Sunday, 1 September 2013

Bury-ed

A few years back, after a defeat at Shrewsbury, one of my BBC Gloucestershire colleagues put a microphone under the then-manager's nose and said "That wasn't very good, was it?"
Pete Matthews resisted the temptation to start yesterday's press conference with the same question, but it might have been justified after we returned to type up north, letting in four goals in a heavy defeat.
Mark Yates was honest with his assessment that it wasn't good enough, and there was a lot of hard work ahead, a view shared by a clearly quite angry Russ Penn and a forthright Keith Lowe as well.
But I thought between goals three and four, we actually played quite well - I'm not making excuses for the defending for goals one, two and three however.
From 3-1 to 4-1, especially in the second half, we caused them some problems - Penn hit the post, Terry Gornell had a shot over, Ryan Inniss had a header blocked. But it counted for nothing as the failings at the other end had left us with a mountain to climb. Again.
Two defensive injuries in the opening quarter of the game did not help - but by the time Steve Elliott went off, we were already 3-1 down.
The makeshift centre-half partnership of Inniss, on his league debut, and Jason Taylor, who I would think has rarely played centre-back in his life before, brought back memories of Sam Cox and Julian Alsop together on that horror day at Accrington - but they only conceded one goal as a unit.
No-one had any qualms about the team Yates had selected. Same 18 as West Ham, same set-up, solidity first and after three minutes things were going our way.
It was a great, direct run from Jermaine McGlashan, just what we want to see from him, good movement and timing of the run from Gornell, and a bit of luck when his shot, going wide, was turned in by Andy Proctor.
But that was a good as it got in a crazy, and kamikaze at times, 20-minute spell which turned the game right round.
It started with an injury to Craig Braham-Barrett. He went down, and was playing Bury onside. He got up, limped down the touchline and went down again.
Play carried on, and Bury, under no obligation to put the ball out, carried on. This lasted for about 60-90 seconds. We seemed totally distracted by CBB's injury.
Any player could have made a challenge, committed a foul, tried to get the ball out of play. But nothing, we were at sixes and sevens, no-one knowing what to do - it was farcical, and only ended when Danny Mayor smashed in the equaliser from 30 yards after riding some powder-puff 'tackling'.
Some Bury neanderthals had been booing CBB during all this, and then were more intent on jeering him off the field, rather than celebrating a great strike from one of their own players - butI stopped being surprised at the actions of some football fans years ago.
Looking at our bench, I then expected Billy Jones to come on. Left-back for left-back, not too much disruption. But no - on came Sido Jombati.
I have nothing against Sido, and I actually thought he did ok when he came on, better than he has been performing at right back in fact, but it seemed a strange decision.
Post-match, Yatesy said Sido was ahead of Billy at left-back - indeed, he came on there for Billy in the play-off semi. He also said he wanted Sido up against the tricky winger (Craig Jones).
That is borne out of Billy having problems against Jennison Myrie-Williams and Chris Hackett at the back end of last season - but this decision now effectively means Billy is our third-choice left-back.
Added to that, it seems practically every team we come up against has a 'tricky winger' - so if Yatesy doesn't fancy Billy against that sort of player, then that doesn't say a lot for his long-term prospects at CTFC, wand of a left foot, great set-piece delivery or not.
I am not sure a League Two club is in a position to have a third-choice left-back, especially one conceding goals hand over fist, so it would appear that Billy's days here are numbered. A shame in my view.
If Yates has lost confidence in him, and isn't going to use him, then he has 24 hours to move him on permanently, freeing up a wage to address other areas of the squad - a loan centre-half maybe, if Elliott and Troy Brown are out for a while, a fourth striker, a right or left-winger. Or let him go on loan when that window re-opens.
We cannot have players in the squad who are (as Billy seems to be in the manager's view) surplus to requirements.
"We need players who are going to challenge for the first team" is the manager's own mantra when he is asked about potential triallists signing and loan players coming in.
If he deems Billy isn't going to do that, then he needs to move him on, and give himself some scope, and the situation doesn't deter those who question his man-management - they will cite the names of Darryl Duffy and Shaun Harrad from last season.
Anyway, at 1-1 with one player off injured, surely things could not get any worse. But one free header from a corner and dozing off to allow a cross and a centre-half to nip in unchallenged for a tap-in later, they did.
Then we lost Elliott, knocked out in a challenge by Marlon Jackson. To Yates' credit here, he made a positive substitution. We could have seen Billy, switched Sido over, and put Lowe and Inniss together, but instead he out Byron Harrison on and went to 4-4-2 with Jason Taylor at centre-half.
We got to half-time at 3-1. Just. It was a bit hairy at times, but we got there. Bury should have been down to 10 men, with goakeeper Trevor Carson lucky not to to walk after flattening Gornell on the edge of the box - think a much less brutal Battiston v Schumacher, France v Germany Spain '82 (here).
Post-match, Yatesy said he thought he had got the ball and it wasn't even a foul. Hmm. The referee disagreed, and once he had given a foul, he had to send Carson off as the last man. But he didn't - yellow card.
But once again we seemed incapable of stopping any sort of cross from coming into our box. Craig Jones and Danny Mayor were having a field day, beating our full-backs and midfield players too easily and being given far too much time to deliver the ball in.
We are seeing it too often. Players seem to get so much space to deliver balls in. We don't seem to get tight enough, or show them outside - we seem to get done time after time for pace or fall for a little trick, then the ball is in our box.
In contrast at the other end, teams seem to have no problem in stopping our wide men or full-backs getting forward and getting crosses in. At the other end, it is almost open house.
No matter who is at full-back, they always get exposed, and then seem to fight a losing battle. Sooner or later, with crosses into the box raining in, we will concede a goal.
It's the law of averages. Elliott, Brown, Inniss - whoever is at centre-half, cannot be expected to win every header or make every interception. Scott Brown cannot be expected to save everything.
It was the same against Plymouth - full backs not tight enough. Same at Chesterfield - too much room for Gary Roberts and Nathan Smith.
We are a soft touch down the flanks. Until that is addressed we will keep conceding goals, keep crosses coming into our box, keep giving opposition wingers and forwards an easy ride, and keep giving oursleves a mountain to climb.
Since the game, I have seen tweet after tweet saying fans cannot wait until Jamie Cureton is back. Me neither, but he would need a season of Lionel Messi proportions if we are still letting in two, three or four goals a game.
Others have said we need Alan Bennett back. He was in a defence which let in four at Chesterfield, Rochdale and Rotherham - games were we were also ripped apart down the flanks. This is not exactly a new problem.
But you defend from the front. To stop the wide men being effective, you have to stop the supply to them, which means better ball retention further up the field.
I am not convinced the balance of the side is right. In a 4-4-2 especially, with McGlashan, Penn, Richards and Deering as the midfield four.
We have one out-and-out winger in McGlashan, with Deering forced to fill in down the other flank, be that left or right, in a position he is alien to and which will not bring the best out of him.
He is happier in that 'hole' position, or in the centre of a midfield three, but cannot play in a 'two' in central midfield, or out wide.
Last season we had McGlashan and Kaid Mohamed, which gave us that balance, and pace on both flanks.
This time around, on the bench, we have Ashley Vincent. He wants to be a central striker, but clearly isn't in my view - he is a winger. If we used him as such, we might get that elusive balance back.
Deering hasn't done anything wrong in my view, he just doesn't seem to naturally fit in to the system which  the manager wants to use.
I am not convinced we can play 4-4-2 with the players have at the club - with Penn and Richards together in a 4-4-2 we just look too open.
If we are going to fit the players we have into a tactic which suits then rather than shoehorning them into a system, we have to use 4-1-3-2, or go back to the 4-5-1 with two wide men supporting the forward.
Both have Penn, Richards and Taylor as the first-choice midfield three, with Deering behind the front two in a 4-1-3-2, while McGlashan and Vincent would be the first choices as wide men off the forward in the 4-5-1/4-3-3.
Back to Gigg Lane - and for the first half-hour of the second half, I don't know if Bury sat back, but we had some chances. Strangely, I felt if we got back to 3-2, we might have been in with a sniff of a point.
Whether that is just my natural optimism talking, or if was still hungover from Friday night, I am not sure, but we didn't get it back to 3-2, so we will never know if we would have had a chance or if Bury would just have gone up another gear and got another one.
We had some chances, we at least showed a bit of backbone, and didn't cave in completely, which we could have done with a depleted back four.
The fourth came 15 minutes from the end, more poor defending, another easy cross and another free header, this time for Jessy Reindorf, surely the first Rwandan ever to score against CTFC, and that was that.
So where now? Well, the JPT then Portsmouth and Oxford at home, so the nice, easy games keep coming.
For the JPT, we know CBB and Troy Brown are out. Steve Elliott must be doubtful, and saved for Saturday. It's too soon for Jamie Cureton (Saturday maybe...?) while teenager Bobbie Dale has had an MRI scan on an ankle problem.
Joe Hanks and Ed Williams have been loaned to Bishops Cleeve and I am unsure whether their loan terms allow them to be recalled or not, so I have left them out.
I am envisaging a team something like this: Brown; Jombati, Lowe, Inniss, Jones; McGlashan, Penn, Richards, Kotwica/Vincent; Gornell, Gillespie. The bench could be Roberts, Deering, Taylor, Harrison, Kotwica/Vincent, and the likes of Harry Williams (scoring for fun in the youth team) and another of Russ Milton's young guns might get a look-in - maybe Adam Powell or Spencer Hamilton - or we may just go for five subs.
However, the manager doesn't seem to want to use Billy, so he might play a back four of Lowe, Taylor, Inniss and Jombati, the one which finished on Saturday. Whatever happens, it is all a bit threadbare - and after a good run of injuries over the past season-and-a-bit, that luck is changing and we are suffering a bit.
I haven't read the Robins Nest since Saturday, but was told about a post/thread questioning Neil Howarth, and what he actually 'does'. Answer - the same as any other assistant manager at clubs up and down the country, ones which win lots of games, and ones which don't.
He does the same as he did in our great run in the autumn and winter of 2011 taking us to Wembley, the same as he did last season when we kept 20 clean sheets and came within a game of going to Wembley again. It's no use looking for scapegoats - it does no good.
No use either expecting the chairman to dip into his pocket for a signing or two. He did that in the summer (remember, this is the highest average wage we have paid to players since being in the FL).
This is the squad (and manager) we fans need to get behind. It's not going to change.
But this is the squad the manager needs to organise. He signed them after all. He needs to find a system which suits them, and fast.
The players need to look at themselves, buck its own ideas up and show us they are worth their money.
I am consoling myself with a few omens and facts. In 2001-2, we started with six games without a win, and won the play-off final. Two season ago, we took until October to click, then went on a great run and nearly went up.
Yes, is still only five games into the season, but I think we have played three sides in Burton, Chesterfield and Bury, who will be near the top - but have not beaten any of them, and only got close to beating Burton. Plymouth might also be higher than many people think. They swept us aside as well.
Saturday's Echo led with a story about talks tomorrow between Paul Baker, Yatesy and Howarth about a new contract beyond the summer. That alone suggests it is far, far too premature to suggest a change at the top.
But I had a text during yesterday's commentary (just as we went 3-1 down) saying 'Yates out'. My reply was 'don't be silly', and the reply back was 'gone by November'.
That won't happen in my view - but he does need to get to work on a solution, and fast.
While things are not going well on the field, I have noticed that practically everything he does off it these days is getting criticised more and more.
Demeanour in interviews (must say it hasn't changed much down the years...!), not clapping fans after games, and most of all it seems, what he actually says - after yesterday, there were tweets about 'hearing the same old excuses'.
I am not sure exactly what he is supposed to say. He came out and said the performance wasn't good enough, gave his explanation for the Billy Jones substitution, updated the injuries, and said he would do everything he could to put it right. What more he can say? His last line to Pete on Saturday was "We are dishing up a load of rubbish at the moment". Quite right Mark!
The players lost their Sunday off, and if fans are expecting him to slate his players in public, they are going to be disappointed. In private, I am sure he will make it crystal clear.
As will the chairman to Mark and Neil tomorrow. If I were in his shoes, I would be tempted to say: "We'll delay this contract chat for a month or so I think chaps - win us a few games and we'll chat again..."