Monday, 8 December 2014

Dover and out

IN December 2009, Mark Yates inherited a mess of a football club, blighted by the Martin Allen era.
He stabilised it and came within a whisker of taking us into League One - in all honesty, he should have done it.
But now, five years later, we are back to square one again, with a new manager once again inheriting a disillusioned, demotivated, uninterested, low-quality squad of players with half a season to save our league status.
Let me say straight away that I am not including our crop of young players in this. They have been sidelined, under-used and mistrusted while a stream of loanees came in and largely made no impact at all.
But the senior players at the club are a disgrace, with only a few exceptions.
That spineless, pathetic 'performance' they put in yesterday let down everyone at Cheltenham Town FC. The chairman, board and especially the fans, who have again been betrayed.
For 18 months now they have been shortchanged by inept performances from players who will come and go without a care in the world from club to club, picking up their wages.
The fans, meanwhile, will still be here long after they have gone, but the harm of their ineptitude is being felt in falling season ticket sales, a falling number of floating fans, falling numbers wanting to travel away, and falling interest in the club in general.
Performances like this will only make the apathy set in further.
I am not in a position to preach to people about going to games. I am fortunate with my radio work that I don't spend my money on games. If I didn't do the radio work I have to admit I would be thinking twice about wanting to watch this bunch of players for much longer, so I don't blame anyone who is having those doubts.
My Twitter time line has been full of fans saying they are not going to Mansfield on Saturday, even at a cut price £7 a ticket. These people are the stalwarts. The regulars, who spend their hard-earned cash backing their club.
The next home game against Portsmouth is a premium game. The away fans may come in big numbers, but the floating fans without season tickets will not.
Who can blame them? They have had enough. Cheltenham fans never boo the team off. But they did this time, having started the second Connor Essam's goal went into the net eight minutes from time.
Our fans have been an unbelievably patient bunch, putting up with 18 months of rubbish. The previous manager and the players got an easy ride. On Sunday, the worm turned.
Not on the board, who have performed miracles for 15 years and recently made the change that the majority of them wanted.
Not on the manager. He has only just walked in the door. He is a human being after all, not a miracle worker. Even Pep Guardiola would struggle to make a silk purse out of what Paul Buckle has inherited.
But on the players. They have to take the rap for this one. No hiding place. This one is down to them.
The build-up to the game against Dover was all about one thing - just how much this match meant to the club, both on and off the field.
Financially it was crucial. I know some fans think the club is obsessed by money above all else, but I don't agree with that. At League Two level it is a hand-to-mouth operation. What comes in very quickly goes out again, so the chance to make some bonus funds is obviously going to be absolutely vital.
For Paul Buckle it mattered as well. He wants to make changes to the squad he has inherited, and a win could have given him scope to do that.
There should have been an incentive for the players. There are Man United, Liverpool, Man City and Arsenal fans in the squad. A win and they could have been playing against those sides.
Some fans said they weren't bothered as a win would have meant some of them being replaced. Nonsense.
A win and good performance might have changed Paul Buckle's mind about them - especially with all but four of them looking at unemployment in June.
It matters to the fans as well. A Cup run boosts the whole club and the town. It increases interest, it motivates fans to come to games, re-awakes those fans who have drifted away.
The players should have needed no motivation. A home FA Cup tie against a Conference side with a massive third round carrot at stake, to make the club some much-needed cash and send the fans home happy for a change should be enough. But no. Obviously it wasn't.
As I write this, Dover have just drawn Crystal Palace. Good luck to them, as they fully deserved it. Hope it is on the TV then our players can watch it and see what they missed out on.
The trouble is that I doubt that most of them would care about that.
Our performance was absolutely pathetic - one of the worst I have seen since we joined the League. Dover were a well-organised, functional team with players who knew their jobs. They wanted to win more than we did, and they deserved to win. They scrapped for every ball and our players got what they deserved. Humiliation.
Buckle had little choice with his team, picking an unchanged 11.
There is part of the problem - no pressure on anyone for their place, so what incentive do they have to perform as they know they will play and take their money every week.
Take the front two for instance. What club at this level of football had only two out and out senior forwards at the club? Absolutely terrible planning.
Byron Harrison and Terry Gornell know that if we play two up front, they are going to play. So they can carry on giving us insipid, lazy performances.
They are not helped however by our one-paced midfield, where Matt Richards and Jason Taylor offered no mobility, pace or creativity whatsoever.
All over the field, the ball was treated one of two ways - like a hot potato to be got rid of as quickly as possible or as something to keep knocking sideways or backwards at a snail's pace while Dover were able to maintain their shape or press us back further and further.
Some players hid. They didn't want the ball at times and were happy just to move it on anywhere else so as not to take the responsibility in the hope that someone else would.
Kane Ferdinand and Raffa de Vita offered absolutely nothing at all. Ferdinand is a creative, central midfielder who can score goals. In his three games for us, he has been sidelined on the left or right totally unable to have any effect on the game whatsoever while our central midfielders amble around taking four or five touches to go sideways, or charge around like a bull in a china shop achieving not very much at all.
There is no spine to the team. There is half of one - Trevor Carson and Matt Taylor are at least something to work on, with Steve Elliott when he is fit to join them.
But further forward there is nothing.
Craig Braham-Barrett was picked out after the game by Gary Lineker as just about our only decent outfield player yesterday, and at least he has some pace and energy. No one else does.
His runs and attempts to get behind the Dover wall was the only time we looked vaguely like doing anything - but then the delivery was a let down, or the finishing from the pull-backs and crosses was powder puff.
No ruthlessness, no real Neil Grayson-like desire to throw themselves in and maybe (heaven forbid) hurt themselves to try and score that goal. Jason Taylor could have had a hat-trick with shots from around the box. None of them hit the target.
We have a lack of pace, mobility, energy and quality in the squad. Too many of them are in the comfort zone, going through the motions as they know the squad is so unbalanced and small that their places are not at threat.
I am sick and tired of watching us get an attacking throw in and seeing four or five players just stood around waiting for the ball. No movement, no quick runs, no desire to make something of it.
Same goes for corners and free kicks. Let's just put it in there and see what happens.
When a player does actually go down the flank, time after time a cross comes in with maybe one player in the box against three or four defenders. No midfield or wide players busting a gut to get into the box.
Dover had a cruise. They played very often six at the back, and we never really looked threatening for any length of time. Their impressive forward players Payne and Murphy ran all afternoon and put a real shift in causing our defenders a lot of problems. Ours never got in behind their wall.
We were bullied. Again. I got fed up of hearing Mark Yates saying we were bullied and outfought.
It happened time after time after time. And it happened again here.
No backbone. No physicality. No fight for the ball. No challenges for headers in midfield. I don't think we have won a second ball in midfield since Steve Cotterill left. Doesn't feel like it anyway.
I would be quite happy not to see some of our senior players wear the shirt again as I honestly feel that some of them don't deserve to. They are short-changing the fans and the club, those who have put their trust in them and who pay their wages.
Paul Baker today has told Paul Buckle he will be able to make changes in January, so unfortunately we have this lot to put up with for at least another four games until that process can start.
But yesterday's spineless shambles has lessened that ability, so he might have to manufacture some more ways of bringing people in. He will have to be more ruthless than he might otherwise have been.
For a start, he will probably have to think long and hard about the futures of de Vita and Omari Sterling-James, who are on short-term deals.
I would let de Vita go as I really do not think he has done anything. OSJ would be a bit more unlucky as he has shown flashes of what he can do - but like so many others has been overlooked and not used in his best role.
Andy Haworth is another who has been under-utilised and it is no surprise that he has asked to go out on loan. If he is not going to be used, then try to find a club for him. Otherwise, give him a chance.
Talking of a chance, he needs to trust our youngsters. I would rather see Zack Kotwica, Bobbie Dale, Harry Williams, Adam Powell and co given a proper run out. At least they might actually care and actually want to be out there, play for the shirt and play for the fans.
But as we know, they have been mistrusted and under-used and I hope that doesn't continue and I hope the manager does not carry on introducing loanee after loanee to further stunt their progress in the hope of a quick fix.
I have done a bit of research and found that Mark Yates signed 41 loanees in his time as manager (and then add the four he inherited from John Schofield).
Of those 41, only 11 started more than 10 games (Luke Garbutt, Jimmy Spencer, Jack Butland, Marlon Pack, Matt Thornhill, Medy Elito, Paul Benson, Shaun Harrad, Michael Hector, Michael Ihiekwe and Matt Green) - and I would class only seven of his loanees as anywhere near a success.
Those seven are Koby Arthur, Hector, Pack, Butland, Garbutt, Spencer, and Ben Burgess. The other 34 offered various things from the odd good thing (Shaun Harrad for instance) to absolutely nothing (Billy Daniels or Lee Lucas anyone?).
It is no coincidence that five of those seven were here for a decent amount of time, while Burgess started nine games and only Koby Arthur of the short-termers was any sort of a hit (he only started twice).
It must dishearten Russ Milton and Jamie Victory to see player after player come in as they work hard to develop young players then see those efforts given little more than lip service further up. This has to stop.
Kotwica has been the biggest loser. He has only started two games and made 26 subsititute appearances in the last two seasons. No wonder he seems to have flatlined. Having fast-tracked him with a contract before his scholarship ended, we did not build on his early impact in the side. We stunted it.
Joe Hanks too - two games in two seasons while the likes of Kemar Roofe, Daniels, Lucas and co took his place in the side. Then he gets a few games, scores twice from midfield and is rewarded by being back on the bench again.
And Harry Williams. 38 goals at all levels last season from midfield, and a couple of starts (almost token) at the end of the season, then nothing until the last five minutes on Saturday. It seems now that Buckle believes he is a striker as he came on up front.
James Bowen came in at Stevenage and was just about the only success, but then was discarded again.
Adam Powell can actually pass and Bobbie Dale knows where the goal is, which many of our players cannot or do not.
Other clubs at our level do not treat their young players like this. Oxford for instance gave James Roberts a three-year contract and have given him a run in the team, and he has scored goals. He is 18, as are most of our youngsters.
Northampton too. Ivan Toney is also 18. He has been a regular, scored goals and nearly signed for Wolves recently for £500,000. The rewards of giving youngsters a chance.
See Exeter too. Two of their lads are in the England under-20s squad.
We have had some decent enough youngsters in the past but we have discarded them all too quickly without really seeing if they are good enough.
Some of the current crop might unfortunately go the same way and we could have to sit back see them develop elsewhere like Sam Foley, an "injury-prone midfielder" who is now scoring goals in League One for Yeovil, or Marley Watkins, an "inconsistent winger who runs up blind alleys" who is now starring in Scotland for Inverness and on the verge of the full Welsh squad.
Players develop at different paces and we need to try to give these lads the best chance of doing so and also make sure we benefit from it and that starts with giving them exposure to first-team football.
It is always a risk giving young players a go, but what does Buckle have to lose? He has just taken over so he isn't going to get the sack and he just needs to take the plunge.
It's a scrap now. 27 games to save our League status, and get 27 points at least to get past the 50 mark.
I am not sure whether a lot of our players are up for the scrap - I'll take 22nd now.