Friday, 29 November 2013

Does the season start here...?

Six games unbeaten.
Seventh in the current form table.
Two successive clean sheets.
Many clubs in League Two would be delighted with those statistics from their team - yet on Tuesday night we had boos and a few sporadic 'We want Yatesy out' chants after the rather turgid Bristol Rovers stalemate.
The statistics don't tell the full story.
We, the fans, know that - and the manager also clearly does, as he embarked on a mini-rebuild with three loanees coming in ahead of the trip to Southend on Saturday.
It has been an up and down season. The results have been horribly inconsistent, the manager has been battling to find a formation and a settled side, and the fans have become increasingly frustrated.
Many games have seen comical goals given away, and far too many of them. Therefore, the manager set about the task of making us harder to beat.
Over the past few games (Tamworth apart, and I am not going to rake over that again) that mission seems to have been accomplished, but at what cost?
While we were leaking goals, we were managing to score them as well, with our front three scoring 16 goals between them already.
But as the manager has gone for prudence, the last two home games have been goalless - good at one end, and not the other - and that is the big conundrum.
Fans cry 'we are letting too many goals in' - so the manager works to shut that door.
We keep clean sheets but goals dry up at the other end - fans cry 'our midfield and strikers are rubbish'.
On that note, there isn't a great deal of love around for our players at the moment. My Twitter feed since Tuesday has been full of fans' views on various players, with few of them being complimentary.
Poor old CBB has copped most of it, with Matt Richards, David Noble, Byron Harrison and Jamie Cureton also among those in the firing line.
Away from home, the diamond was a success at Northampton, where we should have won, and Wycombe, where we did.
At home over the past week, it has not. Against Newport, we struggled at first against their 3-4-3 system, then foundered on the rock of their three giant centre-backs.
Against Rovers, we lacked the guile, pace and creativity to break down a side set up from the start for a 0-0 draw. There was no pace in the side, and that is what I am hoping these loanees will rectify.
The manager was as frustrated as the rest of us by the slow tempo, the sideways passes and the lack of penetration.
He was equally annoyed by the lack of anyone wanting to take the bull by the horns in the final third. Too often, we looked too scared to shoot.
Like we had at Tamworth, in both these home games we have been in promising positions around the box, but rather than showing that desire to shoot, or put bodies on the line, opting instead for that one extra pass.
At home we need more dynamism. Tuesday was a game we needed to take by the scruff of the neck, and go out and win, but we failed pretty dismally to do so.
The midfield, especially Richards and Noble, moved the ball too slowly, leaving the manager frequently annoyed in the dug-out.
Deering could not get into the game, we had no width bar when Sido and CBB tried to get forward, and we were blunt up top.
What it also showed, once again, is that we cannot play 4-4-2. Between the Newport and Rovers games, I saw many calls for '4-4-2 with two wingers'. When Zack Kotwica and Jermaine McGlashan came on, we played that. It didn't work, and we were second best in those last minutes against Rovers.
The squad needed freshening up, and the manager has done just that, for which he deserves credit, with Toby Ajala, Connor Goldson and Kemar Roofe coming in.
All three will add competition, put a few 'cosy' players on their toes a bit more, and hopefully give us the jolt we need.
I think it is also a good move to send Kotwica to Gloucester for a few games. He has great talent and promise, but 90 minutes in the Skrill North will do him more good than the odd 10-15 minutes in the dying embers of a game for us.
Then there is Ashley Vincent. He has basically been the deadest of dead wood for us since coming back. The odd unimpressive cameo, and that's it.
The manager sees him in training, and in reserve games, and he clearly has done nothing to merit anything more.
Whether it is the wrong attitude of the family issues which have dragged him down I don't know, but whatever it is, it is a huge disappointment.
There was talk of him turning down a loan move to Hereford, and of interest from Tranmere, which didn't materialise into anything concrete.
Ajala and Roofe are attacking, wide players, and with Kotwica having also moved ahead of him, it will be the bench at most for Ashley.
All three loanees got positive vibes on Twitter from fans of clubs they either play for or have been at on previous loans, especially Goldson, described by more than one Shrewsbury fan as their best centre-back. He can also play right-back.
(NB - I did want to embed the actual tweets in here, but that feat proved to be above my technological nous. Apologies, but go through my timeline @MarkHalliwell1 and you should find them).
He has played 18 times this season in League One, and 45 games in all, and with that experience I cannot see him coming here as cover, or as a bench-warmer. I expect him to play.
Add to that the fact that nothing more frustrates a lot of our fans when loan players arrive and sit on the bench. Immediate condemnation of them as a waste of money ensues. A valid point in many cases - but not all.
But for one of them at least to be dropped may seem harsh on a back four (our only four...) who have kept two clean sheets in a row, but CBB and Steve Elliott, are, by my calculations, on four yellows apiece.
There has been some disappointment that only one defender arrived, but Matt Richards can drop to left back if needed, and Jason Taylor to centre-half (at a massive push, and in the direst of circumstances only please - I am still getting over Bury...) so there is cover of sorts.
The Twitter guesses on what the back four may be for Saturday all point to bad news for poor old CBB. As I said, not much love there.
Goldson, Elliott, Brown and a switch to the left for Sido or a drop back for Richards seems to be the way most people want to go.
There have been a few calls for 3-5-2 with Goldson, Elliott and Brown, but that seems a bit radical to me, as in four years we have never played three at the back, unless chasing a game.
CBB had a good game at Wycombe, a tough time against Newport and was okay against Rovers. That seems to be the problem with him - you don't know what you are going to get.
He is suffering from constant unfavourable comparisons to Billy Jones, especially when coming forward and getting crosses in, and it has been a tough baptism for him.
But Yates has pinned his nails to the mast on this one, and is sticking by his man - so could Sido be for the high jump again?
Not his normal self for a while, with some frankly comical errors thrown in, he sat out one game (Tamworth, a good one to miss!) then after a chat with Yates, is back in and has done well for the past three games.
Elliott has been imperious since his return at half-time at Tamworth, with Brown a more than able deputy, so it will be interesting to see which way he goes.
Whatever he does, someone can feel a bit unlucky to miss out - even the under-fire CBB, as after all he has been part of a defence which has kept two clean sheets in a row... and we haven't done that much this season.
The other two arrivals will pep up the midfield and attacking options further.
We have lacked that left-sided balance, and I think Ajala will solve that - but I don't expect us to go to Southend with 4-4-2 and two wingers, but I do see a 4-5-1/ 4-2-3-1 system as a big possibility - the 2010-11 system revisited.
Some won't like that as they want two up front, and it means that two of Harrison, Cureton and Gornell will be benched, but for these two away games I can see us going that way.
I see Ajala and McGlashan out wide in support of the one front man (take your pick from the three - there is an equal case for all of them, I think), and then it comes down to the midfield three.
I don't see Roofe getting in the starting line-up straight away, although his description as an 'attacking, creative midfielder' could see Sam Deering under pressure for that 'in the hole' position.
Russ Penn will also have something to say, and feel he might merit a recall, especially after the less-than-impressive displays from Deering, Taylor, Noble and Richards in the last two games.
The latter two especially have produced some pretty abysmal set-pieces, so if any of the new trio can take a mean corner or free-kick, they might have a bigger shout of a start!
I thought Taylor was the best of that quartet overall, especially against Newport, and I would have him and Noble as two of the three in my midfield.
The other place is between Penn, Deering, Roofe and Richards. There has been a clamour for Penn's return, and yes, he is our captain, but that is no guarantee of a place.
He has not been his usual self, but who has in our squad bar Scott Brown?
Deering is very hit and miss, but is more effective away, while Richards may not suit the quicker, incisive style Yates is clearly looking for as he plays at that slower pace - but he may find a home at left-back...
Roofe is a bit more of an unknown quantity, and I am not sure Yates would want to put all three loanees into the side straight away.
So - what would my team be? - Brown; Goldson, Brown, Elliott, Sido; Noble, Taylor; Ajala, Penn, McGlashan; Cureton. Subs: Roberts, CBB, Deering, Richards, Roofe, Harrison, Gornell.
That leaves Vincent and Joe Hanks out of the 18, with Kotwica and Ed Williams getting games elsewhere.
It is nice to have options and choices. The manager is not everyone's cup of tea at the moment, but you can't fault his knack of getting players to the club - and on paper these three look like decent captures.
Proof will be in the playing, but we have to trust his judgement, which, even his harshest critic has to admit, has been more hit than miss over the past four seasons.
So it is neck on the block time for him. He has done all he can now until January, and has this group of players to mould into a winning team and formation.
This is a big month coming up - by the time the window re-opens in January, despite how tight this division is you feel we will know if we are going to make that play-off push, or whether we are resigned to a mid-table season.  I am not even contemplating the third possibility by the way...
Finally, the season would appear to start here!

Friday, 22 November 2013

Getting the Lowe-down...

When Pete Matthews and I get the team sheet on the Whaddon Road gantry tomorrow, at around 2.15pm, we should be able to hazard a pretty good guess at what our back four will be.
In fact, if the betting companies accepted these kinds of bets, we could all clean up with a guess of Jombati, Elliott, Troy Brown and Braham-Barrett.
After all, that's all we have got left.
That, as I can fully understand, is the main problem many people have with the departure of Keith Lowe before we have seen a replacement coming in.
Yes, of course there has been the usual gnashing of teeth at the exit of Lowe, a cult hero, the squad's Mr Reliable, to go (as Nigel Worthington has said) to York to be their defensive organiser.
The truth is that since the arrival of Sido on to the scene at Bristol Rovers in October 2011, (only a few months after Lowey was voted player of the year), Keith has been largely a cover player.
Never a first choice at right-back or centre-half after that, but a man you could rely on to come in, give 100 per cent and weigh in with the odd goal.
But it seems like Billy Jones, Darryl Duffy and Alan Bennett, he will be elevated to some sort of Messiah-like status, and talked about with dewy eyes among Cheltenham fans for years to come.
The same fans who lamented Jones' defending against wingers, Bennett's lack of pace and admitted to being 'worried' at the prospect of Lowe playing centre-half for any length of time will suddenly forget all that and watch intently for every goal he scores for York and every man of the match award he receives as more sticks to beat the manager with.
Similar to Andy Gallinagh - another on the God-list - Lowe is the kind of player every squad needs - but is he the kind of player who plays 35-40 games in a team which is capable of getting promtion?
But never mind that - he has joined the list of crowd favourites who have gone, so therefore the manager is an idiot and these players leaving is suddenly akin to some sort of heinous crime.
As Jones' replacement, CBB, and Bennett's, Troy Brown, are finding out now, the man who comes in to fill Keith's shoes will be forever compared, and probably unfavourably. All the best to them.
If CBB changed his name to Billy Jones, he might have a chance with some fans. Same goes for Brown where Bennett is concerned. Neither has (in my view) deserved the torrent of negativity they have received.
True, Brown's detractors have become fewer in number, but CBB has been slaughtered almost non-stop.
Being moved to right-back at Tamworth has made that worse, but that wasn't ultimately his decision. Yet he seems to be the scapegoat for that result, despite the strikers missing chances galore.
His mis-kick started the move for the goal maybe, but the ball went across the field, then came into our box where is wasn't dealt with before Chadwick scored. But why let the facts get in the way of a chance to scapegoat a player?
As I said in the past, if people put as much energy into backing the players we have now as they do into wringing their hands over the ones who have left, we might be in a better position.
I like Keith Lowe. As has been said in this blog before and by me on the radio during games, he is a good professional, a reliable player who has never let CTFC down. But the bottom line is that Yates knows he needs to make us better and that means he has to make difficult decisions.
He has shown before that he is not swayed by sentiment as other managers have in the past. He can be brutal at times - see Goulding, Bennett and Jones (in this case by the way, thank goodness those lurid rumours have finally been blown out of the water... well done to Jon Palmer and Billy himself on that front).
Yates is decisive when it comes to players' futures and is not afraid of difficult, unpopular decisions. Like any manager, all of those decisions have been heavily questioned and not all of them have worked out. But some of them have.
After the fans' forum last Thursday, the odds on at least one player being moved out shortened dramatically.
A loan signing was vetoed, so the theory I have is that Yates furnished the board with a list of players who could be loaned out. An educated guess would be that list included Ashley Vincent and Lowe, and maybe also Steve Elliott and Sido.
Vincent is a gimme, and I understand he turned a loan move down, believed to be to Hereford.
Elliott and Sido haven't covered themselves in glory at times this season and have had little rests lately. They came back strongly on Saturday though.
Lowe was the outside bet on that list, but as the cover man, he would be the dispensable one. He was the one dropped at Wycombe last weekend, when Steve and Sido came back in. Both had good games, and we won.
But for the Tamworth defeat, this would not have happened, as a win there would have brought money in and I am sure Yates would have been allowed to add to the squad without the need for a departure.
That game was an aberration. A bad game for the manager and players, and Lowe has been the sacrificial lamb (pardon the pun...) for that. He might not be the last one if Yates feels the need for more changes.
From Lowe's perspective, his contract is up in the summer, and being honest I could not see him getting a new one here, so I suspect he and his agent weighed up the options and Keith decided to head North.
I am sure a permanent move will happen, and I suspect we will get a small fee for the remainder of Lowe's contract as well as losing his wages from the budget, so Yates wins as he can get a loanee or two, and Lowe wins as it looks like he will be a first choice.
Good luck Lowey, and thanks for what you did for us.
But on the minus side, there is no loanee tomorrow, and I can understand the concerns over our four only fit defenders in two locallish-derbyish games against Newport and Bristol Rovers. I share them.
We have Matt Richards to cover at left-back if needed, but that's about it, otherwise it's Jason Taylor at centre-back - not something which would be high on my wish-list - or some more of our all-conquering youth team might be making a step up.
I am sure Yatesy could have brought a player in yesterday or today, but he will say, as he has in the past, it has to be the right player - someone who will improve the squad and be in contention for the first team.
Some fans have said we will sign 'some old nobody'. What were Luke Garbutt, Michael Hector and Jack Butland? Hardly household names, and they did ok, but some are, of course, too quick to write people off.
It's instant success, or the instant scrapheap these days it seems. Patience is very much a thing of the past, unfortunately.
The loan deadline is next Thursday, and there is, of course, the possibility he could sign someone on Monday or Tuesday to be in contention for the Rovers game.
But tomorrow there will be sharp collective intakes of breath every time Sido, Steve, Troy and CBB go to ground or look like they are limping in any way at all...
But apart from the defensive numbers, I contend we go into these home games in pretty good shape. Once again, I don't get the negativity.
I was told on Saturday at Wycombe by some fans that our first-half display was 'crap'. I don't know what some people want, or expect, I really don't.
I thought we passed it nicely, went a bit more direct when we had to, and most importantly came away with a decent win. We showed good character, and finally got some luck going our way with the winner, but I think we have earned that.
Bottom line is we are a League Two club, with League Two players, who the manager is trying to get the best out of, and in recent league games we have picked up.
Our first eight games brought six points. The next eight have brought 14, and we have won four, drawn two and lost two of those games, so we are improving, no matter what the nay-sayers will try to claim.
That run of form over the last eight games is the sixth best in the division. We are unbeaten in four games, and have one defeat in six. A run like that is hardly time to get the lifeboats out, is it? Some would have us believe so.
I keep getting told it's results that count, yet people still moan about the style of football. OK, do you want us to lose playing like Barcelona, or find a style which suits our players and might see us win more than we lose?
The diamond seems to suit the players we have, and I think it is bringing the best out of players like David Noble, Sam Deering and Jason Taylor. The front three have been a bonus this season, with 16 goals between them already.
The players we have don't suit a 4-4-2 system with flying wingers, and with our defensive difficulties that wouldn't work anyway - far too open.
Yates has to be a bit more pragmatic, and the diamond is a bit more secure, with the man at the base, but we have proved it can get us on the front foot and create chances. Granted, we haven't always taken them.
Yates has said there is not a lot wrong overall, and I agree with him. But there is one pretty major thing wrong, our defence.
That is what he is concentrating on trying to get right, but we might have to be patient while he brings the players he wants to change it with, and they bed in. That might also mean some more favourites falling by the wayside. More teeth-gnashing awaits, no doubt.
The mistakes have been our Achilles heel, and no one has lost more points from winning positions than our tally of 14 - we have led in six games, of which we have gone on to lose two (Bury, Rochdale) and draw four (Burton, Oxford, Northampton, York).
Yes we are 17th, but six points off seventh. Nine points off the top if you want to be really optimistic. Not many do for some reason, so for them I will say we are also six points off 23rd. Happy now? Good.
At least four points from six this week, and no defensive injuries would be just about ideal, then a loanee or two in time to go to Southend and Morecambe, and maybe a few more might join the happy camp.
I hope so.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

A winter of discontent...?

I have a confession to make - I am not enjoying this season very much.
I am probably not alone in this, but the reason for this malaise is not exclusively our stop-start form punctuated by ever-more ridiculous individual errors and some managerial mistakes culminating in Saturday's hugely disappointing FA Cup exit - there are a few other things dragging me down as well.
My main issue is the nauseating proliferation of rumours and conspiracy theories floating around the club.
I know - I should get a thicker skin, just turn a blind eye and ignore them, but they just wind me up.
It seems that barely a day can go by without another spurious story appearing, mostly surrounding the manager and his supposed actions away from the dugout, with some fans seemingly wanting to outdo each other in a frankly childish 'I know something you don't know' kind of way.
If I see another forum post or Twitter direct message with the line 'my source at the club told me...' I will scream.
Unfortunately, it is public knowledge that his marriage has broken up. The reasons for that are not the business of anyone bar him, his wife and their children, who will be suffering enough without having to put up with total strangers speculating as to the reasons why.
I don't believe his job as manager of our football club gives people the right to peddle tittle-tattle about him as some sort of fact.
The club will be aware of these tales, and if there is anything to be concerned about, they will act on it as, like any company, they have disciplinary procedures. They haven't done so, so obviously there is nothing to be concerned about. So time to ignore it all and move on, as these things are not helpful given our league position.
There is a fan's forum tonight, and I hope some of these warriors will turn up and ask the manager and chairman straight in a courteous and respectful way. It would make a change from talking about the Whaddon Road catering, and why we bring all 11 men back for corners.
The problem is, they seldom do turn up. Their reasoning for this is usually  'what's the point, we will hear the same old excuses' or 'I'm not listening to club propaganda' - in other words, they either are not interested in or don't want to believe what the powers that be will tell them anyway.
It might bruise their egos and mean their so-called 'source' is actually talking utter nonsense, and blow their carefully-maintained conspiracy theories out of the water. Can't have that, now can we...?.
We keep getting told that football is a results business, and in my view, that is all any manager should be judged on unless they have done something really bad which will bring the club into disrepute. There is no getting away from the stark reality that Yatesy needs to win some more football matches quickly.
I know people will now throw Martin Allen at me here. I maintain that his record of 12 wins in 61 games was more than enough to get him the push no matter what he did or didn't get up to elsewhere.
But the rumours aren't just restricted to Mark Yates. Every time we see a player dropped to the bench or out of the squad, or whenever we are told a player is injured, the conspiracies start that this is the end of them, and they are about to be bombed out.
Steve Elliott is the latest in that firing line. I even saw tweets after Saturday's game speculating that his waving to the crowd after the game was some sort of farewell gesture. For goodness sake - some people really take 'reading between the lines' to another level.
Jermaine McGlashan has been out for a few games. I await the speculation about a transfer request to start soon. The recent absence of Ashley Vincent with a family problem was treated with the usual scepticism.
These theories of course comes from the ruthless decisions taken by the manager in the past regarding players, but leaving a player out for a game or two does not mean they are getting ready to pack their bags.
In Steve's case, I think in some games this season he has started to show signs of his 35 years - Portsmouth especially, when Agyemang bullied him for his goal, and also at Bury.
I think he needed a rest, but his second half display on Saturday was probably the only miniscule crumb of comfort we can glean from what has to be the low point of the season, and one of the worst moments of the manager's reign. It was good to see him back - and if only that scissor kick had gone in...
But we got what we deserved on Saturday. Yes it was a penalty, yes we had a few chances - but we allowed ourselves to be bullied out of the Cup in a rather limp manner.
Some players need to look at themselves, and after the game Mark was right to question the desire and motivation of some of them - but I was a little bit disappointed that he didn't take a bit more of the blame himself.
His starting team selection was totally wrong in my opinion, and something he didn't need to do with the players he had available.
If you include having Lowe at centre-half and Richards at left-back, he fielded five players out of position, with Deering, Gornell and poor old CBB the others.
It handicapped us straight away - it was like sending them out with one arm behind their backs, and surely contributed to the terribly lacklustre and disjointed first half. None of them looked comfortable and the personnel changes had to be a big factor.
The second-half back four should have started in my view, with Richards at the bottom of the diamond, Deering at the top, and Harrison and Gornell up front.
What? No Cureton, I hear you cry...? No. Not on the evidence of the previous two games, He barely had a kick against York.
While he has scored three times, has missed some pretty gilt-edged chances along the way - Scunthorpe at 1-0 springs to mind, a couple at Northampton and then two (one in each half) on Saturday which you would expect a man with 250 league goals to take.
Harrison went into Saturday with three goals in three games, and Gornell has been the pick of the new boys this season. It was almost as if the manager didn't want to make that difficult decision which of the three to drop, so played them all.
However it left him with very little option to change things late in the game as we were chasing it with all his forward options already on the pitch, bar throwing Kotwica on and Elliott up front in almost a 2-3-5 system for the last 15-20 minutes.
But in some ways he had little choice overall, which again he has to take a lot of the blame for. Sido had to be dropped after last week's calamity added to the Rochdale nightmares.
But the unbalanced nature of the squad he has assembled meant Yates was left with only four defenders, CBB, Lowe, Brown and Elliott, so Richards was again used in a position which, deep down, he doesn't want to play in, and CBB was switched over to right back, a role we were told post-match he can play. Well, I hope I don't see him play there again as he never looked comfortable.
But that's not CBB's fault. In the end I felt sorry for the guy. He didn't decide that was where he is going to play. He was doing the job he was instructed to do, I suspect as we were worried about Mark Wright down the left-hand side.
Compare that paucity of defenders to our proliferation of midfield players - Penn, Taylor, Noble, Richards, Deering, McGlashan, Kotwica, Vincent, Hanks, Ed Williams and now Harry Williams too can all do a job in the centre or out wide. 11 players. Yes, three of them are first-year pros (one out on loan) and one a scholar, but still, it's too many. Not quite on the Bobby Gould level, when at one time we had 14 midfielders, but close.
Compare that to the defence. I know, the injuries haven't helped with Brown, Elliott and CBB all being out at some point or another, but there has been no one to slot in naturally, hence why we needed the Inniss and Wilson loans, and needed another square peg in Taylor to drop back.
Surely seven defenders and eight midfielders would be a better mix?
Now Sido's drastic loss of form and confidence has become another headache - I would not be surprised if one of these two loans we are chasing is a right-sided full-back (this is a hunch by the way ... I don't have a source at the club...!).
Having sorted out the attack, the defence is now the headache, partly down to lack of personnel and also down to the rash of individual errors afflicting them.
We have been spoilt for the past two seasons. First, Sido/Lowe-Bennett-Elliott-Garbutt, and then last term Sido/Lowe-Bennett/Hector-Elliott-Jones served us well.
Bennett was moved on and Hector came in. He was always short-term and the replacement was always going to be key. For what it is worth, I think Troy Brown has done well, and been our best defender - but without much competition, it has to be said.
Last season's weak link defensively was Jones, but he made up for it with set-piece deliveries which brought us goals, and this masked his defensive deficiencies.
Richards has taken over his set-piece mantle, and scored goals as well as setting them up, but Jones has suddenly become some Messiah-like figure for some of those same fans who were criticising his defending for most of last season.
These approaches for two loans are interesting. Depending on which side of the Yates in/Yates out debate you sit, it is either the board saying 'this is our manager and we are backing him' or 'this is a last throw of the dice to see if he can turn it round'.
I sit on the fence here. I think the next four games are important, and a couple of wins should give him some breathing space with his (it has to be said ever-growing) number of critics.
There is a two-week break now in early December, and if the board decided they felt the time was right for change, that would be as opportune time as any to bring it about.
But I don't want that to happen. The last two seasons has, in my view, seen Mark deserve some time, and I find it disconcerting that critics see fit to label those seasons as 'failures' and rather than limited successes with a Wembley visit and two good Cup runs.
Yes they were punctuated with bad defeats and a few odd decisions, Goulding in and Penn on the bench at Wembley, Duffy out of the icebox suddenly against Northampton being two which are used frequently as a stick to beat him with. The critics want to remember the 8-1 at Crewe, not the 3-0 demolition of Southend, or the 3-1 stroll at Oxford. In his previous seasons, he has got more right than wrong.
This season, however, that hasn't been the case if I am honest. But the board are backing him, and those getting ever more thirsty for change may still have a long time to wait.
He won't be helped by Dave Kevan's departure either. Results didn't change much in his time here - nine games before he arrived, won 2 drawn 3 lost 4 and 10 games with him won 3 drawn 3 lost 4 - but he seemed useful tactically and as a sounding board for Yates and Howarth - an extra, different voice around the place two days a week and on matchdays.
He got the credit for the Dagenham win and was sent out post-match after the Morecambe win to take the plaudits - but immediately handed them back to Yates.
He won't be replaced, but Yates and Howarth have coped fine without any extra help in the past, and will have to do so again.
With boring predictability, the departure has seen the return of the boring 'what does Neil Howarth contribute' line once again. So disrespectful to someone who has worked hard to get where he is, and is, after all now a UEFA A licenced coach - not someone described recently by one of our fans as 'just being given a free ride by his mate'.
With the loans, I wonder where the money is coming from after the Cup exit turned off that form of revenue and we are being told that the budget is used up, and is one of, if not the biggest we have ever had.
I would have suspected that someone would need to go out, and the only real candidate is Vincent. His return just hasn't worked out.
He was on the back foot anyway coming in two weeks into pre-season, in my view a panic buy after the Ashley Grimes u-turn, and he has never caught up.
He has made no impression in games, first-team or reserve, and we can presume the same in training either as he has not started and has needed a 'mini pre-season' with Ian Hutton. Throw in the family problems and it has not been a happy return.
His problems and these loan approaches have co-incided with Kaid Mohamed leaving Port Vale for AFC Wimbledon until January, and brought out a rash of another bugbear of mine (sorry, I know there is a few of those...) - harking back to old players.
Yes, there has been the expected snide 'I knew he wouldn't cut it in League One' digs from those who were not fans of his, and the 'I wish we had got him back' from those who recognise what he brought in terms of goals, assists and pace to quickly turn defence into attack.
But he has gone. So have Marlon Pack, Luke Summerfield, Neil Grayson, Jamie Victory, Chris Banks, Alan Bennett and Billy Jones. All did their bit for us, and we have great memories of them, but that is what they are. Memories. They have gone, and are not coming back.
Neither for that matter is Steve Cotterill, so let's forget that one as well.
So let's get over it, and concentrate on trying to back the players we have got.
They need it, and maybe if some fans concentrated on that and showed each other some mutual respect rather than moaning about who wants to sing at games and who doesn't, debating the whys and wherefores of smoke bombs, which are, let's face it, illegal and labelling each other as grasses, maybe we would help bring about some wins, which we all want, isn't it?

Friday, 1 November 2013

Green shoots?

Dare I be positive...?
After a season where false dawns have appeared with monotonous regularity only to be replaced quickly by more darkness, the last two performances have been highly encouraging.
A change of formation which allows (finally) most players to be placed in familiar positions has been the key to that, and finally we have seen some signs of the squad performing as we know it can.
In our horribly inconsistent start, we have been fortunate that this disease has spread all around League Two. No side has really strung anything together.
We all thought Chesterfield would walk it, but they have found themselves stuck in glue recently.
Top spot in the division has been passed around a parcel at a kids' party.
Sooner or later, someone has to unwrap the prize in the middle, and no-one is yet out of the running - even us.
"I'll have some of what he's on," I hear some of you cry. But it is true. Clubs have recovered from poor starts to go up or make the play-offs on countless occasions.
Yes, clubs have gone down as well - but let's keep the glass half-full shall we?
Turning domination into wins is, however, key to those chances of getting that momentum going, and we can't afford to throw chances like last Saturday away.
But first, Morecambe - a team who came to us on an unbeaten streak, and went home with tails between their legs.
I don't feel manager or team got the credit they deserved for this win.
I saw the first half described as 'awful' in some quarters. Can't agree with that - I thought after two early chances which Scott Brown saved well, we were not in trouble.
I know crediting the manager seems taboo in some quarters as there are those out there who have decided they want him out no matter what he does.
Therefore, there were some churlish reactions to the victory - "we missed a penalty" - "they had 10 men" - "we should have been 2-0 down"
Penalty miss was irrelevant in the long run, while the 10 men was out of our control - we play what is in front of us and we did that (I felt) superbly.
Often, we have seen teams (including ourselves) struggle against 10 men, as they are galvanised and gain spirit from the disadvantage - but not this time. They seemed utterly demoralised and we capitalised on it.
The manager freshened the side up, with Terry Gornell, Sam Deering and David Noble coming in, and all three had superb games - the spell on the sidelines has clearly done the trick for their motivation.
The midfield was interesting. It was nominally a diamond, but Deering, Noble, Jason Taylor and Jermaine McGlashan were very interchangeable, and it was very fluid and effective.
Gornell was superb - my man of the match, and he capped it with a great goal, the all-important second. I think he has been a superb signing, the pick of the summer recruits in my eyes.
Byron Harrison did well to react to an error and put away the third, and all in all it was a hugely satisfying performance.
There were some who felt it was win or bust for the manager. I am not among them, as I feel we were still a way away from any potential tipping point there. But happily things have all gone quieter on that front, for now at least. Until the next defeat...
The support at home to Morecambe was superb, with the 'ole's' and chants of we want four - there may not have been many there, but they got behind the team, and the same was definitely true at Northampton. The backing there was as good as it has been at an away game for ages.
At Sixfields we kept up that momentum with probably our best 90-minute performance of the season so far - well, 89 minutes 58 seconds, anyway...
Those missing two seconds when David Noble's perfect through ball bisected Keith Lowe and Troy Brown, and everything (notably a couple of points) went out of the window.
But let's be positive again.
The narrow diamond of Deering, Noble, Taylor and Russ Penn (for the injured McGlashan) worked to a tee. I thought Deering was superb, it was one of Taylor's best games for us, Noble used the ball well (bar once) and Penn, after a early knock, was his usual self - energised again by being given a game off.
Harrison and Gornell were paired up after their goal each, Harrison got another one, but I felt Gornell didn't hit the heights of the Morecambe game.
Cureton came on for Noble - a good move as at least it showed some ambition - we wanted to win the game, and we had chances to do it... at least three good ones in the second half alone. Always a bad sign for a home team when their goalkeeper is man of the match.
This reminded me of the Wycombe game last year. Same domination but ultimately same result.
Defensively, I felt we were untroubled. I think Troy Brown and Keith Lowe have done well in recent games together. Lowe never lets us down, and Brown seems to be settling in after his injury-hit start.
I have to admit I prefer Matt Richards at left-back. He is disciplined in his positioning, and gets forward well to deliver with his left foot (dare I say it, Billy Jones style...) when necessary. I would like him to stay there.
And dare I say Sido seems to have knuckled down a bit too, but I still get the shudders when he attempts one of his hacked clearances!
In the last four games - Daggers, Dale, Morecambe and Northampton - we have conceded only four goals, all from errors, and none through good work from the opposition. It remains our Achilles heel. If we can cure it...
Going forward, we have three strikers who can score goals, and midfielders who can create chances for them, while also being mindful of the threats, and a defence who (most of the time) can deal with what comes their way.
Another concern I have is squad depth. Our bench on Saturday consisted of Cureton, CBB (who would have come on only in a dire emergency), Roberts, Hanks, Kotwica and Harry Williams.
Northampton also had six on their bench, but they have seven first-teamers out. We had McGlashan, Elliott and Vincent out.
It shows that it doesn't take much for us to be down to the bare bones. No disrespect to Joe, Zack and Harry by the way - to be honest I would rather us bring our own players on and give them a chance rather than loan in people ahead of them.
But it is a fine balance. There are some who say the 'kids' have not done it when they have been given a chance, but they are feeling their way.
For clubs like us, our own youngsters have to be the way forward, and I back theclub in going down that route rather than streams of loanees with no affiliation. Look where that got us.
Back to consistency, and tomorrow we play York, who are another example of the lack of it. Not many would have seen a 4-1 win over Scunthorpe coming, would they?
But I hope we can maintain the momentum built up against Morecambe and Northampton, and put together three decent performances in a row.
We haven't done it yet. but hey, let's be positive...

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Where does the buck stop?

It is two minutes into injury time.
Your team has not played fantastically well, but then again, neither have your higher-placed opposition.
Both sides have cancelled each other out. The score is 1-1, and you would therefore take a point against an in-form side.
Then, on the edge of your own penalty area, one of your midfielders shapes to clear the ball.
From nowhere, your right-back then decides to charge in from 10-15 yards away, in an attempt to clear the same ball.
The result is that the ball squirts to the feet of the opposition winger, who (to be fair to him) produces an exquisite chip into the corner for the winning goal.
Sounds pretty farcical and far-fetched, and I would have thought it was, had I not witnessed it with my own eyes at around 4.55 on Saturday afternoon.
It took me more than 48 hours to be brave enough to watch it, and still now I cannot actually work out what on earth went through Sido's brain to make him decide that course of action would be a good idea.
As a manager already under pressure from some fans after a worse than expected start to a season, what are you supposed to do?
No end of training ground drills, no end of dressing room inquests, no end of DVD viewings can legislate or prevent that sort of brain aberration - and yet it is that sort of thing which could, ultimately further down the line, cost someone his job.
Yesterday, we saw Dave Hockaday fired down the road at Forest Green after their poor run of results.
Some of the players took to Twitter expressing their sadness, with one asking why people were so pleased that a person had lost their job and livelihood.
My response to that was that maybe if that player and his colleagues had won a few more football matches, that scenario would not have happened in the first place - and it asks that question again - where does the buck stop?
On Saturday, what could Mark Yates have done to prevent Sido's brain storm? The answer to that is nothing at all - yet it is Yates who had had all the flak in the past 48 hours. But was he totally to blame for the defeat?
The way that game played out on Saturday, I would have taken a 1-1 draw, and moved on. We didn't deserve to win the game, yet I didn't feel we deserved to lose it either.
The post-match stats say we had one shot on target, Troy Brown's on-the-line diversion which put us ahead, and Dale had two - Henderson's header and his winning chip.
We apparently didn't have another shot, which will delight Russ Penn, as he can erase his pretty bad miss, seconds after the equaliser, from his memory and claim it never happened. Yet it was the clearest-cut chance of the whole game.
From very early on, it was a game of chess. Attritional, played out mainly between the two penalty boxes.
Neither goalkeeper made a save of note in the whole game, both sets of centre-halves dominated the opposing strikers as the build-up play was promising as far as the 18-yard lines, but that was as far as it got.
The quality from there on was lacking, our crossing was poor, set-piece quality low - typified by Braham-Barrett making a great run down the left on more than one occasion, then failing to provide any sort of cross whatsoever.
Yet that was the same for Dale. They didn't look like a side on a good run of form, and scarcely looked like really being able to hurt us - from 20-25 minutes in, the tone of our radio commentary was that it would be a one-goal, maybe one-chance game.
So when Troy's goal came, I thought that was going to be that... and maybe it should have been, and here comes the time when the manager would earn his corn.
Keith Hill made a triple change with 20 minutes to go, and visibly enthused his side. The fresh legs gave them a new impetus, and we were hanging on.
As we have seen in the past - not only under this manager but all the way down the years - we seemed to drop deeper and deeper, defending not on our 18-yard line, but almost on the penalty spot.
Yates changed the system, Harrison and McGlashan moving wider and Cureton on his own down the middle, but stuck with the same personnel, even though some seemed to be flagging.
The equaliser seemed inevitable, yet again was preventable, and not (in my view) a direct result of a lack of substitutions, but more a decent cross whipped in, and Sido losing his marker on the far post resulting in a free header two or three yards out.
Then came Penn's miss, and ultimately the horror show that was the last-gasp winner, and from a position of strength, the manager is again in the eye of the storm  - and not totally of his own making.
For the record, I would have made some sort of change. I do feel that was a mistake not to in the hope of giving us the same lift that the Dale subs did - but what and who to change?
If the system was changing to put two players wider, I would have taken Harrison off, maybe for Vincent or Kotwica - but Harrison has a greater work-rate and would track back (although he was culpable of letting Donnelly have space to cross for the equaliser after finding himself in the left-back position...).
I feel there was little scope to change any of the midfield three. He already had his three workers on the field - Penn, Taylor and Richards. To have taken one of them off for Noble or Deering would not have increased the work rate in there, which had been good throughout the game.
The back four had been comfortable, so there was no reason to take any of them off, as you could not forsee what our right-back had up his sleeve for stoppage time.
I asked Yates afterwards about the lack of subs, and he said the only player he might have taken off would have been Cureton, but he was our best hope for a goal.
The growing number of critics will interpret that as Yates thinking about that change, but not doing it as he was scared to after JC moaned about coming off at Dagenham. I hardly think he would worry about that, however, given some of the ruthless decisions he has made in the past weeks and months.
But we are all managers, we would all do things differently - yet ultimately it is Yates' decisions which count.
He opted not to make any changes, and although many disagree with that, me included, I would contend that that decision was not a massive contributing factor in us losing that game.
We lost it because of one decision, by one player, in the heat of the moment. It might cost him a seat on the bench tonight (again) and for a few games after that, but it might cost his manager a bit more than that.
You can play tippy-tappy stuff like Barcelona, or try to dog out wins in attritional games like Saturdays, but ultimately if you are not winning games regularly, then things will get sticky for you.
On Saturday before the game, I got to go into the dressing room with my son, who was mascot for the day. It was the first time in more than 30 years of watching this club that I have been in there. Good banter was flying, they all seemed in good spirits, and united.
I didn't sense a 'lost' dressing room, and overall I don't sense an imminent change on the horizon. I am sure there have been discussions at board level as this is a results-based industry, but I just cannot see anything happening quickly.
Remember the chairman's programme notes from earlier in the season when he talked about players' attitudes and effort levels not being where they should be. It is clear where he was putting the blame, and it is not (wholly) at the manager's door.
Naturally, there is a growing frustration at the results and the league position, and some of the performances have not been good enough. I share that frustration.
This is a tight league. The top six are separated by a point - I thought Chesterfield would run away with it, but they have had a rocky spell.
Dale are second, but were not better than us. Oxford are up there, yet we should have beaten them. Wimbledon were top three when we beat them.
On the other hand, Plymouth, Torquay and Bury sit below us, yet put a combined 11 goals in our net, and have only won another five games between them aside from beating us. One of them has changed manager already, the other two bosses are feeling the heat.
That is the frustration - a lack of consistency, both in performance and in selection and formation.
Injuries have not helped, especially defensively, but no players have performed consistently enough to warrant a regular place.
When we have played well, and the manager has kept the same starting line-up, by and large he has been let down in the following game with an insipid performance, making a mockery then of his decision not to make any changes.
Often I have gone to games, looked at the team sheet, seen it unchanged, thought 'fair enough', then been left scratching my head in disbelief at the inept 90 minutes playing out in front of me.
After Saturday, I have no clue what team I would pick tonight, although I can think of one name who might not be in it.
Some players have to step up. Some established players have been very disappointing, some new arrivals have not shown what we expected from them, and some have not been given a chance, or played in their best position, by the manager.
Maybe, ultimately, we have to face up to the notion that our squad is not as good as we thought it was - that it is not a play-off squad as we all thought a few months ago, and adjust our expectations accordingly.
The majority of performances so far would certainly suggest that is true.
So whose fault is that? The manager signed the players after all. He assembled the squad, he decided to spend the budget given to him on this group. He decides the tactics, he sets them up to play the systems we have used.
But it is the old question again. He can't go out there over the white line and make them execute it. All he can do from minute one to minute 90+ is affect it with tweaks and substitutions, and on some occasions he hasn't done that effectively ... but not every time.
He has put his trust in, and is staking his managerial future and reputation on these players, and sometimes, like in injury time on Saturday, he has been let down by them.
Let down by individual decisions and errors he can have no control over. The players are underperforming (as the chairman stated earlier in the season in his programme notes...), and the manager is underperforming by virtue of the results not matching pre-season expectations from the board and the terraces, and with some questionable decisions.
But where does the buck stop? At the moment, it is 50-50 in my book, but players don't get the sack, do they...?

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Crunch time is coming

AS away performances go, overall this one wasn't the worst. But the result is all that counts.
Ifs, buts and maybes were a-plenty in a frustrating 90 minutes, however it only takes one look at the league table to show that the situation is now dire.
Managers always say they don't look at the table until 10 games have been played. It's not a pretty sight.
Nine points from 30 wasn't in the script. Only Accrington and Northampton sit below us, and among the teams also on nine or 10 points are Torquay, Bury and Plymouth... teams who have put 11 goals past us and count a win over us as just about their only bright spot so far.
Yesterday's game was one which I felt we deserved more from. We let the early goal in, which is now virtually a customary occurrence in a CTFC away game.
This time it took five minutes. A ball chipped in to the edge of our box, Deon Burton laid it off and Etienne Esajas had too much time and space to take it down and pick his spot.
After the late win last weekend, we went in with the same team. When we did that after West Ham and Accrington, they bombed the following game. This was not the same total debacle as those games were, but it was another loss.
We had started with a 4-1-4-1 system, Terry Gornell on the left, Byron Harrison on his own up front. That was thankfully abandoned quickly as Byron was isolated and Terry wasted, and we stayed in the game in the first half.
We didn't create much, but we stayed in the game, hung in there and didn't capitulate for a change.
But still we are unbalanced. It is like a broken record, I know, but the manager wants to shoe-horn Russ Penn, David Noble and Jason Taylor in the same side, while wanting to play 4-4-2.
You can't do both. He has to bite the bullet and leave one of them out.
He got flak for leaving Penn out against Pompey, so since then he has been in the side, but has been the one, more often than not, marginalised on the right-hand side.
Noble was a signing he wanted, so he wants him in the side. Taylor is seen as a security blanket, especially away from home, and played a big part in the two games we won.
He also knows he will get stick, as he did last season, for playing one up front, and on form at the moment he cannot leave two of Harrison, Gornell and Cureton out of the side.
But the second half display (especially after Noble came off and Cureton came on) showed that we need that balance in the side.
We pushed Scunthorpe back, negated them as an attacking force, and should have at least equalised.
We had a couple of scrambles from corners, McGlashan should arguably have had a penalty, as could Cureton, and then came the big moment - Harrison's good work setting up Cureton for a golden opportunity which he fired straight at the goalkeeper.
If that had gone in, I believe we would have got something, as we were on top at the point, and the home fans were most definitely restless.
But it didn't, and as we chased the game they started to pick us off in the last 15 minutes, missed a couple of sitters of their own and finally got a second in the six minutes of stoppage time.
So despite all that second-half effort and endeavour (with Penn and Taylor at heart of it, and with Harrison again putting in a good shift) we again ended up with nothing.
These early goals are killing us. Once again, we left ourselves a mountain to climb in the opening five minutes of the game.
You can't give teams a head start like we keep doing, and expect to get something out of the game.
It kills the game plan straight away, and inevitably heads go straight down when it keeps happening.
After that opening goal, I thought our defending was ok.
Wilson and Troy Brown struggled early on against Burton, but they got to grips with it. I felt Lowe and Richards were steady enough at full-back, Richards getting forward to good effect at times, and his set-piece delivery was better than in recent weeks.
The midfield only became effective when Penn was moved into the middle after Noble went off. Noble showed some flashy touches but largely flattered to deceive, got himself booked for a fourth game running, and was sacrificed for Cureton.
Penn and Taylor, while not having the creativity, have the drive and determination you need in the middle of the park, and they spurred us into life in that second half.
We went a bit more direct at times, and I felt we worried them a lot - Brian Laws admitted as much post-match - but despite a lot of possession that Cureton chance was the only time we really tested their goalkeeper.
But we couldn't keep up the intensity we showed for the first half-hour of the second half - that's when we needed to get that goal, when we were on top.
Gornell was replaced by Kotwica, the 17-year-old's first game for a while, but he was unable to really get into the pace of the game, and that change didn't work.
It wasn't quite on a par with the infamous Bagasan Graham change at Swindon, but what it does is open up once again the Ashley Vincent question.
We asked Mark Yates afterwards about using Zack ahead of Ashley, and the question was side-stepped neatly. He sees the pair in training and it is clear that he sees Zack as the better bet.
But if I were Ash, I would be banging the office door down and asking what is going on, as he has not been given a chance to show what he can do properly since coming back here.
We all know Mark wanted Ashley Grimes. He was earmarked for the left-sided role we are now having so many problems with, and the subsequent cold-shouldering of Vincent suggests he was a bit of a panic signing, or that Yates does not know where he is going to fit in.
Vincent wants to play down the middle, but he is not going to get in there ahead of Harrison, Cureton or Gornell as things stand.
But having played a lot down the left-hand side, he must surely be worth a go there in place of a central midfielder played out of position, and (with due respect to Zack, who has largely done well when he has come on) ahead of a 17-year old?
We don't see him in training however, and it can only be that the manager doesn't feel Ashley is showing enough at Seasons? Who knows, but it is surely worth a go?
With a squad of 19 (CBB being just about the only other available player bar the 18 we saw yesterday) Yates has not got many options available to him, and with the form as it is surely he has to explore all those available to him, and Vincent is the one he hasn't seen fit to use.
At the moment, it is a wasted signing .
It has to be said that Vincent has done little in the games in which he has seen action, but we know from experience that he is a player who needs a run of games to hit form. Coming off the bench every now and then is not going to bring the best out of him.
So on to Dagenham, the scene of one of our poorest performances of last season, when we lost 1-0 - but we cannot afford a repeat of that this time.
I am sure the manager is feeling the pressure - his reaction to Jamie's winner last weekend tells us that.
This time of year is not a good one for under-fire Cheltenham managers. Down the years, Jim Barron, John Ward, John Murphy, Keith Downing, Martin Allen and Bobby Gould have all moved on for various reasons between mid-September and late October.
The last of those resigned after a home game with Rochdale on October 18, 2003. In two weeks time 10 years and one day since that seminal afternoon, Rochdale come to town again.
That becomes a pivotal game for Yates' future, along with the Morecambe game the following Tuesday.
I am not an advocate of change for change's sake - I do not believe the grass will necessarily be greener on the other side, but it is seemingly inevitable that poor results against Rochdale and Morecambe will, I'm afraid, see a change of atmosphere in the home faithful.
Slowly, patience will be ebbing away further with fans, and then the board will have a tough decision to make.
Talk of the contract extension has gone very quiet, quite rightly, and I would say that if we get less than four points from those two home games, there is no question that doubts will be starting to creep in at board level - if they are not there already.
I don't believe the manager has 'lost the dressing room' - whatever that means. Our spirit and determination in that second half yesterday shows me that the players have not given up on him. However, I sense he is losing an increasing number of the supporters.
The squad is unbalanced, and he is the one who spent the budget on those players. They are his choices and he is the one who has to mould them into a winning unit. Time is running out for him to do it.
Poor appointments in the past leave me slightly anxious about what might happen if the board did decide Yates' time was up - but the board have to weigh that up against their deep-down confidence in his ability to turn it round and lift us out of trouble.
A sense of loyalty to someone who has served the club well as player and manager and a wish for stability is one thing, but relegation from the League is another, and that is where we could be heading if this slide carries on much longer.
It's not a tough choice, as the latter would be a disaster for the club and waste all the hard work of the last 14 years.
It's all very well to say 'it won't happen' but many clubs have said that on their way down, and some have never recovered - look at Stockport for example.
No side is 'too good to go down' and there is no doubt this squad is nowhere near showing the potential it has, and the manager and the players are equally culpable for that.
The board have given the manager all their backing. He has got a decent budget, and been able to bring in his choice of players, plus additional coaching assistance.
They have done all they can, and the manager, his staff and the players are the only ones who can find a solution, or the tipping point will come.
Yes, we have had Spurs, Everton, West Ham, and two successive play-off campaigns. But I am afraid that is the past, and this is the here and now.
It's crunch time.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

One step forward, two steps back

I left the ground formerly known as Fortress Whaddon eight days ago with a bit more spring in my step, optimistic after we should have beaten Oxford, and definitely deserved a draw.
Yes, we gave one stupid goal away, but all over the pitch there were decent performances - the front two both scored, James Wilson had a decent debut at the back, the midfield looked solid and worked hard.
So, after a testing week off the field, I travelled to Plainmoor in good heart, thinking the corner had been turned and that things were going to start on an upward curve.
To be fair, the vast majority of what I saw for the opening 46 and a half minutes did nothing to shake that optimism - we should have been 4-1 up by that point. Should have, but weren't.
Byron Harrison and Terry Gornell were giving the centre-halves the run-around; they were scared stiff of Jermaine McGlashan and I lost count of how many times he was fouled; David Noble was probing and passing through their back four.
But that nagging feeling would not go away. That nagging feeling that just around the corner was another howler, another calamity just waiting to happen.
Matt Richards had set the tone with, well, I am still trying to work out what on earth he was trying to do inside the first two minutes.
Was it a pass back to Scott Brown? Having seen it twice through my fingers on the Football League Show, that is my best bet. There are countless other options he could have taken, but he chose that one.
It just sums it up. A vastly-experienced player who should know better in a situation like that, making a poor decision. And such is the way of things at the moment, every poor decision is being punished.
But we responded well. Byron headed us level, making a good decision to play to the whistle while Torquay wanted an offside flag. Five goals now for him, one of the few positives we can glean so far.
Gornell had a goalbound shot superbly blocked, Elliott's header was brilliantly saved, Lowe's effort from the rebound hit the bar, then Byron diverted a shot wide after Noble's brilliant pass sent McGlashan to the byline.
It surely had to come. They were wobbling, like a boxer on the ropes.
Half-time was coming, and at 1-1 but on top, I thought 'ok, we can regroup, come out and carry on where we left off, three points, thanks very much'.
Then it happened.
The last seconds of the half, an innocuous cross, Karl Hawley not closed down, after we had countless chances to relieve the pressure, but again, made the wrong decisions.
In came the cross, Callum Ball stuck a leg out, it span off Steve Elliott and, almost in slow motion, ended up in the net. I couldn't believe it.
But still there was hope, given the way we had played for the 44 minutes between the two Torquay goals. Not for long though.
Within a minute of the re-start, Hawley was somehow allowed to twist and turn past three so-called challenges to fire into the net past an unsighted Brown. It was unbelievable.
From being in a position of superiority despite being level, to 3-1 down and out of the game in the blink of an eye. A microcosm of the season so far - good in patches, let down by goals conceded in patches. See also Bury and Plymouth.
After that knock-out blow, we never hit the heights of the first half. Gornell got a goal back, but we never looked like making it 3-3 and getting something out of the game.
Yates' substitutions didn't work. Ashley Vincent never got into the game after replacing Richards, whose display was the poorest we have seen from him so far.
I don't disagree with the change. Vincent did - finally - balance the midfield on the left had side, but we never gave him or McGlashan enough sight of the ball for them to have any effect on the scoreline.
McGlashan, especially, was a peripheral figure after the break - not his fault but baffling after had caused so many first-half headaches. Some credit to Torquay I guess for stopping the supply.
Cureton for Gornell was fair enough - Gornell had worked hard, but equally you have wonder why, at that stage, there was not the thought of going 3-4-3 maybe - with possibly Jombati or Lowe going off, and putting Elliott, Wilson and either of the full-backs as a back three. May as well go for it.
The Taylor for Noble change is the one which seems to be the most contentious for the Yates dissenters. Defensive midfielder for an attacking one.
I can see the point - Sam Deering was on the bench, and could have been an alternative there.
But we didn't do enough from 3-1 down, whoever was on the pitch.
I will exonerate the front two, who scored again, but are being asked to climb Everest blindfolded every week by the ineptitude of some of those around them.
I also excuse Scott Brown. He has seen 27 goals go past him in 11 games (10, as none went in at Accrington) as has, in my view, been blameless for all of them. I cannot make a case for any of them, the closest maybe being Dave Kitson's last week - did he give Elliott a shout to leave the ball?
Yesterday, Jermaine McGlashan also escapes blame. But the rest of them need to look in the mirror and have a good, long think about their performances.
They are well paid, they carry the hopes and dreams of the fans, who pay good money. The manager has put his trust in them, the chairman has invested in them. All of them are being let down.
They are not kids. Not inexperienced players being asked to step up to a new level. Many of them have won promotion before, won trophies, played at a higher level. It's time for them to show it.
The back four yesterday - Keith Lowe (200+ games), James Wilson (50+ games), Steve Elliott (500+ games), Sido Jombati (100+_ games). All experienced players.
We all deserve better from all of these players.
So what of the manager? The Yates out cries were there again as soon as the first goal went in, and they were louder by the end. I disagree with them (for now...) but I can understand them.
This is his team. He has built it, he chose the players, he brought them all in.
After four years, he cannot talk about what he inherited. It is down to him to motivate them, to organise them and to turn the results around. If he can't do that, then at some point the change will come. It will be inevitable, but I feel that day is still a fair distance away.
Along the way, he has made ruthless decisions, two of which still haunt him in the eyes of some fans, especially with our goals against tally - the departures of Alan Bennett and Billy Jones.
Bennett was a fabulous leader for us in the Wembley season, but in the second season we leaked a lot of goals - remember Bradford, Chesterfield, Rotherham, those games up North where threes and fours were going in all too often, just as they are now.
The decision to allow Benno to go to Wimbledon and the arrival of Michael Hector to replace him nearly paid dividends, but is now being used as a stick to beat the manager with - more so as Wimbledon sit third in the table going into next week's game here.
The same goes for the Jones decision - even more so as he scored after two minutes in a Newport shirt and they kept a clean sheet at Exeter yesterday.
Only time will tell if this was a wise decision or not. At the moment, I have to say it isn't, but it may pan out differently in the long run.
One of his set-pieces yesterday could have made a difference, as since he has gone that same threat has not been there.
Defensively, it is a bit naïve to say that with him at left-back we would not be conceding so many goals, as CBB or Sido have not been directly culpable for all 27 of them.
The defensive injuries have not helped the manager. We have used six centre-halves so far in 11 games - Elliott, Lowe, Wilson, Brown, Inniss and Taylor. We desperately need some stability back there.
But we cannot use that as an excuse. As a team, we have not been good enough. It cannot just be thrown on to the back four.
The midfield, like the back four, has not been settled, and has not had the right balance and solid feel to it at any point this season.
McGlashan has been the bright spot. I have been critical of him in the past and come in for a lot of flak as a result, but this season I think he has been much more hit than miss.
A lot of the time, he has found himself on the left hand side, and he has been effective there. yesterday, he and Sido linked well in both attack and defence.
We have tried a number of combinations centrally, and none of them seem to have worked, all having flaws which have only served to put more pressure on our low-in-confidence defenders.
Yesterday, after it worked against Oxford, we had Noble and Richards. Both like to pass the ball, but neither is exactly razor-sharp in the tackle. It left Russ Penn on the right-hand side, largely out of the game.
Richards had a stinker and deservedly went off, so we had Penn and Noble after that, and it was Penn's pass which set up Gornell's goal. I have to say I think this is probably the best pair if we are playing 4-4-2.
The manager has to bite the bullet and leave one of them out. Against Pompey it was Penn, but now it seems he wants to keep them all happy by shoe-horning them into the side, leaving one out of his best position.
In my view, Penn and Noble is the way to go -  one tackler, one playmaker.
Having done that, he has to balance it up. If he doesn't want to start Kotwica, then he needs to start Vincent. He bought him back to the club, many fans are sceptical, some feeling it was a panic move after the Ashley Grimes move failed. Until we see him start, nothing will change that perception.
After last season's woes, it is a strange irony that the area with fewest problems is up front.
Perhaps hurt by the flak he got after the poor way he used the likes of Harrad, Benson, Duffy, Goulding and Harrison at points last season, the manager has gone for a less is more policy.
Three forwards, play two - and it is paying off. For the second successive game, Harrison and Gornell both scored, linked up very well and were a danger all game. Cureton has to wait, but not a bad guy to have up your sleeve.
The fear I have is that in the need to stiffen things up at the back, we lose some of that threat up front. We have scored 19 goals this season, six more than at the same stage last year.
I don't want us to go back to one isolated forward up front, having to forage alone on hopeful balls around his midriff. None of the three forwards we have can play that game.
They are just about the only confident players we have in the squad right now, and we have to feed off that.
After the game, the manager talked about 'wheeling and dealing'. I cannot see what he can possibly do.
The board have backed him superbly, on and off the field, with loan signings on the majority of occasions he has requested them, and the arrival of Dave Kevan to spruce up the coaching team.
They have given him the tools, he can have no complaints about that, now it is down to him to use them in the right way.
I cannot see he has much scope for change. We cannot keep going on paying off players almost on a whim to try to bring someone else in. He has to stick by these players and get them performing as we know they can, and as they have done for other clubs.
After the run of games at the start of the season, ending with Oxford game, which were all (bar the one we won at Accrington) against teams I fancied to be in the top half, things - I thought - would get a bit easier.
I expected us to win yesterday, but the result has left me with a sobering reality (about time, I hear some of you cry...).
Next up is AFC Wimbledon. They are third, we are 21st - and I cannot be alone in thinking those positions would be the other way around, given recent history. After that, we have two tough away games at Scunthorpe and Dagenham. It doesn't get any easier.
These may be hollow words, but I hope fans stick with it. It's easy to follow a club when they are winning, but times like this are the true test.
We have to trust the manager and the players to turn it round, and get it right. But that trust will not last forever.
The time for talking is over. It's time to deliver.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Playing up against Pompey

Our season starts here...!
This seems to be our new catchphrase. It has to be, as it seems to be all we are hearing at the moment.
After each game recently it has been trotted out, seemingly in the hope that it will miraculously spark us into life.
Not working so far - although Saturday's result coupled with the stickability and resolve we showed in the second half suggested better days might not be far away. He said, hopefully...
There are still problems, and my pre-match attentions were taken up by the chairman Paul Baker's notes in the programme - a not-too-thinly-veiled attack on the attitudes and effort levels of some of the players.
He came to see us on the radio gantry before the game, and I congratulated him on his words. I thought they were spot on - he is a fan like the rest of us after all, and we all know that some of the team have short-changed us this season, and Paul deserves credit for coming out and saying it.
But I sense it was not only aimed at those who cross the white line, and was also a little message to the management team - a shot across the bows if you like.
Something along the lines of "you have bought these players in, and they are not performing. It is up to you to sort them out..."
Quite justifiably, he feels he and his board are not getting anywhere near full value for the money they have laid out this summer, and before.
Two players were singled out in that piece as an example to follow - Steve Elliott and Russ Penn. As things panned out, Elliott did not exactly distinguish himself with the two Pompey goals, while Penn found himself dropped before coming on like a man possessed for the last hour.
Oh the irony...
Without Russ on the field, we were distinctly second-best for the first 20-25 minutes.
Patrick Agyemang bullied our centre-halves - not the first time that has happened against a centre-forward with some presence and power (see also Marvin Morgan and Jessy Reindorf).
What I would give for someone like that in OUR forward line, roasting opposition centre-backs, rather than the other way round.
He burst through for the opener after a Keystone Cops comedy collision between Elliott and Ryan Inniss, then somehow missed an absolute sitter which would have been 2-0 after 12 minutes.
We were chasing shadows. Sharp movement, incisive runners and crisp passing were slicing us to pieces, and we were second best all over the field.
They look a decent side, and you think it won't be long before they move up the table. Will we be joining them?
As the half wore on, we gradually got to grips with it, then we suffered yet another defensive injury. Inniss this time, and it meant another re-shuffle - Sido to right-back, Keith Lowe to centre-half, Matt Richards to left-back, Russ alongside David Noble.
Russ won a 30-70 challenge with his first touch, and finally that woke up the CTFC contingent, then we grabbed an equaliser - all down to the determination of Jermaine McGlashan.
Terry Gornell put him in, and as John Sullivan came out and brushed his ankles, he could have gone down, but no, he wanted that goal, and he finished it well.
While overall we might not have deserved to go in at 1-1, we would have taken it, but out came the self-destructing revolver once again, and this was one of the most spectacularly comical goals we have conceded so far.
Some title that, considering some of the X-rated stuff that has gone before, but the way Jed Wallace skipped past Elliott and Penn, then walked along the by-line and placed the ball across the six-yard box, where Johnny Ertl was leaning on the far post having a crafty fag (ok, maybe not the last bit, but he had enough time for one) waiting to tap in, was, frankly, an utter joke at this level.
It is no wonder, with goals like that going in, that our defence is the worst in the division. Even injuries, disruption and constant changes, frequently during games, cannot excuse it.
The time for excuses has passed. These are experienced players (bar Inniss) and it is high time it was sorted out and people started doing their jobs properly.
With our re-shuffled side, the second half was better. Not without its alarms, but better.
The defence did look more solid, and dealt better with Agyemang and the wide threats of Wallace, Ricky Holmes and Andy Barcham.
Noble's cool head and good passing got us out of trouble a couple of times, but as time was running out, we didn't threaten Sullivan's goal much.
Mark Yates tried a couple of new systems, taking off Steve Gillespie for Zack Kotwica and moving Sam Deering in off the wing, where again he struggled (not surprising as he is out of position) into the 'hole'.
Like others, I would question taking a forward off for a winger at 2-1 down, but Gillespie was very ineffective. Yes, there was a combination of no service and the wrong type of service, but nevertheless he was ineffective.
That particular experiment lasted all of nine minutes, then it was 4-4-2 again with Byron Harrison replacing Deering and going up alongside Gornell.
Agyemang gradually ran out of puff, and Guy Whittingham did us a favour with one of the longest drawn-out triple substitutions in footballing history.
Thankfully, the Pompey trio coming on were nowhere near as effective as the three coming off (and it is this strength in depth or the lack of it which may keep them out of the top three), and the ludicrous amount of time it took to get them on the field eventually won us a point.
The fact that we did that was, for the second time in the game, solely down to the determination of McGlashan.
He is someone I have been critical of in the past for end-product (and he admitted to me afterwards he doesn't score enough goals) - but this time he deserves all the accolades coming to him.
Elliott dinked the ball through, and Danny East had a simple clearance, but Jermaine put on the afterburners and snaked a leg round East to steer the ball in.
Like his first goal, he wanted to get there. No chickening out, but the sort of determination, will-to-win, commitment and application the chairman was lamenting the lack of... Certainly a message there for some of his team-mates.
We could have nicked it but for the offside flag, yet even the most blinkered CTFC observer (me included) would have agreed that would have been a complete travesty - even nicking a point was maybe a bit fortuitous, but we'll take it, thanks very much.
Regarding Russ Penn, I wondered if being taken off at half-time against Plymouth mean he had a slight knock, and with only six on the bench on Saturday he was asked to do a job while not 100 per cent.
Not so. The manager confirmed he was dropped by virtue of his form so far. If it was a rocket for him, it worked, and maybe it was also a message to everyone else - no-one is guaranteed a place in my team, not even my skipper...
His dropping means, aside from Scott Brown, that Sam Deering is the only outfield player to have started all nine League and Cup games - the majority on the wing and out of position.
I have nothing against Deering, in fact I am a big fan and was delighted when he signed, but he is no wide man. I know it, the vast majority of CTFC fans know it. I hope Mark Yates knows it, yet he keeps playing him there, it seems because he has no alternative.
But he does. He can change the system to one which suits all the players within it, instead of adopting a formation which immediately handicaps one or more of them, putting more pressure on everyone else.
We had success in the past with consistency of selection and consistency of system. At the moment, we have neither - and yes, I know some of that is down to injuries, but not all of it.
Still the side has no natural balance. Nine games in, we seem to be searching for that magic formula and we wonder how long it will take to find it... if at all.
I do not believe the never-ending rumours that there are problems in the dressing room. I believe the players are pulling in the same direction, and are still playing for the manager.
As I said last time, I feel a lot of these rumours and theories will always blow up when results are not going well.
I saw another cracker this week about the way our subs were warming up at half-time, compared to what Portsmouths were doing. Our subs have always done the same thing at half-time whether we are 2-0 up or 2-0 down. It's another straw-clutching exercise which would not be aired in happier circumstances.
So what can be done? We are not going to bring in more players as that ship has sailed, so this is what we have to work with, so therefore maybe the manager needs some help?
This suggestion is not a slight on him, or Neil Howarth or anyone else in the backroom team, but maybe the need is there some fresh ideas - a new pair of eyes to take a different perspective, even just on a part-time basis.
I note also the recent absence of Jason Murphy. He seems to have either taken a back seat or left the set-up completely.
There has been no announcement from the club, but Ian Hutton, a fitness trainer regularly used by the squad and the manager of our Ladies team, has been doing the bulk of the pre-match and post-match fitness work - so I wonder if there is scope for a new coach to come in and just cast an eye over things, and give some different input.
I sense a few more twists in this troubled start to the season, and things don't get any easier with Oxford in town on Saturday.
After years of underachievement, they have made a flying start, and will come in confident mood, so if our season does indeed start here, it would be very welcome!

Friday, 6 September 2013

Frustration and conspiracy

ON Tuesday, as I had no commentary duties, I took the opportunity to watch from my more traditional vantage point, the Paddock.
I lasted 15 minutes before deciding to move as I was utterly fed up with the abuse being thrown at our players, by our fans.
In that time, Jason Taylor, Sam Deering, Byron Harrison and Ashley Vincent had been thoroughly slagged off by certain individuals, as had the injured CBB, by someone who seriously asked his mate if he thought we could tempt Jamie Victory out of retirement. I kid you not.
In the past, I have had a go at people when I have become fed up with their tirades against players, but on this occasion I opted just to turn heel and make for the main stand to watch the rest of the game.
Now, I know what the argument will be ... it's that usual mantra "I pay their wages, so I am allowed to say what I want".
Fine. But, for example, if you saw them shopping in Tesco, or walking in Pittville Park with their wife/girlfriend, would you greet them with something like 'Oi (name of player), you are a lazy f***ing c**t' or 'hey (name), why can't you cross a f***ing ball, you useless pile of s**t' ??
Of course you wouldn't, or I hope not anyway.
In the same way, I pay my council tax, so I must therefore contribute to a dustman's wages, but I don't give him a tirade of abuse if I don't like the way he wheels my green bin towards his dustcart...
I fail to see what the motivation is to hurl abuse at players you claim to support. How does it motivate them? Here, the perpetrators' defence is 'they need a kick up the arse, so I am giving it to them.'
I get as frustrated as anyone when players mis-control a ball, give the ball away or miss a chance, but I don't get the urge to yell abuse at them. I prefer to encourage, along the lines of  'chin up, keep going', something along those lines - and be constructive, as I try to do in this blog and on the radio.
There is a massive difference between constructive criticism and abuse. Abusing your own players is even more brainless in my view when your team is not firing as it maybe should be, like ours at the moment.
Confidence is low, so the players need to have that reassurance that the fans are behind them, that the fans believe in them, and that they want them to succeed.
It isn't always that way though. At Bury on Saturday, I had my first 'Yates out' text. I was a bit stunned, as my own view is that things would have to be pretty rough in December for any thoughts like that to even enter the board's minds.
Expectations are high, and so when they are not being met, frustrations rise - but I feel at the moment things are going too far in the 'negative' direction and everything surrounding the club is being magnified and scrutinised 10 times more than it would be if we were on a good run of form.
For example, Russ Penn's comments after Bury about 'angry exchanges' in the dressing room post-match quickly became 'a full-scale fight', 'a split' or 'serious unrest' depending on what Nest thread or which tweets you read.
My view is that I am pleased they were cross and had a shout and rant at each other. It shows they care. If they were laughing and joking, then I would be angry with everyone else. It would be a shame if players felt they could not talk freely to the media.
Then there was a tweet from Russ the other day, in which he called Scott Brown 'skip'. Straight away, one or two tweets flew around saying Russ had been axed/stripped/resigned as skipper!
Nonsense of course - it was banter as Browny had taken the armband on Tuesday when Russ went off.... but that is the danger of Twitter.
It would be a shame of the players felt they couldn't have this interaction with the fans without everything they say being misconstrued or analysed to the 'n'-th degree.
Next, I saw a post somewhere which said the players 'didn't look happy on the bus to Accrington or Bury, so things must be wrong.' Good grief. I wouldn't be happy if I was faced with a bus ride up the M6...!
Then there is the manager. There is now all of a sudden a lot of criticism of his Pro-Licence visit to Turkey in the summer - now dismissed widely as 'a jolly'. Wouldn't happen if we were winning.
His interview demeanour gets flak. I have been there after practically every game for four years - it rarely changes after a win or a loss! Do people want him wearing a red nose or clown's wig, and cracking jokes if we have lost a game? Wouldn't happen if we were winning.
But we are not, although Tuesday did bring plenty of positives, I felt.
It started like Groundhog Day - 1-0 up, then 2-1 down in the blink of an eye, the first a goal kick, flicked on and lobbed in, the second a cross into our box (shock...) and put in at the second attempt.
It was hardly a surprise, with three defenders injured, that we conceded some poor goals, and we let in another with a header in the second half from a free-kick swung into our box.
Continuing the theme of this blog, some fans weren't so understanding. One wrote how 'we conceded three goals to 10 men'. Give me strength. If you are going to criticise, at least be accurate.
I know - I should grow a thicker skin, and let it all wash over me. But I hate the negativity. It is so draining and pointless, does no one any good, and just hangs over the club like a raincloud.
So that's why from 3-1 down I was delighted to see us show a bit of backbone and haul ourselves back into the game - and arguably we should have won it.
We had our first look at David Noble, and he wasted one pass in 45 minutes, kept it simple and allowed Deering to go forward more, which he did to good effect.
Vincent and Zack Kotwica on the flansk gave us balance and we took the game to Plymouth, with Vincent's great touch to Steve Gillespie bringing the penalty.
That reduced Plymouth to 10, but they kept two banks of four and sat back as we pressed well and, I thought, looked as dangerous going forward as we had in any game - it was Crawley all over again.
Taylor equalised, and then we should ahve won the game - led by the introduction of Jermaine McGlashan, who sent across three or four superb crosses which should have been converted.
Harrison was denied by a good save for the best opportunity - or he missed a sitter, depending on your viewpoint. I give credit to Jake Cole, in the same way I praise Scott Brown for coming off his line to thwart Marvin Morgan, rather than castigating Morgan...
Once it got to a shoot-out, it was a lottery, and there is no blame on Terry Gornell - in fact in some ways I am pleased we are out, as we can concentrate on sorting out the League form - until the FA Cup comes round anyway.
It doesn't get any easier though, with Portsmouth tomorrow. Personally, I would take any sort of result which doesn't involve us being 3-1 down at some point. After Crawley, Plymouth (twice) and Bury, I have had a gutful of that...!
So what team would I play? I would like to see us go back to the system which served us well two seasons ago, three in midfield and two wide men playing off a central striker.
I believe we have the players to do it, and I think we need to show that bit of adventure and go for it.
There are two questions - after his very bright display on Tuesday, do we start Kotwica, and what about Jamie Cureton - do we throw him straight back in?
My answers are yes to the first, no to the second. My team tomorrow (assuming fitness of some players) would be: Brown; Lowe, Elliott, Inniss, Jombati; Noble, Penn, Richards (otherwise Taylor); Kotwica, Gillespie, Gornell.
Harsh on Deering and McGlashan I know after their second half displays on Tuesday - but they can impact from the bench of needed, as could Cureton.
I just feel we need to be careful with him and ease him back in gently. Gillespie's two goals in midweek seal his place in my opinion, while I am a big fan of Gornell's work-rate and creativity.
Let's hope we are all smiling tomorrow evening - including the manager when that microphone is put under his nose at around 5pm...

Sunday, 1 September 2013


A few years back, after a defeat at Shrewsbury, one of my BBC Gloucestershire colleagues put a microphone under the then-manager's nose and said "That wasn't very good, was it?"
Pete Matthews resisted the temptation to start yesterday's press conference with the same question, but it might have been justified after we returned to type up north, letting in four goals in a heavy defeat.
Mark Yates was honest with his assessment that it wasn't good enough, and there was a lot of hard work ahead, a view shared by a clearly quite angry Russ Penn and a forthright Keith Lowe as well.
But I thought between goals three and four, we actually played quite well - I'm not making excuses for the defending for goals one, two and three however.
From 3-1 to 4-1, especially in the second half, we caused them some problems - Penn hit the post, Terry Gornell had a shot over, Ryan Inniss had a header blocked. But it counted for nothing as the failings at the other end had left us with a mountain to climb. Again.
Two defensive injuries in the opening quarter of the game did not help - but by the time Steve Elliott went off, we were already 3-1 down.
The makeshift centre-half partnership of Inniss, on his league debut, and Jason Taylor, who I would think has rarely played centre-back in his life before, brought back memories of Sam Cox and Julian Alsop together on that horror day at Accrington - but they only conceded one goal as a unit.
No-one had any qualms about the team Yates had selected. Same 18 as West Ham, same set-up, solidity first and after three minutes things were going our way.
It was a great, direct run from Jermaine McGlashan, just what we want to see from him, good movement and timing of the run from Gornell, and a bit of luck when his shot, going wide, was turned in by Andy Proctor.
But that was a good as it got in a crazy, and kamikaze at times, 20-minute spell which turned the game right round.
It started with an injury to Craig Braham-Barrett. He went down, and was playing Bury onside. He got up, limped down the touchline and went down again.
Play carried on, and Bury, under no obligation to put the ball out, carried on. This lasted for about 60-90 seconds. We seemed totally distracted by CBB's injury.
Any player could have made a challenge, committed a foul, tried to get the ball out of play. But nothing, we were at sixes and sevens, no-one knowing what to do - it was farcical, and only ended when Danny Mayor smashed in the equaliser from 30 yards after riding some powder-puff 'tackling'.
Some Bury neanderthals had been booing CBB during all this, and then were more intent on jeering him off the field, rather than celebrating a great strike from one of their own players - butI stopped being surprised at the actions of some football fans years ago.
Looking at our bench, I then expected Billy Jones to come on. Left-back for left-back, not too much disruption. But no - on came Sido Jombati.
I have nothing against Sido, and I actually thought he did ok when he came on, better than he has been performing at right back in fact, but it seemed a strange decision.
Post-match, Yatesy said Sido was ahead of Billy at left-back - indeed, he came on there for Billy in the play-off semi. He also said he wanted Sido up against the tricky winger (Craig Jones).
That is borne out of Billy having problems against Jennison Myrie-Williams and Chris Hackett at the back end of last season - but this decision now effectively means Billy is our third-choice left-back.
Added to that, it seems practically every team we come up against has a 'tricky winger' - so if Yatesy doesn't fancy Billy against that sort of player, then that doesn't say a lot for his long-term prospects at CTFC, wand of a left foot, great set-piece delivery or not.
I am not sure a League Two club is in a position to have a third-choice left-back, especially one conceding goals hand over fist, so it would appear that Billy's days here are numbered. A shame in my view.
If Yates has lost confidence in him, and isn't going to use him, then he has 24 hours to move him on permanently, freeing up a wage to address other areas of the squad - a loan centre-half maybe, if Elliott and Troy Brown are out for a while, a fourth striker, a right or left-winger. Or let him go on loan when that window re-opens.
We cannot have players in the squad who are (as Billy seems to be in the manager's view) surplus to requirements.
"We need players who are going to challenge for the first team" is the manager's own mantra when he is asked about potential triallists signing and loan players coming in.
If he deems Billy isn't going to do that, then he needs to move him on, and give himself some scope, and the situation doesn't deter those who question his man-management - they will cite the names of Darryl Duffy and Shaun Harrad from last season.
Anyway, at 1-1 with one player off injured, surely things could not get any worse. But one free header from a corner and dozing off to allow a cross and a centre-half to nip in unchallenged for a tap-in later, they did.
Then we lost Elliott, knocked out in a challenge by Marlon Jackson. To Yates' credit here, he made a positive substitution. We could have seen Billy, switched Sido over, and put Lowe and Inniss together, but instead he out Byron Harrison on and went to 4-4-2 with Jason Taylor at centre-half.
We got to half-time at 3-1. Just. It was a bit hairy at times, but we got there. Bury should have been down to 10 men, with goakeeper Trevor Carson lucky not to to walk after flattening Gornell on the edge of the box - think a much less brutal Battiston v Schumacher, France v Germany Spain '82 (here).
Post-match, Yatesy said he thought he had got the ball and it wasn't even a foul. Hmm. The referee disagreed, and once he had given a foul, he had to send Carson off as the last man. But he didn't - yellow card.
But once again we seemed incapable of stopping any sort of cross from coming into our box. Craig Jones and Danny Mayor were having a field day, beating our full-backs and midfield players too easily and being given far too much time to deliver the ball in.
We are seeing it too often. Players seem to get so much space to deliver balls in. We don't seem to get tight enough, or show them outside - we seem to get done time after time for pace or fall for a little trick, then the ball is in our box.
In contrast at the other end, teams seem to have no problem in stopping our wide men or full-backs getting forward and getting crosses in. At the other end, it is almost open house.
No matter who is at full-back, they always get exposed, and then seem to fight a losing battle. Sooner or later, with crosses into the box raining in, we will concede a goal.
It's the law of averages. Elliott, Brown, Inniss - whoever is at centre-half, cannot be expected to win every header or make every interception. Scott Brown cannot be expected to save everything.
It was the same against Plymouth - full backs not tight enough. Same at Chesterfield - too much room for Gary Roberts and Nathan Smith.
We are a soft touch down the flanks. Until that is addressed we will keep conceding goals, keep crosses coming into our box, keep giving opposition wingers and forwards an easy ride, and keep giving oursleves a mountain to climb.
Since the game, I have seen tweet after tweet saying fans cannot wait until Jamie Cureton is back. Me neither, but he would need a season of Lionel Messi proportions if we are still letting in two, three or four goals a game.
Others have said we need Alan Bennett back. He was in a defence which let in four at Chesterfield, Rochdale and Rotherham - games were we were also ripped apart down the flanks. This is not exactly a new problem.
But you defend from the front. To stop the wide men being effective, you have to stop the supply to them, which means better ball retention further up the field.
I am not convinced the balance of the side is right. In a 4-4-2 especially, with McGlashan, Penn, Richards and Deering as the midfield four.
We have one out-and-out winger in McGlashan, with Deering forced to fill in down the other flank, be that left or right, in a position he is alien to and which will not bring the best out of him.
He is happier in that 'hole' position, or in the centre of a midfield three, but cannot play in a 'two' in central midfield, or out wide.
Last season we had McGlashan and Kaid Mohamed, which gave us that balance, and pace on both flanks.
This time around, on the bench, we have Ashley Vincent. He wants to be a central striker, but clearly isn't in my view - he is a winger. If we used him as such, we might get that elusive balance back.
Deering hasn't done anything wrong in my view, he just doesn't seem to naturally fit in to the system which  the manager wants to use.
I am not convinced we can play 4-4-2 with the players have at the club - with Penn and Richards together in a 4-4-2 we just look too open.
If we are going to fit the players we have into a tactic which suits then rather than shoehorning them into a system, we have to use 4-1-3-2, or go back to the 4-5-1 with two wide men supporting the forward.
Both have Penn, Richards and Taylor as the first-choice midfield three, with Deering behind the front two in a 4-1-3-2, while McGlashan and Vincent would be the first choices as wide men off the forward in the 4-5-1/4-3-3.
Back to Gigg Lane - and for the first half-hour of the second half, I don't know if Bury sat back, but we had some chances. Strangely, I felt if we got back to 3-2, we might have been in with a sniff of a point.
Whether that is just my natural optimism talking, or if was still hungover from Friday night, I am not sure, but we didn't get it back to 3-2, so we will never know if we would have had a chance or if Bury would just have gone up another gear and got another one.
We had some chances, we at least showed a bit of backbone, and didn't cave in completely, which we could have done with a depleted back four.
The fourth came 15 minutes from the end, more poor defending, another easy cross and another free header, this time for Jessy Reindorf, surely the first Rwandan ever to score against CTFC, and that was that.
So where now? Well, the JPT then Portsmouth and Oxford at home, so the nice, easy games keep coming.
For the JPT, we know CBB and Troy Brown are out. Steve Elliott must be doubtful, and saved for Saturday. It's too soon for Jamie Cureton (Saturday maybe...?) while teenager Bobbie Dale has had an MRI scan on an ankle problem.
Joe Hanks and Ed Williams have been loaned to Bishops Cleeve and I am unsure whether their loan terms allow them to be recalled or not, so I have left them out.
I am envisaging a team something like this: Brown; Jombati, Lowe, Inniss, Jones; McGlashan, Penn, Richards, Kotwica/Vincent; Gornell, Gillespie. The bench could be Roberts, Deering, Taylor, Harrison, Kotwica/Vincent, and the likes of Harry Williams (scoring for fun in the youth team) and another of Russ Milton's young guns might get a look-in - maybe Adam Powell or Spencer Hamilton - or we may just go for five subs.
However, the manager doesn't seem to want to use Billy, so he might play a back four of Lowe, Taylor, Inniss and Jombati, the one which finished on Saturday. Whatever happens, it is all a bit threadbare - and after a good run of injuries over the past season-and-a-bit, that luck is changing and we are suffering a bit.
I haven't read the Robins Nest since Saturday, but was told about a post/thread questioning Neil Howarth, and what he actually 'does'. Answer - the same as any other assistant manager at clubs up and down the country, ones which win lots of games, and ones which don't.
He does the same as he did in our great run in the autumn and winter of 2011 taking us to Wembley, the same as he did last season when we kept 20 clean sheets and came within a game of going to Wembley again. It's no use looking for scapegoats - it does no good.
No use either expecting the chairman to dip into his pocket for a signing or two. He did that in the summer (remember, this is the highest average wage we have paid to players since being in the FL).
This is the squad (and manager) we fans need to get behind. It's not going to change.
But this is the squad the manager needs to organise. He signed them after all. He needs to find a system which suits them, and fast.
The players need to look at themselves, buck its own ideas up and show us they are worth their money.
I am consoling myself with a few omens and facts. In 2001-2, we started with six games without a win, and won the play-off final. Two season ago, we took until October to click, then went on a great run and nearly went up.
Yes, is still only five games into the season, but I think we have played three sides in Burton, Chesterfield and Bury, who will be near the top - but have not beaten any of them, and only got close to beating Burton. Plymouth might also be higher than many people think. They swept us aside as well.
Saturday's Echo led with a story about talks tomorrow between Paul Baker, Yatesy and Howarth about a new contract beyond the summer. That alone suggests it is far, far too premature to suggest a change at the top.
But I had a text during yesterday's commentary (just as we went 3-1 down) saying 'Yates out'. My reply was 'don't be silly', and the reply back was 'gone by November'.
That won't happen in my view - but he does need to get to work on a solution, and fast.
While things are not going well on the field, I have noticed that practically everything he does off it these days is getting criticised more and more.
Demeanour in interviews (must say it hasn't changed much down the years...!), not clapping fans after games, and most of all it seems, what he actually says - after yesterday, there were tweets about 'hearing the same old excuses'.
I am not sure exactly what he is supposed to say. He came out and said the performance wasn't good enough, gave his explanation for the Billy Jones substitution, updated the injuries, and said he would do everything he could to put it right. What more he can say? His last line to Pete on Saturday was "We are dishing up a load of rubbish at the moment". Quite right Mark!
The players lost their Sunday off, and if fans are expecting him to slate his players in public, they are going to be disappointed. In private, I am sure he will make it crystal clear.
As will the chairman to Mark and Neil tomorrow. If I were in his shoes, I would be tempted to say: "We'll delay this contract chat for a month or so I think chaps - win us a few games and we'll chat again..."