Sunday 14 December 2014

Rome wasn't built in a day

THERE is a lot of negativity and doubt around among the CTFC fanbase at the moment, and it's not hard to see why.
A few heavy defeats culminating in the Cup defeat to Dover sparked some good humour among the 155 in the away end at Field Mill, with chants like 'we're all going on a Vanarama tour'.
This is in contrast to our almost ridiculously upbeat new manager, who refuses to be browbeaten or downbeat about the task he has taken on, and it is refreshing to hear.
There is a little bit of the Martin Allen about him - 'I don't know Zack's surname' for instance - but in contrast to our last-but-one manager I believe he might actually know the location of the plot.
After last weekend, the teamsheet was always going to be the most interesting part of the afternoon in Nottinghamshire, and I have to admit to a feeling of frustration and disappointment at only one change - Joe Hanks for Jason Taylor. It prompted a bit of a rant on the radio.
Taylor was not in the 18 at all - 'tactical' was about the only explanation I could get from the manager post-match - and that can be taken one of two ways.
Either the manager deemed that Taylor was not on the bench as he did not believe he was a player who could come on and affect a game from the bench (and Paul Buckle did say when pressed that he went for a positive bench) or the conspiracy theory is that the toys left the pram when he was told he wasn't starting.
There is form for the latter, but it the omission does have to put his long-term future here in some doubt, so that is a situation to be monitored in the coming weeks.
Several others, notably Byron Harrison, Terry Gornell, Matt Richards and Raffa de Vita, were lucky to keep their places in my view, and it was very much a safety-first selection, a team designed to be solid, resilient and tough to crack.
But it was also a no-frills selection, not a team to spring forward on counter-attacks, or have any pacy outlets to threaten Mansfield too much.
The first half was curious affair. We came under a fair bit of pressure, notably through Junior Brown giving Jack Deaman a tough examination, but Trevor Carson was not unduly troubled bar one 25-yard skimmer he saved easily.
So that tells me we defended well. We did - bodies on the line, with one notable block from Troy Brown, strong aerial challenges, the best of which from Craig Braham-Barrett denied Vadane Oliver a far-post header.
We mostly kept our shape well, and the two wide men, Kane Ferdinand (disappointingly shunted out right again) and de Vita did their fair share to help out.
Going forward, we struggled to make much headway - yet had a few good and half-chances, with Dimitar Evtimov the busier goalkeeper, saving very well twice from Ferdinand and we also had a shot cleared off the line.
With de Vita and Ferdinand out wide, we never got behind them. Every time either of them had the chance, they disappointingly cut back inside and crossed from the corner of the penalty area or higher up the pitch.
That is where I would have wanted a 'natural' winger on the field, but it was clear that Buckle had taken the safety-first attitude.
I guess I can (grudgingly) understand that. He is looking at the 'slow-burn' scenario, almost inching us along until January, picking up what points he can until hopefully he can start to put his own mark on it.
Trying to stop the goals going in is clearly priority number one - the two games before he came in saw us ship nine, and we have let one in so far in each of his three games.
Success he calls it. I would say some small progress. Some short-term pain maybe, hopefully for long-term gain.
We went behind in what I would call bizarre circumstances. It was out of the blue when Oliver's shot span over Carson. He looked crestfallen but I am not convinced he really meant it.
It left Buckle with a dilemma, and he responded with finally deciding to see what was on his bench, with Omari Sterling-James and Andy Haworth coming on, and it was the end for de Vita and Richards.
At last. A chance for them to come out of the ice box, at the expense of two under-achievers.
The third change was the one which proved the most decisive - but (broken record alert) overall it shows that Buckle should show more trust in the fringe players and his youngsters.
To be honest, his squad is that thin at the moment that he has little alternative. He needs to realise though that he has more than 11 players to choose from.
The last change saw Zack Kotwica come on, and I have to admit surprise at seeing Harrison go off. I had expected it to be Gornell, but what it did mean that I finally had the sort of team and formation on the field that I wanted at the start.
Two wingers (three to be accurate).
Some youngsters on the field.
A bit of pace.
An outlet or two on the counter attack.
Kane Ferdinand in central midfield.
Some of the more senior under-achievers on the bench or the stand.
Thank you Mr Buckle. At last.
We finally had players on the field who could produce the unpredictable, something out of nothing - and one of them delivered in style with Kotwica's unstoppable shot.
It was good to see Zack have the confidence to have a crack in the 87th minute. It would have been easy to look for a pass, but no. It was good to see a young player like Zack take on that responsibility and he won the Lottery with a fantastic goal. No fear.
It got us the point we deserved. The point the manager deserved for his bold substitutions and brave decisions in who he left out, and who he dragged off.
I hope this goal will kick Zack on now. He needed to do something like this to remind us all of the potential he has, so let's hope this is a take-off point for him.
It might also convince the manager that he can trust his kids. You can win things with them. He does have alternatives. Have we seen the start of the changing of the guard?
Maybe. But let's not kid ourselves. It wasn't the greatest performance quality-wise, but we showed much more resilience and determination than we have in recent weeks. We have to carry on taking small steps, and this was another one.
There's no doubt we deserved something. We had 14 shots to Mansfield's five, and only allowed them two on target, one of which was the freakish goal. That says 'good defending' to me.
We know it's not going to happen overnight, so we have to take these small victories and little encouragements until the manager can get his re-building and re-moulding started in earnest.
He does have to be a bit careful as we are now only six points off the bottom two - but I like the manager's optimism, I like his uplifting interviews and I like what he has said so far.
No more arriving at 9.57am for a 10am start at training for instance. He has mentally noted the ones who are last in through the door. Coasting and comfort zones seem to be a thing of the past.
As do reputations. We got that point on Saturday without Taylor, Richards and Harrison on the pitch. They have some things to ponder as they go back into training this week.
I expect Lee Vaughan to come back in next weekend, but there are several places up for grabs this week - which is exactly how it should be. No one should feel safe.
Dropping Taylor and hooking Richards and Harrison shows that he isn't afraid of reputations and will not shirk any decisions - and maybe he does agree with some of the deficiencies as a few of us fans feel there are in the squad and team.
There may be slow progress on the pitch, but Buckle's tough-talking words and upbeat demeanour give me a little bit of optimism. January will be the first test to see if that is misguided or not.

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