Friday, 29 November 2013

Does the season start here...?

Six games unbeaten.
Seventh in the current form table.
Two successive clean sheets.
Many clubs in League Two would be delighted with those statistics from their team - yet on Tuesday night we had boos and a few sporadic 'We want Yatesy out' chants after the rather turgid Bristol Rovers stalemate.
The statistics don't tell the full story.
We, the fans, know that - and the manager also clearly does, as he embarked on a mini-rebuild with three loanees coming in ahead of the trip to Southend on Saturday.
It has been an up and down season. The results have been horribly inconsistent, the manager has been battling to find a formation and a settled side, and the fans have become increasingly frustrated.
Many games have seen comical goals given away, and far too many of them. Therefore, the manager set about the task of making us harder to beat.
Over the past few games (Tamworth apart, and I am not going to rake over that again) that mission seems to have been accomplished, but at what cost?
While we were leaking goals, we were managing to score them as well, with our front three scoring 16 goals between them already.
But as the manager has gone for prudence, the last two home games have been goalless - good at one end, and not the other - and that is the big conundrum.
Fans cry 'we are letting too many goals in' - so the manager works to shut that door.
We keep clean sheets but goals dry up at the other end - fans cry 'our midfield and strikers are rubbish'.
On that note, there isn't a great deal of love around for our players at the moment. My Twitter feed since Tuesday has been full of fans' views on various players, with few of them being complimentary.
Poor old CBB has copped most of it, with Matt Richards, David Noble, Byron Harrison and Jamie Cureton also among those in the firing line.
Away from home, the diamond was a success at Northampton, where we should have won, and Wycombe, where we did.
At home over the past week, it has not. Against Newport, we struggled at first against their 3-4-3 system, then foundered on the rock of their three giant centre-backs.
Against Rovers, we lacked the guile, pace and creativity to break down a side set up from the start for a 0-0 draw. There was no pace in the side, and that is what I am hoping these loanees will rectify.
The manager was as frustrated as the rest of us by the slow tempo, the sideways passes and the lack of penetration.
He was equally annoyed by the lack of anyone wanting to take the bull by the horns in the final third. Too often, we looked too scared to shoot.
Like we had at Tamworth, in both these home games we have been in promising positions around the box, but rather than showing that desire to shoot, or put bodies on the line, opting instead for that one extra pass.
At home we need more dynamism. Tuesday was a game we needed to take by the scruff of the neck, and go out and win, but we failed pretty dismally to do so.
The midfield, especially Richards and Noble, moved the ball too slowly, leaving the manager frequently annoyed in the dug-out.
Deering could not get into the game, we had no width bar when Sido and CBB tried to get forward, and we were blunt up top.
What it also showed, once again, is that we cannot play 4-4-2. Between the Newport and Rovers games, I saw many calls for '4-4-2 with two wingers'. When Zack Kotwica and Jermaine McGlashan came on, we played that. It didn't work, and we were second best in those last minutes against Rovers.
The squad needed freshening up, and the manager has done just that, for which he deserves credit, with Toby Ajala, Connor Goldson and Kemar Roofe coming in.
All three will add competition, put a few 'cosy' players on their toes a bit more, and hopefully give us the jolt we need.
I think it is also a good move to send Kotwica to Gloucester for a few games. He has great talent and promise, but 90 minutes in the Skrill North will do him more good than the odd 10-15 minutes in the dying embers of a game for us.
Then there is Ashley Vincent. He has basically been the deadest of dead wood for us since coming back. The odd unimpressive cameo, and that's it.
The manager sees him in training, and in reserve games, and he clearly has done nothing to merit anything more.
Whether it is the wrong attitude of the family issues which have dragged him down I don't know, but whatever it is, it is a huge disappointment.
There was talk of him turning down a loan move to Hereford, and of interest from Tranmere, which didn't materialise into anything concrete.
Ajala and Roofe are attacking, wide players, and with Kotwica having also moved ahead of him, it will be the bench at most for Ashley.
All three loanees got positive vibes on Twitter from fans of clubs they either play for or have been at on previous loans, especially Goldson, described by more than one Shrewsbury fan as their best centre-back. He can also play right-back.
(NB - I did want to embed the actual tweets in here, but that feat proved to be above my technological nous. Apologies, but go through my timeline @MarkHalliwell1 and you should find them).
He has played 18 times this season in League One, and 45 games in all, and with that experience I cannot see him coming here as cover, or as a bench-warmer. I expect him to play.
Add to that the fact that nothing more frustrates a lot of our fans when loan players arrive and sit on the bench. Immediate condemnation of them as a waste of money ensues. A valid point in many cases - but not all.
But for one of them at least to be dropped may seem harsh on a back four (our only four...) who have kept two clean sheets in a row, but CBB and Steve Elliott, are, by my calculations, on four yellows apiece.
There has been some disappointment that only one defender arrived, but Matt Richards can drop to left back if needed, and Jason Taylor to centre-half (at a massive push, and in the direst of circumstances only please - I am still getting over Bury...) so there is cover of sorts.
The Twitter guesses on what the back four may be for Saturday all point to bad news for poor old CBB. As I said, not much love there.
Goldson, Elliott, Brown and a switch to the left for Sido or a drop back for Richards seems to be the way most people want to go.
There have been a few calls for 3-5-2 with Goldson, Elliott and Brown, but that seems a bit radical to me, as in four years we have never played three at the back, unless chasing a game.
CBB had a good game at Wycombe, a tough time against Newport and was okay against Rovers. That seems to be the problem with him - you don't know what you are going to get.
He is suffering from constant unfavourable comparisons to Billy Jones, especially when coming forward and getting crosses in, and it has been a tough baptism for him.
But Yates has pinned his nails to the mast on this one, and is sticking by his man - so could Sido be for the high jump again?
Not his normal self for a while, with some frankly comical errors thrown in, he sat out one game (Tamworth, a good one to miss!) then after a chat with Yates, is back in and has done well for the past three games.
Elliott has been imperious since his return at half-time at Tamworth, with Brown a more than able deputy, so it will be interesting to see which way he goes.
Whatever he does, someone can feel a bit unlucky to miss out - even the under-fire CBB, as after all he has been part of a defence which has kept two clean sheets in a row... and we haven't done that much this season.
The other two arrivals will pep up the midfield and attacking options further.
We have lacked that left-sided balance, and I think Ajala will solve that - but I don't expect us to go to Southend with 4-4-2 and two wingers, but I do see a 4-5-1/ 4-2-3-1 system as a big possibility - the 2010-11 system revisited.
Some won't like that as they want two up front, and it means that two of Harrison, Cureton and Gornell will be benched, but for these two away games I can see us going that way.
I see Ajala and McGlashan out wide in support of the one front man (take your pick from the three - there is an equal case for all of them, I think), and then it comes down to the midfield three.
I don't see Roofe getting in the starting line-up straight away, although his description as an 'attacking, creative midfielder' could see Sam Deering under pressure for that 'in the hole' position.
Russ Penn will also have something to say, and feel he might merit a recall, especially after the less-than-impressive displays from Deering, Taylor, Noble and Richards in the last two games.
The latter two especially have produced some pretty abysmal set-pieces, so if any of the new trio can take a mean corner or free-kick, they might have a bigger shout of a start!
I thought Taylor was the best of that quartet overall, especially against Newport, and I would have him and Noble as two of the three in my midfield.
The other place is between Penn, Deering, Roofe and Richards. There has been a clamour for Penn's return, and yes, he is our captain, but that is no guarantee of a place.
He has not been his usual self, but who has in our squad bar Scott Brown?
Deering is very hit and miss, but is more effective away, while Richards may not suit the quicker, incisive style Yates is clearly looking for as he plays at that slower pace - but he may find a home at left-back...
Roofe is a bit more of an unknown quantity, and I am not sure Yates would want to put all three loanees into the side straight away.
So - what would my team be? - Brown; Goldson, Brown, Elliott, Sido; Noble, Taylor; Ajala, Penn, McGlashan; Cureton. Subs: Roberts, CBB, Deering, Richards, Roofe, Harrison, Gornell.
That leaves Vincent and Joe Hanks out of the 18, with Kotwica and Ed Williams getting games elsewhere.
It is nice to have options and choices. The manager is not everyone's cup of tea at the moment, but you can't fault his knack of getting players to the club - and on paper these three look like decent captures.
Proof will be in the playing, but we have to trust his judgement, which, even his harshest critic has to admit, has been more hit than miss over the past four seasons.
So it is neck on the block time for him. He has done all he can now until January, and has this group of players to mould into a winning team and formation.
This is a big month coming up - by the time the window re-opens in January, despite how tight this division is you feel we will know if we are going to make that play-off push, or whether we are resigned to a mid-table season.  I am not even contemplating the third possibility by the way...
Finally, the season would appear to start here!

Friday, 22 November 2013

Getting the Lowe-down...

When Pete Matthews and I get the team sheet on the Whaddon Road gantry tomorrow, at around 2.15pm, we should be able to hazard a pretty good guess at what our back four will be.
In fact, if the betting companies accepted these kinds of bets, we could all clean up with a guess of Jombati, Elliott, Troy Brown and Braham-Barrett.
After all, that's all we have got left.
That, as I can fully understand, is the main problem many people have with the departure of Keith Lowe before we have seen a replacement coming in.
Yes, of course there has been the usual gnashing of teeth at the exit of Lowe, a cult hero, the squad's Mr Reliable, to go (as Nigel Worthington has said) to York to be their defensive organiser.
The truth is that since the arrival of Sido on to the scene at Bristol Rovers in October 2011, (only a few months after Lowey was voted player of the year), Keith has been largely a cover player.
Never a first choice at right-back or centre-half after that, but a man you could rely on to come in, give 100 per cent and weigh in with the odd goal.
But it seems like Billy Jones, Darryl Duffy and Alan Bennett, he will be elevated to some sort of Messiah-like status, and talked about with dewy eyes among Cheltenham fans for years to come.
The same fans who lamented Jones' defending against wingers, Bennett's lack of pace and admitted to being 'worried' at the prospect of Lowe playing centre-half for any length of time will suddenly forget all that and watch intently for every goal he scores for York and every man of the match award he receives as more sticks to beat the manager with.
Similar to Andy Gallinagh - another on the God-list - Lowe is the kind of player every squad needs - but is he the kind of player who plays 35-40 games in a team which is capable of getting promtion?
But never mind that - he has joined the list of crowd favourites who have gone, so therefore the manager is an idiot and these players leaving is suddenly akin to some sort of heinous crime.
As Jones' replacement, CBB, and Bennett's, Troy Brown, are finding out now, the man who comes in to fill Keith's shoes will be forever compared, and probably unfavourably. All the best to them.
If CBB changed his name to Billy Jones, he might have a chance with some fans. Same goes for Brown where Bennett is concerned. Neither has (in my view) deserved the torrent of negativity they have received.
True, Brown's detractors have become fewer in number, but CBB has been slaughtered almost non-stop.
Being moved to right-back at Tamworth has made that worse, but that wasn't ultimately his decision. Yet he seems to be the scapegoat for that result, despite the strikers missing chances galore.
His mis-kick started the move for the goal maybe, but the ball went across the field, then came into our box where is wasn't dealt with before Chadwick scored. But why let the facts get in the way of a chance to scapegoat a player?
As I said in the past, if people put as much energy into backing the players we have now as they do into wringing their hands over the ones who have left, we might be in a better position.
I like Keith Lowe. As has been said in this blog before and by me on the radio during games, he is a good professional, a reliable player who has never let CTFC down. But the bottom line is that Yates knows he needs to make us better and that means he has to make difficult decisions.
He has shown before that he is not swayed by sentiment as other managers have in the past. He can be brutal at times - see Goulding, Bennett and Jones (in this case by the way, thank goodness those lurid rumours have finally been blown out of the water... well done to Jon Palmer and Billy himself on that front).
Yates is decisive when it comes to players' futures and is not afraid of difficult, unpopular decisions. Like any manager, all of those decisions have been heavily questioned and not all of them have worked out. But some of them have.
After the fans' forum last Thursday, the odds on at least one player being moved out shortened dramatically.
A loan signing was vetoed, so the theory I have is that Yates furnished the board with a list of players who could be loaned out. An educated guess would be that list included Ashley Vincent and Lowe, and maybe also Steve Elliott and Sido.
Vincent is a gimme, and I understand he turned a loan move down, believed to be to Hereford.
Elliott and Sido haven't covered themselves in glory at times this season and have had little rests lately. They came back strongly on Saturday though.
Lowe was the outside bet on that list, but as the cover man, he would be the dispensable one. He was the one dropped at Wycombe last weekend, when Steve and Sido came back in. Both had good games, and we won.
But for the Tamworth defeat, this would not have happened, as a win there would have brought money in and I am sure Yates would have been allowed to add to the squad without the need for a departure.
That game was an aberration. A bad game for the manager and players, and Lowe has been the sacrificial lamb (pardon the pun...) for that. He might not be the last one if Yates feels the need for more changes.
From Lowe's perspective, his contract is up in the summer, and being honest I could not see him getting a new one here, so I suspect he and his agent weighed up the options and Keith decided to head North.
I am sure a permanent move will happen, and I suspect we will get a small fee for the remainder of Lowe's contract as well as losing his wages from the budget, so Yates wins as he can get a loanee or two, and Lowe wins as it looks like he will be a first choice.
Good luck Lowey, and thanks for what you did for us.
But on the minus side, there is no loanee tomorrow, and I can understand the concerns over our four only fit defenders in two locallish-derbyish games against Newport and Bristol Rovers. I share them.
We have Matt Richards to cover at left-back if needed, but that's about it, otherwise it's Jason Taylor at centre-back - not something which would be high on my wish-list - or some more of our all-conquering youth team might be making a step up.
I am sure Yatesy could have brought a player in yesterday or today, but he will say, as he has in the past, it has to be the right player - someone who will improve the squad and be in contention for the first team.
Some fans have said we will sign 'some old nobody'. What were Luke Garbutt, Michael Hector and Jack Butland? Hardly household names, and they did ok, but some are, of course, too quick to write people off.
It's instant success, or the instant scrapheap these days it seems. Patience is very much a thing of the past, unfortunately.
The loan deadline is next Thursday, and there is, of course, the possibility he could sign someone on Monday or Tuesday to be in contention for the Rovers game.
But tomorrow there will be sharp collective intakes of breath every time Sido, Steve, Troy and CBB go to ground or look like they are limping in any way at all...
But apart from the defensive numbers, I contend we go into these home games in pretty good shape. Once again, I don't get the negativity.
I was told on Saturday at Wycombe by some fans that our first-half display was 'crap'. I don't know what some people want, or expect, I really don't.
I thought we passed it nicely, went a bit more direct when we had to, and most importantly came away with a decent win. We showed good character, and finally got some luck going our way with the winner, but I think we have earned that.
Bottom line is we are a League Two club, with League Two players, who the manager is trying to get the best out of, and in recent league games we have picked up.
Our first eight games brought six points. The next eight have brought 14, and we have won four, drawn two and lost two of those games, so we are improving, no matter what the nay-sayers will try to claim.
That run of form over the last eight games is the sixth best in the division. We are unbeaten in four games, and have one defeat in six. A run like that is hardly time to get the lifeboats out, is it? Some would have us believe so.
I keep getting told it's results that count, yet people still moan about the style of football. OK, do you want us to lose playing like Barcelona, or find a style which suits our players and might see us win more than we lose?
The diamond seems to suit the players we have, and I think it is bringing the best out of players like David Noble, Sam Deering and Jason Taylor. The front three have been a bonus this season, with 16 goals between them already.
The players we have don't suit a 4-4-2 system with flying wingers, and with our defensive difficulties that wouldn't work anyway - far too open.
Yates has to be a bit more pragmatic, and the diamond is a bit more secure, with the man at the base, but we have proved it can get us on the front foot and create chances. Granted, we haven't always taken them.
Yates has said there is not a lot wrong overall, and I agree with him. But there is one pretty major thing wrong, our defence.
That is what he is concentrating on trying to get right, but we might have to be patient while he brings the players he wants to change it with, and they bed in. That might also mean some more favourites falling by the wayside. More teeth-gnashing awaits, no doubt.
The mistakes have been our Achilles heel, and no one has lost more points from winning positions than our tally of 14 - we have led in six games, of which we have gone on to lose two (Bury, Rochdale) and draw four (Burton, Oxford, Northampton, York).
Yes we are 17th, but six points off seventh. Nine points off the top if you want to be really optimistic. Not many do for some reason, so for them I will say we are also six points off 23rd. Happy now? Good.
At least four points from six this week, and no defensive injuries would be just about ideal, then a loanee or two in time to go to Southend and Morecambe, and maybe a few more might join the happy camp.
I hope so.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

A winter of discontent...?

I have a confession to make - I am not enjoying this season very much.
I am probably not alone in this, but the reason for this malaise is not exclusively our stop-start form punctuated by ever-more ridiculous individual errors and some managerial mistakes culminating in Saturday's hugely disappointing FA Cup exit - there are a few other things dragging me down as well.
My main issue is the nauseating proliferation of rumours and conspiracy theories floating around the club.
I know - I should get a thicker skin, just turn a blind eye and ignore them, but they just wind me up.
It seems that barely a day can go by without another spurious story appearing, mostly surrounding the manager and his supposed actions away from the dugout, with some fans seemingly wanting to outdo each other in a frankly childish 'I know something you don't know' kind of way.
If I see another forum post or Twitter direct message with the line 'my source at the club told me...' I will scream.
Unfortunately, it is public knowledge that his marriage has broken up. The reasons for that are not the business of anyone bar him, his wife and their children, who will be suffering enough without having to put up with total strangers speculating as to the reasons why.
I don't believe his job as manager of our football club gives people the right to peddle tittle-tattle about him as some sort of fact.
The club will be aware of these tales, and if there is anything to be concerned about, they will act on it as, like any company, they have disciplinary procedures. They haven't done so, so obviously there is nothing to be concerned about. So time to ignore it all and move on, as these things are not helpful given our league position.
There is a fan's forum tonight, and I hope some of these warriors will turn up and ask the manager and chairman straight in a courteous and respectful way. It would make a change from talking about the Whaddon Road catering, and why we bring all 11 men back for corners.
The problem is, they seldom do turn up. Their reasoning for this is usually  'what's the point, we will hear the same old excuses' or 'I'm not listening to club propaganda' - in other words, they either are not interested in or don't want to believe what the powers that be will tell them anyway.
It might bruise their egos and mean their so-called 'source' is actually talking utter nonsense, and blow their carefully-maintained conspiracy theories out of the water. Can't have that, now can we...?.
We keep getting told that football is a results business, and in my view, that is all any manager should be judged on unless they have done something really bad which will bring the club into disrepute. There is no getting away from the stark reality that Yatesy needs to win some more football matches quickly.
I know people will now throw Martin Allen at me here. I maintain that his record of 12 wins in 61 games was more than enough to get him the push no matter what he did or didn't get up to elsewhere.
But the rumours aren't just restricted to Mark Yates. Every time we see a player dropped to the bench or out of the squad, or whenever we are told a player is injured, the conspiracies start that this is the end of them, and they are about to be bombed out.
Steve Elliott is the latest in that firing line. I even saw tweets after Saturday's game speculating that his waving to the crowd after the game was some sort of farewell gesture. For goodness sake - some people really take 'reading between the lines' to another level.
Jermaine McGlashan has been out for a few games. I await the speculation about a transfer request to start soon. The recent absence of Ashley Vincent with a family problem was treated with the usual scepticism.
These theories of course comes from the ruthless decisions taken by the manager in the past regarding players, but leaving a player out for a game or two does not mean they are getting ready to pack their bags.
In Steve's case, I think in some games this season he has started to show signs of his 35 years - Portsmouth especially, when Agyemang bullied him for his goal, and also at Bury.
I think he needed a rest, but his second half display on Saturday was probably the only miniscule crumb of comfort we can glean from what has to be the low point of the season, and one of the worst moments of the manager's reign. It was good to see him back - and if only that scissor kick had gone in...
But we got what we deserved on Saturday. Yes it was a penalty, yes we had a few chances - but we allowed ourselves to be bullied out of the Cup in a rather limp manner.
Some players need to look at themselves, and after the game Mark was right to question the desire and motivation of some of them - but I was a little bit disappointed that he didn't take a bit more of the blame himself.
His starting team selection was totally wrong in my opinion, and something he didn't need to do with the players he had available.
If you include having Lowe at centre-half and Richards at left-back, he fielded five players out of position, with Deering, Gornell and poor old CBB the others.
It handicapped us straight away - it was like sending them out with one arm behind their backs, and surely contributed to the terribly lacklustre and disjointed first half. None of them looked comfortable and the personnel changes had to be a big factor.
The second-half back four should have started in my view, with Richards at the bottom of the diamond, Deering at the top, and Harrison and Gornell up front.
What? No Cureton, I hear you cry...? No. Not on the evidence of the previous two games, He barely had a kick against York.
While he has scored three times, has missed some pretty gilt-edged chances along the way - Scunthorpe at 1-0 springs to mind, a couple at Northampton and then two (one in each half) on Saturday which you would expect a man with 250 league goals to take.
Harrison went into Saturday with three goals in three games, and Gornell has been the pick of the new boys this season. It was almost as if the manager didn't want to make that difficult decision which of the three to drop, so played them all.
However it left him with very little option to change things late in the game as we were chasing it with all his forward options already on the pitch, bar throwing Kotwica on and Elliott up front in almost a 2-3-5 system for the last 15-20 minutes.
But in some ways he had little choice overall, which again he has to take a lot of the blame for. Sido had to be dropped after last week's calamity added to the Rochdale nightmares.
But the unbalanced nature of the squad he has assembled meant Yates was left with only four defenders, CBB, Lowe, Brown and Elliott, so Richards was again used in a position which, deep down, he doesn't want to play in, and CBB was switched over to right back, a role we were told post-match he can play. Well, I hope I don't see him play there again as he never looked comfortable.
But that's not CBB's fault. In the end I felt sorry for the guy. He didn't decide that was where he is going to play. He was doing the job he was instructed to do, I suspect as we were worried about Mark Wright down the left-hand side.
Compare that paucity of defenders to our proliferation of midfield players - Penn, Taylor, Noble, Richards, Deering, McGlashan, Kotwica, Vincent, Hanks, Ed Williams and now Harry Williams too can all do a job in the centre or out wide. 11 players. Yes, three of them are first-year pros (one out on loan) and one a scholar, but still, it's too many. Not quite on the Bobby Gould level, when at one time we had 14 midfielders, but close.
Compare that to the defence. I know, the injuries haven't helped with Brown, Elliott and CBB all being out at some point or another, but there has been no one to slot in naturally, hence why we needed the Inniss and Wilson loans, and needed another square peg in Taylor to drop back.
Surely seven defenders and eight midfielders would be a better mix?
Now Sido's drastic loss of form and confidence has become another headache - I would not be surprised if one of these two loans we are chasing is a right-sided full-back (this is a hunch by the way ... I don't have a source at the club...!).
Having sorted out the attack, the defence is now the headache, partly down to lack of personnel and also down to the rash of individual errors afflicting them.
We have been spoilt for the past two seasons. First, Sido/Lowe-Bennett-Elliott-Garbutt, and then last term Sido/Lowe-Bennett/Hector-Elliott-Jones served us well.
Bennett was moved on and Hector came in. He was always short-term and the replacement was always going to be key. For what it is worth, I think Troy Brown has done well, and been our best defender - but without much competition, it has to be said.
Last season's weak link defensively was Jones, but he made up for it with set-piece deliveries which brought us goals, and this masked his defensive deficiencies.
Richards has taken over his set-piece mantle, and scored goals as well as setting them up, but Jones has suddenly become some Messiah-like figure for some of those same fans who were criticising his defending for most of last season.
These approaches for two loans are interesting. Depending on which side of the Yates in/Yates out debate you sit, it is either the board saying 'this is our manager and we are backing him' or 'this is a last throw of the dice to see if he can turn it round'.
I sit on the fence here. I think the next four games are important, and a couple of wins should give him some breathing space with his (it has to be said ever-growing) number of critics.
There is a two-week break now in early December, and if the board decided they felt the time was right for change, that would be as opportune time as any to bring it about.
But I don't want that to happen. The last two seasons has, in my view, seen Mark deserve some time, and I find it disconcerting that critics see fit to label those seasons as 'failures' and rather than limited successes with a Wembley visit and two good Cup runs.
Yes they were punctuated with bad defeats and a few odd decisions, Goulding in and Penn on the bench at Wembley, Duffy out of the icebox suddenly against Northampton being two which are used frequently as a stick to beat him with. The critics want to remember the 8-1 at Crewe, not the 3-0 demolition of Southend, or the 3-1 stroll at Oxford. In his previous seasons, he has got more right than wrong.
This season, however, that hasn't been the case if I am honest. But the board are backing him, and those getting ever more thirsty for change may still have a long time to wait.
He won't be helped by Dave Kevan's departure either. Results didn't change much in his time here - nine games before he arrived, won 2 drawn 3 lost 4 and 10 games with him won 3 drawn 3 lost 4 - but he seemed useful tactically and as a sounding board for Yates and Howarth - an extra, different voice around the place two days a week and on matchdays.
He got the credit for the Dagenham win and was sent out post-match after the Morecambe win to take the plaudits - but immediately handed them back to Yates.
He won't be replaced, but Yates and Howarth have coped fine without any extra help in the past, and will have to do so again.
With boring predictability, the departure has seen the return of the boring 'what does Neil Howarth contribute' line once again. So disrespectful to someone who has worked hard to get where he is, and is, after all now a UEFA A licenced coach - not someone described recently by one of our fans as 'just being given a free ride by his mate'.
With the loans, I wonder where the money is coming from after the Cup exit turned off that form of revenue and we are being told that the budget is used up, and is one of, if not the biggest we have ever had.
I would have suspected that someone would need to go out, and the only real candidate is Vincent. His return just hasn't worked out.
He was on the back foot anyway coming in two weeks into pre-season, in my view a panic buy after the Ashley Grimes u-turn, and he has never caught up.
He has made no impression in games, first-team or reserve, and we can presume the same in training either as he has not started and has needed a 'mini pre-season' with Ian Hutton. Throw in the family problems and it has not been a happy return.
His problems and these loan approaches have co-incided with Kaid Mohamed leaving Port Vale for AFC Wimbledon until January, and brought out a rash of another bugbear of mine (sorry, I know there is a few of those...) - harking back to old players.
Yes, there has been the expected snide 'I knew he wouldn't cut it in League One' digs from those who were not fans of his, and the 'I wish we had got him back' from those who recognise what he brought in terms of goals, assists and pace to quickly turn defence into attack.
But he has gone. So have Marlon Pack, Luke Summerfield, Neil Grayson, Jamie Victory, Chris Banks, Alan Bennett and Billy Jones. All did their bit for us, and we have great memories of them, but that is what they are. Memories. They have gone, and are not coming back.
Neither for that matter is Steve Cotterill, so let's forget that one as well.
So let's get over it, and concentrate on trying to back the players we have got.
They need it, and maybe if some fans concentrated on that and showed each other some mutual respect rather than moaning about who wants to sing at games and who doesn't, debating the whys and wherefores of smoke bombs, which are, let's face it, illegal and labelling each other as grasses, maybe we would help bring about some wins, which we all want, isn't it?

Friday, 1 November 2013

Green shoots?

Dare I be positive...?
After a season where false dawns have appeared with monotonous regularity only to be replaced quickly by more darkness, the last two performances have been highly encouraging.
A change of formation which allows (finally) most players to be placed in familiar positions has been the key to that, and finally we have seen some signs of the squad performing as we know it can.
In our horribly inconsistent start, we have been fortunate that this disease has spread all around League Two. No side has really strung anything together.
We all thought Chesterfield would walk it, but they have found themselves stuck in glue recently.
Top spot in the division has been passed around a parcel at a kids' party.
Sooner or later, someone has to unwrap the prize in the middle, and no-one is yet out of the running - even us.
"I'll have some of what he's on," I hear some of you cry. But it is true. Clubs have recovered from poor starts to go up or make the play-offs on countless occasions.
Yes, clubs have gone down as well - but let's keep the glass half-full shall we?
Turning domination into wins is, however, key to those chances of getting that momentum going, and we can't afford to throw chances like last Saturday away.
But first, Morecambe - a team who came to us on an unbeaten streak, and went home with tails between their legs.
I don't feel manager or team got the credit they deserved for this win.
I saw the first half described as 'awful' in some quarters. Can't agree with that - I thought after two early chances which Scott Brown saved well, we were not in trouble.
I know crediting the manager seems taboo in some quarters as there are those out there who have decided they want him out no matter what he does.
Therefore, there were some churlish reactions to the victory - "we missed a penalty" - "they had 10 men" - "we should have been 2-0 down"
Penalty miss was irrelevant in the long run, while the 10 men was out of our control - we play what is in front of us and we did that (I felt) superbly.
Often, we have seen teams (including ourselves) struggle against 10 men, as they are galvanised and gain spirit from the disadvantage - but not this time. They seemed utterly demoralised and we capitalised on it.
The manager freshened the side up, with Terry Gornell, Sam Deering and David Noble coming in, and all three had superb games - the spell on the sidelines has clearly done the trick for their motivation.
The midfield was interesting. It was nominally a diamond, but Deering, Noble, Jason Taylor and Jermaine McGlashan were very interchangeable, and it was very fluid and effective.
Gornell was superb - my man of the match, and he capped it with a great goal, the all-important second. I think he has been a superb signing, the pick of the summer recruits in my eyes.
Byron Harrison did well to react to an error and put away the third, and all in all it was a hugely satisfying performance.
There were some who felt it was win or bust for the manager. I am not among them, as I feel we were still a way away from any potential tipping point there. But happily things have all gone quieter on that front, for now at least. Until the next defeat...
The support at home to Morecambe was superb, with the 'ole's' and chants of we want four - there may not have been many there, but they got behind the team, and the same was definitely true at Northampton. The backing there was as good as it has been at an away game for ages.
At Sixfields we kept up that momentum with probably our best 90-minute performance of the season so far - well, 89 minutes 58 seconds, anyway...
Those missing two seconds when David Noble's perfect through ball bisected Keith Lowe and Troy Brown, and everything (notably a couple of points) went out of the window.
But let's be positive again.
The narrow diamond of Deering, Noble, Taylor and Russ Penn (for the injured McGlashan) worked to a tee. I thought Deering was superb, it was one of Taylor's best games for us, Noble used the ball well (bar once) and Penn, after a early knock, was his usual self - energised again by being given a game off.
Harrison and Gornell were paired up after their goal each, Harrison got another one, but I felt Gornell didn't hit the heights of the Morecambe game.
Cureton came on for Noble - a good move as at least it showed some ambition - we wanted to win the game, and we had chances to do it... at least three good ones in the second half alone. Always a bad sign for a home team when their goalkeeper is man of the match.
This reminded me of the Wycombe game last year. Same domination but ultimately same result.
Defensively, I felt we were untroubled. I think Troy Brown and Keith Lowe have done well in recent games together. Lowe never lets us down, and Brown seems to be settling in after his injury-hit start.
I have to admit I prefer Matt Richards at left-back. He is disciplined in his positioning, and gets forward well to deliver with his left foot (dare I say it, Billy Jones style...) when necessary. I would like him to stay there.
And dare I say Sido seems to have knuckled down a bit too, but I still get the shudders when he attempts one of his hacked clearances!
In the last four games - Daggers, Dale, Morecambe and Northampton - we have conceded only four goals, all from errors, and none through good work from the opposition. It remains our Achilles heel. If we can cure it...
Going forward, we have three strikers who can score goals, and midfielders who can create chances for them, while also being mindful of the threats, and a defence who (most of the time) can deal with what comes their way.
Another concern I have is squad depth. Our bench on Saturday consisted of Cureton, CBB (who would have come on only in a dire emergency), Roberts, Hanks, Kotwica and Harry Williams.
Northampton also had six on their bench, but they have seven first-teamers out. We had McGlashan, Elliott and Vincent out.
It shows that it doesn't take much for us to be down to the bare bones. No disrespect to Joe, Zack and Harry by the way - to be honest I would rather us bring our own players on and give them a chance rather than loan in people ahead of them.
But it is a fine balance. There are some who say the 'kids' have not done it when they have been given a chance, but they are feeling their way.
For clubs like us, our own youngsters have to be the way forward, and I back theclub in going down that route rather than streams of loanees with no affiliation. Look where that got us.
Back to consistency, and tomorrow we play York, who are another example of the lack of it. Not many would have seen a 4-1 win over Scunthorpe coming, would they?
But I hope we can maintain the momentum built up against Morecambe and Northampton, and put together three decent performances in a row.
We haven't done it yet. but hey, let's be positive...