Friday, 29 November 2013

Does the season start here...?

Six games unbeaten.
Seventh in the current form table.
Two successive clean sheets.
Many clubs in League Two would be delighted with those statistics from their team - yet on Tuesday night we had boos and a few sporadic 'We want Yatesy out' chants after the rather turgid Bristol Rovers stalemate.
The statistics don't tell the full story.
We, the fans, know that - and the manager also clearly does, as he embarked on a mini-rebuild with three loanees coming in ahead of the trip to Southend on Saturday.
It has been an up and down season. The results have been horribly inconsistent, the manager has been battling to find a formation and a settled side, and the fans have become increasingly frustrated.
Many games have seen comical goals given away, and far too many of them. Therefore, the manager set about the task of making us harder to beat.
Over the past few games (Tamworth apart, and I am not going to rake over that again) that mission seems to have been accomplished, but at what cost?
While we were leaking goals, we were managing to score them as well, with our front three scoring 16 goals between them already.
But as the manager has gone for prudence, the last two home games have been goalless - good at one end, and not the other - and that is the big conundrum.
Fans cry 'we are letting too many goals in' - so the manager works to shut that door.
We keep clean sheets but goals dry up at the other end - fans cry 'our midfield and strikers are rubbish'.
On that note, there isn't a great deal of love around for our players at the moment. My Twitter feed since Tuesday has been full of fans' views on various players, with few of them being complimentary.
Poor old CBB has copped most of it, with Matt Richards, David Noble, Byron Harrison and Jamie Cureton also among those in the firing line.
Away from home, the diamond was a success at Northampton, where we should have won, and Wycombe, where we did.
At home over the past week, it has not. Against Newport, we struggled at first against their 3-4-3 system, then foundered on the rock of their three giant centre-backs.
Against Rovers, we lacked the guile, pace and creativity to break down a side set up from the start for a 0-0 draw. There was no pace in the side, and that is what I am hoping these loanees will rectify.
The manager was as frustrated as the rest of us by the slow tempo, the sideways passes and the lack of penetration.
He was equally annoyed by the lack of anyone wanting to take the bull by the horns in the final third. Too often, we looked too scared to shoot.
Like we had at Tamworth, in both these home games we have been in promising positions around the box, but rather than showing that desire to shoot, or put bodies on the line, opting instead for that one extra pass.
At home we need more dynamism. Tuesday was a game we needed to take by the scruff of the neck, and go out and win, but we failed pretty dismally to do so.
The midfield, especially Richards and Noble, moved the ball too slowly, leaving the manager frequently annoyed in the dug-out.
Deering could not get into the game, we had no width bar when Sido and CBB tried to get forward, and we were blunt up top.
What it also showed, once again, is that we cannot play 4-4-2. Between the Newport and Rovers games, I saw many calls for '4-4-2 with two wingers'. When Zack Kotwica and Jermaine McGlashan came on, we played that. It didn't work, and we were second best in those last minutes against Rovers.
The squad needed freshening up, and the manager has done just that, for which he deserves credit, with Toby Ajala, Connor Goldson and Kemar Roofe coming in.
All three will add competition, put a few 'cosy' players on their toes a bit more, and hopefully give us the jolt we need.
I think it is also a good move to send Kotwica to Gloucester for a few games. He has great talent and promise, but 90 minutes in the Skrill North will do him more good than the odd 10-15 minutes in the dying embers of a game for us.
Then there is Ashley Vincent. He has basically been the deadest of dead wood for us since coming back. The odd unimpressive cameo, and that's it.
The manager sees him in training, and in reserve games, and he clearly has done nothing to merit anything more.
Whether it is the wrong attitude of the family issues which have dragged him down I don't know, but whatever it is, it is a huge disappointment.
There was talk of him turning down a loan move to Hereford, and of interest from Tranmere, which didn't materialise into anything concrete.
Ajala and Roofe are attacking, wide players, and with Kotwica having also moved ahead of him, it will be the bench at most for Ashley.
All three loanees got positive vibes on Twitter from fans of clubs they either play for or have been at on previous loans, especially Goldson, described by more than one Shrewsbury fan as their best centre-back. He can also play right-back.
(NB - I did want to embed the actual tweets in here, but that feat proved to be above my technological nous. Apologies, but go through my timeline @MarkHalliwell1 and you should find them).
He has played 18 times this season in League One, and 45 games in all, and with that experience I cannot see him coming here as cover, or as a bench-warmer. I expect him to play.
Add to that the fact that nothing more frustrates a lot of our fans when loan players arrive and sit on the bench. Immediate condemnation of them as a waste of money ensues. A valid point in many cases - but not all.
But for one of them at least to be dropped may seem harsh on a back four (our only four...) who have kept two clean sheets in a row, but CBB and Steve Elliott, are, by my calculations, on four yellows apiece.
There has been some disappointment that only one defender arrived, but Matt Richards can drop to left back if needed, and Jason Taylor to centre-half (at a massive push, and in the direst of circumstances only please - I am still getting over Bury...) so there is cover of sorts.
The Twitter guesses on what the back four may be for Saturday all point to bad news for poor old CBB. As I said, not much love there.
Goldson, Elliott, Brown and a switch to the left for Sido or a drop back for Richards seems to be the way most people want to go.
There have been a few calls for 3-5-2 with Goldson, Elliott and Brown, but that seems a bit radical to me, as in four years we have never played three at the back, unless chasing a game.
CBB had a good game at Wycombe, a tough time against Newport and was okay against Rovers. That seems to be the problem with him - you don't know what you are going to get.
He is suffering from constant unfavourable comparisons to Billy Jones, especially when coming forward and getting crosses in, and it has been a tough baptism for him.
But Yates has pinned his nails to the mast on this one, and is sticking by his man - so could Sido be for the high jump again?
Not his normal self for a while, with some frankly comical errors thrown in, he sat out one game (Tamworth, a good one to miss!) then after a chat with Yates, is back in and has done well for the past three games.
Elliott has been imperious since his return at half-time at Tamworth, with Brown a more than able deputy, so it will be interesting to see which way he goes.
Whatever he does, someone can feel a bit unlucky to miss out - even the under-fire CBB, as after all he has been part of a defence which has kept two clean sheets in a row... and we haven't done that much this season.
The other two arrivals will pep up the midfield and attacking options further.
We have lacked that left-sided balance, and I think Ajala will solve that - but I don't expect us to go to Southend with 4-4-2 and two wingers, but I do see a 4-5-1/ 4-2-3-1 system as a big possibility - the 2010-11 system revisited.
Some won't like that as they want two up front, and it means that two of Harrison, Cureton and Gornell will be benched, but for these two away games I can see us going that way.
I see Ajala and McGlashan out wide in support of the one front man (take your pick from the three - there is an equal case for all of them, I think), and then it comes down to the midfield three.
I don't see Roofe getting in the starting line-up straight away, although his description as an 'attacking, creative midfielder' could see Sam Deering under pressure for that 'in the hole' position.
Russ Penn will also have something to say, and feel he might merit a recall, especially after the less-than-impressive displays from Deering, Taylor, Noble and Richards in the last two games.
The latter two especially have produced some pretty abysmal set-pieces, so if any of the new trio can take a mean corner or free-kick, they might have a bigger shout of a start!
I thought Taylor was the best of that quartet overall, especially against Newport, and I would have him and Noble as two of the three in my midfield.
The other place is between Penn, Deering, Roofe and Richards. There has been a clamour for Penn's return, and yes, he is our captain, but that is no guarantee of a place.
He has not been his usual self, but who has in our squad bar Scott Brown?
Deering is very hit and miss, but is more effective away, while Richards may not suit the quicker, incisive style Yates is clearly looking for as he plays at that slower pace - but he may find a home at left-back...
Roofe is a bit more of an unknown quantity, and I am not sure Yates would want to put all three loanees into the side straight away.
So - what would my team be? - Brown; Goldson, Brown, Elliott, Sido; Noble, Taylor; Ajala, Penn, McGlashan; Cureton. Subs: Roberts, CBB, Deering, Richards, Roofe, Harrison, Gornell.
That leaves Vincent and Joe Hanks out of the 18, with Kotwica and Ed Williams getting games elsewhere.
It is nice to have options and choices. The manager is not everyone's cup of tea at the moment, but you can't fault his knack of getting players to the club - and on paper these three look like decent captures.
Proof will be in the playing, but we have to trust his judgement, which, even his harshest critic has to admit, has been more hit than miss over the past four seasons.
So it is neck on the block time for him. He has done all he can now until January, and has this group of players to mould into a winning team and formation.
This is a big month coming up - by the time the window re-opens in January, despite how tight this division is you feel we will know if we are going to make that play-off push, or whether we are resigned to a mid-table season.  I am not even contemplating the third possibility by the way...
Finally, the season would appear to start here!