A COMBINATION of factors left Oxford United manager Chris Wilder feeling like he
was “spinning plates” in the critical final games of the season.
United’s play-off hopes went up in smoke during the final seven games of the campaign, when only basement side Macclesfield Town picked up fewer points.
Although injuries were a problem for most of the season, for a long time the squad were able to cope and keep getting results.
But it took its toll and led to a difficult end to the campaign, when Wilder was unable to put on the training sessions he wanted.
He said: “There were a lot of defining moments in the season, but by the end it felt like we were really spinning plates.
“We were curtailing training and not doing it at the same intensity we had been because there were times at the back end of the season when we were waiting until Fridays to see who was available
and rolling people out.
“Looking through the season I think we played some decent football.
“We fell agonisingly short, which disappoints and frustrates me because we put ourselves into a good position even though I do believe a lot of things went against us this season.
“It’s a disappointing finish, there’s no getting away from that.”
For Wilder the farcical climax to the season was summed up by the last game at Port Vale.
The U’s had to win to stand any chance of reaching the play-offs, but injuries to both the senior first-team goalkeepers, Ryan Clarke and Wayne Brown, saw Damian Martinez recr-uited at short notice
Wilder said: “I’m not saying we were outstanding, but we were doing the pressing and it was us who had the chances in the first half.
“Then one long ball catches us out, there’s a mix-up between the goalkeeper and Jake (Wright).
“Does that happen if Clarkey’s in goal? Does that happen if Browny’s in goal? Does that happen if Jake doesn’t spend the Thursday night up with his kid being born?
“It’s just a ridiculous season, I’ve never had it before as a manager or a player.
“People always say the buck stops with the manager, which it does – I always look at myself in a critical way on everything.
“There are always times you could have made better decisions, but ultimately we’ve come up short from a culmination of lots of factors.
“Am I in the equation? Of course I am.”
In addition to the number of injuries, Wilder points to a host of other reasons why the club fell short.
Some, such as refereeing decisions or simple bad luck, were out of the squad’s control, but others, perhaps most importantly the inability to convert chances into goals, need to be improved
The fitness and conditioning side has been highlighted elsewhere and although the United boss welcomes the potential of investment, he points to the club’s record in previous seasons.
“I’m not a sports scientist, but in three of the four years I’ve been here we’ve had no injuries,” he said.
“We can always say we could be fitter and stronger, but do we go and spend £70,000 on a fitness conditioner?
“You’re talking about the top teams in the country spending that, we’re in a learning curve in terms of the progression.
“You look through the majority of the injuries, which you’ll always pick up, but we’ve never been smashed like this in all my time here.
“Can we improve and be fitter? That’s the challenge we all have.”