Saturday, 27 December 2014

Boxing Day blues

IT is inevitable when we lose a game that fans are not going to be happy, but I must admit I was surprised at the level of negativity after yesterday's game.
It seems that every time we lose a game, the players are immediately not good enough, or not trying hard enough, or don't care enough, and every defeat immediately means we are spiralling towards relegation.
We need a win. we all know that, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to work that one out.
Paul Buckle needs a win, as with each draw and defeat it is harder for him to hide behind the 'I inherited a squad with no confidence or belief' mantra that he has used up to now.
Yesterday's game was decided by a scuffed cross-cum-sort-of-shot which came off Jack Deaman's studs and rolled past Trevor Carson. That was it. It could easily have ended 0-0 as neither goalkeeper was exactly overworked.
I had no qualms with the players' effort and commitment. They tried their best, but we lacked quality in the top third of the field when it mattered most, and didn't make the most of some good situations.
I appreciate the manager's positivity, and we did look more dynamic at times, but as for him describing it as our best performance under him... hmm. Not sure on that one.
Trev definitely had a bit more to do than James Hamon in the Exeter goal, but compare it to games like Oxford, when he was man of the match and earned us a point, his workload wasn't high.
So again we looked solid enough. We'd started with the 4-5-1 but had to change it when Joe Hanks went off - and actually I felt that almost worked in our favour a bit as we had to be a bit more positive.
There has been a massive clamour for Zack Kotwica to start games, and he practically started this one as he was on the pitch eight minutes in.
Going forward, he was positive - getting the ball and trying to run with it. Yes, there was the occasional blind alley when he got a bit stuck and lost the ball, but he set up a couple of promising situations which ultimately fizzled out.
Defensively he needs to improve, as one slack pass cost Craig Braham-Barrett a booking, and he needs to have the confidence to beat players and get to the byline. He did it once, beating Scott Bennett, but then the cross was disappointing.
And that was the problem. With him on the left, Omari Sterling-James in the middle and Raffa de Vita out right, while Matt Richards and Kane Ferdinand sat a bit deeper, we carried a threat, and there was some energy in the team.
I thought the Exeter back four didn't look comfortable when we ran at them and we did have some good possession high up the field, with runners available.
But the killer touch, that bit of ruthlessness, was missing. The crossing was appalling - I don't think we beat the first man at all on probably six or even occasions in the first half, and so all that good work had gone to waste.
Terry Gornell worked his socks off. I thought he held the ball up as well as he could and looked to bring others into play, but then the others didn't return the compliment by giving him some quality balls into the box.
It would have needed to be real quality though. Terry found himself outnumbered all the time by four defenders, so the balls into the box would have needed to be absolutely perfect for him to make anything of them.
A corner which Troy Brown had headed off the line was the closest we came, along with a good opening for Richards, which he scuffed well wide from the edge of the box when Gornell had found him in space after running the channel.
A fifth successive 0-0 scoreline at half-time was another positive for the manager, who is trying to build a solid base and add the rest later.
Having lost Hanks, to then lose Matt Taylor as well was something he could have done without, but Deaman came in and I thought did ok after taking a little time to settle in. You can't blame him for a deflection as he was trying to clear the ball.
With the experience of Clinton Morrison and the good movement around him from Nichols, Nicholls, Sercombe and Harley, Exeter had a lot of possession in our half - but their tendency to over-play, take that one extra pass when a shot was on, played into our hands a bit in that first half as we did have chances to break - but wasted them.
After the break however, we didn't get those chances. We were pegged back a bit more with Kotwica and Sterling-James out of the game for long periods.
Omari had moved to the right by now with de Vita pulled inside, and I didn't think that worked as Omari was definitely more effective centrally. A winger he isn't in my view as he, like Kotwica at times, doesn't seem to have the belief to beat a man and get a good cross in.
We created very little in the second half and didn't seem to have the same energy. CBB got to the by-line once and with four waiting in the box his pull-back went back 30 yards to de Vita whose shot was blocked. That summed it up really.
After the goal, Buckle had a problem. with two players off injured, his capacity for change was limited, and in commentary I figured his only real choice was Byron Harrison for one of the central trio (Richards, de Vita, Ferdinand) and to go 4-4-2.
So it was a surprise to see Harry Williams come on. Nothing against Harry as people know I want to see him and our young boys get a chance, but that move speaks volumes for Buckle and what he expects from his players.
I asked him afterwards why he went for Harry over Byron. and his reply was that he sees the players every day of the week, and that his work ethic was good which he is looking for.
Reading between the lines, that suggests Byron's has not been, so sitting on the bench will hopefully be a kick up the backside for him - and I guess the same has to be said for Jason Taylor and Paul Black, who were again conspicuous by their absence from the 18.
My gut feeling however, is that those last two may well be chiselled out of the ice box and brought back in the fold tomorrow, as we are really down to the bare bones now.
Hanks must be doubtful, Taylor is out, Steve Elliott too I am guessing, while Asa Hall is probably still two weeks away...
There will also be no Raffa de Vita as his short-term deal is not being extended. I am not overly gutted by this as I don't think he did enough for us, but for now it does leave us short-handed.
I am sure now however that he has left the club that history will be re-written. He will immediately be raised to some form of iconic God-like status and put forward for sainthood as happens with every departing player, but I have no arguments with this decision at all.
The manager has to free some money up, and this is an opportunity to do so and gives him a bit more breathing pace for the coming few weeks.
We all know we need some new recruits, and we have to hope the manager will be able to find some and improve us - but anyone expecting a radical overhaul will be disappointed.
With his selections so far, players like Andy Haworth, Taylor and Black would probably be allowed to go if someone wanted to take them. If. Big if I suspect.
But that's the only way they will go ahead of the summer as we won't be paying them off.
He needs a strong centre-forward - a Ben Burgess type suited to the lone role would be nice, someone who could turn a cross or pass which is not perfect into a goal, or a decent chance. They are few or far between, and expensive.
Another central midfielder too - a box-to-box man with some real energy.
A winger who can cross a ball? No. He has enough wingers. They just need to learn to cross.
With Taylor out and Elliott not fit yet, a central defender might come into the equation as we have none if Brown or Deaman go down as well.
I cannot see us bringing in permanent signings - if we do they will only get, I think, deals until the summer. I think we will be looking at six-month loans. That will disappoint people I know, but that's the way I see it.
It is a pivotal transfer window. Every window is important, but this one has extra significance with us sitting 18th and six points off the bottom two.
This is Buckle's time to really start earning his corn having been bumbling along with the unbalanced demotivated players he was left by the previous manager.
The fixtures in January include trips to Hartlepool and Dagenham, which are firmly in the 'must not lose' category.
Not until we make our way back from Essex on January 31 will we have a real idea of what lies in store for the last three months of the season.
Hopefully, our squad will have a slightly different look to it, and our points tally will be a fair bit healthier.
Otherwise, it will be a real battle ahead.