Monday, 16 February 2015

Going with what we have got

Cast your minds back about a decade. Every transfer window, John Ward would be asked about new arrivals.
"We'll go with what we've got," he would reply, and the fans' forums would go into overdrive.
Now, that mantra can be used to describe today's no-brainer decision to stick with Russell Milton and Steve Elliott for the rest of the season - and everyone is delighted.
If Paul Buckle did anything for Cheltenham Town FC, he can be credited with uniting the fanbase in a way I haven't seen for a long time.
Okay, they were united against him - but they were united, and that seems only to have been strengthened with Russ and Steve taking over.
Even Martin Allen had people among the supporters who would stick up for him. Paul Buckle didn't. I've not seen any tweets or had conversations with anyone who thinks he has been harshly treated.
For several weeks, I was getting direct messages on Twitter from people telling me that one way or another we had to get him out of our club, or he would take us down. Some of those came from people within the club.
Last Friday, one of those people sent me a message. It said: "Get in, we've done it." That tells you all you need to know.
Paul Baker has talked this season about a lack of passion among our fans. The passion with which they turned against Paul Buckle was there for all to see.
Fast forward to Saturday, and you would have thought we were going for promotion such was the mood about the place. Smiles on faces, springs in steps - on and off the field.
Everyone seemed in a good mood. Even that naughty Jim Haggin got in on the act - his decision to play 'Go West' by the Pet Shop Boys was surely no coincidence. I was waiting for it to be followed by New York, New York. A chance missed Jim.
It was swiftly followed by All Together Now, and that becomes the new mantra for the last 15 games.
Board, management, players and fans are all together. That is going to be crucial as the weeks go by.
Jim's reading of the teams was greeted by hearty cheers after each name. The team was cheered and clapped off the field after the pre-match warm-up. Everything seemed different.
Then the game started. Within 17 minutes, we knew that maybe not everything was different after all.
Same old problems. Midfielders caught the wrong side of the ball, taken out by one pass, lack of mobility to get back, player left to run at the back four who can't come out and make a challenge or Trevor Carson would be exposed, accurate finish from the edge of the box, 1-0 down.
Then a two-on-one down our left-hand side (for a change...) cross to the near post, player not tracked, bundles it in, 2-0 down, mountain to climb.
At that point, I was worried. Bury were playing it around, and had one move of about 25-30 passes where were were really chasing shadows.
But to be fair, the fans seemed determined to stay with it. I heard very few grumbles, and then heard a roar when Wes Burns won a 50-50 and Denny Johnstone fired in a well-taken goal - just the spark we needed.
From then on, we gave it a go. You could not fault the spirit, and the belief in the side.
We couldn't get an equaliser, and in truth never looked like getting it as we didn't trouble Nick Pope, but Trevor Carson had nothing to do either - there were four on-target shots in the match, three went in.
But it felt like a win. There were no boos at the end as people could see the players gave it all they could.
That was typified by Lee Vaughan. Gone was the forlorn figure I spoke to at half-time at Roots Hall on Tuesday when he felt he had been pushed out, and wouldn't be playing again in a hurry.
Here he was back in the team, and his link-up with Wes Burns down the right-hand side was one of the highspots of our performance. Another was Johnstone's display up front, his non-stop running and effort typified our work ethic.
There are problems, we know that, in central defence, at left-back and in central midfield especially, and if the management team can make changes, these have to be their priorities.
We have had a soft centre for too long now, with central defence not strong enough and our midfield not mobile enough - especially with Matt Richards and Kane Ferdinand in a two.
That pair were very poor, especially Ferdinand - and if we could end the loan and send him back early I'd do it to give us another option for change.
Jordan Wynter will be back soon, and Joe Hanks must be in contention. Oh for a fit Asa Hall. He's two weeks away. Or more. I think. Shame.
Richards' set-pieces were terrible - maybe Russ can spend some time passing on some of his left-footed wizardry from free-kicks and corners, or can we just bring him on to take them, NFL 'special teams' style.
Everyone knows we have a weakness at left-back. We have had for a season and three-quarters, and I am afraid that not even 10 or 20 training sessions with the best left-back I've seen in a CTFC shirt for 35 years, Jamie Victory, would improve the current incumbent. Get JV out of retirement!! (he said, only half joking).
Steve Elliott would be welcomed back at centre half, but he will only play if his knee or body can take it.
But his priority now is to be there to back Russ as he is the man now until the end of the season.
After Saturday, it was the only decision the board could make. The fans want it, the players want it and as he said after the game, Russ wants it as well.
And it was a masterstroke to bring Steve back. His exit was the last straw with Paul Buckle as far as the majority of fans were concerned. Most of his other changes were accepted - but saying Steve wasn't wanted was a step too far.
He'd go through brick walls for this club and that's the attitude we need in these last 15 games.
Russ and Steve, along with Jamie, Steve Book and Ian Weston are people we can and want to identify with, people who we know care about our football club and will do all they can to succeed.
They have all played for us. All proudly worn the shirt. Yes, even Wesso a couple of times.
It also makes sense to bring in an experienced head to guide them and act as a sounding board for them - but it must be made clear that is the role they are taking on.
They are not the manager. They are not picking the team or deciding the tactics. They are there to advise Russ and Steve, help with coaching and organisation and to offer their experience. They also must not rock the boat around the club.
Before the game on Saturday, I was in the Nest with two CTFC stalwarts and a former director of the club. We all talked about the need for a knowledgeable head to help our rookie gaffers and all came up with the same name. John Ward.
Again, it is a no-brainer. Wardy knows the club, the fans and the board. He knows the coaching staff, and he would come in and he would be doing the job for the good of the club - not their own ego.
I have heard names like Nigel Worthington and Gary Johnson banded about but I don't want them. They would want too much control and they don't know about the fabric of the club.
We brought in an 'outsider' and it didn't work. Why do that again when you have someone like Ward, who has the experience we need and would, I feel, fit in seamlessly.
Again, the fans want him. Most of them anyway. Some have mentioned the 'boring football' we played under him, but surely we will settle for boring football if we win games - and Wardy's team when he was here knew how to win ugly.
Others have worries over what happened at Bristol Rovers last year. I don't. I think they would have stayed up had they now panicked eight games from the end and moved Ward out, putting Darrell Clarke in charge.
And he won;t be the manager anyway. Just go and get Ward. It all fits.
But I can understand the board talking to other candidates. We criticised them for not doing that when Buckle came in, so we can't have a moan at them for checking out the field this time.
Just make sure you give the job to Wardy though - and I would go further by putting him on the board... get a real footballing man on there. We could do a lot worse.
We know this decision is the last throw of the dice, but the board had little option with this one.
Buckle had to go, and it was the only decision they could have made to put Russ in charge, as they had to try to unite the club, and it has worked.
Now the hard part. Turning a team of players who have won three games in the last 25 into a side which can win six or seven games in the last 15 to keep us up.
It's going to be tough. We all know that, and by the end of the next four games I think we will have a pretty good idea if we are capable of it or not.
Accrington, Tranmere, Carlisle, Mansfield. All teams in and around us, and we need to win, I feel, at least two of these games to give us some sort of springboard.
Two wins and two draws would be huge, with a clean sheet or two to boot.
Playing on Friday, three points at Accrington would be a massive result. It would lift us up a couple of places and put the pressure on the sides playing on Saturday, when one of the games is Oxford v Mansfield. A lot of the other sides near us are playing promotion-chasers.
On the way back from Southend, I had no hope. I was ready for our inevitable relegation as we were a disunited club heading one way without so much as a whimper.
Now I have hope, real hope. I enjoyed Saturday's game, and enjoyed the atmosphere around the ground.
That needs to stay around for the next 15 games, and with that environment off the field, the players will, hopefully, respond and get the points we need.
There is positivity everywhere. The chairman is positive, Russ and Steve are positive - talk of 'when we climb the table, when we stay up'. None of this 'third from bottom is a success' rubbish.
Lee Vaughan is positive. And as I write this, Trevor Carson has tweeted this: It might sound 'Irish' after recent results, but we are in a better position to beat the drop now than we were a month ago. Believe me!!
Going with what we have got might be the best decision this club has made in a long time. It will be a rollercoaster in the next few weeks, but I now have optimism that we will be having a party on May 3 - not a wake.




Friday, 13 February 2015

Unbuckled

FOOTBALL is a results business, and one win in 12 league games in charge of Cheltenham Town was reason enough for Paul Buckle’s reign to be cut short.
But it goes deeper than that. This was a man who managed to make himself deeply unpopular both within and outside the club in a very short space of time.
On Tuesday night at Southend, the hardcore 50 who headed to Essex were chanting before the kick-off of their desire to see him leave the club.
And his body language during the game at Roots Hall and post-match comments were not those of a man supposedly determined to put up a fight to keep the Robins in the Football League.
Buckle and assistant Rob Edwards spent the whole game in the dugout, not once coming to the side of the pitch to offer encouragement to the players, as if resigned to another limp defeat.
Then on the final whistle, he vanished quickly, leaving goalkeeping coach Steve Book to guide the players over to acknowledge the travelling fans.
Post match, Southend were hailed as a good side, as if we should be accepting of a 2-0 defeat against a side in the top seven.
None of this helped his connectivity with the fans, many of whom saw him as a poor appointment from the start, and practically all of whom now celebrate his departure.
He was parachuted in from America after two years out of the game with ridiculous haste after the exit of Mark Yates in November.
As the results failed to pick up,  Buckle seemed reluctant to take on any responsibility, preferring to blame his predecessor for ‘leaving him with a poor squad’ and ‘spending all of the budget’.
It was the players who took all the blame. Especially the ones he was left with, and he shipped eight of them out in an effort to revamp his squad.
The team had won two games in the last 12 when he took over – they needed lifting, motiviating and instilling with belief.
Instead, they were told they were not good enough, a poor squad with a losing mentality – so it is little wonder that they went out for every game with no confidence, as their manager obviously had no confidence in them.
Had he stayed, there was a sad inevitability to Cheltenham Town’s relegation to the Conference.
The board must take responsibility for a poor, hasty appointment, and a failure to invite applications for the role.
But it’s time to draw a line in the sand. Recriminations and the blame game can wait.
Russell Milton, a Cheltenham Town man through and through, has been put in charge and now is the time for unity.
Board, management, players and fans need to pull together, We have to put this sorry episode behind us, as we have a football club to keep up.
So, if you aren’t doing anything on Saturday at 3pm, get down to Whaddon Road and shout your lungs off for Russell Milton and the Robins.

Your club needs you.

Monday, 9 February 2015

New team, same outcome

HAVING signed up five new players on deadline day, it felt like we were finally going to see Paul Buckle's team in earnest when Burton came to town on Saturday.
He has spent the past couple of months bemoaning what he was left with, but now it is his team, and he didn't waste any time throwing the majority of them into action, with all bar Eliot Richards of his new boys starting the game.
But it was the presence of two of his 'old heads' which put things on a downer almost from the off - the choice of Matt Richards on the left hand side, and Troy Brown keeping Lloyd Jones out as Matt Taylor's centre-half partner.
Neither have exactly distinguished themselves of late, and with viable alternatives available, it was strange to see them both getting the nod, especially Richards deployed in the role he was - Eliot Richards, Zack Kotwica, Jake Gray or Omari Sterling-James (not even in the 18 after some promising displays lately) seemed to be more 'round peg' alternatives.
It made even less sense given that we had our two big, physical men up front in Mathieu Manset and Denny Johnstone.
Playing two big men, you want orthodox wingers to be on the flanks, chalk on their boots, beating their men and looking to get crosses in.
But we had Richards on one side, whose delivery may sometimes be half-decent but will never use a turn of pace to beat a man to get half-a-yard and then cross, and on the other side Wes Burns, who - although he scored and was probably our best player - to my mind is better used centrally and only came into the game after the break.
Of the new boys, Manset was the biggest disappointment. He seemed to be blowing a bit at the end of the pre-match warm-up, which didn't bode well and although he did win a couple of flick-ons he also got caught offside rather lazily twice from goal-kicks and looked a fair bit off the pace.
A shame, and you have to hope he will get up to speed in time, or maybe he could have to be used as an impact man, to come on for 20-25 minutes and knock about a tiring back four. He certainly hasn't started many games for Walsall.
Johnstone was willing, he chased everything but due to the team having no natural supply line, forged largely in a sea of futility. He had one half-sniff of goal, and could have got on the end of the chance we created at 3-1 down - but I think there is something there and I have hopes he will contribute.
The midfield pair of Kane Ferdinand and Jordan Wynter, both six-foot-plus and quite mobile, are a potential partnership to work on. I thought they started the game well, but like everyone else, after the opening goal were a victim of Burton's increase in confidence and an unsurprising loss of belief in our ranks after we conceded.
The opening goal was down to a fine opportunist finish from Stuart Beavon - we didn't do much wrong in my view and he seized on a half-chance and that was that.
But the second was horrendous. Craig Braham-Barrett was slow to react to a throw-in, didn't stop the cross, then we watched Jacob Blyth flick it on and then Burns and Durrell Berry left Adam McGurk to each other. 2-0 and all my pre-match optimism and anticipation of a new slate wiped clean had gone.
A double half-time change was good to see. At least the manager was pro-active and wasn't going to let it drift as Gray and Eliot Richards replaces Matt Richards and Manset. We kept the 4-4-2 and looked a bit more balanced.
But then out came the service revolver once again and was aimed squarely at our feet with Phil Edwards left standing on the six-yard line scarcely able to believe his luck. Back to the drawing board when it comes to defending from set-pieces.
We did wake up. Burns took it upon himself to spark some life with a run between two defenders and a thumping finish, and - credit to them - the supporters got behind the team, who responded with a good 15-20 minute spell.
A Gray cross hit the bar, Burns returned it across goal, Johnstone couldn't turn it in and Matt Taylor put it over. That was the chance and had we got to 3-2 with the crowd raised up, you never know.
But with that chance, the belief we had got back ebbed away again. The 15-20 minute storm petered out as Burton, like the good side they are, held out comfortably for the win to take them back to the top.
Half-time subs Eliot Richards and Gray acquitted themselves pretty well and probably deserve starts at Southend tomorrow. Tellingly Jones appeared for Brown late on (no injury involved) - and I wouldn't be averse to seeing that finishing team coming out of the tunnel at Roots Hall.
However, the bottom line is that a 20-minute spell against a side already 3-0 up and coasting is not going to win us games. We need more than that to get us out of the situation we are in.
I got some grief on Twitter today for being negative. I am usually a very positive person, especially where CTFC is concerned - but I really am struggling for positive straws to clutch at.
The facts are stark. 24 games without a clean sheet. Three wins in 23 games - half a season - in which we have collected 16 points. Over a full season, that is 32 points, and that is only taking you to one place. Well, 24 including Braintree and Wrexham actually.
After 14 points from six games, we have only just doubled that tally by game 29. That is not me being negative, that is (at the risk of going all Rafa Benitez on you) the facts.
Yates' last 12 games as manager yielded eight points, Buckle's first 11 have also yielded eight points - so there has been no change in results, no upturn, no new manager bounce.
After Yates left us 10 points clear of the bottom two, now that gap is two points. By tomorrow night we could be down in there.
I am not saying Yates should not have gone. He should. Probably earlier than he did in hindsight, but when it came the decision was, I feel, taken at the right time after two pretty hapless defeats by Stevenage and Wycombe.
But I will say it again. The succession was rushed. There were people out there who were not given the chance to apply, to come in and talk to the board and for them to show what they had to offer.
There was no need to parachute a manager in with such haste, and I remain convinced that the Dover Cup game's importance to the club financially was the reason for the speed of thought.
Buckle was headhunted after two years off the scene in America. At the moment, in my view, it is not working. He has made the changes he felt were necessary, and I agree with the vast majority of the exits - I would have kept Steve Elliott around though. Even though he may not be a long-term option, his short-term value and experience is there for all to see.
The jury is still out on many of the incomings as most have played a game or two, but Burns and Wynter made promising starts and - to be fair - it is a shame he lost Kevin Stewart and Jack Dunn, who were adding something to the team.
On the subject of Elliott, the social media post attributed to him which was shared on Twitter makes worrying reading, talking as it did of 'not being able to work in the environment' at the club.
That is not the sort of thing we want to hear when our existence as a Football League club has never been in more jeopardy than it is now.
You want unity and a determined attitude to fight this situation. The environment should be harmonious, and for Steve to say something like that suggests that maybe it isn't. Concerning if so.
I have to admit I am not convinced that this manager will pull us away from trouble. His tactics and how he sets the team up does not instill me with confidence. The slide which started under Yates has not been halted, and if anything seems to be gathering pace.
He also does not seem to have been able to get any connectivity with the supporters. A fans' forum early on in his reign would not have gone amiss and I have to admit that to see him stomp straight down the tunnel on the whistle on Saturday rather than even look at, let alone acknowledge, the supporters isn't going to help his cause.
I fully understand that the players he has brought in need time to settle and knit together but, let's face it, we haven't got the time for them to bed in. He needs to inspire them, fire them up with belief and get them firing now - definitely for that run of four make-or-break games against Accrington, Tranmere, Carlisle and Mansfield which is coming up.
The manager says we need six wins, and we have 17 games to get them in, starting tomorrow. Remember, we have won three times in the last 23 games.
This is why I am not optimistic that those six wins will be forthcoming and I have to admit to being very fearful that the efforts of Steve Cotterill and that team which dragged us up in 1999 could all be undone.
I would be stunned if the board are not concerned, and did not discuss the situation at their regular meeting today. They care about this club, and I feel confident they will do whatever they feel is necessary to give us the best chance of avoiding the trap door.
If that means considering another change of manager, they have to entertain that thought, even though it would be a gamble and an admission that they got it wrong in November.
Ultimately it could be a call they have little option but to take - that is if the results continue in the manner they are going at the moment... and wouldn't a win tomorrow would be such a shot in the arm for us all?

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

The dust settles...

So that was January, and it was just another run-of-the-mill month in the life of Cheltenham Town FC.
On the pitch it went from good at Oxford, to terrible at Hartlepool, so-so against Morecambe, a bit better against Luton, then plumbed the depths again at Dagenham.
Off the pitch however, it hasn't been dull with the ins and outs happening with ridiculous regularity - I think it is eight in and eight out, but I might have lost count somewhere, it has been that crazy.
So Paul Buckle has done his wheeling and dealing and all in all done it pretty well, so much so that Saturday's team against Burton looks certain to include more players that he signed than he inherited.
Therefore, it is time for the excuses to stop. No more bleating about the poor team/squad that was here when he came in.
Many of them have gone, and of those left, he has given new contracts to a few and the others will most likely be gone by May, no matter what division we end up in, and lot of them won't be missed.
Paul, it is now your team, and it is time for you to take full responsibility for how it performs, rather than blaming your predecessor or how tough the job is etc etc etc. It is down to you now.
I wasn't at Dagenham but it seems from what I have been told that we gave away a stupid penalty, got back into the game, and then once we were 2-1 down we were never going to get back into the game.
In other words, a pattern we have seen a number of times in so-called 'pivotal' games under this manager and the one before, and similar to the Hartlepool game a few weeks back.
Some have told me they didn't question the effort, but others say we threw the towel in. I have only seen the goals so can't judge on that one. But a few things stood out.
First, no-one reacting to the penalty save bar, belatedly, Matt Taylor, then Trevor Carson seemed to be beaten from an angle at his near post.
The second was a good hit by Ashley Hemmings, but poor defending down our right hand side, and again, Carson beaten at his near post.
Then the third, more poor defending down our right. Then Troy Brown is given the runaround and for the third time, Carson is beaten at his near post.
From those highlights, it all looked too easy, and again we seemed to roll over in a powder-puff manner.
Again, the supporters who travelled were let down, and tales of players smiling and laughing as they left the field didn't do anything to lighten their mood.
That is something Buckle still needs to do - get that connectivity, and I think it would be a very good idea if he did a Fans' Forum or something like that in the not too distant future (he missed the chance in Woodall Services the other week...).
Team-wise my only surprise was Lloyd Jones staying at right-back after Durrell Berry's signing, with him being on the bench, alongside another out-and-out right back in Lee Vaughan.
My only explanation is that he wanted to keep (as much as he could) the Luton side together, but playing an out-of-position centre-back at right-back with two established right-backs on the bench was a strange one.
We have been a soft touch for too long, and players like Matt Richards, Troy Brown and Craig Braham-Barrett have been constants in many of the worst capitulations - so it doesn't surprise me greatly to see them copping most of the flak.
They are senior players now. We have a very young squad and these are the kinds of players who should be leading, setting the examples to these youngsters, but they are too often the ones being pointed at when things go wrong. I'd be stunned if any of that trio are here next August.
As Monday came around, we had seen Jason Taylor, Raffa de Vita, Adam Powell, Andy Haworth, Paul Black and Byron Harrison leave, with their destinations ranging from Dingwall to Atlanta, via Barrow and Northampton.
In had come the Liverpool loan trio Jones, Jack Dunn and Kev Stewart, Jake Gray from Crystal Palace and Durrell Berry came in from Torquay.
So the foundations were there, and the final day of the window was then going to round it off.
While many clubs higher up the ladders tried and failed to do most of the deals they wanted, we had no such luck. In (by Tuesday morning) came five more, and out went (by Tuesday afternoon) another two.
So it was overall 10 players coming in, while eight went out - but it actually balances out at eight in, eight out due to the injuries to Dunn and Stewart which cut their stays short.
Those setbacks - and they are big blows as those two have been excellent for us -  changed the deadline day priorities, as deals were sorted to keep all three Liverpool boys for the season. Now Jones is here on his own for the rest of the campaign.
That freed up a couple of loan slots - and they were used up quickly with the arrivals of Denny Johnstone and Wes Burns from Birmingham and Bristol City.
Johnstone started at Celtic and has played at age group levels for Scotland, and headed to Birmingham last summer, and has scored goals recently on loan at Macclesfield.
He looks to have some physicality about him, which we could do with. He has been given Byron's number 9 shirt, and seems to have been highly rated by Neil Lennon when he was in charge at Celtic.
We know all about Burns - he scored against us for Bristol City and in our win at Oxford, from where Steve Cotterill called him back and sent him to us - possibly with a parting shot in his ear  from the gaffer to tell him to get some goals and keep his club in the Football League... no pressure then Wes!
Signing number three was a permanent one, and on an 18-month deal.
Eliot Richards is a player who has been linked with us practically ever since Buckle, and more importantly Rob Edwards, came to the club.
Buckle was his manager at Bristol Rovers, Edwards was with him at Exeter on a loan spell where he scored six times in 11 games, and then took him to Tranmere in Edwards' short spell as manager.
He scored one goal at Tranmere - against us of course - and he also netted at Whaddon for Rovers when they won 2-0 in January 2012... when we were top of League Two. How things change.
He has always been a decent-looking player when I have seen him but I get the feeling he hasn't quite filled his potential. He is relatively experienced at our level, and this could be his chance to settle down.
It is good to see him sign up for 18 months. To me that shows commitment, and he won't want to be playing Conference football next season...
Richards can play down the middle, but equally on the left, so is an option for that role in either a 4-4-2 or a 4-3-3 system.
So three forwards coming in meant that we were able to let Terry Gornell go back to Accrington on an 18-month deal, and his last six months here was cancelled.
Terry was a hard-working player and that got him the backing of the crowd, but the hard truth is that his goalscoring record was simply not good enough, and the move is better for everyone.
Then it all went quiet. I finished my day job at the Echo having been distracted by the comings and goings all day and went to help my colleague James Young for the graveyard shift.
We were promised two more arrivals. What... surely not? Five players in a day?
With Stewart going back, surely one would be have to be a midfielder. The other? a defender? No. We found out, was going to be a forward. Four forwards...!?!
News of the midfielder arrived at 9.45pm - and it was a familiar face in Jordan Wynter, a player who did well during his loan spell in those heady early weeks of the season, and who we managed to get on an 18-month, permanent deal.
That is good business to me, as he seems a strong, mobile player, and a good athlete.
We have seen he can get a goal or two and his height will be handy at set-pieces in both boxes, and I think he is a player we can improve, and he can become a good asset for us. Cheers again Cotts...
The final signing wasn't going to be concluded until Tuesday morning, and that meant he had to be a free agent, and so it was as Mathieu Manset signed a six-month deal (slightly disappointing, but if we stay up and he does well I'd hope we could extend it) after being freed by Walsall.
He is a player with a chequered history. He burst on the scene at Hereford, scored goals and went to Reading for a six-figure fee.
From there, he has played in Switzerland, China, Belgium, Carlisle, Coventry and Walsall in pretty quick succession without great success, and now he is here.
But he is a beast. A tank of a man who is just the sort of player we have been crying out for, and I think we could have an interesting time with this guy.
He is only 25, which I was surprised about, and I think we have signed an unpredictable talent, who is capable of brilliance and mediocrity in equal measure.
Having signed him, I admit to being slightly disappointed that Jack Dunn has had to go back, as I feel these two would wreak havoc, but now I feel we have a real forward threat, and the front end of the team has certainly been improved from where it was when Buckle arrived.
So the loan situation now is that we four season-long deals in Burns, Johnstone, Jones and Ferdinand, while Gray is here for an initial month, which ends after the Southend game next Tuesday.
That is the same day that the loan window re-opens - and the option is there to extend Gray's deal or send him back and leave a loan space open for someone else - maybe Stewart or Dunn if they are fit.
If that happens that would an interesting choice - would Buckle, having signed four forwards, bring Dunn back as a fifth striker option, or opt for Stewart to continue the drive he was bringing to our midfield.
It may have been seen as significant that his absence from the side was the only change between the Luton and Dagenham games - and he was outstanding against Luton.
The other alternative would be to look elsewhere in the side. Many would say he should sign a new left-back, and others would want a centre-half - especially after the news I have been hinting at as a possibility was finally confirmed... the departure of Steve Elliott.
He has been fantastic for this club over four and half years and 194 games, via White Hart Lane and Wembley - one of the best free-transfer pick-ups we have had in the Football League era.
He didn' t play under Buckle having been injured in the Wycombe game which ended Mark Yates' reign, and had a couple of setbacks in trying to come back from his knee injury.
In his interview today, he says he is between 7 and 10 days away from fitness - but clearly Buckle does not see him as part of his plans on the field.
In the long-term, you can't argue with the decision as Elliott is 36. Short-term however, in a relegation battle and team without a clean sheet in 23 games, I am surprised that Buckle doesn't feel he has a part to play in the coming weeks.
So if he isn't going to play, then you can understand him moving on as he says he thinks he has 18 months left on the field - and the bush telegraph tells me he could be heading off to play for Archie Howells at Bath when he is fit, which will be great for them.
He will also get a bit more coaching experience, and I'd love to see him come back here in some capacity in the future -  manager, assistant, coach or whatever. A great bloke and a great servant to CTFC.
So that was that, and what a rollercoaster - and now we have the squad for the coming crucial weeks, and the 18 games which will shape our club's future.
There are fans delighted with the business we have done - while some are concerned that the squad is too young, or that we should have addressed the defence with the lack of clean sheets.
I am happy enough. I understand the defensive concerns, and those worried about a perceived lack of experience - but I also believe there would have been criticism had we signed four 31-year-olds from those worried that we had signed old players who might get injured too easily. It's a no win.
I also get people saying the balance is skewed too far towards youth, and we need that experience. But Yates relied on experience, and that's where the rot which Buckle hasn't yet been able to arrest started off, so it's swings and roundabouts really.
Basically, we have signed players that we can afford given the money the manager has generated from the players he has moved on. That is the bottom line.
Yes, there are loans, but at least four of them are season-long, so there is a degree of permanence there and we will not be shuffling them about a month at a time.
Two signed on 18-month deals, both players in their early 20s, is decent business in my book, and the other on a six-month deal which gives both sides a chance to look at each other and see where we are come May.
On the defensive question, we now have more presence up front with the likes of Manset and Johnstone. Therefore, instead of the ball coming back constantly to put more pressure on our back-line, we now should have the tools to try and see the ball stick up front more often, and maybe give our defenders a bit of a breather.
'Defending from the front' is something we hear a lot about, but we simply haven't done that well enough for a long time, and I expect that to improve now with these additions, and with Wynter's help I expect us to compete a lot better in midfield.
I want to see either Berry or Vaughan (Berry I suspect) at right back from Saturday onwards and if Jones is to play then he should partner Matt Taylor, who, with Elliott gone, becomes even more a key figure.
We also need Carson to re-discover his from from the start of the season, and tighten up a bit, stamping out the little errors which have I feel crept in recently.
So we have had a lot of changes, and amazingly now the player still at the club who made his debut first is, would you believe, Joe Hanks, who played against Exeter in a 3-0 win in October 2012 - every other player at the club then has now left.
So if you are struggling to catch up, here is the squad:
Goalkeepers - Carson, Gould, Reynolds
Defenders - Vaughan, Berry, Deaman, Brown, Jones, Taylor, Braham-Barrett, Bowen
Midfielders - M Richards, Hanks, Ferdinand, Wynter, Gray, Sterling-James, Kotwica, Williams, Hall
Attackers - Manset, Johnstone, E Richards, Burns, Dale, Lawrence
With these arrivals I must confess I am looking forward to Saturday. I think Buckle has done as well as he could bringing these players in and trying to shuffle his pack.
Fans wanted new faces, they wanted the underachievers moved on, and that's what they have got, even if all the underachievers that many wanted out of the door haven't been moved on - yet.
As the manager said in his interview on Tuesday, we all have to unite and work together or the task will get harder.
If we are all pulling in the same direction, we have a chance to help get this club out of the mire. Some may have doubts about Buckle, but he is the man given the task of saving us and we should try to get behind him.
His team sheet and system will be interesting on Saturday, when Burton come to town - and he has real options.
Playing 4-4-2 we could field Carson; Berry, Taylor, Jones, Braham-Barrett; Gray, Ferdinand, Wynter, E Richards; Burns, Manset - subs could be Reynolds, Brown, Hanks, M Richards, Sterling-James, Kotwica, Johnstone.
That looks a solid side against a high-flying team, and the bench looks so much stronger than it has in recent games with real alternatives, and even has people like Deaman, Vaughan, Bowen and Williams outside the 18.
Alternatively, we could opt for a 4-3-3, with the same back five, Matt Richards, Ferdinand, Hanks and Wynter fighting it out to be a midfield three, and Eliot Richards left and Burns right either side of Johnstone or Manset.
You want 3-5-2? OK - Carson; Jones, Taylor, Brown; Berry, Wynter, Ferdinand, M Richards, Braham-Barrett; Burns, Manset is a possibility for that formation - or 3-4-3 losing a central midfielder, Matt Richards for instance, and putting an extra forward, probably Eliot Richards, in.
This has been the last throw of the dice, and we have to hope that it works. The situation is pretty grave with us 21st in the table, one of five sides on 30 points.
There are nine sides within five points of each other, and the bottom line is that we need to start winning very quickly, and these players need to hit the ground running and gel very quickly.
Crunch time starts now... and we would all take 22nd, wouldn't we?


Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Finishing the jigsaw

IT has been a time of transition since Paul Buckle came in, but the time is coming now when that will be over, and everything will settle down for the crucial last few months of the season.
Staff have come and gone, with Buckle, Rob Edwards and chief scout/recruitment guru John Milton arriving as Mark Yates and Shaun North left.
On the playing side too, the three Liverpool loanees, Jake Gray and now Durrell Berry have arrived - with rumours of Macclesfield winger Adriano Moke to follow.
Their arrivals have been financed by the departures of Raffa de Vita, Jason Taylor, Adam Powell and Paul Black, plus Andy Haworth's loan - and then also by the sale of Byron Harrison to Chesterfield.
That last departure is by far the most significant, and as is the same with every player who leaves the club has been met with a mixed response, almost down the middle between those who think it is a good move, and those who can't believe Buckle has got rid.
I am in the 'good move' camp. It was obvious almost from the start that Harrison was not going to be a Buckle-type player.
He likes exuberant, hard-working players who chase lost causes and put real shifts in for the team from minute one to 90 - Byron that is not.
I am afraid all too often we saw sulky Byron. Rarely did he have a smile on his face - indeed there are times when I have wondered whether he actually enjoys being a footballer at all, whether his heart is really in it.
He was always a good interview. Deep at times, a thinker, but I would sit and watch him and just want to see more 'get up and go' from him. Too many times I would think he was playing within himself and not giving it his all.
On his day he was unplayable. But I can remember many of those individual 'days'. Swindon this season, At Mansfield last Easter when we won 2-0. The fact that I can do that shows that they didn't come round very often, and certainly not often enough.
He started the first three games of Buckle's reign, scoring against Oxford, but was then benched and listed.
The final nail in his coffin at Cheltenham came at Hartlepool. We were trailing, and he was summoned from the ice box. This was his chance to really show Buckle he was wrong. Really prove a point.
But he didn't. He came on and we saw the insipid Byron, the one who didn't challenge the centre-halves, didn't give them a hard time, didn't run the channels or give us any spark at all. He did nothing to change the course of the game.
That display and the almost 'so what' reaction to being dropped was what finally showed me Buckle is right to move him on. It is best for all parties.
Yes, he scored 15 goals last season in a mediocre side, and swept the player of the year board. That came after a rocket from Yatesy at Kidderminster when he was abysmal in a pre-season game which we lost 3-1.
That was meant to be the springboard for this season - time to kick on and really become one of the division's most feared forwards and maybe attract the interest of higher-level clubs.
But it didn't happen, and he can't live off past glories. If Yates' two play-off season were irrelevant in the eyes of many fans in ultimately deciding his future, then surely Harrison's goals last year also can't come into the equation? It is all about the here and now.
His supporters will also claim he suffered from a lack of service.
That is maybe true to a certain extent, but I also feel that the 'I had no service' line is also being used as an excuse for laziness.
Look at last Saturday - Jack Dunn didn't always get great service but still looked like a goal threat and worked openings himself through hard work and endeavour, rather than just lolling around, hands on hips as Byron was prone to do on occasions. Sometimes you have to try to make the best of what you have.
People will cry 'where will the goals come from now'. Well, Harrison scored four league goals in half of this season, so do we really trust him to score another 10 in the remaining games? I don't - but yes, we do need someone to do that.
It may well be that League One will suit Byron. There is a bit less hustle and bustle, and he might get a bit more time at that level, with less chance of a big centre-half clattering him at every opportunity.
John Marquis has started well at that level on loan at Gillingham and it seems to suit him better, and I am sure if Byron does likewise the fan club will be out in force to slam Buckle for letting him go.
But they won't be heard as vociferously if Buckle can find a replacement who comes in and makes an impact - and that is now the final part of the jigsaw.
A small fee (I am guessing about £10,000) and Harrison's wages (another guess, but I'd say upwards of £1,000 a week) should, allied with the other savings, be enough for Buckle to bring someone in.
Already the agent and 'ITK' Twitter accounts have been at work, and the 'old chestnut' name of Rene Howe has cropped up.
Howe has been a pain in the neck for us in the past, notably in his Torquay days, and is certainly the type of player I would like us to bring in - a physical line-leader to hold the ball up and give us some presence.
He is now at Newport, and scored in their reserve side at Plymouth this week as he continues to find full fitness after injury.
Howe started for County at Northampton on Saturday, but that was his first start since August, and he was out for four months. His sub appearance against us over Christmas was his second game back, and he did look rusty in the 45 minutes he played.
That is the main issue with him - fitness. I remember how he went off against us in the play-off semi-final first leg for Torquay... but he had been a real handful in the 20 minutes he was on the field.
Get him fit, and there is a player there, and that has to be the key. No point signing him only for him to break down quickly, leaving us short again - but every signing is a gamble.
The rumours have grown a bit of pace with news that Newport are reportedly close to signing a forward on loan (believed to be Swindon's Miles Storey) and that could make them more amenable to an enquiry for Howe.
Buckle has to weigh this one up very carefully as this final signing could make or break us - it is the most important signing of all, the final piece of his jigsaw.
While the results have not been great on the pitch, I don't think Buckle can be criticised for the wheeling and dealing he has done so far. Everyone was crying out for new arrivals, for the squad to be overhauled and some 'dead wood' moved on. Well, it has been done.
The Liverpool lads have settled in well so far, and I just really hope we can keep them on. Jake Gray showed some promise on Saturday and will add some energy to us as he settles in and Kane Ferdinand will also be an asset I believe, if he isn't farmed out wide.
Durrell Berry is a solid performer, having played 100 games at this level and looks a good addition. Some disquiet has been heard about the award of a six-month deal, but I think it is sensible while we don't know what league we will be in next season.
While if we get Adriano Moke, we are getting one of the top assist-makers in the Conference and someone who has been a big part of Macclesfield's fine season.
A big, strong forward and keeping the Liverpool boys are the last pieces, and I think if he manages those things, Buckle will then have achieved all he could possibly have done in January.
I think is is always ideal to have two players for each position, and that is what Buckle would have achieved and we will have a very different-looking squad, which would look something like this:

Goalkeepers
Trevor Carson
Matt Gould
Harry Reynolds (scholar)

Right-backs
Lee Vaughan
Durrell Berry

Left-backs
Craig Braham-Barrett
James Bowen

Centre-backs
Matt Taylor
Troy Brown
Lloyd Jones
Jack Deaman
Steve Elliott (inj)

Central midfielders
Kane Ferdinand
Kevin Stewart
Joe Hanks
Matt Richards
Asa Hall (inj)

Wingers/attacking midfielders
Zack Kotwica
Jake Gray
Adriano Moke
Omari Sterling-James
Harry Williams

Forwards
Terry Gornell
Bobbie Dale
Jack Dunn
AN Other




Monday, 26 January 2015

Another small step

AS many of you will already know, I had my own reasons for really wanting us to win Saturday's game.
But by the end, the fact that we didn't wasn't too much of a disappointment as I came away with encouragement from many aspects of our performance.
Therefore I have been surprised once again at the level of negativity after the game.
I heard some boos at full-time, and have had tweets giving the view that my BBC Glos colleague Pete Matthews' summing up of the game was very much on the generous side. The studio also had some critical tweets and texts post-match about our display.
But the vast majority of people I have interacted with in person and on social media since the game seemed to concur with my view that we put in a decent-enough display and more than merited the draw we got.
We weren't brilliant throughout, and yes, I know we didn't win. I also accept that it is getting to the stage of the season, given the position we are in, that we need to start winning games, and decent performances to get draws are not going to see us climb that table at a great rate.
But surely fans can understand that the transition from Mark Yates to Paul Buckle was always to be a gradual one, and was never going to bring an instant upturn in results, and that we look a better side now than when Buckle arrived?
The vast majority of teams change their manager mid-season because they are in a poor run of form, with a low-confidence squad and the arrival of a new manager with new staff and new ideas is going to take time to bed in properly and start to produce consistent results.
Buckle needed six games to work out what he really had inherited, and to find out which players were going to buy into his way of working.
Now having more or less sorted that out, he has more or less decided who he wants and who he doesn't.
Then it is a case of wheeling and dealing to bring some new faces in and get some of the sidelined ones out, as he has with Jason Taylor, Paul Black and Andy Haworth.
To my mind, this game was the last of his honeymoon period, and from the game at Dagenham on Saturday onwards, he needs to get results as he will have done everything he can by then to put his own mark on the squad.
As I showed in the blog last week, his record for his first eight league games is not really any better or worse than any other CTFC manager.
I think we all know that it's going to be a bit hairy between now and May, as it was when Yatesy took over five years ago.
Despite the failure to really upturn the results and get that so-far elusive home win, I don't feel we are as much of a soft touch now (Hartlepool excepted), and am convinced that if Yates had been in charge on Saturday, we would have lost that game, as Luton would have bullied us out of it.
It was heartening to see us show a bit of backbone when we needed to, digging in during what became a very attritional second half, having in the first played some pretty decent stuff at times.
While he has been assessing what he has, Buckle has gone more 'horses for courses' with his selection.
It was 3-4-3 against Morecambe to match what they did, and then this week it was a 4-1-4-1 to be solid.
I thought in the event he got it right, looking for solidity at the back and in mdifield while trying to use a bit of pace with Zack Kotwica and new boy Jake Gray coming in to the side to try and get in behind them.
I thought they both did ok, I was bit disappointed at times though when Zack cut infield when I thought he had a chance to take on his man, while Gray tried to go outside when he could but was a bit weak physically at times.
I'll cut him some slack as it was his first game. To both of their credit though, both worked hard defensively and kept going for the full 90.
In Zack's case, that was, I felt, his most encouraging performance for us when he has started a game. Hope he can keep it up.
Matt Richards was back in as the midfield sitter and to be fair to him, the axe and subsequent rocket up his backside seemed to have had an effect.
I thought he did a decent enough job, and allowed the two ahead of him, Kevin Stewart and Kane Ferdinand, to play with a bit of freedom.
Stewart was, for my money, comfortably our best player (not Troy Brown as the sponsors somehow concluded...) and is getting better every game he plays as he settles into the hustle and bustle of proper football - which is what you want from a young player.
He looks like he belongs, and alongside him Ferdinand had comfortably his best game for us. Please no more playing him out on the right, as he was suited to the role he was given, getting forward to be a support for Jack Dunn.
We do look much better with a three in there, and this trio plus Joe Hanks will have to do the work in there for the rest of the season - I for one have written Asa Hall off until pre-season next June.
Stewart and Gray made the goal, and credit to Zack for being in the right place to finish it off. I felt we merited the lead.
The downside was, of course, that we conceded so quickly. The midfield I praised above did switch off to allow Adam Drury space to shoot and Trevor Carson won't be happy with how he dealt with it - although he will ask Craig Braham-Barrett why Shaun Whalley reacted quicker than he did.
For the rest of the half we were on the back foot, and it was going to be a test for our defending and we just about passed the examination.
Some of the clearances were a bit panicky, but they got the job done, and Carson made one decent save.
But we didn't fold, as we might have done a few weeks ago. There was backbone, determination and a desire not to concede, but to stand firm. They were led by Matt Taylor, whose fitness in the next few months could really be pivotal to the club's future.
Among those defenders was Lloyd Jones deployed  in an unusual right-back position, with Lee Vaughan dropped to the bench.
However, Vaughan being on the bench was a surprise as I could not see many circumstances that he would come on, and with Jack Deaman also being on there, but Harry Williams not being in the 18 at all after doing well from the start in the previous two games.
Before the game there were rumours that right-back Durrell Berry is heading this way from Torquay, and it seems this deal will happen - so you assume that Jones' switch was for one game only, while you wonder whether Vaughan's exile may be a longer one.
I would wonder whether putting Vaughan on the bench rather than leaving him totally out of the 18 was a bit of a softener for the blow of being dropped.
In attack, Dunn was his usual effervescent self. The battle with his fellow Scouser Steve McNulty was always going to be a fascinating one, and although he never got near him in the air as you would expect it was a different story on the floor.
He picked his pocket a few times and managed to get a shot away most times, bar the second-half rugby tackle wide out of the left which got McNulty a yellow. Some fans thought he should have got red, but it was never going to happen.
Dunn battled hard up front, and at times got frustrated with the service he was getting, and we were guilty of going a bit too direct to him at times and as we had to dig in during the second half, he did get a bit isolated.
I would hope that this week we can bring in a physical forward who could lead the line, hold the ball up and occupy the centre-halves while Dunn gets a bit more freedom to run in and around and using his pace.
But that of course would mean us playing two up front, which would affect the three man midfield, or mean playing three at the back... dilemmas and choices there for the manager.
We deserved a point overall - no more than that. Luton were what I had expected - solid, organised and a tough nut to crack as John Still sides usually are, and I must admit to slight disappointment to hear him blaming the pitch for them not winning. You're better than that John.
I didn't feel they did enough to win, and neither did we, so a draw was right, and I certainly would have taken that before the game.
There was a bit of talk after the game about the lack of substitutes until the very end when Byron Harrison made an almost token appearance in place of Dunn.
I said in the commentary that I might have made a change around the 65-minute mark to replace one of the wide men like-for-like with maybe Omari Sterling-James just for fresh legs, but some people have wondered why he didn't put a second forward on.
My only explanation for that would be that maybe Buckle felt that the system was working and that he felt it was more important not to lose the game rather than making an attacking change to try to win it. It was stick rather than twist, and I guess some would see that as negative, but I saw it as sensible.
I can see Buckle's reasoning in feeing one point was better than none. I would not have changed the system as I thought we were comfortable in the second half with Carson having no direct saves to make.
I think a system change would have left us more vulnerable to losing the game rather than giving us more of a chance of winning it.
Still made three changes, taking off in my view his side's three most effective players and changing their system to one which I thought actually made them less of a threat in the closing stages.
Now we have a big week culminating with the game at Dagenham on Saturday.
The transfer deadline is coming to an end soon, but I am sure that Buckle will ideally want all of his business done before we go to Victoria Road, and so things could get busy.
Priority number one will be deciding what to do about the three Liverpool lads. Dunn and Stewart have definitely improved us and it would be a real shame to lose them.
Jones has done alright, but with Taylor now fit, and also Troy Brown and Jack Deaman here, we have four centre-halves - and then you also have to add in Steve Elliott.
Elliott has been out for a while now (he is yet to play under Buckle) and doesn't seem to be any closer to a return, and I am afraid you have to start wondering if he will come back at the age of 36.
I am most certainly not pushing him into retirement as I love Stevie to bits, but being realistic, could we have seen his last game for CTFC?
In any event, I am sure Buckle will want to keep all three of the Liverpool lads, and he has said as much with negotiations already under way.
Berry's arrival seems pretty nailed on even though the manager flat-batted my question about it post-match.
I am sure he wants some more physicality in the final third. I suspect that will be it on the incomings unless the manager can do a bit of bonus business.
As far as outgoings are concerned, Black and Haworth moving on will have freed up a bit of cash on top of Taylor leaving, and there could be more if any of our other players are wanted.
My feeling is that if a club came in for one of our contracted players (with one or two exceptions - Carson for instance) and the player fancied it, they would be gone.
Harrison, who as far as I understand has turned a move elsewhere down, and Terry Gornell would be favourites to move on, and I wonder whether, as an outside chance with Berry coming in, if Vaughan might also get a loan move if one came up.
What I do hope is that after this week we might find a more consistent selection and way of playing.
I can understand the horses for courses thing, but by my reckoning we have used 30 players now this season.
I feel we need things to settle down and try to get used to a system and a more settled 11 as that will, I think, give us the best chance of getting the wins we need to move clear of danger.
Saturday was a small step in the right direction. I still feel positive but this is where we have to stop being encouraged by promising performances and start getting wins on the board.
We are getting better. Now we need to start getting the results to go with it...



Monday, 19 January 2015

Paying the penalty

AFTER the game on Friday, I was asked whether the draw with Morecambe represented one point gained, or two points dropped.
It was a difficult question to answer, as our performance for an hour, having gone in front and had chances to kill the game off, would have made it two points dropped, but over the last 30 minutes, with the penalty save, equaliser and a great save from Trevor Carson, it was a point gained.
Following the meek surrender at Hartlepool, I wanted to see changes and was glad to see that they were bold ones. On the night, most of them were positive.
The biggest positive was Matt Taylor's return. Leadership, and the lack of it, has been an issue of late and we definitely look better and more solid with him in the side.
The decision to go back to three centre-halves was also a good one in my view - it helped bed Taylor back in, and gave Lloyd Jones someone with great experience alongside him to guide him through the game, and Troy Brown definitely looks happier with the skipper alongside him.
What it should have done is also help the full-backs. Lee Vaughan and Craig Braham-Barrett, have, in my view, looked weak in recent weeks, so the hope was that three at the back would suit their games as it had in previous months.
It didn't work, and I thought both were disappointing again. They conceded a penalty each, and had problems defensively, especially Vaughan in the first half with most of Morecambe's attacks coming down his flank. He got caught sleeping a couple of times, and was lucky to get away with it.
Further forward, the axe fell on Matt Richards. As I said last week, he has been frustrating me more and more, and I was pleased to hear Paul Buckle's post-match comments about wanting more fight in his game, and more dynamism.
It gave Kane Ferdinand the chance to go more central with Kevin Stewart and it worked in the first hour. They were effective with the ball - but not so good without it as again at times we got caught high up the field and Morecambe had a few chances to break on us.
Further forward, Harry Williams, Omari Sterling-James and Jack Dunn gradually got on to the same wavelength as the half wore on and their pace was causing problems for Morecambe back three.
We got the penalty - ours was for my money the least clear-cut of the three - then Dunn had one kicked off the line and Williams another chance blocked when he was maybe a tad late in pulling the trigger, so we could have been further clear.
Morecambe had caused problems, one shot just went wide but others were from long distance and more wayward - I didn't feel their first-half chances were as clear-cut as ours.
The second half started superbly for us, with their keeper making great saves from Omari and Dunn, and a second goal seemed like it was certain to come.
But then I feel the manager made a mistake when he put Joe Hanks on for Harry Williams, as it totally killed our momentum.
I can see why he did it. He was worried about how much space Jamie Devitt was getting and wanted someone to shadow him  - remember the game at Cambridge when Hanks did a similar job on Ryan Donaldson which took him out of the game.
But we were in the ascendancy. What we were doing was working, so I didn't see the logic in changing it to start worrying about what Morecambe were doing. I feel it would have been better to keep it as it was and try to get the second goal, then maybe you have a look at shoring things up and seeing the game out.
Stewart lined up alongside Devitt for a couple of minutes afterwards, then Jim Bentley made a change, with an attacker replacing one of his wing-backs and went to 4-4-2.
That negated our change completely, and our midfield was never the same again in the match and Morecambe were able to press us backwards.
Dunn, who was not the same player after picking up a heavy knock and might have been taken off, and Omari became isolated as the link-man, Williams, was off the field.
Hanks looked lost, and seemed to be unsure of what role he was being asked to play. It was a muddled change, and disappointing to see us concede the initiative so freely.
Morecambe saw much more of the ball and posed a big threat. We started to give away far too many fouls around the box, and it was fortunate that Morecambe's long-range shooting was pretty terrible.
The first penalty was nailed on, and it was great save from Carson and an unbelievable miss from the rebound. At this point, you could have been forgiven that it was going to be our night.
Even more so when Carson made that save from Paul Mullin's header before the second penalty - one of those which is given these days even though the handball is not deliberate, as I was always taught it should be. Ho hum.
In it went, and to be fair it was just desserts for Morecambe, and over the 90 a draw was about right, disappointing though it was as this was a game I, and many others I am sure, had looked at as one we needed to win.
However, I was as encouraged by the first hour as I was frustrated by the last 30 minutes.
In the hour, we had energy, and some zip about us. We looked defensively happier with Taylor back, moved the ball quicker in midfield and had some pace in the final third.
But we needed that bit more ruthlessness. At least one of the Dunn clearance off the line, Williams chance and the Dunn and Omari efforts that were saved should have gone in.
We got into some good wide areas at times, but the crossing, as ever, was poor from the full-backs.
We were hoisting high crosses in for three small men - just senseless. We needed to drill balls across for them as the crosses were either gobbled up by the goalkeeper or easily cleared.
Consider also the more senior players who were not in the side through non-selection or injury, or on the bench - Richards, Andy Haworth, Paul Black, Asa Hall, Steve Elliott, Byron Harrison and Terry Gornell.
That represents a large chunk of the wage budget not in the starting 11, and so it's not easy to work out why Buckle is frustrated at the lack of flexibility with regards to bringing players in.
Three of those players were injured, and four left out (one on the bench), with Black now having left the club, and, in a disappointing move for the conspiracy theorists, he doesn't appear to have fallen out with anyone, including the manager.
In fact, he was waived a chunk of money to help the club out, and the manager has been been helping him to find a new club in the USA. All very amicable, and a decent gesture from Black to help the club out.
Brought in as competition for Braham-Barrett at left-back, he only started four games, two in central midfield against Dagenham and Burton and two on the left of a back three, against Swindon and at Stevenage, where he had a very difficult afternoon. He also came on in the JPT win over Oxford.
He never got to play as a left-back, his best position, mainly as Braham-Barrett had a good start to the season - but after the way CBB had played last season, having not displaced him at the start of the season I suspect he was never really going to.
Now James Bowen, who came on on Friday after CBB had a tight hamstring late on, will be the back-up in that position.
It remains to be seen how much, if any, that helps Buckle out with regards to bringing anyone in, but we can hope.
After the result on Friday, it was time to sit back and see what the others could do, and how much trouble we would find ourselves in by Saturday evening.
The answer is a bit more than we were, as the gap is now down to three points - the narrowest it has been up to now, after wins for Carlisle and Tranmere (who seem to be the side in form among the bottom bunch).
Oxford, York, Dagenham and Mansfield all lost, as did Hartlepool, but now, even though there are teams between us in 18th and Dagenham in 23rd, we are now within one set of unfavourable results of dropping in there.
I think we have improved under Buckle, but the bottom line is that we need to start winning games, and fast.
We could have won this one but the substitution he made played a big part in why we didn't, so now we go on to a tough one with Luton before a vital trip to Dagenham.

Stats watch
Buckle's first eight league games have yielded seven points, with one win, four draws and three defeats, and we have scored six goals and conceded nine - one goal in seven of the games and two at Hartlepool.
It is clear that we have become more solid, as we let in 20 goals in Yates' last eight games - but we scored nine goals in those games, and also managed to take seven points, with two wins, a draw and five losses.
But how does Buckle's record over his first eight league games compare to previous Cheltenham managers in the Football League?
Yates, record in his first eight games after taking over from Martin Allen is ridiculously similar to Buckle's, and he took over in a very similar situation - a low-quality squad of senior players, low on confidence and on a poor run of results.
In fact, the only thing different between their records over eight games is that Yates' side scored one less goal - five - in his games, with a win, four draws and three defeats, letting in nine goals like Buckle, also for a return of seven points.
In between Yates and Allen, John Schofield managed us for nine games, he also won one, drew three and lost five for a return of six points - his win being 5-1 against Barnet.
Allen's performance as manager overall was not a success, but he is the only boss to win his first game in charge - that 2-1 success over Bristol Rovers.
After replacing Keith Downing, his first eight games overall yielded eight points - two wins, two draws and four defeats and there were 31 goals in those games, 13 for and 18 against with no clean sheets.
Downing, like Yates and Buckle, had one win, four draws and three defeats in his opening eight games, with eight goals scored and 13 conceded with one clean sheet - coming in his eighth game which was his only win... the unforgettable 1-0 success against Leeds.
John Ward lost his opener, 3-1 at Torquay, but he started with a return of nine points from eight games, two wins, three draws and three losses, with eight goals scored and 11 conceded.
Before Ward came Bobby Gould, who started off with two goalless draws before we beat Tranmere 3-1 for his only win in his opening eight games.
That was the only one, as he, like Buckle, Yates and Downing, has a 1-4-3 record to kick off with, with nine goals scored and 13 conceded.
Gould had replaced Graham Allner, who had a torrid start to life in charge with only three draws from his first eight games, and five defeats as we took on the League One challenge for the first time.
We scored six goals and let in 12, with his first win actually coming in game nine, when we beat Swindon 2-0 - although we did win 3-0 at Norwich in the League Cup, but this little study is all about league games.
Last - but no means least of course - we have Mr Cotterill. He lost his first two games in charge, which no manager has done since, against Sittingbourne and King's Lynn, but won the next three. His first eight brought four wins, a draw and three losses for 12 points, scoring 12 and letting in nine.
But this study is about the Football League - and there we took nine points from his (and the club's) opening league games, with three wins and five defeats. His 'goals for' tally of four is the lowest of any CTFC manager for their first eight FL games, and we conceded seven, which is fewer than anyone else.
His nine points from the first eight league games (that's 24 points remember...) is the joint best, with Ward. Then comes Allen with eight, while Buckle, Yates, Downing and Gould all got seven (with identical win-lose-draw records) and Allner three.
I think these statistics show that a change of manager is never the sign for a quick upturn in results, and therefore I do feel that some fans (especially those giving him a pathetic and very childish nickname on the forum) have expected too much too soon.
Even more so, that he has no real scope to make the changes he wants to, with all due respect to the loan lads I think he had more experience and some permanent arrivals in mind.
Clubs usually change their managers because they are not winning enough games - we have done that virtually every time (bar the Ward-Downing switch, and Cotterill-Allner) and the stats above show that is very rarely been a quick fix, more a long-term thing which takes time to settle down - and even then it has had varying degrees of success further down the line.
There is no guarantee, but just as we did when we changed Allen for Yates five years ago, we have to hope we get enough points in the remaining games to stay above the line, then maybe Buckle can finally put his stamp on things next summer.