Sunday, 12 April 2015

45 seconds of hope

The ridiculous stats which tell the underlying tale of this most rancid of seasons keep on stacking up.
Four wins in 37 league games, one in the last 18, one clean sheet since early September, and - most crazily of all - we have had more managers than league wins since October 21.
Yet still we are not cut adrift and already resigned to our fate. We have a chance of staying up, if only a mathematical one as even the biggest optimists among our fans would have to say they can't see it happening.
I spoke to several of the away contingent after the game yesterday - yet due to a level of incompetence which matched a lot of our defending yesterday and over this season as a whole you'll have to take my word for it as there is, I am afraid, no recorded evidence to support this.
None of them thought we were going to stay up. Several of them may have had a little drink or two, which is probably the best way to be when watching us at the moment. That way you might wake up the next day and not actually remember it.
Most of them belied a lack of blood, sweat and tears amongst the players. A lack of desire, lack of will, and lack of fight. Gutless and no passion were other words and phrases cropping up. So while we are mathematically able to dig ourselves out, I would hesitate to say we are still in there fighting to stay up.
Gary Johnson's post-match interview pretty much summed it up - it was the equivalent of a cricket captain saying his team can't bat, can't bowl or can't field.
He knows. He is not stupid. He has been round the block enough times to know he basically has nothing to work with.
They might try their best - and the worrying thing is that I believe the majority of them are - but he knows that they are simply not good enough - and the fact that we aren't already cut adrift is down more to how equally bad the other sides around us are than anything else.
I didn't hear it, but those who went to the press room at Wycombe at half-time could hear his raised voice tearing a strip off the team.
But that's a bit like a father berating their child for not being able to run the 100 metres in 10 seconds - they simply don't have the tools for the job they are being asked to do.
Johnson also summed it up when he said "we have to hope there are two teams worse than us." That, basically, is all we can cling to for these last four games.
Trouble is, that involves us having to collect some points, and actually winning at least two of these last four games.
I didn't see the game against Stevenage but was told we weren't completely terrible and Johnson made a couple of changes with Will Packwood injured and Joe Hanks left out for Jack Deaman and Matt Sparrow.
Deaman, having given the penalty away on Monday, was the surprise choice ahead of the more experienced Pablo Mills and Matt Taylor.
Mills looked horribly unfit and immobile at York on Good Friday, and it seems Johnson isn't a fan. Taylor hadn't been in the 18 on Monday after family-wedding-gate saw him miss training on Easter Saturday.
On that subject, I assume the club knew about this and had sanctioned it a long time ago, before Johnson arrived. Yet it doesn't send out a very good message when your club captain chooses a family wedding over a training session when his club is five games from relegation. All in it together? It makes you wonder a bit where his priorities are.
That's my view on it anyway - and reading between the lines, I would deduce that Johnson wasn't happy about it at all as Taylor wasn't in the 18 on Monday and was overlooked yesterday until the 77th minute.
After his mistake on Monday, Deaman not surprisingly looked nervous and picked up a fourth-minute booking, and after several nervous moments was lucky not to pick up a second one for a late challenge on the Wycombe keeper near half-time.
The fact that he came out for the second half owed more to the fact that we had already lost Wes Burns and Jordan Wynter to injuries in the first half than anything else.
Burns rolled his ankle from the free-kick after Deaman's booking and tried to run it off,and Wynter crocked himself and Wycombe's Joe Jacobsen in a full-blooded 50-50 challenge.
Danny Haynes replaced Burns and I had expected to see Shaun Harrad take Wynter's place, but instead it was Durrell Berry who got the nod, which led to Lee Vaughan being used as a right winger. An interesting move...
We hadn't troubled Wycombe going forward, and had kept them out - just - until first-half stoppage time although an earlier Nico Yennaris shot hit the bar and clearly to my eyes bounced down and crossed the line before bouncing out again. No goal-line technology here and the assistant was nowhere near being up with play, so we got away with one.
Trevor Carson had made one fine stop but couldn't keep out Aaron Pierre's shot through a ruck of players who were left prostrate on the floor as the shot weaved its' way in.
So we needed a goal. It was difficult to see where one was going to come from as we hadn't seen one from one of our own players since Packwood's header at Portsmouth.
The it happened. A miracle... and from the most unlikely of sources, with Berry firing into the corner. I must admit it took me totally by surprise when it nestled in the net.
After the 'over-the-line' shot escape and then that equaliser out of absolutely nothing, I did wonder at the moment if we were going to get that bit of luck we needed.
Oh come on, don't be silly. Those wistful notions where jolted back to a depressing normality about 45 seconds later. From the re-start, corner, centre half left free, header, 2-1 down. Head was back in hands.
So again, we needed a goal and Johnson has one change left. Right, he has Harrad there so Johnson can throw him on. He could take off Mathieu Manset, who was blowing a bit and hadn't been effective. Or Shaq McDonald, a peripheral figure. Or Lee Vaughan, being asked to play on the right wing.
Haynes could have moved out wide (although he wasn't that bad playing down the middle when he came on) and Harrad gone in up front, but no, Johnson simply swapped Deaman for Taylor.
Yes, Deaman was on a booking - but I didn't understand why, having rightly not made the change at half-time to keep the third change up his sleeve, he then made it at 2-1 down with 13 minutes to go when we needed a goal.
Yes, he could have got the second yellow in those last 13 minutes, but weighed up against the fact that we needed to try and get another forward on to get a goal I would say that was a risk worth taking.
We didn't really threaten for that equaliser, so it became five defeats in a row. With Carlisle winning and Hartlepool and Tranmere losing, the mini-league of four is now probably down to three now, with two going down.
That 'last chance' we seem to have had for the past few weeks now moves on to Cambridge at home on Tuesday, which becomes about the 20th 'must-win game' in a row. Our record in these must-wins so far isn't great, so I am not exactly holding my breath.
I can't see us having Burns and Wynter available, so the 11 Johnson chooses will be an interesting one. Surely Taylor will partner Troy Brown, Haynes might get the nod in place of Burns. Wynter's replacement? That's anybody's guess.
It's also anybody's guess how these last four games will pan out. While many of us may be resigned to what we think will happen, there is still, amazingly, a bit of hope to cling to.
That's what the heart is saying anyway. The head is telling a different story.