Sunday, 6 April 2014

An all too familiar story

Spineless, gutless, pathetic, unacceptable, bottle-job - pick your phrase or adjective of choice, as they are all an accurate description of our second-half 'performance' yesterday.
An all too familiar tale, a Ground hog Day of our season, and I am among the many who have had a gutful of it now.
Like the manager, I just want this season finished. Five more games, 450 minutes plus stoppage time - let's get it done and then move on to watching cricket and getting some sun (hopefully...).
The first half yesterday was - in the context of this season's home displays - not bad.
We looked as confident as we have on our own soil, I thought we passed the ball well, the movement was good, and the tempo was decent.
The downside was that once again we didn't create very much. The goal was all Byron's work, seizing on a loose ball on the edge of the box and smashing it low into the net.
Aside from that, we were tidy enough between the two penalty boxes, I thought David Noble, Sam Deering and Matt Richards had the best of the midfield tussles, and we were the better side.
Only just it has to be said, as Southend had the better chances - Scott Brown made two good saves, and down our left-hand side, we gave them far too much room.
Time after time, Kevan Hurst, John White or Michael Timlin had far too much space on that flank. Sido was being sucked inside and often Richards was left isolated against one of those three players and crosses were coming into our box.
It is a problem we constantly have. We simply never seem to be able to stop crosses. Every team we come against seems to have an outlet down one side of our defence or the other, and it puts us under pressure all the time.
Conversely, we don't seem to have that threat. Jermaine McGlashan barely got into the game, and when he did, the crosses were non-existent. He wasn't the only culprit on that front - when Mitch Brundle, or Deering, Richards, Jombati (or anyone) got into a promising position, there was no telling cross, no final ball of any significance at all.
I feel sorry for Byron. That goal yesterday was his first real shot on goal for three or four games. Some will say that is partly his fault, and that he can be lazy. He can, yes, but equally he cannot do it all himself, can he?
The goal yesterday was his 12th in the League, all 'single goals (he hasn't got two in one league game, but his other two were in one game - Crawley in the League Cup) - and in a side like we have had this season which doesn't score many goals, isn't free flowing and barely creates a chance, that is a very decent effort.
We are getting into player of the year territory, and that goal tally should get Byron high up in the voting, but I don't think it will as he is yet another 'Marmite' player with the fans.
Although surely the fact we now hold up players who were criticised severely when they were here as Messiahs the time has surely come to appreciate players like Byron and his contribution. He is a striker, a number nine, and is there to score goals.
That is his job, and he has delivered, and in a side which has produced a lot of pretty insipid stuff all season.
His goal yesterday was a rare moment of quality at Whaddon - but was then followed by 45 minutes of the most dreadful stuff we have seen.
The loss of Noble didn't help. He had been quietly influential in the first half, and to lose him so quickly in the second was undoubtedly a blow.
But we were winning the match, and the loss of one player should not totally disrupt the rhythm of a team, and should not lead to such a pathetic, spineless display.
Someone else should have put their hand up and taken on his mantle - Richards, Deering, Jason Taylor or Billy Daniels especially, but none of them did that. They all hid.
We should have been confident. On the front foot after a good half, and buoyed by getting a goal right at the end of the half - but it seemed to have exactly the opposite effect.
We barely strung three passes together, and gifted Southend two goals to add to the annals of easy goals we have let in this season - a very long list.
Phil Brown deserves some credit for the two changes he made, but the warning signs were there, even in that first half.
Scott Brown made those two saves, and an even better one which led to the long throw we conceded from. He did nothing wrong, but once again he was let down by the players in front of him.
Weak minds, said the manager afterwards. Spot on, weak defending, powder puff stuff in our own box, and a player in Barry Corr who showed more desire, and wanted to get to the ball, wanted to score a goal more than our gutless players wanted to clear the ball away.
It was no shock when we conceded again, a free kick to us was cleared, it was no shock that one of our players didn't win the second ball (we stopped doing that at half time, but haven't won many of them since about 2011) and two passes later it was in our net.
I am not sure where Sido had disappeared to, but Hurst had all the time he wanted to run down his channel to score.
After that, Southend had the easiest 23-minute procession to go away with the points. We didn't test the goalkeeper, never looked like equalising, and seemed to be almost going through the motions.
Only one ball in from Zack Kotwica which caused a little scramble - that was it as far as any nominal threat on the Southend goal in that last quarter of the game.
Kotwica had come on as one of two late changes, with Jamie Cureton replacing Daniels, who was totally and utterly ineffective - as poor an individual performance as I have seen all season.
So, once again, the question has to be asked - why is he here?
Hours before our defeat, the youth team beat Bournemouth 5-2, with Harry Williams scoring a hat-trick. He plays as an attacking midfielder, the position Daniels was apparently filling yesterday.
Those goals took Harry's tally for the season to 38 in youth league, Cup and reserve team matches, which must make him one of the leading youth level goalscorers in the country.
Yet we haven't seen him in our team bar a short spell against Morecambe, and instead we are helping a player who has a long-term contract at a team in a league above get some match fitness.
I think that is very wrong, and what message does that send out to people like Harry, Joe Hanks, James Bowen, Bobbie Dale and Adam Powell? Play as well as you like in our youth teams, and impress when you go out on loan, but I am going to bring in a loanee who is a year older than you to do a job which you might be able to do.
Now, I know Harry Williams is not the finished article, but surely that goal record alone deserves an opportunity in the side? Surely he deserves the chance to show what he can do? I will be very disappointed indeed if we don't see him, Zack and even Connor Roberts get at least one start in these last five meaningless games.
What have we got to lose? These players are meant to be the future, but unless they get a go, how are we meant to know if they are ever going to be good enough?
They will come in and make mistakes, but surely the fans will give them some leeway in these games, won't they? Surely fans will get behind players like that more than they will want to see players like Daniels, who frankly didn't look like he even wanted to be out there.
I know that has turned into a rant, and I know I champion these young players a lot, but if, as the chairman says money is going to be tight further down the line, then these players need to feel valued, not that they are banging their heads against a brick wall. We want them to be our future, not someone elses.
OK I feel better after that - now back to yesterday. The other substitution was Kotwica for Taylor - yes, Taylor, who had earlier come on for Noble. No injury, just the hook as we tried to chase the game.
Obviously, this has provoked a lot of debate, but I am siding with Mark Yates here.
He explained it that at 2-1 down, Taylor is not the sort of player who is going to get you back into the game, but is more the player we wanted at 1-0 (when he originally came on). I see that point, and it is a plausible reason for the change.
Taylor was also playing extremely poorly indeed, and therefore that is another reason why I have no issue with the change being made. The player understandably wasn't happy and gave Yatesy a volley before he sat down.
Yesterday's capitulation was the last chance for some players in my eyes.
Of those out of contract, I would not shed any tears if McGlashan, Deering and Jombati left.
McGlashan has six goals this season which is a decent return, but he does not make the most of his major asset, his pace. He beats players, leaves them for dust, but then what? Usually a cross which hits the first defender or doesn't even get that far. Not enough.
If he thinks he can get a contract higher up the leagues or in Scotland, then good luck to him. He might be a player who we miss further down the line, one of those who is appreciated more once he has gone, but I am prepared to take that chance.
Deering has played nearly 100 games for us in a central/attacking midfield role, and not scored a goal. His assists can be counted on two hands in that time, I would guess. Not good enough.
There is no faulting his effort. He is a 100 per cent man every time, rare in our current team, but looking busy and running around a lot isn't always enough. I was delighted when we signed him two years ago, but he hasn't been the player I hoped he would be.
Now Sido. A folk hero. Brilliant when he came into the side, now a mistake-prone shadow of that player. If his name was Simon Johnson, and he wasn't Portugese with an exotic name, he probably wouldn't be the cult figure he is. There is better out there I think, much as I love Sido.
Scott Brown is the only regularly-playing out of contract player I would keep. I hope Roberts and Hanks are also kept on if they want to stay, but that is about it.
I cannot see Cureton and Steve Elliott being here next season. Cureton has also not lived up to expectations, and Steve I am afraid has looked a bit leggy recently and it seems Old Father Time is catching up with him - but what a servant he has been. He will be missed if this is the end.
Vincent as well will go I think. After being ignored for whatever reason, he had a decent burst but has been out back in the ice box again. Same goes for everyone's favourite left-back CBB. Five more games sat on the bench, and then time to look for a new club.
Of the players under contract, I would not shed any tears if any clubs came along and wanted Taylor. He has never fitted in here.
I am not sure his heart was ever in it - after all he wanted a loan move a month after the season started when he wasn't getting in.
It is a shame as he was brilliant when I saw him for Rotherham - another of those players who looks excellent for other clubs, and a shadow of that player when he comes here (see also Deering, Richards, Gornell etc etc etc...).
I feel sorry for Gornell. I like him as a player, good, technical player, clever (but so was Jeff Goulding...!) and I don't feel he has been given a fair crack in his best position, up front.
The attacking midfield role was one which never suited him, but he tried his best. I want to see him where he was effective for Accrington and Shrewsbury in the past, scoring goals against us, through the middle as a forward. If Cureton is going, then don't use him - give Terry the nod instead. He will be here, after all.
So if Brown stays, we will have a 'spine' of him, Troy Brown, Richards and Harrison to build something around, which is something to start from, plus Gornell and Kotwica, assuming Taylor goes elsewhere.
I wouldn't sign Noble if he is available, as if these injuries are going to keep recurring we will not get value out of him, and there must be someone of quality out there in our budget who can do that job.
Same goes for Michael Ihiekwe, I wouldn't sign him. Mitch Brundle I might be tempted to have a gamble on - as I think he has done okay at right back in six of his seven games... but he is a centre-back really, so if we were to sign him, where do we play him?
The summer is massive for Yatesy (assuming he finally does sign this contract!). He has to get it right and then start next season on the front foot.
The pressure will be on him not only from the fans but also massively from the boardroom as well, as they know that turgid home performances like we have seen for the vast majority of this season have alienated a lot of fans who might not ever come back, and more may join them if it continues.
If it goes wrong, and, say, we are in the bottom half after 10-15 games, then that might be the end for him, and the board will be answering questions about why this much-protracted new contract was given in the first place as we have to pay compensation, which could have been saved etc etc.
But I am getting ahead of myself - let's cross that bridge if it happens - but let's hope it doesn't come to that.
In the meantime, let's just enjoy the last five games. Or at least try to...