Fan’s View – Wilder’s Departure, Exeter and Wimbledon

Photo courtesy of Steve Daniels
Photo courtesy of Steve Daniels
Article by Paul Beasley

The Chris Wilder Years

Although I’d never heard of him until his appointment I don’t think there is now any denying that it was the correct one. The chances of getting the right man are obviously greatly increased by going through a proper recruitment process. That’s something I don’t think Firoz Kassam ever did. Ian Lenagan is thankfully following the same path again.

When Wilder came in at the back end of 2008 we looked as likely to go down than get back in the Football League. As it happened, the run he sent us on would have been good enough to have claimed a play-off spot if it hadn’t been for those scandalously deducted five points. I knew by now that we definitely had a better manager than those we’d had to suffer for quite a few previous years.

The following season it seemed we’d got it cracked but so did Stevenage and whilst we cracked – only seven points from 24 won between 2 March – 2 April they didn’t and won it by some distance. This episode was used as evidence by those who wanted a change at the helm immediately on our return to the Football League. The first, very quiet, anti-Wilder murmurings came about as a result of this and his comments, that I believe were misconstrued by some, that he didn’t care about the history and the Milk Cup but that it was the here and now that mattered. I felt exactly the same way as our straight talking Yorkshire man. The past is part of the fabric of OUFC, the memory of ’86 is absolutely wondrous and can never be taken away but we were where we were and looking back was doing no one any good if we wanted to go forward.

Despite the blip we (Chris?) steadied the ship, finished third and had our second Wembley experience. I honestly rated this higher than the first. It meant more. Thanks Chris. With microphone in front of his face in Broad Street he said, “You thought we’d blown it didn’t you?” For a time of course we did. A sign of things to come. It’s worth noting that our home form that last season in the Conference was 16 wins, 4 draws and 2 defeats.

In our first season back on the coupon, truth be told most of us were just glad to be there and a respectable, but not spectacular, twelfth position was achieved. Our home record was 11 wins, 4 draws and 8 defeats. Stevenage meanwhile ditched the Rome wasn’t built in a day theory and up they went again.

In 2011/12 the home record of 10 wins, 9 draws and 4 defeats was again in need of improvement. But again Wilder had bettered our League position year on year. We finished 9th just four points outside a play-off place. Four points may sound a lot but when we only picked up three points from our last seven games it wasn’t the biggest ask in the world was it? The number of those who thought it time for a change was slowly growing as we were looked on as a team of bottlers under Wilder who had thrown this season away and had nearly cocked up our eventual escape from the BSP.

Last season we again finished 9th but with three fewer points. Our home form had got worse. It was 9 wins, 6 draws and 8 defeats. But more than the results it was the lack of entertaining football that was beginning to keep a growing number of fans away and was causing more and more of our less vocal fans to quietly wonder if it was time for a change.

We understood that Wilder’s pre-season brief had been to get us up, or at the very least in to the play-offs. It was therefore a bit surprising that we started this campaign with him still in charge. But if Ian Lenagan couldn’t find anyone better this was absolutely the right thing to do. Finding someone better is not as easy as many would like to believe.

Wilder’s rolling contract turned into a one year contract with, apparently, discussion on the future scheduled for about now.
At the time of his departure our home form had deteriorated to a level below last season’s poor effort. Wins, draws and defeats each numbering five is just not good enough and the entertainment has been no better. If it hadn’t been for Ryan Williams and Dave Kitson I think I would have been ringing the Samaritans. But to counter this there’s the phenomenal away record.

Any appraisal of the Wilder years has to include those three wins over Swindon. For this, the people of Oxfordshire should salute him.

To come to a fair assessment of those five years would probably require a detailed analysis of our budget and injuries in comparison with our rivals. I’ve neither got the time nor inclination to do that here but his win ratio speaks for itself.

And just look at where we were when he departed. With games in hand and the fact that we had to play the teams above us, we had it in our own hands to not only win automatic promotion but go up as champions. The counter argument of course being that we always blow up.

Despite our nicely placed position there was still a feeling of staleness and it had all begun to feel rather strange.

Having said all that I’m still not sure that there’s anyone better out there currently available. I look at the list of candidates (well the bookies list) and can only think of reasons why I don’t want them.

The End Game

If Ian Lenagan had really wanted to keep Wilder I am sure he would have done so. If he wanted Wilder out he has come out of it well. Not only does he not have to pay the remainder of his ex-manager’s contract, he is actually going to get compensation from the Cobblers. There is no way he could have sensibly offered the three and a half years that Northampton have.

And that has to be quite a lot to do with it from Wilder’s perspective. Sorted job wise for that length of time in the precarious world of football management is some achievement. Also his work place is now just off the M1 which must suit the circumstances of his private life a lot better than during his final period with us. Plus Northampton allegedly have a decent wad of notes to spend. They could of course go down. His brief must be to prevent that from happening and he will clearly believe that he will do so. He really can’t want to face the Conference again can he?

I do however wonder why, if he believed he could get us up, he didn’t see the season out in our employ. He would have then been in a very strong position to get a better job than the one he now has at Sixfields and quite possibly one further up North.

Exeter

I thought it was written that our first away game in the post-Wilder era would result in our first defeat.

That this didn’t happen is largely down to Ryan (man of the match by some way) Clarke. That first half save when the slightest of touches he got on the ball to deflect a potential worldy (stupid word) on to the bar took some doing. And the double save, one spectacular the other brave and quick, near the end reminded us what a great keeper he is at this level.

In the circumstances I was happy with the point and didn’t come away too dejected but the game itself made for pretty depressing viewing. There was no Dave Kitson again and this time no Ryan Williams either. With no craft and excitement it was a long evening and we had not one shot on target.

No one had a particularly bad game, except perhaps Sean Rigg, but performances like this will not get us up.

We also have a further worry with Michael Raynes joining Jake Wright on the injured list. We are now light of centre halves. Dave Hunt did a good job filling in and young Matt Bevans did the right back job with no problem. How long we can get away with this is another matter.

I did like the look of Bevans though. He seems well schooled in passing the football and there was a noticeable confidence in his play, like the time when, instead of whacking a clearance forward, he cushioned the ball past a striped shirt and had gone past the Exeter man before he had any time to react. Crickey, I’ve actually said something positive in these uncertain times.

AFC Wimbledon

I came away from this game feeling on a real high and that’s something that I’ve not experienced on leaving the Kassam for ages. And no, it’s not because, as you’ve probably already gathered, I’m one of those who have greatly rejoiced at Wilder’s departure. It was because we’d got three points, obviously, but also more because I thought the whole thing had the potential to start going really horribly wrong at this stage. And it didn’t.

When I knew that Ryan Williams was still out that caused my levels of pessimism to drop another notch. This was countered by Dave Kitson being on the bench. Apparently against medical advice he wanted to play which dispels the stuff floating about that he’s not that interested in playing anymore.

Crap pitches spoil football. We have to accept God’s decision to make this the wettest January on record but we could do without the bloody Exiles’ scrums leaving behind their territorial marking. (Plymouth Albion 36 LONDON (not fecking Oxford) Welsh 15, nice). There were times when the ball would have rolled rather better and truer if it had not been subjected to such abuse.

Crap referees (and their assistants) spoil football. Andy D’Urso and his mates were up there with the crappiest of them. We had some things go for us that shouldn’t have been but overall didn’t get our fair share of the crappiness flying about. Early on Smalley had his shirt pulled in the box in full view of the linesman. It wasn’t even a sneaky little pull; it was a full blown yank of the shirt that revealed plenty of flesh. The linesman might as well not have left the dressing room such was his contribution. And for the record the culprit was that cheating Will (Anti- Football) Antwi. So glad he was on the losing side.

At half time I thought we were a bit lucky to be 1-0 up. I didn’t notice any difference to most other (i.e. Wilder) home performances. The opposition had the ball a lot and we defended well. This was even more satisfying than usual given we still had Hunt at centre half and Bevans at right back. They both did well again, although I think the warning signs are there. I can’t recall their keeper making one save.

The crucial fact was of course that he’d had to pick the ball out of the net in the 39th minute. I honestly thought Tom Newey had headed the ball into the side netting but of course he hadn’t. He deserved the goal for the way he attacked the ball. Most others just stood and watched.

By the time the final whistle went I didn’t think we were lucky to be the winners but it’s a fine line. I thought most of the saves Clarkie made were fairly routine except for the one just prior to the Wombles goal but there were also a few other efforts they had that were not that far away. Their goal came from a mistake by Hunt and the glorious chance AFC had right at the end would probably have been better defended by a natural centre half. Plus Bevans had given the winger ample room to get the cross in.

As for our efforts on goal, there weren’t that many of them but the telling one was David Connolly’s. A true finisher’s goal. (We should thank Chris Wilder for setting this deal up).This is something we’ve been missing for ages. Sorry Beano, who I thought had a really good game. JC looked so strong and when he has that about him he is a handful. I’ve recently been critical of Smalley but he too was much better and played in intelligent fashion.

The big disappointment was again Sean Rigg who everyone, and himself included no doubt, knows is way off form. And now injured too of course.

His departure and Connolly’s introduction made for a more interesting looking Oxford in the second half. The legs may not be what they used to be but the brain and touch of a footballer that has played most of career at a higher level was so very evident. And then when he was joined by Kitson it was quite joyous to watch in that nervy time as the clock ticked down.

It wouldn’t have been nervy if Smalley had converted a really good chance set up for him by Beano and Wimbledon had not capitalised on that only mistake of note at the back. But that’s football, more nail biting than feet up with cigar in hand.

Well done to Mad Dog and Mel. You deserve a few pats on the back. Would we have achieved the same result with Wilder in charge? Quite possibly but I bet there would have been very little back slapping in that scenario.

Time to move on as a club but we travel to Bury in third position meaning that our previous manager must have done something right as he will have laid quite a few of the bricks in the foundations.

I now feel a bit more confident in those currently in charge, be it temporarily or on a more permanent basis. I can only go on the evidence and Saturday was rather satisfying.