Sunday, 26 July 2015

Chalk and cheese

AS you would hope given the name which has been inflicted on our home ground this season, it was good to see a world of smiles on most supporters' faces after Saturday's game.
I really enjoyed our performance of high-energy pressing and passing, work-rate and commitment. As one person said afterwards 'more football in 90 minutes than we have seen in the past two seasons'. A tad harsh maybe, but I get where they are coming from.
But we do have to be careful. It's pre-season, and we have played this high-tempo passing game on a nice lush green carpet. As everyone knows the real test is whether it can be done on a wet Tuesday in Stoke. Or Bromley in our case.
However it is hard not to get carried away. Having seen player after player let us down with insipid, uncaring performances and terrible body language over the past two seasons, it's hard not to latch on to this group, who have been prepared to throw themselves into 50-50s in late July.
None of this means we are going to walk the league and have promotion sorted out by Easter but it's hard not to raise expectations on the evidence of these five games so far.
It's only pre-season. Down the road, we have seen Forest Green lose 1-0 to Brimscombe and draw 0-0 with Slimbridge. We're not writing off their promotion hopes on that basis, so equally we are not talking ours up too much on the basis of our results.
But I get the feeling these players will still be winning 50-50s in late April. They seem to have that mentality, and the youthful enthusiasm of players like Billy Waters, Jack Munns, George McLennan and Jack Barthram is infectious.
Having interviewed a few of the new boys, they seem like decent blokes. They talk well and sensibly, they seem to want to be here and want to play for the manager and the club. All very positive.
Cirencester, Weston and Evesham were the 'bedding in' games. 45 minutes to an hour each, resulting in three wins, 13 goals nicely spread around and the green shoots of a team coming together.
Then Sheffield United, more good signs and a defeat to two last-minute goals before Saturday's game with Bristol Rovers - the real pre-season benchmark against the team who have just done what we want to do, getting their place back in the Football League a season after dropping through the trapdoor.
And we passed the test. A 2-1 result which flattered them, and it's their manager who goes away with more problems than ours.
On the evidence so far, you have to say Gary Johnson has had a good summer. All of his new arrivals have shown up well at different times in the pre-season programme.
Dillon Phillips seems to be growing in confidence - his penalty save at the weekend will be a massive fillip, while I am sure Calum Kitscha will be a more than adequate back-up.
Barthram and McLennan look to be good athletes; getting up and down their flanks and both have stopped crosses at various times - a positive improvement on what went before.
Aaron Downes looks a real leader. A 'head it and kick it' centre-back in the Mark Freeman mould, he may find himself beaten for pace at times but he has half-a-yard in his head and looks more than adequate for the level we are at.
His partner remains uncertain. It may be the mythical loan centre-back who is still backed by GJ to arrive before Lincoln, or it may be the triallist Danny Parslow, who the manager wants and who, after playing all four games thus far, will be getting the understanding with Downes already.
He has experience at this level and looks a 'steady Eddie' as well as having a bit of versatility in that he can also play at right-back. There won't be any complaints here if he ends up signing.
Our midfield has looked really strong, and even the return of the diamond has not incurred too much negative feedback from fans - simply because it seems we can now play it properly and are making it work.
Kyle Storer is perfect for the sitting role. No frills at all, breaking it up, winning tackles and letting the three ahead of him loose, while Harry Pell is the driving force we have been missing for so long - arguably since the Penn-Pack-Summerfield trio was broken up.
The guy is a beast. He is the one who sets the tone for the all-action, all-commitment, high-tempo game. All arms and legs and energy, he doesn't let up for the time he is out there and gives us real strength and bite which we haven't had since the sale of Penn.
The we have the little guys, Munns and Waters. In recent times, CTFC has had a few little guys on their books with varying degrees of success - think back to the two Simons, Cooper and Brain, then loanees like Jake Taylor and Kemar Roofe, and then Sam Deering.
Some were better than others, some gave no end-product at all in terms of goals or assists, but these two look like they will deliver on the evidence so far.
Munns can take a set-piece which beats the first man for starters. His corners have landed on the right heads in the penalty area and he has buzzed around like a little pest.
Waters looks a real find. Of all the new arrivals, he is the one who has really shone up in all five games and his performance against Rovers was dazzling. Quick feet, pace, skill and two different goals - a poached effort and a decisive finish. We'll let him off the penalty this time.
Also it's been great to see Asa Hall back. He needs to build up fitness, but he seems pain-free and has come through a few 50-50s unscathed, so another plus.
Midfield options is not something we are short of. Let's not forget Joe Hanks, who has shone up in his games so far, and there's also Jordan Wynter (if the manager wants to keep him around - and I must admit I am not sure he does) and the triallist James Rowe looked a neat and tidy player with an impressive display in the 'number 10' role against Rovers, and is one the manager does want to keep around.
Last but not least of the new boys is Danny Wright and Amari Morgan-Smith. In the three games they played together, the combination play was coming along, and AMS helped himself to four goals and Wright a couple, so already they are getting that confidence up.
Wright is the target man, he seems decent at holding things up and bringing others into play around him, and will be an aerial threat in the box, maybe without bundles of pace.
AMS seems to have that pace as well as power and there seems to be a partnership developing.
There was the worry that we were maybe light in the striker department, but Waters' display up there on Saturday is the absence of AMS might put that to bed, and we also have Harry Williams and Bobbie Dale - plus - hopefully - Eliot Richards may be back to play a part at some point having tweeted that he has now finished his chemotherapy.
Some players may fall by the wayside, either permanently or temporarily. Lee Vaughan has shown his usual good attitude in pre-season, which has been acknowledged by the manager, but he is a high-earner which is essentially why he is available for transfer. The same may happen to Hall and Wynter for those same economic reasons.
It is hard to see Jack Deaman getting a look in, while Zack Kotwica's game for Evesham on Saturday and the diamond system which is working well without natural wide players may suggest he will be looking elsewhere for regular games, maybe joining Adam Page, Omari Sterling-James and Jamal Lawrence out on loan somewhere.
With only five subs in the VNL, we have a need for less players in the squad, and already the team to play at Lincoln is, I would suggest, pretty close to being known, with Downes' central defensive partner the only real doubt.
It is odds on that we will go to Sincil Bank with 11 debutants; Phillips, Barthram, Downes, McLennan, Storer, Pell, Munns, Waters, Wright and AMS being 10 of them. The loan centre-back or Parslow will surely be debutant player number 11.
The bench will see Kitscha, Vaughan (if fit by then), Parslow or the loanee, Hanks, Hall, maybe Rowe if GJ is able to sign him, Wynter if he is still here, ditto Kotwica, Williams and Dale fighting it out for a seat.
So it really has been all change, and you have to say on the evidence that we have seen so far, overwhelmingly for the better.
To give an idea of just how much change we have seen, I'll leave you with this.
On July 25 2014, we drew 1-1 at Bath City on a baking hot day, and used 19 players, while two more were unused subs.
None of the players who figured in that game played on Saturday, although Joe Hanks, who played for 20 minutes at Bath, was on the bench, as was Bobbie Dale, an unused sub in both games.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Where are they now?

As our Football League life ends, I would like to try and keep up to date the current whereabouts of this list of our Football League players, and a few others who were at the club, but didn't quite make it on to the field.
Below is the list and where they are as far as I know, but any errors/additions/changes would be very welcome indeed, either to me on Twitter, @MarkHalliwell1 or email
Information from Google, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, football club websites and the darkest recesses of my brain. If it is wrong and you know better, let me know. Thanks.

Scott Brown - Aberdeen
Jamie Victory - coaching at CTFC
Shane Higgs - last known at Northampton
David Bird - lives in Ross-on-Wye. Last club Cinderford Town
John Finnigan - Sports Development Officer at Winchcombe School
Michael Duff - Burnley
Mark Yates - manager, Crawley Town
Grant McCann - assistant manager, Peterborough United, retired from playing June 2015
Shane Duff - living in Cheltenham, runs soccer schools
Jerry Gill - under-18s manager, Norwich City
Steve Book - part-time goalkeeping coach, CTFC
Steve Elliott - coach, CTFC
Martin Devaney - Academy coach, Barnsley FC
Michael Townsend - retired from playing through injury
Damian Spencer - last known living in Windsor area
Julian Alsop - living in Cheltenham
Lee Howells - manager, Bath City
Chris Banks - physio, Stoke City
JJ Melligan - played for Hinckley AFC in 2014-15
Gavin Caines - last known playing at Rushall Olympic
Marlon Pack - Bristol City, offered new contract at end of 2014-15
Brian Wilson - Oldham Athletic
Andy Gallinagh - Bath City
Keith Lowe - York City
Russell Milton - assistant manager, CTFC
Sido Jombati - Wycombe Wanderers
Neil Howarth - head of operation and player analysis, Bury FC
Josh Low - solicitor at Clarke Willmott LLP, Bristol
Kayode Odejayi – signed for Stockport County, summer 2015
Matt Richards - released by CTFC, summer 2015
Russell Penn - York City
Craig Armstrong - Academy coach, Nottingham Forest FC
Jermaine McGlashan - Gillingham
John Brough - manager, Cinderford Town
Troy Brown - released by CTFC, summer 2015
Steve Guinan - coach educator for the Professional Footballers Association
Neil Grayson - retired from playing aged 50, May 2015
Craig Braham-Barrett - released by CTFC, summer 2015
Hugh McAuley - lives in North West. Founded Innovation Cars Limited.
Antony Griffin
Richard Walker - Business development manager at Inchcape Mercedes Benz, Nottingham
Steven Gillespie - left Altrincham end of 2014-15, signed for Warrington Town
Kaid Mohamed - released by Port Vale, summer 2015
Tony Naylor
Danny Andrew - Fleetwood
Mark Freeman
Alan Bennett - Cork City
Byron Harrison - Chesterfield
Lee Ridley - Bottesford Town, start of 2014-15 season
Ashley Vincent - Shrewsbury Town
Michael Pook - Account manager, Procurri, Swindon
Jeff Goulding - last known at Dover Athletic
Jason Taylor - Northampton
Alan Wright - last known as manager of Southport, left Dec 2013
Paul Connor - Shildon FC
Trevor Carson - Hartlepool United, signed summer 2015
Sam Deering - Whitehawk
Drissa Diallo
Andy Lindegaard - CEO Dymond Strength
Lee Williams - last known as assistant manager of Leamington, 2012
Brian Smikle - last known at Stourbridge, 2014-15 season
Wes Thomas - Birmingham City
Justin Richards - Sutton Coldfield Town
Terry Gornell - Accrington Stanley
Billy Jones - Gloucester City
Frankie Artus - Bath City
Luke Summerfield - York City
Barry Hayles – signed for Chesham United, summer 2015
Paul Brayson - last known at Newcastle Benfield, Feb 2014
Luke Garbutt - Everton
Elvis Hammond - Kingstonian during 2014-15 season
Matt Taylor - CTFC, transfer listed, summer 2015
Lee Vaughan - CTFC, transfer listed, summer 2015
Alex Russell - left role as Tranmere assistant manager, Oct 2014
Shaun Harrad - released by Notts County, summer 2015
Darryl Duffy - Salgaocar, India
Richard Forsyth - PE teacher in Bromsgrove area
Jimmy Spencer - Notts County
Darren Carter - released by Northampton, summer 2015
Ashley Eastham - Rochdale
Martin Riley - Tranmere Rovers, signed summer 2015
David Noble - Exeter City
Jack Butland - Stoke City
Jamie Cureton - Dagenham and Redbridge
Ian Westlake - Needham Market
Bob Taylor
Chris Zebroski - jailed for four years, four months, April 2015
David Hutton - Biggleswade Town
Michael Taylor - last known at Marine FC
Theo Lewis - Ebbsfleet United
Michael Hector - Reading
Joe Hanks - CTFC
Graham Fyfe - player coach Redlands United, Queensland, Australia as at May 2014
Lloyd Owusu - lives in Australia, retired from football Feb 2015
Matt Thornhill - last known at Buxton FC
Paul Benson - Luton Town
Kane Ferdinand - transfer listed by Peterborough United, summer 2015
Adam Connolly - Gloucester City
Michael D'Agostino - Lives in Cologne, Germany. Co-owner and promoter of Vancouver Futsal, Canada
Dean Sinclair - Hampton and Richmond Borough, new contract summer 2015
Steve Brooker - last known at Buxton FC, 2012
Darren Jones – signed for Forest Green Rovers, summer 2015
Wes Burns - Bristol City
Scott Brown (midfielder) - Grimsby Town
Jack Deaman - CTFC, transfer listed summer 2015
Medy Elito – Newport County, signed summer 2015
Darren Kenton - last known living in USA, last known club Rochester Rhinos
Michael Ihiekwe - Tranmere Rovers
Jennison Myrie-Williams - released by Scunthorpe United summer 2015
Mickey Bell - last managerial role was at Weston-s-Mare, left Nov 2014
Scott Murray - kitman, Bristol City, played for Shepton Mallet FC in 2015
Jordan Wynter - CTFC
Marvin Brown - Academy Director at Pro Soccer Academy, Calne, Wilts
Kevin Amankwaah - last known at Salisbury City, 2014
Joss Labadie - Dagenham and Redbridge (serving 6-month ban from April 2015)
Matt Sparrow -  signed for Lincoln City, summer 2015
Matt Green – signed for Mansfield Town, summer 2015
Greg Goodridge - last known in Barbados, player coach of Brittons Hill United
Mark Sertori - soft tissue therapist at Manchester City, and for the senior England team
Zack Kotwica - CTFC
Omari Sterling-James - CTFC, transfer listed summer 2015
Kyle Haynes - Worcester City
Josh Payne – signed for Eastleigh, summer 2015
Chris Westwood - Hednesford Town during 2014-15 season
Jason White - Financial adviser in Hong Kong
Marley Watkins - Joined Barnsley, summer 2015
Nicholas Bignall - Basingstoke Town
John Marquis - Millwall
Mathieu Manset  - released by CTFC, summer 2015
Durrell Berry  - released by CTFC, summer 2015
Karl Henry – QPR, new contract summer 2015
Alan Morgan - last known at Musselburgh Athletic
Pablo Mills - released by Bury, summer 2015
Steve Jones - Was Bishop's Cleeve player/assistant manager around 2011/12
Raffa de Vita - Ross County, new contract summer 2015
Kemar Roofe – signed for Oxford United, summer 2015
Michail Antonio - Nottingham Forest
Charlie McDonald – signed for Boreham Wood, summer 2015
Jake Taylor - Reading
David Pipe - Forest Green Rovers
Aaron Lescott - last known at Halesowen Town
Bertie Cozic - French property investment consultant
Carl Muggleton - Goalkeeping coach at Northampton/driving instructor
Yuri Berciche - Real Sociedad
Mitch Brundle - Braintree
Bob Bloomer - works for the Football League, youth academy inspector
Harry Williams - CTFC
Eliot Richards - CTFC
Ben Burgess - Primary school teacher in Blackpool
Ben Marshall - Blackburn Rovers
Stuart Fleetwood – signed for Sutton United, summer 2015
Jason Brissett
Danny Haynes  - released by CTFC, summer 2015
Harry Hooman
Lloyd Jones - Liverpool
Chris Freestone - FA skills team leader for Leicestershire and Northants and coach of the England under-23 LD (learning difficulties) squad
Kris O'Leary - coach, Swansea City
Lewis Montrose - released by York City, summer 2015
Jack Dunn - Liverpool
Will Packwood - released by Birmingham City, summer 2015
Dale Watkins
Michael Wylde - last known at Alfreton Town 2013-14
Robin Shroot - Sogndal, Norway
Leon Constantine - Consultant for BH Sports Agency
Denny Johnstone - Birmingham City
James Wilson - Oldham Athletic
James Wesolowski - Shrewsbury Town
Holmar Orn Eyjolfsson -Rosenborg BK, Norway
Daryl Clare - last known as assistant manager of Boston Town, 2014
Oliver Bozanic - Luzern, Switzerland
Kevin Stewart - Liverpool
Shaun Jeffers – signed for Yeovil Town, summer 2015
Jonny Hayes - Aberdeen
Jake Thomson - last known at Bognor Regis Town
Greg Strong – appointed chief scout at Plymouth Argyle, July 2015
Denes Rosa - last known at Ferencvaros, 2012
Connor Goldson - Shrewsbury Town
Jake Gray - Crystal Palace
Shaq McDonald- Derby County
Steve MacLean - St Johnstone
Michael Rose - Rochdale
Mark Jones
Aaron Brown - last known at Weston-s-Mare 2014
Paul Black - Atlanta Silverbacks, USA
Sos Yao -last known at Tooting and Mitcham, 2012
Craig Reid - Kidderminster
Michael Jackson - postman in Cheltenham
Ben Cleverley - Shepton Mallet FC
Guy Madjo - last club Tranmere, left Jan 2015
Martyn Lee - works as a floor tiler in Woking (2012)
Keith Hill - manager, Rochdale FC
Chris Iwelumo - retired from football, Oct 2014
Jake Lee - Shortwood United
Peter Hynes - last known at Longford Town, 2013-14
Louis Almond - Southport
Eusebio Bancessi - Wolves
Andy Smith - last known at Crusaders FC, Jan 2014
Michael Simpkins - last known at Belper Town, 2011
Lee Lucas - Swansea
Ryan Inniss - Crystal Palace
Billy Daniels - Notts County
Nathan Tyson - Doncaster Rovers
Gareth Hopkins - physio for Glos NHS
Bagasan Graham - last known at Dulwich Hamlet, early 2014-15 season
Koby Arthur - Birmingham City
James Bowen - CTFC
Bobbie Dale - CTFC
Lawson D'Ath - Northampton Town
Marcus Jones - last known in Scarborough area, 2008
Tom Denton - North Ferriby United
Ian Stevens
Lathanial Rowe-Turner – Kidderminster Harriers, signed summer 2015
Romone Rose - Marlow FC
Will Puddy - Bristol Rovers
Sam Cox - Boreham Wood
Connor Roberts - Chester
Asa Hall - CTFC
Ben Gill - Business Development manager at BPL Broadcast, Uxbridge
Rob Elvins - Worcester City
Andy Haworth – signed for Barrow, summer 2015
Phil Walsh - Bath City
Chris Murphy - last known at Daventry Town, 2013
Jack Durrant - Principal Consultant at Hays, Bristol
Gary Bradshaw - Scarborough Athletic
Graham Ward - IT Support Analyst in Walsall
Craig Dobson
Bobby Reid - Plymouth Argyle
Luke McCullough - Doncaster Rovers
Aaron Ledgister - Postman. Last known playing for Chippenham Park FC
Marlon Jackson - last known at Oxford City
Ashley Hemmings - Dagenham and Redbridge
Josh Emery – signed for Hereford FC, summer 2015
Luke Corbett - last known at Evesham United, 2013
Jamal Lawrence - CTFC, transfer listed, summer 2015

Players named on the bench for a Football League game, who did not come on
Nicky Marker - manager, Ivybridge Town FC
Stuart Mitchinson - Cheltenham Civil Service FC
Lee Burby - Personal trainer in Gloucester
Luke Buttery - Personal trainer in Toronto, Canada
Craig Humphries - last known at Malvern Town
Sam Foley - signed two-year contract at Port Vale, summer 2015
Joe Perry - Mangotsfield United
Shane Paul - Business Manager at Grouptrader Networks Ltd
Lewis Fathers
Cathal Tosh
Dean Maynard - living in Wales. There is a Dean Maynard in the Welsh Futsal squad.
Josh Quaynor - last known at South Adelaide FC, Australia, Nov 2014
Barry Richardson - goalkeeping coach at Wycombe Wanderers
Dan Lloyd-Weston - last known at Southport, 2014-15
Harvey Rivers - joining Hereford FC for 2015-16 season
Matt Gould - released by CTFC, summer 2015
Harry Reynolds - released by CTFC, summer 2015
Danny Reynolds - released by CTFC, summer 2015

Professionals or loanees who did not make it onto the bench for a league game
Steve Benbow - Bishop's Cleeve
Marc Richards - Gloucester City
Christian Brutschin
Richard Kear - Lydney Town
Tommy Manship - last known at Hyde FC
Ajet Shehu - Ware FC
Kiernan Hughes-Mason - Leatherhead
Ethan Moore - Cinderford Town
Ed Williams - Cirencester Town
Toby Ajala - Torquay United
Adam Powell - playing for Broadbeach United in Australia, Gold Coast

Scholars given a squad number but never selected for the match-day squad
Lee Davis
Reece Daly - released by CTFC, summer 2015
Greg Lewis - last known at Cinderford Town, 2014
Scott Musgrove
Michael Whittington - last known at Stockwood Green FC, Dec 2014
Kieran Thomas - Cinderford Town

Player given a squad number and listed in the programme for one game - but never actually signed for us
Luke Rooney – joined Crawley Town, summer 2015

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Clearing the decks

IN recent weeks, the interviews Gary Johnson has given have dropped hints, some subtle and some not so, that he isn't exactly a fan of some of the players he inherited.
So now he has taken the opportunity to wield the axe with some ruthlessness - and the cuts have gone further and deeper than I had expected.
With the eight out of contract players, I suspect it was a pretty easy decision for him.
He needs to get the budget down and leave himself some scope to bring in new players, so the players I suspect are the highest earners in this group had to go.
Matt Richards and Craig Braham-Barrett will not be missed by the vast majority of Cheltenham fans.
They are the pair who will go down in history as being synonymous with the fall from a play-off team to the a Conference side in their two seasons with us.
Richards still has the odd supporter among the fanbase, but I don't think I have ever known a player who is so universally disliked as Braham-Barrett seems to be, so the fans will bid these two a relieved farewell, and hope that is the last they will see of them in red and white.
Their departures will be positively celebrated in some quarters if their 'reception' during last Saturday's game at AFC Wimbledon is anything to go by.
Troy Brown is another who is a mainstay of the past two seasons, and now has the dubious distinction of having two relegations on his CV, and along with CBB has been a regular in a defence which totally lost the ability to keep a clean sheet.
Andy Haworth was also inevitable having made five sub appearances all season then been farmed off to Barrow for the rest of the season - where he was also a bit-part player as they won Conference North.
The stop-gap attackers Danny Haynes and Mathieu Manset are also on their way, Haynes after a tantalising one-game show of talent against Cambridge which promised more but was followed by injury.
Manset meanwhile was frustratingly never fully fit it seemed, and was unable to add any end product to some at-times promising hold-up and build-up play, so both will continue their wanderings.
Matt Gould never got a game, and maybe there was a case to keep him as a cheap number two keeper option, especially with scholar Harry Reynolds not being taken on, but Johnson has opted against.
That leaves Durrell Berry, who goes down in history as our last Football League goalscorer. He is the only one of the eight I would seriously have considered keeping. I think he is a half-decent defender and would do well at our new level.
It is interesting that the door may yet be open for 'one or two' on reduced terms if they can't find another club and want to come back in pre-season. I would say Berry is favourite to be one of those - but I, along with many others I suspect, would hope that CBB, Brown or Richards are definitely not on that list.
With 14 under contract, it was also inevitable that some would be made available, but I must confess I didn't envisage there being as many as six transfer listed.
Trevor Carson's name was always going to appear and he confirmed that playing in the Conference was not top of his wishlist, along with being 250 miles away from his family. A shame, as he would be a major asset behind (hopefully) a decent defence for a change, but perfectly understandable. There will surely be takers.
Matt Taylor was brought in as our skipper and leader and failed pretty miserably on both counts. Certainly nowhere near an Alan Bennett or Russ Penn in the 'captain and leader' stakes.
His fitness is ropey as he broke down time and again, and the offer of a two-year contract last summer was another of Mark Yates' poor recruitment decisions.
There is also the decision to go to a family wedding on Easter Saturday as the club he is the captain of had an important training session - which maybe showed where his priorities were.
I hope there are clubs out there who will take him from us - unless he decides his fitness battle is one he can't win long-term. I have to say I won't miss him too much as he has been a disappointment.
Lee Vaughan has some fans out there, mainly for his heart-on-the-sleeve attitude and sympathy for his treatment by Paul Buckle, and has Conference pedigree with Kidderminster.
But he was dropped in favour of Berry by two managers during the season and, again, I suspect is towards the top end of the pay scale. Mansfield wanted him earlier in the season, so again I would expect clubs to show an interest.
Jack Deaman started the season well, but he really struggled later on in the campaign with mistakes being highlighted as they led to goals, such as the penalty against Stevenage, and he was poor at Wycombe and Northampton as well.
That leaves Omari Sterling-James and Jamal Lawrence, and - along with Vaughan - these are the ones which have caused the most surprise.
In Omari's case, he has not featured much under Johnson - only two sub appearances - which might tell where he stands.
I think there is something there - but what is his position? I don't see him as a winger, taking players on and getting crosses in, nor as a central striker or a central midfielder.
But if we are going to have a squad of 20, they need to be 'ready' and maybe Johnson doesn't feel Omari and Lawrence are ready - feeling that he can't carry 'potential' in a reduced squad.
I thought Lawrence did well when he came on at AFCW. He looked stronger than I thought he was and I hope that the door isn't totally shut on him and Omari - maybe if no-one comes in they might get a shot in pre-season.
In Lawrence's case (remember he is contracted to 2017) perhaps a loan at Cirencester or Gloucester maybe for six months might be what he needs - but again it's a money issue and Johnson needs to cut the cloth.
I just hope that if these two do leave, we aren't talking about them in the same way as Marley Watkins and Sam Foley in a few year's time. Guess that's the risk we have to take at this time. It's a shame though.
Remember of course that all six of the above are still under contract and have only been listed. That doesn't mean they will all go and they could still play a part - but by listing them Johnson clearly doesn't see them as being in his plans long-term.
Then we have the three players awaiting their final fate.
Asa Hall's four-minute appearance at Bury will, I believe, go down as the shortest League playing time of anyone in our 747 games at that level.
Gary will not have had the chance to see him train or play at all in the flesh so to speak, so needs to do that before he can make a decision on him.
Personally I feel a fit Hall would do well in the Conference, but as with everything else it comes down to money, and I think he might find himself made available.
I hope we persevere with Jordan Wynter but play him as a central midfield player and not a right winger - and the fact that Gary did play him before his injury might bode well for him.
That leaves Eliot Richards, and first and foremost we hope that he makes a full recovery from his illness.
I think he would do a good job for us in the Conference - but again, like Omari earlier, what is his best position? Central striker? Winger? Advanced midfielder in a three?
We can't be sentimental about him I am afraid, and keep him just because he has had this terrible illness to deal with. Gary has to be hard-headed and decide what is best for the club and for his budget.
So with eight all but gone, six listed, three in limbo and four loanees gone back to their clubs (Sparrow, Harrad, Burns and Packwood) who is left?
Well, five players have survived the carnage intact - and they now have a massive chance ahead of them next season.
Joe Hanks is at the forefront of these and he looks set to finally play a big part in the side as a first-team regular.
I see Joe playing as a midfield 'sitter'. I feel he lacks the pace and mobility to be a box to box player, but he can tackle, has a good range of passing and can take a set-piece as well as being capable of getting in to shooting positions and scoring goals.
Harry Williams is another who could grasp the opportunity. He has done well at Conference North level, and now it is time to step up.
A big summer awaits him, and he needs to spend it in the gym, and as Johnson has said "summer well, and come back as a man in July."
He has shown signs of potential in his League Two appearances without quite being able to find a goal or two to finish things off, and that is what he needs to do next season.
Bobbie Dale is in the same boat as his mate Harry. He worked hard on Saturday but was fed on scraps - however there were some good little bits of link-up with Harry, Zack Kotwica, Joe Hanks and James Bowen when he was on. His work-rate was good, but like Harry he now needs to kick on and deliver next season.
Ditto again for Bowen, who showed again in his outing on Saturday that he has no fear and in my view has all the attributes to be a success - I like his attitude and hope he gets a crack of the whip next season, either as a left-back of a left winger as I think he is equally capable in both roles.
Kotwica is another for whom this is a massive opportunity now. Johnson has shown faith in him during his spell in charge so far and that faith needs to be repaid.
We need to see Zack really affecting games next season. He needs to be positive, take players on and create chances for the forwards as well as looking to score goals himself.
At times, we have seen that he has the ability to do that, but too often we have seen him look sideways of backwards.
We need to be see the positive side more consistently, he needs to shake off the 'promising youngster' tag and really start making a name for himself.
So having cleared the decks, it's time to see what rabbits Johnson can pull out of the hat this summer.
He has clearly backed his wheeling and dealing skills to be able to put a squad together on the budget he has been given - otherwise he would have walked away.
How many he brings in of course depends on how many of the six listed and he can shift out and if any of the three in limbo follow them, but he has to strengthen all over the field of course.
We need a new back five who can keep clean sheets, a new front two to help get the 90-odd goals Johnson says we need to have a chance of going back up, wingers who can help supply the ammunition for these 90 goals, midfielders who can do likewise and maybe score a few themselves.
Add to that, these players need a team ethic, and we need leadership qualities and a hunger to help get this club back to where we feel it belongs, in the Football League.  Oh yes, and all on a reduced budget. All the best then Gary!
Names will be floating around like wildfire in the next few weeks. In fact, it's already started, with some clubs also clearing the decks for the summer rebuild.
But remember. Money is tighter than ever now, and targets who were viable for us as a League Two club maybe less so now from a financial point of view as well as the level we are now playing at.
Down the road, Forest Green let six players go yesterday, and among them were Sam Russell, Chris Stokes and James Norwood, a trio who I am sure many CTFC fans would not be against Johnson trying to sign.
But bear in mind FGR's budget was bigger than ours was last season - let alone this - and when Johnson had Stokes on trial at Yeovil last season he was not taken on partly because his wages were out of the club's reach.
So Johnson's wheeling and dealing skills are really going to be put to the test, and we have to back his judgement and ability to find the right players and not to repeat the recruitment horrors of the past two summers.
Good luck Gary.

Monday, 27 April 2015

The blame game

So that's it then.
There was no great escape, no reprieve, and we have got exactly what we deserved. Many of us have known deep down for weeks, even months, that it was coming - but that doesn't make it any less heartbreaking.
No team with five wins in 39 games and one clean sheet in seven months deserves to stay up, and it's not bad luck, injuries or referees who have relegated us, it is stunning ineptitude on and off the field.
So who is to blame? That's the question which many CTFC fans are asking, and they will all have different answers - the players, the board, the managers... the truth is it is a combination of things which have culminated in this devastating blow to our football club.
The players
Ultimately, the performances of the vast majority of the 41 players we have used this season have been well below the standard required to keep us in this division. Well below.
Managers can train them and fill them with as much information as they like, but once they cross the white line, they take the responsibility, and they have fallen well short.
Too often, they have lacked the mental strength and the will to go that extra mile, put their bodies on the line and just fight tooth and nail for 90 minutes every week for the shirt they are wearing.
That attitude was shown on Saturday after the final whistle. Only four players could be bothered to face the supporters - Joe Hanks, Trevor Carson, Matt Gould and Shaun Harrad. One of those hasn't played a game, one of the others is a loanee.
I don't tar the younger guys with this brush, players like Zack and Omari, and guys who were on the bench, but the more senior players amongst the squad should be ashamed of themselves.
They should have been told to get out there and face the music. Face the supporters they have let down time and time again.
There are some among this group that I never want to see again and I cannot wait for the day when our football club does not have to pay them a wage. They don't deserve to make a living from the hard-earned money our supporters pay for their season tickets.
Short-changed doesn't even begin to describe how much they have been let down, not just this season, but for the last two - and I have to admit I was not surprised that there were some angry scenes in the car park after the game.
I am not condoning those actions at all, I hate to see that sort of thing - but I can understand people who have spent a lot of money going up and down the country being frustrated at what they saw as some players trying to sneak out with no regard for those they have let down. Maybe they could have channelled it better.
But I feel that if the players had faced the music, bitten the bullet and been a bit humble after the game by facing the fans, those scenes may have been avoided.
Haring off down the tunnel (invading Shrewsbury fans or not - that's no excuse and some of them made it to the fans) only stoked up the frustration of many.
It only added to the impression that they don't care. I know some do (I saw Wes Burns in tears by the dugout) but some of them have just treated the supporters with utter disdain.
Not fit to wear the shirt? Most of them simply are not.
Player recruitment
Turn the clock back to January 28, 2012. On that day, we travelled to Moss Rose, Macclesfield, and won 3-1 to go top of League Two. The only thoughts that day would have been about a future in League One.
That's where we should have ended up, but unfortunately that was to be the pinnacle for us and it has been a slippery slope since then.
Our team that day? - It was Brown, Jombati, Garbutt, Lowe, Bennett, Pack, Smikle, McGlashan, Summerfield, Goulding, Mohamed. The bench was Hooman, Low, Spencer, Duffy and Penn. Steve Elliott was injured and was also in the squad.
It goes without saying that most of those players would walk into this team now - even the ones like Junior Smikle, Jeff Goulding and Josh Low who weren't universal crowd favourites would undoubtedly give more than some of those we have had to endure lately.
That seemed to be a squad going places. It should have been going to League One, but ultimately it has ended up in (amongst other places) Aberdeen, Wycombe, York (x3), Wimbledon, Bristol, Gillingham and India.
Good players allowed to drift away far too easily, and replaced with mediocrity or short-term loanees with no interest, no connection and nowhere near the same ability.
There were also leaders there, especially Alan Bennett and Russ Penn. That leadership went with them and was also never replicated and it is that midfield which sums it up.
For most of that season, we had the 'holy trinity' of Pack, Penn and Summerfield in midfield. Summers left after Wembley, Pack stayed (just) for one more season, then Penn was discarded after the Tamworth Cup defeat.
The replacements gradually got worse, as we went through Darren Carter to David Noble via Sam Deering (80-odd games, no goals for an 'attacking midfielder') and Jason Taylor, to end up with Matt Richards - who, along with Craig Braham-Barrett and Troy Brown were signed the summer after we had just finished fifth in the table.
That trio have been mainstays in the side over the past two seasons, and now we are in the Conference. I think that tells you all you need to know about their ability. Not good enough.
Look at left-back. We had Garbutt, who was a loanee and never a long-term option, but he had replaced Danny Andrew, a player who had a lovely left foot but was maybe not the best defender. See also Billy Jones. But there can't be many who would pick Braham-Barrett, who we have endured for 81 games over two seasons over either of those two - defensive deficiencies or dodgy knees and all.
I am simply stunned he has survived all four managers this season. The failure to at least try Paul Black in that role when he was signed was just disgraceful. Surely he can't have been any worse?
The loanees have been a source of huge frustration to me. Far, far too many and most of them of dubious quality and even fewer who actually have improved us. Money chucked away.
Mark Yates was the biggest culprit, stunting the development of our own young players with stop gap after stop gap, and the quality gradually got worse as time went on.
For example, Joe Hanks was sent out to Gloucester while Polyfilla stop-gap players came in to take the place he should have been occupying in the side.
After making his debut in October 2012, he had to wait 18 months until the final two games of 2013-14 to play again as loanee after loanee was brought in ahead of him.
After Jack Butland and Garbutt in 2011-12, there were very few good ones from any managers. Ben Burgess in the play-offs that year, Michael Hector came in after Bennett's departure in 2013, Koby Arthur gave us hope back in August, Jack Dunn lit us up briefly and Wes Burns shone in the death throes this season.
But there are far more like Lee Lucas, Eusebio, Kane Ferdinand, Shaq McDonald, Billy Daniels, Jake Taylor, Kemar Roofe, Michael Ihiekwe, James Wilson and Toby Ajala - who never even got on the pitch. The list goes on and on -and I bet you have forgotten most of them were ever here.
From a good-quality committed squad in early 2012, who cared about the club and had a connection with the supporters (especially the likes of Scott Brown, Bennett, Penn, Lowe, Pack and Duffy) we have been left with players who for the most part can't wait to run off the pitch and hide, then try to sneak out of the ground without so much as a sorry for the fans they let down.
Mark Yates
At the start of 2012, we were flying. Playing some fantastic football - remember those wins at Oxford, Bristol Rovers and Bradford... that home win over Southend.
Before we get too wistful, back to reality. We played Spurs in the Cup, made some money and Mark Yates walked on the White Hart Lane pitch and made that infamous signal pointing upwards. If only Mark.
Suddenly, the club seemed to be going places. Top of league soon after at Macclesfield, and with FA Cup money burning a hole in our pocket - and it was soon spent on Jermaine McGlashan.
Now let me get this straight right now. I am not blaming Jermaine for anything which has happened.
But we just didn't need that type of player. My view is that the board and manager decided they had to make some sort of statement and made a big-money signing just because they could to show the fans they were trying to show some ambition, and 'go for it'.
If they wanted to do that, I feel they should have looked around and tried to strengthen what we had - look at the depth of the squad and bolster it rather than splurging it all on one player just because he played well against us a couple of times in the recent past.
We were playing a system which worked. Four at the back, the holy trinity three in midfield and two wid-ish men (usually Mo and Jimmy Spencer) with one front man, Jeff G or Darryl for the most part.
McGlashan's arrival meant the system changed. Yates tinkered with something which was working and the momentum was lost. We had that mad March and eventually scraped into the play-off final but lost to a Crewe side on an amazing run with an inspired player in Nick Powell.
Yates dropped Penn and Duffy at Wembley, and with defeat the team began to break up, and as I have outlined above the squad gradually got worse quality and determination-wise.
Duffy was frozen out, Bennett and Goulding left the following January as Byron Harrison arrived, yet with players like Shaun Harrad and Marlon Pack we got to the play-offs again but lost to Northampton.
That was to be the summit from which we have now plunged to Saturday's relegation as Yates - previously held up as 'having a good eye for a player' lost his touch completely and lost the plot where player recruitment was concerned.
It wasn't just the recruitment, it was also how he used them. Look at the forwards he signed - a virtual who's who of lower division forwards, all with exceptional records wherever they had been. Until they got here.
Paul Benson, Harrad, Jamie Cureton all scored goals at League Two and, in some cases, a lot higher. Here, they were in and out of the team, dropped if they went a game or two without a goal, chopped and changed. They never looked the same players here as they had at Dagenham, at Burton and at Exeter, Bristol Rovers, Norwich, Reading etc etc
It was one up front a lot of the time, feeding on scraps with a central midfield and wide players incapable of providing them with the right kind of ammunition - a failure to play to their strengths. A far cry from the heady days of 2011-12.
It seemed to me that Yates had lost his touch. He seemed to have taken his eye off the ball, and the Cup defeat by Tamworth was the low point, and led to the frankly ridiculous and inexcusable decision to sell Russ Penn and Keith Lowe.
There was a case for him to go then, or even seven or eight games from the end of last season to allow someone a few weeks to assess the squad and make decisions.
His contract was up, it would have been a clean break. But what we got was a fudge. Neil Howarth sacrificed, and Yates given a one-year contract.
A vote of no-confidence, and a manager almost forced to work with both hands tied behind his back. He should have gone then.
The start in August papered over the cracks, based on the goals and pace of Koby Arthur. Four wins and two draws - but let's dissect them a bit.
Bury was a good win, I'll give you that. Hartlepool was a last-minute winner. Accrington missed a penalty in the last minute for a 2-2 draw. Tranmere led 2-0 and their season shows how bad they were.
The Carlisle draw featured a last-minute 'offside' goal dubiously chalked off after we were outplayed, and the Morecambe game was pretty tepid.
We were hardly playing teams off the park, and once Arthur was called back we dropped off, and won five matches from then on.
Yates lasted until November and that's when the wheels came off - but don't kid yourselves that it wasn't the right time to sack him. In my view he was lucky to still be here, play-off seasons or not. I don't hold with the 'we would have stayed up if he stayed' argument at all.
He had hit the wall. We were on the slide having taken nine points out of 36.
Forget the Swindon win, a total freak performance. The 5-1 and 4-1 defeats by Stevenage and Wycombe which followed were right up there with bad performances under later managers - Stevenage especially - that was an abject surrender.
Paul Buckle
So the Yates decision was right in my view, but what happened next was just shocking from Paul Baker and the board.
First we had the 'vote of confidence' statement the day before Yates was fired. An utter farce. Then after Yates had been fired at 9am on the Tuesday after Wycombe, by 2pm I know Buckle was going to get the job.
It smacked of the Martin Allen appointment within hours of Keith Downing's sacking, and the alarm bells should have been ringing loud and clear.
But we shouldn't have been surprised as the board's track record for managerial appointments is not exactly startling, but this is the one which will arguably go down as the most costly.
This was a man who had been out of the loop for 18 months but had apparently almost got the Burton job. Imagine if that had happened. Just imagine. Wow. Things could have been soooo different!
Apparently, we spoke to people at Torquay, Bristol Rovers and Luton. All spoke well about him. Not many fans on social media did, and so it seems those fans knew a bit more than those at the top.
This was a man who passed the buck from day one. None of it was his fault.
Mark Yates left him with a poor squad. He told that 'poor squad'  that from day one, and - surprise, surprise - they didn't want to know after that. I was told he 'lost the dressing room' within a week. My Twitter DM feed was full of club staff asking me to do all I could to get the man out.
He didn't seem to be able to handle the senior players with strong characters - so that was that for Jason Taylor, Steve Elliott and others like Terry Gornell and Byron Harrison.
Elliott was treated appallingly and it was good to see him come back and help out Russ Milton, then Gary Johnson - but I have to also say I didn't disagree about getting rid of the other three, and still don't.
Taylor is just a poor footballer, as are most of the ones he left behind. Yes I know, he has done well at Northampton and got a two-year deal, but all he really did here was point a lot.
Harrison scored 15 goals last season but offered next to nothing this bar three tap-ins against Swindon. To say he would have scored the goals to save us is, quite frankly, a joke.
His 'display' when he came on at Hartlepool in a crucial game showed just how much he would have fought for the cause.
Gornell had scored about eight goals in 80 games for us. Not a record to suggest he would have been the saviour either despite what he did at Accrington after his move.
About the only decent thing he did was to bring in Jack Dunn and Kevin Stewart, two loanees who made a difference - but they needed some of those seniors around them, and they had been alienated or shipped out.
Things got worse and worse, and he finally went after we had won one game in 13 including the Dover FA Cup loss, and the most disgusting evening of League football I have ever seen involving a Cheltenham Town side, the 2-0 loss at Southend.
Only 49 CTFC fans went. They sang 'We want Buckle out' almost constantly. Lee Vaughan laid bare to fans before the game and to me at half-time just what had been going on.
Buckle and Rob Edwards sat motionless on the bench all match. No encouragement, no motivation. Southend scored after eight minutes and the game may as well have stopped then. Our players were going through the motions and had effectively downed tools as far as the manager was concerned.
That night Buckle called the chairman and told him he wanted out, and two days later, after he had farcically done a press conference for a match he and the media knew he wouldn't be in charge of anyway, he was on a plane back over the pond.
Even by Cheltenham Town standards, this was just an utter shambles. Effectively 13 wasted games and an appointment which was wrong from day one - but not the sole reason for relegation, albeit a significant factor.
Russell Milton/Steve Elliott
The club was now totally disunited and the appointment of Russ and Steve was definitely the right one to reunite fans and players together to fight the drop.
The atmospheres against Bury and then for the win over Tranmere were fantastic and things definitely seemed to be on the up.
He was able to bring players in, and Matt Sparrow and Pablo Mills started well but gradually faded away, Shaun Harrad gave his all with little reward and Danny Haynes shone all too briefly.
Will Packwood was a success before he got injured, and the Tranmere momentum carried on against Newport and Portsmouth with encouraging away performances which should have brought more rewards than two draws - but unfortunately that was as good as it got.
We should have built on those displays against Exeter and Plymouth at home, and after the Argyle loss, I felt the chirpy Russ we had seen in previous post-match interviews was replaced by a more serious, worried tone.
The fact that the board had mooted the possibility of bringing in a guiding experienced hand to help Russ and Steve suggested they didn't exactly have complete faith from the off, and so it proved when they made the final change.
Gary Johnson
Johnson was one of the names in the frame to be the experienced hand to help Russ and Steve, as he had left Yeovil nine days before Buckle was sacked.
The home defeats by Exeter and Plymouth seemed to convince the board they needed to make one more last throw of the dice and brought him in. A final gamble.
He couldn't bring in any players as all the deadlines had passed, so was left with what he had, and couldn't wave a magic wand and make a silk purse out of the sow's ear he inherited.
Ahead of Saturday's final League game (for now we hope) it's been one win and five defeats for Gary, no better than Milton really, but neither of these last two managers - in my view - take culpability for what has happened as the damage had already been done.
The Cambridge win was ultimately a false dawn as the players couldn't be trusted to follow it up with another decent showing and that was basically that.
But there were still some strange decisions and happenings. A lot of niggly injuries - over-training maybe?
Kane Ferdinand on the right wing at Northampton for half an hour after not playing for weeks - never seemed to be a good plan that one, and thankfully it was nipped in the bud.
But will he stay? The chairman wants him to, as do a lot of fans. We shall see.
The board
Two decisions will be looked back on with enormous regret as the curtain comes down on our Football League life - keeping Mark Yates last summer, and appointing Paul Buckle with such haste when he was eventually sacked.
Ultimately they have proved costly - but they are not by any means the sole reason why we have gone down.
As Paul Baker correctly stated after holding his hands up to these two mistakes, they have done a lot more right in the past 16 years or so, but they need to learn from what has happened.
A bit more ruthlessness with Yates last summer instead of what turned out to be a bit of a fudge could have set us on a different path. Ifs buts and maybes...
To have kept us on a relatively solid footing over 16 years in the Football League has been a great achievement and that should not be forgotten in all this - despite their slightly dodgy record at times on choosing managers along the way...
Neither should the redevelopment of the ground, the facilities at Seasons and the Academy set-up as well which hopefully will stand us in good stead going forward - for as long as it can be sustained financially.
That has always been the issue. The club has lived from hand to mouth all the way through, expect when we have had a little bit of extra investment, but that from Simon Keswick for while or Mr Mystery from the Cayman Islands.
But all along, for 16 years, one accusation has been levelled at Paul Baker and the board. Lack of ambition.
These three words always crop up when things go wrong. We don't hear them when we are in play-off finals or have a cup run. Lose a few games and out it comes again.
But they have always backed their managers. The budget has always been competitive - and this season's was bigger than Wycombe's, who might yet go up. Practically every loan request has been granted.
So basically the board have put the money up, but they have been let down on various occasions by managers who have spent the money abysmally. No more so than the last two summers.
Now we have the Trust money and having a director on the board, but things do need to change at the higher level.
We need to find new blood, new investment - easier said than done I know - and we need to get back to some strong leadership off the field. It is more important than ever.
Things have slipped up recently and at times we have appeared rudderless - so it has been good to see Paul Baker being decisive and honest in the days since Saturday and not hiding away like many of our players but coming out and fronting up.
I am glad he is staying on and I think we need to keep that continuity with the chairmanship at this time.
Good people are going to lose their jobs, in the club's office and among the management team, they are going to have to make cuts and still try to keep us competitive at this lower level. A tough ask.
The fans
No blame attached here - just admiration and respect for those who have stuck by the club over the past two seasons, and this one especially.
The 200 or so who have travelled up the motorways every other Saturday deserve huge credit and have been let down, as have those who have bought season tickets and endured the home games.
Over the years, there have been those who have drifted away. Some have valid reasons, family commitments, cost, work commitments - and I know many people who would be there week in, week out if their personal circumstances were different.
But there are those who have turned their backs on the club for less valid reasons. Mainly because we didn't win every week and weren't playing teams they have heard of every week.
They'd pack the ground for Leeds, or Nottingham Forest in League One. They would be happy to go to Spurs, to Wembley, and then moan when Everton at home sold out before they got a ticket. But Accrington at home? No thanks.
For some so-called fans, the novelty wore off and League Two football became boring, so off they went back to their Sky subscriptions and the Premier League - all of which works out costing more in a season than a season ticket at Whaddon.
Others will turn their backs now. Non-league football will be beneath them. Cheerio then. So much for 'thick and thin', eh?
I know the ones who will still be there at Braintree and Barrow. They are the true fans.
What happens now?
First of all, I hope I can enjoy my football again next season, as the last two seasons really have been a complete drudge.
It would be nice to win a game or two at the very least and have some enjoyable Saturday nights instead of being miserable most of the time.
Above all, I just want to see some players with some commitment who look like they have some pride in the shirt they are wearing, rather than just seeing it as another club to earn some money from.
I appreciate that with the modern-day footballer, that would be a fanciful notion, but I can hope, can't I?
We have eight players out of contract, and I would not keep any of them. They are Troy Brown, Matt Richards, Craig Braham-Barrett, Durrell Berry, Mathieu Manset, Danny Haynes, Matt Gould and Andy Haworth (yes, remember him!!) and they can all go.
It is doubtful that the 14 who remain under contract will all be here come August.
Trevor Carson may want to move back North where his family are and try to find a League club. Surely there would be a taker somewhere.
Asa Hall and Matt Taylor both have fitness concerns. I'd like to think Hall might get fit and be an asset in the Conference - but we don't know as we just haven't seen him play.
Taylor is a concern to me. He keeps breaking down and the award of a two-year contract last summer on what must surely have been decent money is now exposed as total folly. His leadership qualities have also been exceptionally disappointing.
Lee Vaughan might have a future in the Conference, where he performed well enough for Kidderminster but as I suspect he too earns decent-ish money for our new budget he would be able to go if there were takers.
Let's face it, any of them would be able to go.
The other 10 under contract should all form a basis of next season's squad. Some of them, especially Eliot Richards (if he is fully recovered from his illness as we all hope), Jordan Wynter, Zack Kotwica and Joe Hanks have some experience and could flourish in the Conference.
It will be a big season for Kotwica and Hanks. Both have shown some promise and need to now kick on and establish themselves as 'senior' players in the ranks.
I have confidence that Hanks can do that, maybe in a 'holding' position where he can use his passing ability while others do the 'box to box' work. He can also take a decent set-piece, which might make a refreshing change.
I have reservations over Kotwica, who needs to be more positive when he gets a chance to run at players and make things happen. Omari Sterling-James is in the same boat. Both have shown little flashes but really need to try and kick on next season.
Also Jack Deaman, who did okay in some early games, but struggled in others with some mistakes leading to goals, but maybe he is another who could find his feet. Maybe - but I have my doubts.
James Bowen, Harry Williams and Bobbie Dale have barely had a look in, and I want to see these three get a chance. I mean a proper chance. All three played on loan last season at Conference North and South level so now they merit an opportunity to show what they can do.
Williams and Dale have scored goals wherever they have played, and Bowen looks a committed and feisty player with a decent attitude. I want to see all three heavily involved next season.
Jamal Lawrence is the other player under contract, but he is a year younger than Williams and co, and may need some loan time again - but having seen him in the youth team there may be something there.
We need to know for sure if all these young lads are good enough. They were deemed good enough to be given contracts, and have then been messed around amid the chaos of the last season or two.
In the past, we have seen Marley Watkins and Sam Foley slip through the net only to flourish elsewhere and I would hope we at least offer these guys the opportunity. They won't all swim. Some will sink, but I feel that the Conference gives us an ideal opportunity to try them out.
No more of this 'it isn't the right time to play them' crap. If we don;t use them now, we never will.
But we also need some experience around them, and hopefully the budget will allow us to bring a few in, but I have one thing nagging away at me.
Steve Elliott. How fit is he? Can he go away in the summer, get fit and play next season? Lend his experience on the field to these young lads and be our captain? Someone who the fans respect leading the team on the field. It maybe just a pipedream as he is 36 and his body might not be up to it - especially having not played since November.
But we need someone like him. A talisman on the field - a call to Cork to see if Benno wants to come back even. Now I am dreaming.
Off the field, we need someone to lead them. To mould these youngsters with a bit of experience into a team which can give us some pride back.
I feel that the manager needs to be experienced. I don't feel this is the time for a novice, and it's no great surprise to see Gary Johnson as Paul Baker's number one choice.
I wouldn't have a great issue with that - but my worry is that if an agreement cannot be reached and Johnson doesn't take the job that again there will be a rush to make an appointment.
I hope that there is a plan B - a fall-back plan in case Johnson says no, and that we haven't put all our eggs in the one basket with feelers at least being put out to other people.
Baker says he wants a 'swift and decisive' appointment - and I hope that isn't board-speak for 'rushed'. We know what happened the last time we did that.
It will not be an easy road back.
Already I have heard some fans saying we will bounce back as Bristol Rovers might yet do. But they have not found it easy on gates four times or more the size of ours. And history shows they are the exception, not the norm.
Luton took five years. Grimsby, Wrexham, Macclesfield, Lincoln, Torquay, Aldershot. All clubs around the same size as us yet still not able to break back out - some after several years. Add Tranmere to that now.
There is also money swilling about. There is Eastleigh, paying out more money than we do for players like Jack Midson and James Constable. Forest Green we know about. Both still in with a chance of replacing us.
It's not a cakewalk. So we need to be a bit humble about it. No 'Billy Big Time' stuff saying how we are too big for this league and how we are going to walk it. We aren't, and we won't.
So it's time to take some humble pie, swallow our pride and get on with it. Roll our sleeves up and try to get back, but in no way should that be an expectation.
Don't get me wrong - it would be lovely to go straight back up, but I just want some stability.
A season with the same manager from August to May perhaps, without hundreds of loan players, with our young players given a proper go, and with some pride being shown in the shirt and lots of passion on the terraces and in the stands. Is that too much to ask?

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

It's now or never

SIXTEEN years ago tonight, the impossible happened.
I say impossible, as I had spent most of the previous 19 years without even giving a thought to Cheltenham Town being a Football League club as I went to places like Sutton Coldfield and Oldbury United on a Saturday afternoon.
For most of that time, success was an FA Cup run - getting to the fourth qualifying round maybe, or maybe through a few rounds of the FA Trophy... and , of course, six points a season against Gloucester City.
I remember when we played Weymouth in the FA Cup fourth qualifying round. That big club Weymouth of the Alliance Premier League, and all the talk pre-match was whether the crowd would be over 1,000.
Yes. Really - and that was the way I thought it was always going to be.
But then a manager came along who believed that seemingly-impossible dream could happen and wanted to make it a reality.
He was helped by a group of players who believed in him, and ran through brick walls for him, and backed by a chairman who bought into his single-mindedness, and a set of fans all pulling the same way.
So it is hard to contemplate that in three days time it could all be over, and those 16 years could be consigned to a bygone era in our club's history.
This really is it. Defeat on Saturday and a win for Hartlepool, and it's all over. All we can hope to do is take it to the last game and try to do the business at AFC Wimbledon on the final day.
A friend said to me the other day that I 'have been up and down like a tart's knickers' about our situation, and he is right.
One minute I sit there and think we'll be fine. We will rise to the occasion on Saturday and get something to keep it alive. The next, I encounter some sort of grim reality and post the directions to Bromley on Twitter as surely Hartlepool will sweep Exeter aside and Shrewsbury will be gunning to seal their promotion and finish us off.
Lots of straws have been clutched at. We are the only team of the bottom three to have won a game in the last five.  This is Exeter's final shot at an outside chance of sneaking into the play-offs, so they have to go to Pools and win. Shrewsbury only need a draw really, so they might be a bit relaxed... and so on.
Then there are the injuries. What chance of Will Packwood, Danny Haynes, Wes Burns and co rising Lazarus-like from the treatment table in time for Saturday? Come on Wesso, work your magic.
The optimism glass was about two-thirds full after Cambridge, but Northampton drained it a fair bit, I have to admit.
It really was such a disappointment after the magnificent display and it's hard to compute how 10 of the same players can produce two Jekyll and Hyde displays within days of each other.
But maybe it isn't - and is another example of why we find ourselves in this predicament, be it a lack of mental strength or simple desire to want to go out there and reproduce what went before.
Yes, the injury to Danny Haynes was a blow, but while he was a star against Cambridge, many of the others also hit the heights, only to plumb the depths again days later.
They can do it. They proved it. So they shouldn't be surprised at the backlash when they drop those standards again.
With Haynes out, it was surely a toss-up between Omari Sterling-James and Shaq McDonald for his place against Northampton right? Errrrr, no.
I must admit to being stunned when I placed the microphone under Gary Johnson's nose and heard him utter the words 'Kane' and 'Ferdinand' when I asked him who was going to replace Danny. Never saw that one coming, and I don't think the others who were listening to Gary speak did either.
And I'm afraid this one won't go down in the annals of great managerial masterstrokes. Instead, it ranks alongside Mark Yates' dropping of Russ Penn at Wembley and playing CBB as a right-back at Tamworth. I am sure you can think of others... Gavin Caines on the right wing, Lee Ridley and Andy Lindegaard as wingers...
Ferdinand was hauled off after 29 minutes and was frankly lucky to have lasted that long. The display summed up his Cheltenham Town career, which spanned all four managers, 17 games and is thankfully now over. Not before time - his stay should have ended when Mark Yates left.
He will deservedly be consigned to the list of the poorest loans we have had, joining luminaries such as Andy Smith, Peter Hynes, Rob Elvins, Lee Lucas, Lathaniel Rowe-Turner, Tom Denton and Kiernan Hughes-Mason and Toby Ajala, who never even made it to the pitch. Again, I am sure you can nominate others from the huge list of fill-ins we have had to endure.
Shaq McDonald and Pablo Mills have also been packed off home.
Shaq was a strange one from the start I felt - when he came I didn't think we needed another forward (a centre-back, or even a left-back was more pressing) and he just seemed too small and lightweight, as he showed against Wycombe when he never affected the game.
That display seemed to sway Gary's mind when it came to the Northampton selection, and, let's face it, if Kane Ferdinand is being picked ahead of you, then the writing is on the wall.
Even more so when the early change was made, and Joe Hanks was the replacement, and not Shaq. At first Hanks was deployed in a narrow three with Matt Richards dropping deeper, but eventually as a right-winger in a 4-4-2 ahead of Shaq.
Ferdinand and then Hanks were also preferred to Omari - again that is not saying much for his standing under Gary, although it could just be that Gary doesn't feel Omari is a winger, believing he is better centrally, in that 'number 10' role.
As for Pablo, he started superbly against Tranmere, but as the weeks have gone on his influence has waned, culminating at York, where he looked slow, unfit and immobile compared to two blokes they had called Penn and Summerfield, who I am sure I know from somewhere.
That seemed to mark his card, and it was telling how Jack Deaman was preferred to Pablo in the 18 against Stevenage, started ahead of him against Wycombe and came on against Northampton.
At Northampton, we were okay in the first half. Just okay as we weren't under any great pressure, but, unlike Cambridge, created precious little ourselves.
Mathieu Manset was making a pain of himself and getting stick from the crowd, which in itself told me he was doing something right, but wasn't able to turn good approach play and strength into anything tangible.
The second half was very poor indeed, bar Hanks' shot against the bar (yet another 'if only' moment...) and a Manset volley at the keeper in the last minute we showed absolutely nothing.
Northampton were ruthless twice on the counter-attack and it was refreshing to hear Gary pulling no punches about the performance and not coming out with platitudes and letting the players off the hook.
And so now we come to Shrewsbury, and thanks to Hartlepool and Tranmere being as inept as we are it's not all over yet - but this is the first time when it could be at 5pm Saturday.
I'd love to see a full ground. Unfortunately, the match was designated as a premium game before the season started, and before we knew about the situation we are in.
Shrewsbury have sold their 1,700 tickets as they anticipate a promotion party, and have paid the premium prices, and I am not sure on the rules - but I am slightly disappointed that we haven't cut the prices somewhere along the line.
I know that cutting the prices doesn't guarantee that people will flock along, but at least it would be an attempt, an incentive to tempt people in. A sign that the club is at least trying.
There has been no tubthumping this week, nothing to try and drum up some support and enthusiasm for this game, which is - let's face it - the biggest we have had for a while. It's just as important as any big Cup tie or play-off game.
We need to try to re-create the spirit and atmosphere of the escape against Doncaster in 2008 or that night 16 years ago today when this rollercoaster adventure began.
The club have asked for messages from fans to be put on the players' dressing room pegs before the game.
I can see what they are trying to do here - get the fans involved, try to get the message through to the players how much it means to us to get out of trouble and keep this club in the League.
But they shouldn't need to be told. They should know that anyway. They should know that too often this season they have let the fans down, especially those who have gone up and down the country in hope every other week.
They should know they are playing for people's livelihoods, not just their own. People who have worked harder than they ever have in their lives to put this football club where it is now and kept it there for 16 years.
They should be sat there thinking 'I don't want to be recorded as one of the players who got this club relegated from the league'
I won't lie, I am looking forward to the time in two games' time when this season is over and I won't have to see some of these players pull on a CTFC shirt again.
I am fed up to the back teeth with watching some of them but we have to pin our faith in them for the next 180-odd minutes and hope they can pull something out of the bag. Hope is all we can do now.
What would my message to them be? It would be quite simple. I'd tell them to watch these two videos...