Friday, 1 November 2013

Green shoots?

Dare I be positive...?
After a season where false dawns have appeared with monotonous regularity only to be replaced quickly by more darkness, the last two performances have been highly encouraging.
A change of formation which allows (finally) most players to be placed in familiar positions has been the key to that, and finally we have seen some signs of the squad performing as we know it can.
In our horribly inconsistent start, we have been fortunate that this disease has spread all around League Two. No side has really strung anything together.
We all thought Chesterfield would walk it, but they have found themselves stuck in glue recently.
Top spot in the division has been passed around a parcel at a kids' party.
Sooner or later, someone has to unwrap the prize in the middle, and no-one is yet out of the running - even us.
"I'll have some of what he's on," I hear some of you cry. But it is true. Clubs have recovered from poor starts to go up or make the play-offs on countless occasions.
Yes, clubs have gone down as well - but let's keep the glass half-full shall we?
Turning domination into wins is, however, key to those chances of getting that momentum going, and we can't afford to throw chances like last Saturday away.
But first, Morecambe - a team who came to us on an unbeaten streak, and went home with tails between their legs.
I don't feel manager or team got the credit they deserved for this win.
I saw the first half described as 'awful' in some quarters. Can't agree with that - I thought after two early chances which Scott Brown saved well, we were not in trouble.
I know crediting the manager seems taboo in some quarters as there are those out there who have decided they want him out no matter what he does.
Therefore, there were some churlish reactions to the victory - "we missed a penalty" - "they had 10 men" - "we should have been 2-0 down"
Penalty miss was irrelevant in the long run, while the 10 men was out of our control - we play what is in front of us and we did that (I felt) superbly.
Often, we have seen teams (including ourselves) struggle against 10 men, as they are galvanised and gain spirit from the disadvantage - but not this time. They seemed utterly demoralised and we capitalised on it.
The manager freshened the side up, with Terry Gornell, Sam Deering and David Noble coming in, and all three had superb games - the spell on the sidelines has clearly done the trick for their motivation.
The midfield was interesting. It was nominally a diamond, but Deering, Noble, Jason Taylor and Jermaine McGlashan were very interchangeable, and it was very fluid and effective.
Gornell was superb - my man of the match, and he capped it with a great goal, the all-important second. I think he has been a superb signing, the pick of the summer recruits in my eyes.
Byron Harrison did well to react to an error and put away the third, and all in all it was a hugely satisfying performance.
There were some who felt it was win or bust for the manager. I am not among them, as I feel we were still a way away from any potential tipping point there. But happily things have all gone quieter on that front, for now at least. Until the next defeat...
The support at home to Morecambe was superb, with the 'ole's' and chants of we want four - there may not have been many there, but they got behind the team, and the same was definitely true at Northampton. The backing there was as good as it has been at an away game for ages.
At Sixfields we kept up that momentum with probably our best 90-minute performance of the season so far - well, 89 minutes 58 seconds, anyway...
Those missing two seconds when David Noble's perfect through ball bisected Keith Lowe and Troy Brown, and everything (notably a couple of points) went out of the window.
But let's be positive again.
The narrow diamond of Deering, Noble, Taylor and Russ Penn (for the injured McGlashan) worked to a tee. I thought Deering was superb, it was one of Taylor's best games for us, Noble used the ball well (bar once) and Penn, after a early knock, was his usual self - energised again by being given a game off.
Harrison and Gornell were paired up after their goal each, Harrison got another one, but I felt Gornell didn't hit the heights of the Morecambe game.
Cureton came on for Noble - a good move as at least it showed some ambition - we wanted to win the game, and we had chances to do it... at least three good ones in the second half alone. Always a bad sign for a home team when their goalkeeper is man of the match.
This reminded me of the Wycombe game last year. Same domination but ultimately same result.
Defensively, I felt we were untroubled. I think Troy Brown and Keith Lowe have done well in recent games together. Lowe never lets us down, and Brown seems to be settling in after his injury-hit start.
I have to admit I prefer Matt Richards at left-back. He is disciplined in his positioning, and gets forward well to deliver with his left foot (dare I say it, Billy Jones style...) when necessary. I would like him to stay there.
And dare I say Sido seems to have knuckled down a bit too, but I still get the shudders when he attempts one of his hacked clearances!
In the last four games - Daggers, Dale, Morecambe and Northampton - we have conceded only four goals, all from errors, and none through good work from the opposition. It remains our Achilles heel. If we can cure it...
Going forward, we have three strikers who can score goals, and midfielders who can create chances for them, while also being mindful of the threats, and a defence who (most of the time) can deal with what comes their way.
Another concern I have is squad depth. Our bench on Saturday consisted of Cureton, CBB (who would have come on only in a dire emergency), Roberts, Hanks, Kotwica and Harry Williams.
Northampton also had six on their bench, but they have seven first-teamers out. We had McGlashan, Elliott and Vincent out.
It shows that it doesn't take much for us to be down to the bare bones. No disrespect to Joe, Zack and Harry by the way - to be honest I would rather us bring our own players on and give them a chance rather than loan in people ahead of them.
But it is a fine balance. There are some who say the 'kids' have not done it when they have been given a chance, but they are feeling their way.
For clubs like us, our own youngsters have to be the way forward, and I back theclub in going down that route rather than streams of loanees with no affiliation. Look where that got us.
Back to consistency, and tomorrow we play York, who are another example of the lack of it. Not many would have seen a 4-1 win over Scunthorpe coming, would they?
But I hope we can maintain the momentum built up against Morecambe and Northampton, and put together three decent performances in a row.
We haven't done it yet. but hey, let's be positive...