuries at the worst times. Whether anything can be done to minimise the injuries we pick up is not something I’m not qualified to comment on. Wilder’s hand was therefore forced on loan players, some successful (Robbie Hall, who again in circumstances beyond Wilder’s control was recalled just before our November collapse), others less so (the controversial Dean Morgan).
However, Wilder DID get us in a position where it was “ours to lose”. The part of the year where I think we see the best of him is coming right up. He works hard and fast about now. I remember being impressed with the team he assembled at the start of the season and the time they had to get to know each other.
On paper we have ‘improved’ over last season, but have we under-delivered? I would say yes. The attendances we have and resources available mean we should not be satisfied with finishing outside the play-offs. A couple more wins from the many draws we had would have seen us through, and I believe at least two or three of these can be attributed to the circumstances of our bad luck.
So, my verdict? I think Wilder deserves longer, he got us out of the Conference and two memorable wins against Sw*ndon, he’s about to go into the time of the season that he really excels at. Let’s see how we start next season and take it from there. In the stadium I will be squarely behind him, but in my mind the jury’s out - we don’t deserve it to be ‘chucked’ again.
As the 2011/12 season whimpered to the frustrating and disappointing end the noise from the terraces got louder and louder, and the Wilder out campaign has begun in earnest. Many will jump on the bandwagon in a sadistic effort to liven up a season in which we ended up with little to cheer about. I certainly will not be.
The reasons I will not be are as follows. I started supporting Oxford United after THAT Chelsea game. The whole thing just grabbed me, how could a ref give a decision to the highfliers when little Oxford United didn’t even know where the next pair of pants were coming from? We will never know the answer to that, but it was enough for me to think Oxford United is the team for me. The Premiership could do what they want and I will support my local side through thick and thin. Actually change that to thin. Nobody needs a history lesson but suffice it to say after 4 relegations and 14 managers I was ready to have some sort of success and stability.
Chris Wilder brought that. We were stuck in a rut, yet Wilder picked us up and got us moving very quickly in the right direction, just missing out on playoffs in his first season. By the second we were there at Wembley with Wilder sliding down the touchline as we celebrated our first promotion since 1996. The following season back in the league we acquitted ourselves very well, finishing a very respectable tenth. Swindon Town joined us in League Two for the 11/12 season and the opinion was very much if we only get two results this season let's beat that lot home and away. Thanks there Chris, not only those two wins but also 15 other wins along the way to a ninth position finish.
In short that is where we are at. We have not been fighting relegation, we have not sold our best players, we have not stopped progressing for four years now. And not always under the easiest circumstances.
The arguments for the Wilder out people seem to be his failure to take us to the next step. Is two years in a division long enough to work that out? Chris Wilder is a man of 44 and still very much learning his trade, and make no mistake he has pulled up trees to get us to where we are. He and Kelvin Thomas have a working relationship rarely found at our level, both have their own roles but both care passionately about all aspects of the club.
One opinion I hear regularly about Wilder's failings is his ability in the transfer market, especially the loans. Now, admittedly many haven’t worked out for one reason or another, but which football club loans out good players on good form? We need loan players to cover injuries and suspensions and unfortunately we have needed quite a few this year, and we found out why the likes of Kerrouche and Morgan are being made available. But if we are to criticise him for those then surely we must congratulate him on finding Rob Hall and Lee Holmes – albeit only briefly – they both improved us while they were here.
The goals for column is not easy to ignore and we have not scored enough goals for sure. But by the same token we have not leaked a whole lot either, barring the last month or so. With so many draws in tight games, if we scored five more goals in those games we could have conceivably been talking automatic promotion. That is the margin we are dealing with in a season like ours. That’s not to say we can just put it down to luck. The club have identified a problem area and as such can do something to put it right. Is getting rid of a managerial set up the best way of sorting out a scoring deficit of a handful of goals? Is taking a sledgehammer to a nut the best way of cracking it?
Wilder has not only brought in players but also a coaching staff of the highest calibre. Would they stick around if he left? This is a question no one seems bothered to answer. You can’t underestimate the work they do just because it goes unseen. I think it would be a huge step backwards if we were to suddenly break up something that has taken four years to build up. From the boardroom, the manager, coaches, players, youth team and beyond, there are signs that this club is on an upward curve. We may not get there as quickly as a Dagenham or a Rushden but let's just think where they are now? No one at the football club now has ever promised overnight success so why should we as fans expect anything different?
Of course everyone is disappointed not to have made the play-offs having been there for so long, six games without a win is hard to take at any stage but it’s heartbreaking when it happens the way it did. Wilder and his team have struggled in the last six weeks, but is it not time we showed the man some loyalty and support, instead of highlighting his minor failings which may or may not have contributed to us missing out on a crack at promotion? I say he has earned a bit of breathing space and he will come back stronger and wiser and ready to take us to the next level.
Thanks Chris, see you next season.
After the final game against Port Vale, many fans on the radio and on Twitter were adamant that Oxford United should dispense with Wilder. Whilst I also feel the frustration, getting rid of Wilder after he improved on our position yet again would be completely irrational. Fans want success and they want it now; there is nothing wrong with ambitious fans, but ambition often clouds all rational judgement.
If Wilder were let go, that won't solve all our problems, because then we will need another manager, and who is to say we can get a better manager? Will a better manager want to come to us? And even then, a new manager will want his own players, and we could say goodbye to the fan favourites, the likes of Chapman, Dubes, maybe even Whing, which I am sure will go down well.
Fans seem to have short term memories. It was only four years ago we had finished in our lowest league position in a long, long time and not long before Wilder came along we had been beaten 5-2 by Histon.
Managers often get most (if not all) of the blame when things go wrong, but barely any of the credit when things go right. When we beat Swindon both times, it was the players and the performance of the team that got the credit. If things go wrong, the manager and the players should take responsibility and not just one individual. Is it Wilder's fault we conceded late on against Torquay and Shrewsbury? Is it his fault Chapman missed his penalty against Northampton? You have to be fair when criticising the manager. We have also been plagued with injuries and untimely ones at that, which doesn't help.
Surely the smart thing to do, is to let Wilder continue to build on what he has got, rather tear it all up, bring in a new manager, who'll bring his players and staff, and risk going down the road we went down before being relegated last time. Just look at the bottom three of League Two, look what constantly changing managers did for them? Is it worth that risk again?
I support Chris Wilder. There, I said it. Can I no longer be considered a true fan of Oxford United? I haven't littered my vitriol over internet forums and I haven't once questioned Chris Wilder's parentage. I simply think that he is a very good football manager who has delivered his first disappointing season in four years. I don't think I fit in around here.
The facts speak for themselves:
Year One – rapid improvement.
Year Two – promotion.
Year Three – consolidation.
Year Four – missed out on the play-offs.
I make that one disappointing season in four at a club that was on its knees when Wilder arrived. The improvement hasn't been as considerable as it should have been this season. There is no denying that. From Kelvin Thomas and Chris Wilder down to the man who sits in the East Stand who can't stand the sight of Damian Batt, we all know that we should have been in the play-offs, at the very least. We capitulated and it hurts.
However, I do not want to be a club that ditches a manager after the first setback. Chris Wilder has made mistakes, but football is not a game of perfection. Moreover, we do not have a divine right to win promotion from League Two because we once played at the top level. That was then and we are very different now. We have a talented young manager who is hurting every bit as much as we are at the moment. I have faith, however, that Wilder can learn from his mistakes.
I believe he has already shown an ability to do this. We were poor at the back last season. Our record in defence this year is very good. Disappointingly, we were robbed of the opportunity to see whether we had improved up front by a number of factors. The near-total absence of Tom Craddock could cost a team fifteen goals. The mid-season loss of Alfie Potter severely blunted our potency going forward. However frustrating he may be, Potter causes all sorts of problems for opposition shape.
What about the measures taken to cover these injuries? Rob Hall was superb. Lee Holmes? An exceptionally effective old-fashioned winger. These are two players who made a huge difference to our team. These are two players that were removed due to circumstances totally out of our control. It is odd to overlook the fact that we have had more than a little bad luck this season. Without injury or unobtainable long-term deals for loanees, would we have ever seen Dean Morgan? I doubt it.
Deane Smalley is the name that hangs over Wilder and causes concern for this summer. If Wilder is to prove his doubters wrong (and I do not believe they are a majority), the summer acquisitions need to be of the same class as Hall and Holmes.
We are in a new era where the internet provides an immediate emotional response platform and the opportunity to connect with like-minded individuals. There will always be Facebook groups and 'hashtags', but I also hope that there will be a Chairman who doesn't give a stuff about either.
Chris Wilder has had one season that has fallen below expectations. We have seen the effects of chopping and changing managers before. It didn't end well. Why are we so certain that this would make a difference? I haven't seen one internet criticism offer an explanation as to what qualities a new manager would bring to the role that Wilder lacks. It would help me to take their argument more seriously.
I like to make a bold statement so here is another for the collection. Chris Wilder knows what Oxford United need better than any other manager out there. He will get it right.
Time - our greatest commodity. We constantly berate our lack of it, yet we always strive to kill it. Utilise time effectively and reap the benefits; mess with time at your peril.
Nowhere more so than in the realm of professional football is time more precious. In a reflection of the society we live in where instant, ready-to-go gratification is desired, if success does not come in football within a certain timeframe then we get all itchy and throw ourselves on the floor in a tantrum like a toddler denied their Haribo. More often than not if a toddler in a tantrum is given what they want, they grow up to be spoilt little brats. If they learn the virtues of patience and composure, they’ll harvest the rewards later in life.
Every football club has its spoilt brats, and at Oxford United in recent months they have been throwing their toys out of their proverbial prams with just one target in mind - Chris Wilder.
We haven’t made the play-offs, and quite frankly given our position around three months ago, that is unacceptable. We’ve been horribly fragile in the latter stages of games, shockingly impotent in front of goal and adversely affected by squad disruption when we needed unity most. Lady luck has thrust a taunting fist in our faces at times. Suspect substitutions, unfortunate injuries, losses of form have all conspired against us. Yet this is football. Chris Wilder’s hands have been tied by the loss of key players at key moments, and whilst his loan signings have been predominately ineffective, they were the best available given the circumstances. We have a right to be unhappy with the way our season has ended, yet to insist on the axe of a man who has overseen our highest league finish in ten years would be highly impetuous.
Wilder has indeed got things wrong at times, but that’s all enhancing the learning process for next season. There is no value in dwelling on these negatives. We have inherited from the past season a solid spine of a squad which, injury and poaching dependent, will be strong enough to challenge for 3rd place at the very least. The coming season shall be the one which Chris Wilder is ultimately judged; if he is unable to make progression on this season’s total, then perhaps it is right to concede that he is unable to take us further. The fact that he has taken us further this season suggests another season is warranted.
Ultimately, by extolling the virtues of time and patience I believe Oxford United Football Club will be rewarded. No gain can be made by throwing yourself on the floor in a frenzied heap every time you don’t get what you want, whilst using four-letter expletives to justify your claims isn’t going to help either. Chris Wilder has one more season to get Oxford United into League One; he must use this time wisely.
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