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Letters from Wiltshire #40
Written by wessex_exile on Sunday, 21st Mar 2021 15:57

Today we learned the sad news that Peter Lorimer has passed away, aged 74, after a long-term illness. Love or loathe Revie’s Leeds, no one can deny that “Hotshot Lorimer” was a truly magnificent footballer, and his passing is a sad day for the global football family.

[b]Peter Patrick Lorimer
14 December 1946 – 20 March 2021
Rest in Peace[/b]

[b]”[i]For years I thought I supported Stenhousemuirnil…[/i]”[/b]

There’s been much discussion on various boards, social media etc. about when will we score another goal away from home, particularly on the back of Tuesday night’s gutsy and spirited 0-0 at promotion hopefuls and rich men’s plaything Salford City. Particularly, when were the U’s plagued by a similar goal drought? So, I’ve decided for Letters from Wiltshire #40 to run another special and have a bit of a stat attack nerd look into that dreaded moment when James Alexander Gordon’s pitch would drop, and you knew without looking the next word would be “Nil”.

First off, without anyone realising it, we reached a significant milestone on Tuesday night. As far as I can tell from my records, Tuesday night was our 1,000th match in all competitions without scoring. For those who care, that’s out of 4,003 attempts since 28th August 1937, so an average of almost exactly 1 in 4 matches. Probably not really a particularly alarming stat I suppose – even though I’ve never really thought about it much, I guess that would seem about right? I guess we have to remember that failing to score doesn’t necessarily mean ignominy – take for instance our two 0-0s against Palace and Spurs last season, or any number of spirited backs-to-the-wall ground out 0-0 draws away from home, or even those pyrrhic moments when we’re beaten on goals, but not on skill, or pluck, or just plain belligerent in-your-face-ism.

[b]Seasons in the sun?[/b]
Of course, some seasons are better (or worse) than others. Leaving aside the curtailed 1939/40 season, when we only completed four matches (still maintained the average though, didn’t score in a 0-0 against Ipswich Reserves), 1947/48 is top of the list, firing blanks only four times in 50 matches. Of course, back then football teams scored for fun and defence was entirely optional, so it’s worth noting that joint second in that list was our Conference 1991/92 promotion season with only five games without scoring (out of 56 matches!).

As far as seasons to forget are concerned, if we think this one is bad, spare a thought for long-suffering U’s supporters who sat grimly through the 1987/88 season, when we failed to find the net a whopping 23 times! Of course, we’re currently on 15 games without scoring, so there’s still time to overtake that total I suppose. Remarkably, we actually finished 9th in Division 4 in that season – don’t ask me how! In fact, for the joint second seasons 1953/54, 1972/73 and 1977/78, when we missed the net 20 times each, we weren’t relegated on any of those occasions either. Seems the correlation between failing to score and relegation isn’t as clear-cut as I’d probably assume?

[b]So what about sequences?[/b]
In all competitions, home or away, our longest barren spell is actually just five matches, an unenviable feat we’ve achieved four times in our history, and three of those were in the 80s. At the tail-end of the 1980/81 season under Bobby Roberts, after a 1-1 draw at home against Sheffield United, we failed to score away at Barnsley, Swindon Town and Gillingham (drew that one), at home to Brentford and away at Newport County. Yes, we were relegated that season, even after finally breaking our duck to beat Carlisle 1-0 on the final day of the season.

It was worse in 1985/86, with a three-week barren spell in late October and early November seeing the U’s lose five games in a row without scoring, against Northampton Town (h), Hereford (a), Chester City (a), Rochdale (h) and Wycombe Wanderers (a). Mind you, we clearly recovered, and went on to finish that season in 6th place. We did it again the following season, failing to score in the last three matches of the season, against Halifax (a), Aldershot (h) and Preston North End (a). Despite that, we made the play-offs for the first time in our history but couldn’t score in either of the legs against Wolves – thus five on the trot.

Most recently, in 1994/95 we had a dreadful start to the season, and after a 1-3 defeat at home to Torquay at the beginning of August, we had non-scoring defeats against Mansfield (a), Doncaster (h) and Exeter (a), interspersed by a brace of 2-0 reverses against Brentford in the 2-legged League Cup 1st round. Again though, we weren’t relegated, and ended up in 10th place.

[b]”[i]Those who have never suffered the iniquities of exile cannot possibly understand the significance, the gravitas, of a mattress[/i]” – Ariel Dorfman[/b]

So what about on the road? It goes without saying that our current run of nine consecutive matches on the road without a goal is out there in front, but actually not by the significant margin you might imagine. In fact, we’ve done similar with eight fruitless journeys in a row starting mid-March in the 1987/88 season in a 0-0 bore-draw at Leyton Orient, and finished early September of the 1988/89 in a League Cup 5-0 drubbing at Northampton Town.

We’ve done a seven as well, and this time wholly within one season. Back in 1977/78, a heyday in my time following the U’s, we started an unwelcome run losing 4-0 at Deepdale. Subsequent trips to Hereford, Oxford, Peterborough, Lincoln, Swindon and Exeter were all goalless, before finally halting the slide emphatically with a 3-0 victory away at today’s opponents Port Vale. Although that slump probably cost us a half chance to challenge for promotion, we still finished 8th, with Bobby Gough top-scorer with 17 goals. Life seemed simpler to me then, the U’s won their home games and lost their away games – that’s how it worked.

At home, as you would expect, our record goalless streaks are largely unremarkable. Twice we’ve gone four games at home without scoring; the last two matches of 1986/87 (Aldershot and then Wolves in our play-off first leg) and first two matches of 1987/88 (Torquay and then Fulham in the League Cup); and the last four home games of the 2008/09 season, losing to Crewe, Leeds, Brighton and Peterborough on the bounce.

Not a good way to finish our first season back in League 1, but we bounced back reasonably well at the start of 2009/10 with a trip to Carrow Road…

[b]…and finally[/b]

So, I made the observation after Tuesday night that I’d gladly take 0-0s from now to the end of the season, as it would almost certainly guarantee we’d avoid relegation. But how much could we take, or more to the point (no pun intended), what have we had to endure in the past? Overall, the U’s have drawn 0-0 269 times in all competitions. In 2007/08 we managed the entire season without a single 0-0 result, the first and only time we’ve done so. We’ve had ten seasons were there was just a single double-blank, the last one back in 1984/85. Notably, the three seasons from 1946 to 1949 and again from 1960 to 1963 were both consecutive seasons where our copybook was blotted by solitary goalless draws.

I’ve already mentioned that feast or famine season of 1977/78, and that holds the record with ten matches in all competitions drawn 0-0 (nine in the league). I guess that goes to show, even when we weren’t scoring back then, we were still hellish hard to beat. 1987/88 comes close, with nine matches (eight in the league) finishing 0-0, but this season (currently on six no-score draws) still has the potential to challenge that top spot.

Incidentally, before we get too downcast, it’s worth remembering that our most likely opponent over the years for a 0-0 result (ten occurrences) was Bury – kind of puts our current woes into some sort of perspective I suppose?

Up the U’s

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