Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Finishing the jigsaw

IT has been a time of transition since Paul Buckle came in, but the time is coming now when that will be over, and everything will settle down for the crucial last few months of the season.
Staff have come and gone, with Buckle, Rob Edwards and chief scout/recruitment guru John Milton arriving as Mark Yates and Shaun North left.
On the playing side too, the three Liverpool loanees, Jake Gray and now Durrell Berry have arrived - with rumours of Macclesfield winger Adriano Moke to follow.
Their arrivals have been financed by the departures of Raffa de Vita, Jason Taylor, Adam Powell and Paul Black, plus Andy Haworth's loan - and then also by the sale of Byron Harrison to Chesterfield.
That last departure is by far the most significant, and as is the same with every player who leaves the club has been met with a mixed response, almost down the middle between those who think it is a good move, and those who can't believe Buckle has got rid.
I am in the 'good move' camp. It was obvious almost from the start that Harrison was not going to be a Buckle-type player.
He likes exuberant, hard-working players who chase lost causes and put real shifts in for the team from minute one to 90 - Byron that is not.
I am afraid all too often we saw sulky Byron. Rarely did he have a smile on his face - indeed there are times when I have wondered whether he actually enjoys being a footballer at all, whether his heart is really in it.
He was always a good interview. Deep at times, a thinker, but I would sit and watch him and just want to see more 'get up and go' from him. Too many times I would think he was playing within himself and not giving it his all.
On his day he was unplayable. But I can remember many of those individual 'days'. Swindon this season, At Mansfield last Easter when we won 2-0. The fact that I can do that shows that they didn't come round very often, and certainly not often enough.
He started the first three games of Buckle's reign, scoring against Oxford, but was then benched and listed.
The final nail in his coffin at Cheltenham came at Hartlepool. We were trailing, and he was summoned from the ice box. This was his chance to really show Buckle he was wrong. Really prove a point.
But he didn't. He came on and we saw the insipid Byron, the one who didn't challenge the centre-halves, didn't give them a hard time, didn't run the channels or give us any spark at all. He did nothing to change the course of the game.
That display and the almost 'so what' reaction to being dropped was what finally showed me Buckle is right to move him on. It is best for all parties.
Yes, he scored 15 goals last season in a mediocre side, and swept the player of the year board. That came after a rocket from Yatesy at Kidderminster when he was abysmal in a pre-season game which we lost 3-1.
That was meant to be the springboard for this season - time to kick on and really become one of the division's most feared forwards and maybe attract the interest of higher-level clubs.
But it didn't happen, and he can't live off past glories. If Yates' two play-off season were irrelevant in the eyes of many fans in ultimately deciding his future, then surely Harrison's goals last year also can't come into the equation? It is all about the here and now.
His supporters will also claim he suffered from a lack of service.
That is maybe true to a certain extent, but I also feel that the 'I had no service' line is also being used as an excuse for laziness.
Look at last Saturday - Jack Dunn didn't always get great service but still looked like a goal threat and worked openings himself through hard work and endeavour, rather than just lolling around, hands on hips as Byron was prone to do on occasions. Sometimes you have to try to make the best of what you have.
People will cry 'where will the goals come from now'. Well, Harrison scored four league goals in half of this season, so do we really trust him to score another 10 in the remaining games? I don't - but yes, we do need someone to do that.
It may well be that League One will suit Byron. There is a bit less hustle and bustle, and he might get a bit more time at that level, with less chance of a big centre-half clattering him at every opportunity.
John Marquis has started well at that level on loan at Gillingham and it seems to suit him better, and I am sure if Byron does likewise the fan club will be out in force to slam Buckle for letting him go.
But they won't be heard as vociferously if Buckle can find a replacement who comes in and makes an impact - and that is now the final part of the jigsaw.
A small fee (I am guessing about £10,000) and Harrison's wages (another guess, but I'd say upwards of £1,000 a week) should, allied with the other savings, be enough for Buckle to bring someone in.
Already the agent and 'ITK' Twitter accounts have been at work, and the 'old chestnut' name of Rene Howe has cropped up.
Howe has been a pain in the neck for us in the past, notably in his Torquay days, and is certainly the type of player I would like us to bring in - a physical line-leader to hold the ball up and give us some presence.
He is now at Newport, and scored in their reserve side at Plymouth this week as he continues to find full fitness after injury.
Howe started for County at Northampton on Saturday, but that was his first start since August, and he was out for four months. His sub appearance against us over Christmas was his second game back, and he did look rusty in the 45 minutes he played.
That is the main issue with him - fitness. I remember how he went off against us in the play-off semi-final first leg for Torquay... but he had been a real handful in the 20 minutes he was on the field.
Get him fit, and there is a player there, and that has to be the key. No point signing him only for him to break down quickly, leaving us short again - but every signing is a gamble.
The rumours have grown a bit of pace with news that Newport are reportedly close to signing a forward on loan (believed to be Swindon's Miles Storey) and that could make them more amenable to an enquiry for Howe.
Buckle has to weigh this one up very carefully as this final signing could make or break us - it is the most important signing of all, the final piece of his jigsaw.
While the results have not been great on the pitch, I don't think Buckle can be criticised for the wheeling and dealing he has done so far. Everyone was crying out for new arrivals, for the squad to be overhauled and some 'dead wood' moved on. Well, it has been done.
The Liverpool lads have settled in well so far, and I just really hope we can keep them on. Jake Gray showed some promise on Saturday and will add some energy to us as he settles in and Kane Ferdinand will also be an asset I believe, if he isn't farmed out wide.
Durrell Berry is a solid performer, having played 100 games at this level and looks a good addition. Some disquiet has been heard about the award of a six-month deal, but I think it is sensible while we don't know what league we will be in next season.
While if we get Adriano Moke, we are getting one of the top assist-makers in the Conference and someone who has been a big part of Macclesfield's fine season.
A big, strong forward and keeping the Liverpool boys are the last pieces, and I think if he manages those things, Buckle will then have achieved all he could possibly have done in January.
I think is is always ideal to have two players for each position, and that is what Buckle would have achieved and we will have a very different-looking squad, which would look something like this:

Goalkeepers
Trevor Carson
Matt Gould
Harry Reynolds (scholar)

Right-backs
Lee Vaughan
Durrell Berry

Left-backs
Craig Braham-Barrett
James Bowen

Centre-backs
Matt Taylor
Troy Brown
Lloyd Jones
Jack Deaman
Steve Elliott (inj)

Central midfielders
Kane Ferdinand
Kevin Stewart
Joe Hanks
Matt Richards
Asa Hall (inj)

Wingers/attacking midfielders
Zack Kotwica
Jake Gray
Adriano Moke
Omari Sterling-James
Harry Williams

Forwards
Terry Gornell
Bobbie Dale
Jack Dunn
AN Other