Friday, 22 November 2013

Getting the Lowe-down...

When Pete Matthews and I get the team sheet on the Whaddon Road gantry tomorrow, at around 2.15pm, we should be able to hazard a pretty good guess at what our back four will be.
In fact, if the betting companies accepted these kinds of bets, we could all clean up with a guess of Jombati, Elliott, Troy Brown and Braham-Barrett.
After all, that's all we have got left.
That, as I can fully understand, is the main problem many people have with the departure of Keith Lowe before we have seen a replacement coming in.
Yes, of course there has been the usual gnashing of teeth at the exit of Lowe, a cult hero, the squad's Mr Reliable, to go (as Nigel Worthington has said) to York to be their defensive organiser.
The truth is that since the arrival of Sido on to the scene at Bristol Rovers in October 2011, (only a few months after Lowey was voted player of the year), Keith has been largely a cover player.
Never a first choice at right-back or centre-half after that, but a man you could rely on to come in, give 100 per cent and weigh in with the odd goal.
But it seems like Billy Jones, Darryl Duffy and Alan Bennett, he will be elevated to some sort of Messiah-like status, and talked about with dewy eyes among Cheltenham fans for years to come.
The same fans who lamented Jones' defending against wingers, Bennett's lack of pace and admitted to being 'worried' at the prospect of Lowe playing centre-half for any length of time will suddenly forget all that and watch intently for every goal he scores for York and every man of the match award he receives as more sticks to beat the manager with.
Similar to Andy Gallinagh - another on the God-list - Lowe is the kind of player every squad needs - but is he the kind of player who plays 35-40 games in a team which is capable of getting promtion?
But never mind that - he has joined the list of crowd favourites who have gone, so therefore the manager is an idiot and these players leaving is suddenly akin to some sort of heinous crime.
As Jones' replacement, CBB, and Bennett's, Troy Brown, are finding out now, the man who comes in to fill Keith's shoes will be forever compared, and probably unfavourably. All the best to them.
If CBB changed his name to Billy Jones, he might have a chance with some fans. Same goes for Brown where Bennett is concerned. Neither has (in my view) deserved the torrent of negativity they have received.
True, Brown's detractors have become fewer in number, but CBB has been slaughtered almost non-stop.
Being moved to right-back at Tamworth has made that worse, but that wasn't ultimately his decision. Yet he seems to be the scapegoat for that result, despite the strikers missing chances galore.
His mis-kick started the move for the goal maybe, but the ball went across the field, then came into our box where is wasn't dealt with before Chadwick scored. But why let the facts get in the way of a chance to scapegoat a player?
As I said in the past, if people put as much energy into backing the players we have now as they do into wringing their hands over the ones who have left, we might be in a better position.
I like Keith Lowe. As has been said in this blog before and by me on the radio during games, he is a good professional, a reliable player who has never let CTFC down. But the bottom line is that Yates knows he needs to make us better and that means he has to make difficult decisions.
He has shown before that he is not swayed by sentiment as other managers have in the past. He can be brutal at times - see Goulding, Bennett and Jones (in this case by the way, thank goodness those lurid rumours have finally been blown out of the water... well done to Jon Palmer and Billy himself on that front).
Yates is decisive when it comes to players' futures and is not afraid of difficult, unpopular decisions. Like any manager, all of those decisions have been heavily questioned and not all of them have worked out. But some of them have.
After the fans' forum last Thursday, the odds on at least one player being moved out shortened dramatically.
A loan signing was vetoed, so the theory I have is that Yates furnished the board with a list of players who could be loaned out. An educated guess would be that list included Ashley Vincent and Lowe, and maybe also Steve Elliott and Sido.
Vincent is a gimme, and I understand he turned a loan move down, believed to be to Hereford.
Elliott and Sido haven't covered themselves in glory at times this season and have had little rests lately. They came back strongly on Saturday though.
Lowe was the outside bet on that list, but as the cover man, he would be the dispensable one. He was the one dropped at Wycombe last weekend, when Steve and Sido came back in. Both had good games, and we won.
But for the Tamworth defeat, this would not have happened, as a win there would have brought money in and I am sure Yates would have been allowed to add to the squad without the need for a departure.
That game was an aberration. A bad game for the manager and players, and Lowe has been the sacrificial lamb (pardon the pun...) for that. He might not be the last one if Yates feels the need for more changes.
From Lowe's perspective, his contract is up in the summer, and being honest I could not see him getting a new one here, so I suspect he and his agent weighed up the options and Keith decided to head North.
I am sure a permanent move will happen, and I suspect we will get a small fee for the remainder of Lowe's contract as well as losing his wages from the budget, so Yates wins as he can get a loanee or two, and Lowe wins as it looks like he will be a first choice.
Good luck Lowey, and thanks for what you did for us.
But on the minus side, there is no loanee tomorrow, and I can understand the concerns over our four only fit defenders in two locallish-derbyish games against Newport and Bristol Rovers. I share them.
We have Matt Richards to cover at left-back if needed, but that's about it, otherwise it's Jason Taylor at centre-back - not something which would be high on my wish-list - or some more of our all-conquering youth team might be making a step up.
I am sure Yatesy could have brought a player in yesterday or today, but he will say, as he has in the past, it has to be the right player - someone who will improve the squad and be in contention for the first team.
Some fans have said we will sign 'some old nobody'. What were Luke Garbutt, Michael Hector and Jack Butland? Hardly household names, and they did ok, but some are, of course, too quick to write people off.
It's instant success, or the instant scrapheap these days it seems. Patience is very much a thing of the past, unfortunately.
The loan deadline is next Thursday, and there is, of course, the possibility he could sign someone on Monday or Tuesday to be in contention for the Rovers game.
But tomorrow there will be sharp collective intakes of breath every time Sido, Steve, Troy and CBB go to ground or look like they are limping in any way at all...
But apart from the defensive numbers, I contend we go into these home games in pretty good shape. Once again, I don't get the negativity.
I was told on Saturday at Wycombe by some fans that our first-half display was 'crap'. I don't know what some people want, or expect, I really don't.
I thought we passed it nicely, went a bit more direct when we had to, and most importantly came away with a decent win. We showed good character, and finally got some luck going our way with the winner, but I think we have earned that.
Bottom line is we are a League Two club, with League Two players, who the manager is trying to get the best out of, and in recent league games we have picked up.
Our first eight games brought six points. The next eight have brought 14, and we have won four, drawn two and lost two of those games, so we are improving, no matter what the nay-sayers will try to claim.
That run of form over the last eight games is the sixth best in the division. We are unbeaten in four games, and have one defeat in six. A run like that is hardly time to get the lifeboats out, is it? Some would have us believe so.
I keep getting told it's results that count, yet people still moan about the style of football. OK, do you want us to lose playing like Barcelona, or find a style which suits our players and might see us win more than we lose?
The diamond seems to suit the players we have, and I think it is bringing the best out of players like David Noble, Sam Deering and Jason Taylor. The front three have been a bonus this season, with 16 goals between them already.
The players we have don't suit a 4-4-2 system with flying wingers, and with our defensive difficulties that wouldn't work anyway - far too open.
Yates has to be a bit more pragmatic, and the diamond is a bit more secure, with the man at the base, but we have proved it can get us on the front foot and create chances. Granted, we haven't always taken them.
Yates has said there is not a lot wrong overall, and I agree with him. But there is one pretty major thing wrong, our defence.
That is what he is concentrating on trying to get right, but we might have to be patient while he brings the players he wants to change it with, and they bed in. That might also mean some more favourites falling by the wayside. More teeth-gnashing awaits, no doubt.
The mistakes have been our Achilles heel, and no one has lost more points from winning positions than our tally of 14 - we have led in six games, of which we have gone on to lose two (Bury, Rochdale) and draw four (Burton, Oxford, Northampton, York).
Yes we are 17th, but six points off seventh. Nine points off the top if you want to be really optimistic. Not many do for some reason, so for them I will say we are also six points off 23rd. Happy now? Good.
At least four points from six this week, and no defensive injuries would be just about ideal, then a loanee or two in time to go to Southend and Morecambe, and maybe a few more might join the happy camp.
I hope so.