Monday, 16 February 2015

Going with what we have got

Cast your minds back about a decade. Every transfer window, John Ward would be asked about new arrivals.
"We'll go with what we've got," he would reply, and the fans' forums would go into overdrive.
Now, that mantra can be used to describe today's no-brainer decision to stick with Russell Milton and Steve Elliott for the rest of the season - and everyone is delighted.
If Paul Buckle did anything for Cheltenham Town FC, he can be credited with uniting the fanbase in a way I haven't seen for a long time.
Okay, they were united against him - but they were united, and that seems only to have been strengthened with Russ and Steve taking over.
Even Martin Allen had people among the supporters who would stick up for him. Paul Buckle didn't. I've not seen any tweets or had conversations with anyone who thinks he has been harshly treated.
For several weeks, I was getting direct messages on Twitter from people telling me that one way or another we had to get him out of our club, or he would take us down. Some of those came from people within the club.
Last Friday, one of those people sent me a message. It said: "Get in, we've done it." That tells you all you need to know.
Paul Baker has talked this season about a lack of passion among our fans. The passion with which they turned against Paul Buckle was there for all to see.
Fast forward to Saturday, and you would have thought we were going for promotion such was the mood about the place. Smiles on faces, springs in steps - on and off the field.
Everyone seemed in a good mood. Even that naughty Jim Haggin got in on the act - his decision to play 'Go West' by the Pet Shop Boys was surely no coincidence. I was waiting for it to be followed by New York, New York. A chance missed Jim.
It was swiftly followed by All Together Now, and that becomes the new mantra for the last 15 games.
Board, management, players and fans are all together. That is going to be crucial as the weeks go by.
Jim's reading of the teams was greeted by hearty cheers after each name. The team was cheered and clapped off the field after the pre-match warm-up. Everything seemed different.
Then the game started. Within 17 minutes, we knew that maybe not everything was different after all.
Same old problems. Midfielders caught the wrong side of the ball, taken out by one pass, lack of mobility to get back, player left to run at the back four who can't come out and make a challenge or Trevor Carson would be exposed, accurate finish from the edge of the box, 1-0 down.
Then a two-on-one down our left-hand side (for a change...) cross to the near post, player not tracked, bundles it in, 2-0 down, mountain to climb.
At that point, I was worried. Bury were playing it around, and had one move of about 25-30 passes where were were really chasing shadows.
But to be fair, the fans seemed determined to stay with it. I heard very few grumbles, and then heard a roar when Wes Burns won a 50-50 and Denny Johnstone fired in a well-taken goal - just the spark we needed.
From then on, we gave it a go. You could not fault the spirit, and the belief in the side.
We couldn't get an equaliser, and in truth never looked like getting it as we didn't trouble Nick Pope, but Trevor Carson had nothing to do either - there were four on-target shots in the match, three went in.
But it felt like a win. There were no boos at the end as people could see the players gave it all they could.
That was typified by Lee Vaughan. Gone was the forlorn figure I spoke to at half-time at Roots Hall on Tuesday when he felt he had been pushed out, and wouldn't be playing again in a hurry.
Here he was back in the team, and his link-up with Wes Burns down the right-hand side was one of the highspots of our performance. Another was Johnstone's display up front, his non-stop running and effort typified our work ethic.
There are problems, we know that, in central defence, at left-back and in central midfield especially, and if the management team can make changes, these have to be their priorities.
We have had a soft centre for too long now, with central defence not strong enough and our midfield not mobile enough - especially with Matt Richards and Kane Ferdinand in a two.
That pair were very poor, especially Ferdinand - and if we could end the loan and send him back early I'd do it to give us another option for change.
Jordan Wynter will be back soon, and Joe Hanks must be in contention. Oh for a fit Asa Hall. He's two weeks away. Or more. I think. Shame.
Richards' set-pieces were terrible - maybe Russ can spend some time passing on some of his left-footed wizardry from free-kicks and corners, or can we just bring him on to take them, NFL 'special teams' style.
Everyone knows we have a weakness at left-back. We have had for a season and three-quarters, and I am afraid that not even 10 or 20 training sessions with the best left-back I've seen in a CTFC shirt for 35 years, Jamie Victory, would improve the current incumbent. Get JV out of retirement!! (he said, only half joking).
Steve Elliott would be welcomed back at centre half, but he will only play if his knee or body can take it.
But his priority now is to be there to back Russ as he is the man now until the end of the season.
After Saturday, it was the only decision the board could make. The fans want it, the players want it and as he said after the game, Russ wants it as well.
And it was a masterstroke to bring Steve back. His exit was the last straw with Paul Buckle as far as the majority of fans were concerned. Most of his other changes were accepted - but saying Steve wasn't wanted was a step too far.
He'd go through brick walls for this club and that's the attitude we need in these last 15 games.
Russ and Steve, along with Jamie, Steve Book and Ian Weston are people we can and want to identify with, people who we know care about our football club and will do all they can to succeed.
They have all played for us. All proudly worn the shirt. Yes, even Wesso a couple of times.
It also makes sense to bring in an experienced head to guide them and act as a sounding board for them - but it must be made clear that is the role they are taking on.
They are not the manager. They are not picking the team or deciding the tactics. They are there to advise Russ and Steve, help with coaching and organisation and to offer their experience. They also must not rock the boat around the club.
Before the game on Saturday, I was in the Nest with two CTFC stalwarts and a former director of the club. We all talked about the need for a knowledgeable head to help our rookie gaffers and all came up with the same name. John Ward.
Again, it is a no-brainer. Wardy knows the club, the fans and the board. He knows the coaching staff, and he would come in and he would be doing the job for the good of the club - not their own ego.
I have heard names like Nigel Worthington and Gary Johnson banded about but I don't want them. They would want too much control and they don't know about the fabric of the club.
We brought in an 'outsider' and it didn't work. Why do that again when you have someone like Ward, who has the experience we need and would, I feel, fit in seamlessly.
Again, the fans want him. Most of them anyway. Some have mentioned the 'boring football' we played under him, but surely we will settle for boring football if we win games - and Wardy's team when he was here knew how to win ugly.
Others have worries over what happened at Bristol Rovers last year. I don't. I think they would have stayed up had they now panicked eight games from the end and moved Ward out, putting Darrell Clarke in charge.
And he won;t be the manager anyway. Just go and get Ward. It all fits.
But I can understand the board talking to other candidates. We criticised them for not doing that when Buckle came in, so we can't have a moan at them for checking out the field this time.
Just make sure you give the job to Wardy though - and I would go further by putting him on the board... get a real footballing man on there. We could do a lot worse.
We know this decision is the last throw of the dice, but the board had little option with this one.
Buckle had to go, and it was the only decision they could have made to put Russ in charge, as they had to try to unite the club, and it has worked.
Now the hard part. Turning a team of players who have won three games in the last 25 into a side which can win six or seven games in the last 15 to keep us up.
It's going to be tough. We all know that, and by the end of the next four games I think we will have a pretty good idea if we are capable of it or not.
Accrington, Tranmere, Carlisle, Mansfield. All teams in and around us, and we need to win, I feel, at least two of these games to give us some sort of springboard.
Two wins and two draws would be huge, with a clean sheet or two to boot.
Playing on Friday, three points at Accrington would be a massive result. It would lift us up a couple of places and put the pressure on the sides playing on Saturday, when one of the games is Oxford v Mansfield. A lot of the other sides near us are playing promotion-chasers.
On the way back from Southend, I had no hope. I was ready for our inevitable relegation as we were a disunited club heading one way without so much as a whimper.
Now I have hope, real hope. I enjoyed Saturday's game, and enjoyed the atmosphere around the ground.
That needs to stay around for the next 15 games, and with that environment off the field, the players will, hopefully, respond and get the points we need.
There is positivity everywhere. The chairman is positive, Russ and Steve are positive - talk of 'when we climb the table, when we stay up'. None of this 'third from bottom is a success' rubbish.
Lee Vaughan is positive. And as I write this, Trevor Carson has tweeted this: It might sound 'Irish' after recent results, but we are in a better position to beat the drop now than we were a month ago. Believe me!!
Going with what we have got might be the best decision this club has made in a long time. It will be a rollercoaster in the next few weeks, but I now have optimism that we will be having a party on May 3 - not a wake.