Sunday 18 February 2018


Even the chairman has said it.
"It's been a messy season," Paul Baker said in his interview with Jon Palmer the other week. "A season no-one can be happy with."
Let's face it, it is a season no-one can be happy with. The chairman is frustrated, the players are frustrated, the fans are frustrated and the manager is frustrated.
A season which in fleeting glimpses promised so much is ebbing away into a lower mid-table finish (at best) and the future of the manager is under increasing spotlight.
Some fans have no doubt - he has to go. Others are equally steadfast in saying he has to stay.
I don't like these situations. It turns fans against each other with people in both camps adamant that they are right, for  example the 'out' camp are over-reacting as we shouldn't expect any more, while the 'in' camp are accused of a 'small-club' mentality, having no ambition and being 'rose-tinters' (I hate that phrase!) who are burying their heads in the sand.
All about opinions. We all want the club to succeed, but have differing views on the best way to achieve that.
I can see it from both sides. I was asked on the radio yesterday where I sit, and replied that I am 55-45 in the 'in' camp. Boring I know. Splinters...
The chairman also said Gary is under no pressure from the board. But there is no doubt some board members have their concerns.
So do the fans - and these are the things which seem to be the main issues frustrating the fanbase:

We are still in danger of the drop

Mathematically yes we are, but realistically it will take some freak results and several clubs suddenly finding promotion form while we disappear over a cliff to send us into the bottom two.
We sit 12 points ahead of Chesterfield who have 13 games left. With goal difference, they need to win five games to overtake us in those 13 games - having won seven of their first 33. Let's face it, extremely unlikely.
Between Chesterfield and us, are six teams who would also have to overtake us, several of whom are in no form at all.
Looking at the form of the bottom nine over the last five games, here are the number of points they have taken from the last 15:
Cheltenham 5, Yeovil 10, Grimsby 1 (against us...!!), Port Vale 2, Crewe 4, Forest Green 7, Morecambe 3, Chesterfield 3, Barnet 5.
So, despite our travails, of the teams below us only two are in better form than we are, and one is the same - but in my view we need three more wins to stop looking over our shoulders once and for all.

Unbalanced squad

Recruitment in the summer was an issue once again - and it wasn't rectified in January despite Paul Baker saying there was money available for Gary to use.
Mo Eisa has been a roaring success, but others less so, and the squad is still unbalanced, with the failure to sign an orthodox right-back the biggest failing - while we have seven centre-halves in Boyle, Grimes, Forster, Bower, Moore, Manny and Rodon, the latter three on loan.
We also have a plethora of midfield players - Atangana, Dawson, Pell, Morrell, Sellars, Thomas, Andrews, Winchester (when he isn't the right back) - and, despite having played 4-4-2 for a lot of the season, have no right back to naturally play there and no natural wingers.
At the top of the team, we can choose from Eisa, Graham, Adebayo, Wright, Odelusi, Lloyd and the injured Gordon.
Then yesterday we have the onset of Brown-gate... with Gary allegedly deciding against signing Scott Brown for £5k (I was told at the time that Wycombe said he could go for free, which we were happy with, and then moved the goalposts by demanding a fee when other clubs showed interest so we than pulled out - so it's all down to who you believe), before signing Jon Flatt on loan, a decision which quickly backfired.
That decision was rectified eventually by the arrival of Scott Flinders, who has solved the goalkeeping issue pretty well so far and is now here long-term.
But that only happened after Gary realised he had made a mistake with Flatt and had to move to address it (and we all know he really wanted Dillon Phillips back). A bit of mess, which sums up the season, but it's happened and Flinders has been solid enough, so we move on.

Square pegs

The unbalanced squad has caused the issue of 'square pegs' all season, with the deployment of Winchester at right-back and sometimes left-back the biggest issue.
Then before Saturday's game he was used as a right wing-back with Dawson in the middle when both players would have been naturally happier in the other positions.
Add to that the winger issue - Sellars or Morrell shunted out left, or Pell to the right, with their natural desire to come inside from the flanks leaving us very narrow with no natural width at all.


There is a growing perception that some players in the squad are undroppable, no matter their level of performance.
Grimes is the main one who has come in for criticism throughout the season after some costly errors, notably the Forest Green goal, yet he has played practically every game while Boyle among others have been left out at times.
In his defence, he has also scored winners and important goals at the other end, notably the winner against Crewe, and has had some good games along the way.
More recently, in midfield Atangana is currently the cause celebre for fans, having been left on the bench after some good performances and cameos while the perception is that others - notably Pell and Dawson - will always be on the teamsheet.

Loans against youth development

Always a bugbear of mine, and will continue to be so. We have too many.
Since we joined the league in 1999, I make it that we have had around 140 loan players - and probably one in seven of them have been any good, and left a lasting impression.
For every Jack Butland or Michael Hector, there are countless Lee Lucases or Josh Cookes - and there is no doubt in my eyes that on several occasions bringing in sub-standard loan players, many of whom are nowhere near ready for League Two football, has hindered the development of our own home-grown players.
Some will say that they haven't come through because they are not good enough. That may be true in some cases but I believe that some would have made the grade if only we had trusted them more.
After all, we have given them contracts, so we must think they have a chance of being good enough, yet in many cases they get nowhere near the team before being released after a year. For them, a wasted year.
We currently have seven loans, and can play five - and I am sorry, but what is the point of that?
Two players cannot play every week, and on Saturday we had Matt Bower sat in the stand, having given him a new contract, and talked him up as the future. See also George Lloyd - their places on the bench being taken by loanees.
Another issue is the number of loans from Bristol City, with the perception growing that we are simply doing Gary's son a favour by giving his young players experience, and developing their players ahead of our own.
It's also felt among many fans that we use the City link as a last resort - ie 'we need a player, let's see what Lee's got'.
I could accept loan players if I thought they were going to improve our team - but not all of them we have had in recent years have done that.
On the subject of playing our own players, the time never seems to be right. If we are near the bottom, we need experience to dig ourselves out (but young loanees from other clubs seem to be ok) or if we are challenging near the top, we need experience to get over the line. At some point, you need to bite the bullet.
Who knows, they might surprise us. If they don't, at least we will know for sure that they are not of sufficient quality. 
As it stands, I feel we are letting our own young players down a bit and for a club in our financial position, I think we need to get a reputation as club which will trust its' academy and give young players an incentive to work hard and improve by giving them the message that they will get a chance here.

Inconsistency and basic mistakes

This has been so frustrating, but to an extent it does come with the territory at this level - if players were consistent seven or eight out of 10s every week they wouldn't be playing for us.
We have taken Jekyll and Hyde to a new level at times though, with some excellent performances followed by some absolutely dire stuff.
It is inconceivable that the nucleus of the squad of players which ripped Mansfield and Colchester apart earlier in the season at home or showed great character to come back from 3-1 down in the 3-3 draw at Wycombe is the same one which capitualated at Stevenage or Port Vale and showed absolutely nothing in Saturday's limp second half display.
This habit we have had of conceding goals in clutches is also something which has not been addressed as it keeps happening (Saturday for instance...) and suggests a lack of mental strength to cope with letting in a goal and recovering from it.
Add to that the basic mistakes, and most players in the squad have been culpable at one time or another - but they being made accountable for them?
As I said above, the perception is that they have not, as players making errors have played on, week in, week out.

'Boring' football

At times - more often than not - it hasn't been very exciting to watch.
Of the games I have seen, I can count Mansfield at home, Colchester at home, and the second half away, the Port Vale win, the comeback against Wycombe, solid wins at Barnet and Chesterfield, the late winner against Swindon and equaliser against Luton as memorable games and moments. Not a lot in 33 games plus cups.
The mediocre has overshadowed the exciting, and some fans are being turned off by it.
Yes, football is a results game and fans want wins (especially at home), but it's also an enterntainment business, and fans want to see exciting football, wingers beating their man, getting crosses in for strikers to attack - and it's not happening at the moment.
But League Two is an attritional division. Teams come to WR and sit back, and we don't have the guile or nous to break them down - while unfortunately away from home we have been soft touch far too often.

Lack of leaders

Down the years, we have been lucky with leaders and talismans in the team. Banks, Bennett, Elliott, Downes, Storer - players who have been chest-thumpers and demanded respect and 100 per-cent commitment from those around them.
At the moment, do we have that? With so many young players it is difficult to see that many in the squad.
Winchester is not a tub-thumping captain. He leads by example with his performances and is an arm-round-the-shoulder man but I can't see him bawling someone out in the dressing room if they've made a mistake, as I am sure some of those names above would.
Some have the potential to do so - Boyle in my view is a future captain - but otherwise I don't see many others.
Looking for that calibre of players would be a high priority for me this summer.


It's a results business, and we haven't been getting enough good ones of late.
On October 7, we beat Swindon 2-1 to extend our little run of results to 13 points out of 15, and were looking in decent shape.
Since then, we have won five games in 22 - with seven draws and 10 defeats, so 22 points out of a possible 66.
Of those seven draws, one was a 0-0, and in all of the others we had to come from behind.
At any level, that run is not good enough, and other clubs have made managerial changes based on better runs of form.

The manager

I believe he is as frustrated as we are - and there is no doubt he knows the fans are unhappy as he has referenced it several times lately, with mentions of Grimes being criticised, people wanting Atangana to play and claims some fans wanted Eisa dropped.
Personally, I feel he should rise above it. Fans have opinions and I feel by mentioning it, all he does is fuels it further. Fans have opinions.
At times like these, you also get things mentioned which would normally never be an issue - for instance him not acknowledging fans after a game, and him being seen to be static on the touchline.
Personally, I have never felt that a manager shouting and yelling Steve Evans-style having any effect whatsoever on the team on the field, but it is all about perceptions.
Not acknowledging fans or fist-pumping after a win (he didn't do it against Port Vale for the first time I can remember) is perceived as meaning you don't care about them or value them, and not yelling and shouting non-stop is perceived as meaning you couldn't care less about what's happening out there.
But are people are just bored with having the same manager after almost three years?
Fans like new things - like upgrading a mobile phone, perhaps some just want a new manager as we've had this one for three years.
There is a feeling that Mark Yates stayed on too long and should have gone at least six months earlier, and maybe some are keen not to see a similar thing happen with Gary.


As I said, I can see it from both sides. 
I fully understand all the frustrations as we all expected more from this season - but the board can say we have improved - as we were 21st last season and should finish higher this time around.
Off the field we have made a £50k profit and we have a nucleus of players under contract for next season to form the basis of the squad - so they could make the case for continuity, added to the fact Gary has another year on his contract.
In fact if we finish 16th or higher it will be our best season position-wise since we lost in the play-off semis in 2012-13 (after 17th in L2, 23rd in L2, 1st in NL, 21st in L2). More justification for the board to point to improvement, if only gradual and not quick enough for some fans.
I can't see anything happening between now and May - what is the real point in unsettling things for the last 13 games? -  and I'm not totally convinced about the summer either.
I'd say it's probably 75-25 in favour of Gary still being in the dugout next August.

If there is a change

Speaking totally hypothetically, if there is a change, which kind of manager do people want?
If they want an experienced lower-league manager who knows the level, we have one of those - there aren't going to be many better ones in this category than the one we already have, are there?
Then there is the recently-retired high-profile ex-player, along the lines of Harry Kewell at Crawley, who is doing a good job after a sticky start. There are people like Craig Bellamy and Frank Lampard being talked up at various clubs. The club's profile would rise and we'd get a few more bums on seats on the name alone and surely the players would react well to having someone of that calibre in charge - but would that be too much of a risk?
Then we have the club legend. We did that with Yatesy, and there are some out there - Grant McCann is at Peterborough but who knows for how long if they don't get int he play-offs, Jerry Gill's stock is rising at Bath after spells with youth teams at Norwich and Wolves, while Michael Duff and Martin Devaney are learning their trades at Burnley and Barnsley. They know the club, they know the financial limitations and the fans would give them a chance to succeed based on their playing service.
Finally, the internal promotion. The only real candidates for this would be Aaron Downes and Russ Milton, whether that would be one or the other, or the pair in tandem. Good guys, good servants for the club, know it from top to bottom, but would that be seen as the cheap option by fans? The 'lack of ambition' which is constantly spoken about? More of the same 'old regime'?

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