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?