Thursday, 14 November 2013

A winter of discontent...?

I have a confession to make - I am not enjoying this season very much.
I am probably not alone in this, but the reason for this malaise is not exclusively our stop-start form punctuated by ever-more ridiculous individual errors and some managerial mistakes culminating in Saturday's hugely disappointing FA Cup exit - there are a few other things dragging me down as well.
My main issue is the nauseating proliferation of rumours and conspiracy theories floating around the club.
I know - I should get a thicker skin, just turn a blind eye and ignore them, but they just wind me up.
It seems that barely a day can go by without another spurious story appearing, mostly surrounding the manager and his supposed actions away from the dugout, with some fans seemingly wanting to outdo each other in a frankly childish 'I know something you don't know' kind of way.
If I see another forum post or Twitter direct message with the line 'my source at the club told me...' I will scream.
Unfortunately, it is public knowledge that his marriage has broken up. The reasons for that are not the business of anyone bar him, his wife and their children, who will be suffering enough without having to put up with total strangers speculating as to the reasons why.
I don't believe his job as manager of our football club gives people the right to peddle tittle-tattle about him as some sort of fact.
The club will be aware of these tales, and if there is anything to be concerned about, they will act on it as, like any company, they have disciplinary procedures. They haven't done so, so obviously there is nothing to be concerned about. So time to ignore it all and move on, as these things are not helpful given our league position.
There is a fan's forum tonight, and I hope some of these warriors will turn up and ask the manager and chairman straight in a courteous and respectful way. It would make a change from talking about the Whaddon Road catering, and why we bring all 11 men back for corners.
The problem is, they seldom do turn up. Their reasoning for this is usually  'what's the point, we will hear the same old excuses' or 'I'm not listening to club propaganda' - in other words, they either are not interested in or don't want to believe what the powers that be will tell them anyway.
It might bruise their egos and mean their so-called 'source' is actually talking utter nonsense, and blow their carefully-maintained conspiracy theories out of the water. Can't have that, now can we...?.
We keep getting told that football is a results business, and in my view, that is all any manager should be judged on unless they have done something really bad which will bring the club into disrepute. There is no getting away from the stark reality that Yatesy needs to win some more football matches quickly.
I know people will now throw Martin Allen at me here. I maintain that his record of 12 wins in 61 games was more than enough to get him the push no matter what he did or didn't get up to elsewhere.
But the rumours aren't just restricted to Mark Yates. Every time we see a player dropped to the bench or out of the squad, or whenever we are told a player is injured, the conspiracies start that this is the end of them, and they are about to be bombed out.
Steve Elliott is the latest in that firing line. I even saw tweets after Saturday's game speculating that his waving to the crowd after the game was some sort of farewell gesture. For goodness sake - some people really take 'reading between the lines' to another level.
Jermaine McGlashan has been out for a few games. I await the speculation about a transfer request to start soon. The recent absence of Ashley Vincent with a family problem was treated with the usual scepticism.
These theories of course comes from the ruthless decisions taken by the manager in the past regarding players, but leaving a player out for a game or two does not mean they are getting ready to pack their bags.
In Steve's case, I think in some games this season he has started to show signs of his 35 years - Portsmouth especially, when Agyemang bullied him for his goal, and also at Bury.
I think he needed a rest, but his second half display on Saturday was probably the only miniscule crumb of comfort we can glean from what has to be the low point of the season, and one of the worst moments of the manager's reign. It was good to see him back - and if only that scissor kick had gone in...
But we got what we deserved on Saturday. Yes it was a penalty, yes we had a few chances - but we allowed ourselves to be bullied out of the Cup in a rather limp manner.
Some players need to look at themselves, and after the game Mark was right to question the desire and motivation of some of them - but I was a little bit disappointed that he didn't take a bit more of the blame himself.
His starting team selection was totally wrong in my opinion, and something he didn't need to do with the players he had available.
If you include having Lowe at centre-half and Richards at left-back, he fielded five players out of position, with Deering, Gornell and poor old CBB the others.
It handicapped us straight away - it was like sending them out with one arm behind their backs, and surely contributed to the terribly lacklustre and disjointed first half. None of them looked comfortable and the personnel changes had to be a big factor.
The second-half back four should have started in my view, with Richards at the bottom of the diamond, Deering at the top, and Harrison and Gornell up front.
What? No Cureton, I hear you cry...? No. Not on the evidence of the previous two games, He barely had a kick against York.
While he has scored three times, has missed some pretty gilt-edged chances along the way - Scunthorpe at 1-0 springs to mind, a couple at Northampton and then two (one in each half) on Saturday which you would expect a man with 250 league goals to take.
Harrison went into Saturday with three goals in three games, and Gornell has been the pick of the new boys this season. It was almost as if the manager didn't want to make that difficult decision which of the three to drop, so played them all.
However it left him with very little option to change things late in the game as we were chasing it with all his forward options already on the pitch, bar throwing Kotwica on and Elliott up front in almost a 2-3-5 system for the last 15-20 minutes.
But in some ways he had little choice overall, which again he has to take a lot of the blame for. Sido had to be dropped after last week's calamity added to the Rochdale nightmares.
But the unbalanced nature of the squad he has assembled meant Yates was left with only four defenders, CBB, Lowe, Brown and Elliott, so Richards was again used in a position which, deep down, he doesn't want to play in, and CBB was switched over to right back, a role we were told post-match he can play. Well, I hope I don't see him play there again as he never looked comfortable.
But that's not CBB's fault. In the end I felt sorry for the guy. He didn't decide that was where he is going to play. He was doing the job he was instructed to do, I suspect as we were worried about Mark Wright down the left-hand side.
Compare that paucity of defenders to our proliferation of midfield players - Penn, Taylor, Noble, Richards, Deering, McGlashan, Kotwica, Vincent, Hanks, Ed Williams and now Harry Williams too can all do a job in the centre or out wide. 11 players. Yes, three of them are first-year pros (one out on loan) and one a scholar, but still, it's too many. Not quite on the Bobby Gould level, when at one time we had 14 midfielders, but close.
Compare that to the defence. I know, the injuries haven't helped with Brown, Elliott and CBB all being out at some point or another, but there has been no one to slot in naturally, hence why we needed the Inniss and Wilson loans, and needed another square peg in Taylor to drop back.
Surely seven defenders and eight midfielders would be a better mix?
Now Sido's drastic loss of form and confidence has become another headache - I would not be surprised if one of these two loans we are chasing is a right-sided full-back (this is a hunch by the way ... I don't have a source at the club...!).
Having sorted out the attack, the defence is now the headache, partly down to lack of personnel and also down to the rash of individual errors afflicting them.
We have been spoilt for the past two seasons. First, Sido/Lowe-Bennett-Elliott-Garbutt, and then last term Sido/Lowe-Bennett/Hector-Elliott-Jones served us well.
Bennett was moved on and Hector came in. He was always short-term and the replacement was always going to be key. For what it is worth, I think Troy Brown has done well, and been our best defender - but without much competition, it has to be said.
Last season's weak link defensively was Jones, but he made up for it with set-piece deliveries which brought us goals, and this masked his defensive deficiencies.
Richards has taken over his set-piece mantle, and scored goals as well as setting them up, but Jones has suddenly become some Messiah-like figure for some of those same fans who were criticising his defending for most of last season.
These approaches for two loans are interesting. Depending on which side of the Yates in/Yates out debate you sit, it is either the board saying 'this is our manager and we are backing him' or 'this is a last throw of the dice to see if he can turn it round'.
I sit on the fence here. I think the next four games are important, and a couple of wins should give him some breathing space with his (it has to be said ever-growing) number of critics.
There is a two-week break now in early December, and if the board decided they felt the time was right for change, that would be as opportune time as any to bring it about.
But I don't want that to happen. The last two seasons has, in my view, seen Mark deserve some time, and I find it disconcerting that critics see fit to label those seasons as 'failures' and rather than limited successes with a Wembley visit and two good Cup runs.
Yes they were punctuated with bad defeats and a few odd decisions, Goulding in and Penn on the bench at Wembley, Duffy out of the icebox suddenly against Northampton being two which are used frequently as a stick to beat him with. The critics want to remember the 8-1 at Crewe, not the 3-0 demolition of Southend, or the 3-1 stroll at Oxford. In his previous seasons, he has got more right than wrong.
This season, however, that hasn't been the case if I am honest. But the board are backing him, and those getting ever more thirsty for change may still have a long time to wait.
He won't be helped by Dave Kevan's departure either. Results didn't change much in his time here - nine games before he arrived, won 2 drawn 3 lost 4 and 10 games with him won 3 drawn 3 lost 4 - but he seemed useful tactically and as a sounding board for Yates and Howarth - an extra, different voice around the place two days a week and on matchdays.
He got the credit for the Dagenham win and was sent out post-match after the Morecambe win to take the plaudits - but immediately handed them back to Yates.
He won't be replaced, but Yates and Howarth have coped fine without any extra help in the past, and will have to do so again.
With boring predictability, the departure has seen the return of the boring 'what does Neil Howarth contribute' line once again. So disrespectful to someone who has worked hard to get where he is, and is, after all now a UEFA A licenced coach - not someone described recently by one of our fans as 'just being given a free ride by his mate'.
With the loans, I wonder where the money is coming from after the Cup exit turned off that form of revenue and we are being told that the budget is used up, and is one of, if not the biggest we have ever had.
I would have suspected that someone would need to go out, and the only real candidate is Vincent. His return just hasn't worked out.
He was on the back foot anyway coming in two weeks into pre-season, in my view a panic buy after the Ashley Grimes u-turn, and he has never caught up.
He has made no impression in games, first-team or reserve, and we can presume the same in training either as he has not started and has needed a 'mini pre-season' with Ian Hutton. Throw in the family problems and it has not been a happy return.
His problems and these loan approaches have co-incided with Kaid Mohamed leaving Port Vale for AFC Wimbledon until January, and brought out a rash of another bugbear of mine (sorry, I know there is a few of those...) - harking back to old players.
Yes, there has been the expected snide 'I knew he wouldn't cut it in League One' digs from those who were not fans of his, and the 'I wish we had got him back' from those who recognise what he brought in terms of goals, assists and pace to quickly turn defence into attack.
But he has gone. So have Marlon Pack, Luke Summerfield, Neil Grayson, Jamie Victory, Chris Banks, Alan Bennett and Billy Jones. All did their bit for us, and we have great memories of them, but that is what they are. Memories. They have gone, and are not coming back.
Neither for that matter is Steve Cotterill, so let's forget that one as well.
So let's get over it, and concentrate on trying to back the players we have got.
They need it, and maybe if some fans concentrated on that and showed each other some mutual respect rather than moaning about who wants to sing at games and who doesn't, debating the whys and wherefores of smoke bombs, which are, let's face it, illegal and labelling each other as grasses, maybe we would help bring about some wins, which we all want, isn't it?