TO those on the outside looking in, sacking a manager with Oxford United tenth in Sky Bet League One looks unduly hasty.

Only the most optimistic supporters will have felt promotion was a must this season – instead the hope of mounting a play-off challenge would not appear to be out of the question with 17 games remaining.

Pep Clotet has yet to comment on the decision to end his reign after 205 days, but he would no doubt also point to two other factors which have hindered growth.

Injuries have plagued the squad all season.

While some, such as Ivo Pekalski, Rob Hall and Christian Ribeiro, were not especially surprising given their track records, losing the likes of Curtis Nelson and Charlie Raglan was plain unlucky.

Oxford Mail:

  • LOSS: Long-term injuries to players like Curtis Nelson did not help Picture: David Fleming

Then there is the transfer market, where Clotet lost Marvin Johnson and John Lundstram within weeks of taking charge.

Developing talent and selling it on is part of the brief, but the Spaniard was clearly frustrated that more of the fees did not come back for reinvestment.

While chairman Darryl Eales would stress the playing budget has been increased, the five figures paid for Pekalski was the only fee United spent last summer.

That is in contrast to 12 months earlier, when £1million of the Kemar Roofe and Callum O’Dowda deals was spent on bringing in Curtis Nelson, Ryan Ledson, Johnson and Kane Hemmings.

There is also the basic point that managers should be given time – at this point in Michael Appleton’s first season United were 17th in League Two, just three points above the relegation zone.

All that would suggest Clotet can feel hard done by, but then there is the other side of the coin.

From day one something did not feel quite right. At his unveiling only communications manager Chris Williams sat with him on the top table.

Assistant head coach Derek Fazackerley was in the room, but neither chairman Darryl Eales or any of the board members were present.

If there was a good reason for their absence it was never explained and while it was something relatively minor, it was hardly a ringing endorsement.

Clotet came across well, but one of his key points that day was to praise the club’s recruitment department and stressed they would be allowed to continue their work.

That sentiment appeared to be quickly abandoned, with Dwight Tiendalli signing after two years out of football.

It is hard to imagine the 31-year-old was on the radar of United’s scouting network, along with the apparent bid to get the Malmo class of 2010 back together.

Agon Mehmeti, Pekalski and Ricardinho arrived in quick succession having worked with Clotet in Sweden, while Xemi and Gino van Kessel swelled the overseas contingent.

Oxford Mail:

  • LEADERS: Gino van Kessel’s stunning debut goal helps United go top of the league in August Picture: David Fleming

And when the excitement from the exotic names died down, only Ricardinho had the form and fitness to start regularly – and even that came with him being the squad’s only specialist left back.

But it was easy to overlook that, given some of the football United were playing early on.

Top of the league in the opening month, Portsmouth and Gillingham were swept aside at home and despite conceding a last-gasp equaliser against Bradford City, some of the football United played that night was breathtaking.

As was the second half at Peterborough United, which came after three successive defeats.

Oxford Mail:

  • FLYING HIGH: Ryan Ledson celebrates with Joe Rothwell and Jack Payne at Peterborough United Picture: David Horn

Some hiccups were to be expected – and the feeling was if the side were playing this well after only a few weeks under Clotet, imagine how good they would be after a few months.

But tellingly, with the exception of a 4-0 victory against ten-man Plymouth Argyle in November, all the best moments came before Halloween.

The Spaniard did not seem to appreciate the significance of their Emirates FA Cup exit at the first hurdle in an awful performance at Port Vale.

Oxford Mail:

  • CUP UPSET: A fed-up supporter watches Oxford United bow out of the Emirates FA Cup at Port Vale Picture: James Williamson

The league may be the priority, but United fans had tasted glorious runs under Appleton and this was a significant blow.

Form heading into the winter was inconsistent, but not disastrous. While they were 3-0 down in 22 minutes against Blackburn Rovers, the 4-0 win at Plymouth calmed nerves.

The exciting football of the opening weeks was steadily ebbing away.

Grinding out results is OK in the short-term as long as you are picking up points, but then they ran into Wigan Athletic.

The Latics were formidable on the day, but the hosts were complicit.

Oxford Mail:

  • RECORD: The scoreboard says it all as Pep Clotet heads back to the bench against Wigan Athletic in December Picture: David Fleming

Xemi started while Ryan Ledson and Joe Rothwell began on the bench and there was no attempt at damage limitation on a record-breaking afternoon.

It is hard to say anything after you’ve lost 7-0 at home to make things better, but not for the first time the manager’s confused post-match comments made it worse.

For someone publicity-conscious enough to hire a firm to help with his image, getting his ideas across was a weakness which can only partially be put down to the language barrier.

It was going to take a lot for Clotet to come back from that and although United won their next two league games, the atmosphere was flat.

He was on thin ice, which gave way during the meek surrender against Bury, particularly with the U’s manager allegedly shushing supporters critical of the side’s approach.

Oxford Mail:

  • SHUSH: James Henry’s celebration after scoring against Bury  Picture: David Fleming

The 40-year-old had lost the fans, who also felt a detachment from a side lacking the sort of characters they had loved in previous years.

Appleton had the likes of Danny Hylton, Kemar Roofe and Chris Maguire to rely on, but when he was under pressure in the first season, Eales and Mark Ashton had his back and could go on the front foot.

But when he has needed someone above to do the same, Clotet has been isolated.

Eales’s low profile since the summer is in stark contrast to his first three years at the club and is a result of the ongoing speculation over ownership.

While it is understandable he would want to avoid a public debate about a takeover, a failure to talk about anything has added to the feeling of an unhappy club losing momentum.

Clotet made mistakes and the bright start had fizzled out, but – unlike his first press conference – he is not alone.