Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Playing up against Pompey

Our season starts here...!
This seems to be our new catchphrase. It has to be, as it seems to be all we are hearing at the moment.
After each game recently it has been trotted out, seemingly in the hope that it will miraculously spark us into life.
Not working so far - although Saturday's result coupled with the stickability and resolve we showed in the second half suggested better days might not be far away. He said, hopefully...
There are still problems, and my pre-match attentions were taken up by the chairman Paul Baker's notes in the programme - a not-too-thinly-veiled attack on the attitudes and effort levels of some of the players.
He came to see us on the radio gantry before the game, and I congratulated him on his words. I thought they were spot on - he is a fan like the rest of us after all, and we all know that some of the team have short-changed us this season, and Paul deserves credit for coming out and saying it.
But I sense it was not only aimed at those who cross the white line, and was also a little message to the management team - a shot across the bows if you like.
Something along the lines of "you have bought these players in, and they are not performing. It is up to you to sort them out..."
Quite justifiably, he feels he and his board are not getting anywhere near full value for the money they have laid out this summer, and before.
Two players were singled out in that piece as an example to follow - Steve Elliott and Russ Penn. As things panned out, Elliott did not exactly distinguish himself with the two Pompey goals, while Penn found himself dropped before coming on like a man possessed for the last hour.
Oh the irony...
Without Russ on the field, we were distinctly second-best for the first 20-25 minutes.
Patrick Agyemang bullied our centre-halves - not the first time that has happened against a centre-forward with some presence and power (see also Marvin Morgan and Jessy Reindorf).
What I would give for someone like that in OUR forward line, roasting opposition centre-backs, rather than the other way round.
He burst through for the opener after a Keystone Cops comedy collision between Elliott and Ryan Inniss, then somehow missed an absolute sitter which would have been 2-0 after 12 minutes.
We were chasing shadows. Sharp movement, incisive runners and crisp passing were slicing us to pieces, and we were second best all over the field.
They look a decent side, and you think it won't be long before they move up the table. Will we be joining them?
As the half wore on, we gradually got to grips with it, then we suffered yet another defensive injury. Inniss this time, and it meant another re-shuffle - Sido to right-back, Keith Lowe to centre-half, Matt Richards to left-back, Russ alongside David Noble.
Russ won a 30-70 challenge with his first touch, and finally that woke up the CTFC contingent, then we grabbed an equaliser - all down to the determination of Jermaine McGlashan.
Terry Gornell put him in, and as John Sullivan came out and brushed his ankles, he could have gone down, but no, he wanted that goal, and he finished it well.
While overall we might not have deserved to go in at 1-1, we would have taken it, but out came the self-destructing revolver once again, and this was one of the most spectacularly comical goals we have conceded so far.
Some title that, considering some of the X-rated stuff that has gone before, but the way Jed Wallace skipped past Elliott and Penn, then walked along the by-line and placed the ball across the six-yard box, where Johnny Ertl was leaning on the far post having a crafty fag (ok, maybe not the last bit, but he had enough time for one) waiting to tap in, was, frankly, an utter joke at this level.
It is no wonder, with goals like that going in, that our defence is the worst in the division. Even injuries, disruption and constant changes, frequently during games, cannot excuse it.
The time for excuses has passed. These are experienced players (bar Inniss) and it is high time it was sorted out and people started doing their jobs properly.
With our re-shuffled side, the second half was better. Not without its alarms, but better.
The defence did look more solid, and dealt better with Agyemang and the wide threats of Wallace, Ricky Holmes and Andy Barcham.
Noble's cool head and good passing got us out of trouble a couple of times, but as time was running out, we didn't threaten Sullivan's goal much.
Mark Yates tried a couple of new systems, taking off Steve Gillespie for Zack Kotwica and moving Sam Deering in off the wing, where again he struggled (not surprising as he is out of position) into the 'hole'.
Like others, I would question taking a forward off for a winger at 2-1 down, but Gillespie was very ineffective. Yes, there was a combination of no service and the wrong type of service, but nevertheless he was ineffective.
That particular experiment lasted all of nine minutes, then it was 4-4-2 again with Byron Harrison replacing Deering and going up alongside Gornell.
Agyemang gradually ran out of puff, and Guy Whittingham did us a favour with one of the longest drawn-out triple substitutions in footballing history.
Thankfully, the Pompey trio coming on were nowhere near as effective as the three coming off (and it is this strength in depth or the lack of it which may keep them out of the top three), and the ludicrous amount of time it took to get them on the field eventually won us a point.
The fact that we did that was, for the second time in the game, solely down to the determination of McGlashan.
He is someone I have been critical of in the past for end-product (and he admitted to me afterwards he doesn't score enough goals) - but this time he deserves all the accolades coming to him.
Elliott dinked the ball through, and Danny East had a simple clearance, but Jermaine put on the afterburners and snaked a leg round East to steer the ball in.
Like his first goal, he wanted to get there. No chickening out, but the sort of determination, will-to-win, commitment and application the chairman was lamenting the lack of... Certainly a message there for some of his team-mates.
We could have nicked it but for the offside flag, yet even the most blinkered CTFC observer (me included) would have agreed that would have been a complete travesty - even nicking a point was maybe a bit fortuitous, but we'll take it, thanks very much.
Regarding Russ Penn, I wondered if being taken off at half-time against Plymouth mean he had a slight knock, and with only six on the bench on Saturday he was asked to do a job while not 100 per cent.
Not so. The manager confirmed he was dropped by virtue of his form so far. If it was a rocket for him, it worked, and maybe it was also a message to everyone else - no-one is guaranteed a place in my team, not even my skipper...
His dropping means, aside from Scott Brown, that Sam Deering is the only outfield player to have started all nine League and Cup games - the majority on the wing and out of position.
I have nothing against Deering, in fact I am a big fan and was delighted when he signed, but he is no wide man. I know it, the vast majority of CTFC fans know it. I hope Mark Yates knows it, yet he keeps playing him there, it seems because he has no alternative.
But he does. He can change the system to one which suits all the players within it, instead of adopting a formation which immediately handicaps one or more of them, putting more pressure on everyone else.
We had success in the past with consistency of selection and consistency of system. At the moment, we have neither - and yes, I know some of that is down to injuries, but not all of it.
Still the side has no natural balance. Nine games in, we seem to be searching for that magic formula and we wonder how long it will take to find it... if at all.
I do not believe the never-ending rumours that there are problems in the dressing room. I believe the players are pulling in the same direction, and are still playing for the manager.
As I said last time, I feel a lot of these rumours and theories will always blow up when results are not going well.
I saw another cracker this week about the way our subs were warming up at half-time, compared to what Portsmouths were doing. Our subs have always done the same thing at half-time whether we are 2-0 up or 2-0 down. It's another straw-clutching exercise which would not be aired in happier circumstances.
So what can be done? We are not going to bring in more players as that ship has sailed, so this is what we have to work with, so therefore maybe the manager needs some help?
This suggestion is not a slight on him, or Neil Howarth or anyone else in the backroom team, but maybe the need is there some fresh ideas - a new pair of eyes to take a different perspective, even just on a part-time basis.
I note also the recent absence of Jason Murphy. He seems to have either taken a back seat or left the set-up completely.
There has been no announcement from the club, but Ian Hutton, a fitness trainer regularly used by the squad and the manager of our Ladies team, has been doing the bulk of the pre-match and post-match fitness work - so I wonder if there is scope for a new coach to come in and just cast an eye over things, and give some different input.
I sense a few more twists in this troubled start to the season, and things don't get any easier with Oxford in town on Saturday.
After years of underachievement, they have made a flying start, and will come in confident mood, so if our season does indeed start here, it would be very welcome!