Saturday, 19 April 2014

Decision time

It is traditional for Cheltenham Town fans to travel to the last away game of the season in fancy dress and some are now pondering their costumes for the trip to Spotland on Saturday.
Can I suggest that they look for clown suits - or maybe they could go dressed as footballers?
I am sorry, but this is the gallows humour we have been reduced to after some of the laughable fare we have had to endure this season.
I am one of the lucky ones - I don't usually have to pay to watch it, and yesterday I had to do some proper work so managed to avoid another '1-0 up, 2-1 down' shambles.
It was the third time that has happened at home, Rochdale and Southend being the others, and having not been there I cannot comment on whether this was as bad as those two.
But even from my desk on the other side of Cheltenham, I could almost hear the collective groans, and as soon as I saw news of the equaliser flash up, I was waiting for the second Fleetwood goal.
And sure enough within nine minutes there it was - all depressingly familiar and no reward whatsoever for the people who have dug deep in their pockets to watch it this season.
Five league wins at home equals (as someone said on Twitter yesterday) about £82.80 a victory if you are in the In2Print, which is probably about the same price as a season ticket at Bayern Munich, for you hipsters out there.
We don't know how much the season tickets are for next season as the club haven't told us yet. I cannot imagine, unless the offers are pretty stunning, that there will be a massive queue banging the club's doors down to buy one.
So we are still not officially safe. Three games left, Mansfield and Rochdale away and Dagenham at home, see us needing to eke something out while hoping teams below us don't overtake us.
It is still unlikely - Wycombe, Northampton and Bristol Rovers all need to win two games (and Wycombe play Rovers next Saturday), while Accrington, Portsmouth, Morecambe, Hartlepool and Exeter all need one win - assuming we lose all three of our games.
But we cannot make assumptions. More ridiculous things have happened, and teams have gone down in the past without being anywhere near the bottom two until the last day of the season - Lincoln being one which springs to mind.
We should not be in this position. Yesterday takes the tally of points lost from winning positions to a staggering 34. Six defeats and eight draws after being in front - 14 games thrown away.
It is the worst in the division. Last season, we held that record as well with 26 points lost, four wins and seven draws.
So it is not a new problem. Not confined to this group of players - so do we blame them for it, or do we look at the manager and his methods?
It suggests a lack of mental strength during games. Players all to easily switching off and reacting negatively to conceding a goal, meaning they all too often concede another one straight after.
Also, they lack the killer instinct after going ahead. They seem to lack the belief to go on from taking the lead and looking to consolidate it, or add to it.
All too often this season, we have put together a good 50-60 minutes then collapsed into a dire shambles.
Burton and Hartlepool at home - we led 2-0 at or near to half-time, and drew both games. Rochdale, Southend and yesterday we led 1-0 around the hour mark or later - and lost all three.
Away from home, Wimbledon was the worst of course, cruising after three quarters of the game before chucking it away and then you look at games like Burton, one up with 18 minutes to go - lost 2-1.
It is all too depressingly familiar, and the manager has failed to find an answer for it, so we are now in this precarious position.
It is decision time across the club - youth players will learn their fate this coming week, out of contract players in limbo, and also, the board has a big decision to make.
There is a two-year contract, unsigned, with the names of the manager and his assistant on it.
As it stands, there are many who would like it to stay that way and that number is growing.
After 34 points from winning positions lost, and four wins from the last 19 League Two games, the question has to be asked whether he deserves a new two-year contract, which he probably won't see through and will almost inevitably leave us paying him off at some point?
I am sorry to say it but the answer at the moment has to be no. No way should the club give him two more years - and it is highly doubtful that he should be given another 12 months.
The majority on the terraces are calling for a new broom through the playing side, and that could well extend to the dugout as well.
There is no love at all for this squad of the players. They have let the fans down too often, and not justified the faith placed in them by the manager.
Yates has not helped himself either. He has deflected the flak on to the players in the majority of his post-match interviews - I don't feel he has placed enough of the blame on his own shoulders.
The Lowe and Penn departures, and to a lesser extent that of Billy Jones, added to that of Alan Bennett last season, have constantly come back to haunt him as in the majority of cases their replacements have been inferior - Troy Brown for Bennett being the exception here I think.
While I wish everyone would move on from it, it is understandable that many fans cannot while we perform so poorly and Lowe and Penn's York seem to win every game 1-0 and are in the play-off places.
Lowe was deemed not good enough for a regular place as a centre-back for us and Penn could not get into our midfield, yet they have been stand-outs for York, and their arrivals at Bootham Crescent have co-incided with their upturn in form.
When they went there, York were in real fear of going down. Now we are in that position.
We talk about a lack of leadership in the team. Lowe, Penn and Bennett were leaders, but they have gone as the manager didn't want them in the side any more. But he has not found new leaders to replace them.
While Jones was not great defensively, his replacement has been worse, and we have lost the set-piece threat as well. Penn's replacement (s) have been largely inferior loanees, kids from Premier League clubs who have come and gone quickly.
Lowe's replacement in the squad have been two loanees, one of whom in Mitch Brundle has done ok, and Michael Ihiekwe who has never really convinced me - certainly not better replacements.
Marlon Pack was always going to be difficult to replace, Kaid Mohamed's replacement has barely played for one reason or another - all over the squad, good players have been replaced by inferior ones.
Yates' mantra has always been that players coming in have to be better than the ones they are replacing - this petently has not been adhered to this season.
Yates always gets flak for his substitutions. Either the lack of them, or the timing of them.
He can be reactive, rather than proactive. He seems to struggle at times to spot a weakness in the side, or where the opposition are getting on top and find a way to cure it.
Other managers don't have that problem, and on occasions their substitutions have changed games against us - Neal Ardley for Wimbledon did that with Danny Hylton at Kingsmeadow, and Gary Rowett with Dominic Knowles at Burton, both came on, scored twice and we lost both games.
I cannot remember the last time a sub came on for us and had a real effect on a game. These players who are on the bench should be champing at the bit to come on and make an impact, but they rarely do.
So - is that down to the manager? Is he motivating them properly? That is part of his job, but then equally the players have to motivate themselves as well.
That brings us to the usual question. Do we blame the players for these abject displays, or, as the manager put them together, is in charge of who trains them and how, decides the tactics etc, is the blame at his door?
It has to be a 50-50 split. Yatesy has to accept some of it and players equally have to look at themselves and accept that they have underperformed on a regular basis.
These are experienced players on the whole. The majority of the squad have 100 League games behind them or more. They are not kids. They have won plenty of matches down the years and should have the nous to see games through like yesterdays, but they don't.
Many of them won't be here in three games time - and it will be good riddance to the majority of them. So why should they care if we go down or not?
You would hope they would have professional pride. A relegation on their CVs will not help them find a new club, but they don't seem to.
Some attitudes are not helping endear them either. Jason Taylor was rumoured to have left the ground yesterday after being left out of the 18. Don't hurry back Jason.
Matt Richards was apparently jeered as he was substituted yesterday. Much as I don't like to hear that, it sums up the feelings on the terraces and he needs to think hard about why the fans are reacting like that to him.
These attitudes seem to be prevalent throughout the squad. When we score a goal, the celebrations always seem so incredibly muted.
A goal is meant to be the biggest thing you can do in a game, but our goals are almost greeted with a 'so what' feeling - a symptom of the general apathy around the place.
Someone made a very good point on Twitter yesterday, which I agree with - Yatesy has had an easy ride from the fans this year, and this must be down to his status at the club as a former captain.
I suspect that someone with no such link to the club would have had 'preferential' treatment like that, and would probably not be in the job right now.
We are told the reason for the contract not being signed is a 'clause' they are trying to sort out. I wonder.
There is no way that the board (if they are doing their job properly) can be happy with what they have seen this season, both on and off the field.
The club has a stale feeling about it. Fans seem to be losing interest and want to look back rather then forward, the players don't seem bothered, and everything seems to be hard work.
The board need to think very carefully. The club is in need of a massive lift and if they come to the conclusion that a change of manager would help to take that black cloud away, then they have to do it.