Tuesday, 30 December 2014

A month of destiny

AND so it can begin - the January transfer window of 2015, possibly the most important four weeks we have faced in our Football League existence.
By the time the final whistle goes at Dagenham on January 31, it is anyone's guess what our team will look like, but we can probably guess a few names which won't be in it.
We know Jason Taylor is one - even with five players out injured, the manager preferred to give a squad number and seat on the bench to second-year scholar Danny Reynolds on Sunday.
And another of them will surely be Byron Harrison. Since he came here in the 2013 transfer window, he has divided opinion as much as many other players before and since.
He scored one goal in the half-season after he arrived, then 15 last season and has seven this, so in a team which hasn't been prolific at all, he has carried the main goal threat.
Yet at Exeter on Friday with us chasing the game at 1-0 down, 18-year-old Harry Williams was sent on. On Sunday, in the same situation, another 18-year-old, Bobbie Dale, got the nod.
Those decisions were explained away by talk of work ethic, and the youngsters deserving their places on merit by their performances in training.
Basically, the manager has decided he is lazy, and it seems that it will take something akin to an earthquake for him to put Harrison on the field.
Six months ago Byron swept the board at the player of the year awards - yet I am sure his detractors in the stands and on the terraces will be saying 'at last.'
However I suspect even his harshest critics were calling for Harrison's introduction on Sunday. I am not, by and large, a critic of his but I was among them - but Paul Buckle will clearly not be moved, and that surely sounds the death knell for Byron at this club.
It's a brave decision - the manager of a team without a league win for two months, with only two senior recognised strikers leaving its leading scorer on the bench two games running when they need a goal.
It might have been designed to give Byron a kick up the backside, but I don't think Byron is the kind of character to respond to that.
He needs to be loved, have an arm put round his shoulder, and Buckle isn't going to do that. His mind is made up, and that's it.
His teams are based on work ethic, attitude and pulling together. If you aren't going to buy into that then you are gone. No second chances.
Brave, or foolhardy - but it proves once again that Buckle is going to do things his way whether we as fans or the players like it or not, whoever they are - young first year pro or higher-earning senior players - and he will back himself to get it right, and presumably (and hopefully) able to find a better replacement.
His words are confident too - and for the most part I like the way he talks. Straight to the point, always upbeat, always enthusiastic.
Those who criticised Mark Yates for his dour interview demeanour should be pleased. I for one am always interested to hear what he has to say.
While we might not always agree with what he says and does, we have to put our faith in him to do something this month with his wheeling and dealing, and improve the results on the field.
In between the speculation about who will come in and who will go out, we have some big games.
Trips to Oxford, Hartlepool and Dagenham, all in the bottom nine with us, and home games against Morecambe and Luton - a set of games we need to get some points from.
After the game on Sunday, I came away disappointed that we did not get what I felt we deserved, which was at least a point.
I was upbeat about the performance - I felt we had more spark and energy about us than we have for several weeks. Compared to the performances at the end of Yates' reign, I thought we were much better.
But we lost - and that is the bottom line for many, hence the surprising amount of negativity I read after the game. There were many saying it wasn't an improved or encouraging display at all, as we lost the game.
I woke up on Sunday to tweets saying we were going to get 'hammered', 'embarrassed', 'stuffed' and all other similar adjectives, and then since the game I have seen comments that we were terrible, that we'd be better off under Yatesy and that Buckle should go.
Yes, seriously. People are entitled to their own opinions, but some of them have been completely knee-jerk.
I don't think there is any question that the performances have improved since we lost 5-1 at Stevenage and 4-1 to Wycombe in Yates' last two games, and also since Buckle's early games. I felt yesterday was light years better than Dover, for instance.
Improved performances yes, but three 1-1 draws and three 1-0 losses are the bottom line, and I am not kidding myself that we don't need to get wins and clean sheets on the board, as we do.
But I am not panicking about it. Yet.
There is still half a season left to get those wins and clean sheets, and the manager at the very least deserves the breathing space of a transfer window to finally put his mark on the squad... come back to me on January 31 and we'll see where we are then.
We lost on Sunday as we switched off for a few seconds and let Adam Chapman have the space to find Chris Zebroski, who was then allowed to turn too easily and fire in a super shot into the corner - then before and after that we failed to show enough ruthlessness in front of goal to finish the chances we created.
Aside from the goal, I didn't think Trevor Carson had much to do. After the opening 10-15 minutes, Jack Deaman and Troy Brown looked pretty solid to me, coping well with Zebroski and Rene Howe when he came on, while Lee Vaughan had one of his best games for us - both defensively and going forward and Craig Braham-Barrett maintained his consistent form.
In midfield I thought Matt Richards and Kane Ferdinand were good - remember the problems we have had finding a 'two' to play in midfield in recent times - and I felt they kept us on the front foot.
Omari Sterling-James was undoubtedly the star of the show. He was irrepressible - getting the ball, running at people, taking them on and having the confidence to try his luck, and he was unlucky with a couple of efforts, one over the bar and one beaten away by the keeper.
His display shows the benefits of trusting the younger players at the club, something Yatesy never seemed to want to do. OSJ was, along with Koby Arthur, the catalyst of the comeback win at Tranmere, but was then sparsely used until now.
He was so dangerous in the first half that Newport changed their system from 3-5-2 in the first half to 4-4-2 to try and negate his influence - a massive compliment to Omari and to our overall display.
Overall, Newport had six players booked, which was another indicator into how hard they had to battle and what they had to do to stop us - and most of those yellows were for fouls on Omari.
The rest were for fouls on Harry Williams, who in my view got a long-overdue first start of the season and got better and better as the game went on.
He started the game right up front alongside Terry Gornell and didn't find it easy against the physicality of Ismail Yakubu and Darren Jones in the first half.
Yet after the break he dropped off 10-15 yards deeper and I thought he began to have a real impact on the game, drawing fouls and setting up situations for us - and I am convinced he was taken out at the end and we should have had a penalty.
Zack was slightly disappointing as, like at Exeter, I wanted him to take on his full-back more. When he got the ball he looked to either dribble or pass inside instead of trying to commit his man down the outside - I'd like him to be a bit braver.
Gornell was his usual hard-working self. His touch was good, hold-up play usually adequate - but he lacked the ruthlessness in front of goal in hitting the post with one chance in the first minute or two and spurning a decent one-on-one.
I liked our positivity though. We kept going, had good 'legs', good energy and I thought we created as many chances as we have in any game for a while, and considering we had five players out - four injured and one in the ice box - it was a creditable, encouraging performance.
We didn't fold, as might have done on other occasions with the team we had out, and as we have done with a far more experienced line-up. Buckle said post-match we 'will not fold' under him. We'll see about that, but on this occasion we didn't.
I thought we took the game to Newport and they had to work hard to keep us out, resorting to fouls and picking up six bookings in doing so. It wasn't a stroll for them and they needed all their resilience to see it through.
But we still lost, I hear you cry. Yes. I know that. I saw the game too.  Despite that, I am reserving the right to be encouraged by what I have seen, and to feel that the overall display was better than we have seen lately and tells me we are improving.
The decision of Buckle to put the youngsters in was justified and long overdue, especially after the display of Omari, and Williams in the second half, and we finished the game with a front four of three teenagers in Dale, Williams and Kotwica and 21 year old Omari.
The average age of the starting team was 23.5 with only Matt Richards over 30, and he only reached that landmark on Boxing Day - all encouraging for me to see such a young team give it such a good go against a team with only two defeats in 19 games.
But we still lost. Yes, okay. I hear you. And we haven't won yet under Buckle - but I don't understand how people can have been expecting a sudden, and massive improvement from a team with no confidence or belief, which lost 5-1 and 4-1 in successive weeks before he came in, transforming overnight to a free-flowing team banging in the goals for fun.
In the whole of 2004, we have only scored 42 goals in the league, so we are not suddenly going to bang them in for fun, hence why keeping them out is so important.
Surely the progress was always going to be gradual? Surely he had to try to stem the flow of goals as a priority? I know he hasn't had a clean sheet yet on his watch, but six goals conceded in six games is an improvement on nine in two. Even my dodgy maths confirms that.
In my view, we were always limping through until January while Buckle assessed the squad he had inherited, hoping to pick up what points we could, then get an injection of players and form in January when the window is open.
As far as I am concerned, Buckle's job really starts now, as he has six games with his hands more or less tied by having a squad of players which is not his own.
It's like moving into a new house and not feeling it is yours until you have changed the curtains or covered up that horrible brown wallpaper in the hallway - he now has the chance to put his own impression on things in earnest with a coat of magnolia here and there or a nice Venetian blind in the bathroom.
By that Dagenham game on January 31, he won't be able to hide behind the 'squad he inherited'. The decision on Taylor and the almost-certain demise of Harrison along with some others maybe - Andy Haworth? Paul Black? - means that he will be overhauling it so it won't be the squad he inherited by then, it will be the squad he wants and will rely on until May - so no excuses and the improvement will need to have started by then to steer us away from trouble.
We won't have Asa Hall unfortunately, as he needs surgery and will be out for six more weeks. I am one of the rare breed who have seen him play a League game for us - most of the away fans missed it as they got the the Bury game late by which time he had already gone off.
I feel very sorry for him. I am sure there are those out there labelling him a sicknote as if he is enjoying himself spending six months not playing football having joined a new club. It sounds a horrible injury and I am sure he hasn't been having fun sat around watching when he wants to impress first Yates and now Buckle.
On the incoming side, I don't think we will have to wait long for a new arrival - I wouldn't be surprised if there was one new face at least in the squad for Oxford. Buckle doesn't seem like the kind of guy to muck about.
I understand a winger will coming in, and I am hoping for at least one striker and maybe also a central midfielder, depending on whether he wants to keep Kane Ferdinand or not. A centre-back might also have to be considered if Matt Taylor and Steve Elliott are out for a while, but I suspect they'll both be back by the end of January.
Raffa de Vita's departure has cleared some money, and my educated guess would be that Taylor and Harrison are close to the top of our highest earners' list, so more cash for wages freed up if they go.
We are three points away from the bottom two, but I am not worrying yet. The glass is going to remain half full and will be re-assessed on January 31.
2014 was a forgettable year in the history of CTFC, but 2015 needs to start with a bang to make us all breathe a little easier.
We all want this club to thrive, and to stay in the Football League, so we should all wish Paul Buckle the best of luck in the month ahead.
He will, and already has I suspect, made decisions which we don't all agree with, but he is the manager and that isn't going to change for a while so I just think we have to put our trust in him and hope he makes the right decisions.
The consequences if he doesn't are too horrible to contemplate, so let's just hope he gets us moving in the right direction sooner rather than later.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Boxing Day blues

IT is inevitable when we lose a game that fans are not going to be happy, but I must admit I was surprised at the level of negativity after yesterday's game.
It seems that every time we lose a game, the players are immediately not good enough, or not trying hard enough, or don't care enough, and every defeat immediately means we are spiralling towards relegation.
We need a win. we all know that, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to work that one out.
Paul Buckle needs a win, as with each draw and defeat it is harder for him to hide behind the 'I inherited a squad with no confidence or belief' mantra that he has used up to now.
Yesterday's game was decided by a scuffed cross-cum-sort-of-shot which came off Jack Deaman's studs and rolled past Trevor Carson. That was it. It could easily have ended 0-0 as neither goalkeeper was exactly overworked.
I had no qualms with the players' effort and commitment. They tried their best, but we lacked quality in the top third of the field when it mattered most, and didn't make the most of some good situations.
I appreciate the manager's positivity, and we did look more dynamic at times, but as for him describing it as our best performance under him... hmm. Not sure on that one.
Trev definitely had a bit more to do than James Hamon in the Exeter goal, but compare it to games like Oxford, when he was man of the match and earned us a point, his workload wasn't high.
So again we looked solid enough. We'd started with the 4-5-1 but had to change it when Joe Hanks went off - and actually I felt that almost worked in our favour a bit as we had to be a bit more positive.
There has been a massive clamour for Zack Kotwica to start games, and he practically started this one as he was on the pitch eight minutes in.
Going forward, he was positive - getting the ball and trying to run with it. Yes, there was the occasional blind alley when he got a bit stuck and lost the ball, but he set up a couple of promising situations which ultimately fizzled out.
Defensively he needs to improve, as one slack pass cost Craig Braham-Barrett a booking, and he needs to have the confidence to beat players and get to the byline. He did it once, beating Scott Bennett, but then the cross was disappointing.
And that was the problem. With him on the left, Omari Sterling-James in the middle and Raffa de Vita out right, while Matt Richards and Kane Ferdinand sat a bit deeper, we carried a threat, and there was some energy in the team.
I thought the Exeter back four didn't look comfortable when we ran at them and we did have some good possession high up the field, with runners available.
But the killer touch, that bit of ruthlessness, was missing. The crossing was appalling - I don't think we beat the first man at all on probably six or even occasions in the first half, and so all that good work had gone to waste.
Terry Gornell worked his socks off. I thought he held the ball up as well as he could and looked to bring others into play, but then the others didn't return the compliment by giving him some quality balls into the box.
It would have needed to be real quality though. Terry found himself outnumbered all the time by four defenders, so the balls into the box would have needed to be absolutely perfect for him to make anything of them.
A corner which Troy Brown had headed off the line was the closest we came, along with a good opening for Richards, which he scuffed well wide from the edge of the box when Gornell had found him in space after running the channel.
A fifth successive 0-0 scoreline at half-time was another positive for the manager, who is trying to build a solid base and add the rest later.
Having lost Hanks, to then lose Matt Taylor as well was something he could have done without, but Deaman came in and I thought did ok after taking a little time to settle in. You can't blame him for a deflection as he was trying to clear the ball.
With the experience of Clinton Morrison and the good movement around him from Nichols, Nicholls, Sercombe and Harley, Exeter had a lot of possession in our half - but their tendency to over-play, take that one extra pass when a shot was on, played into our hands a bit in that first half as we did have chances to break - but wasted them.
After the break however, we didn't get those chances. We were pegged back a bit more with Kotwica and Sterling-James out of the game for long periods.
Omari had moved to the right by now with de Vita pulled inside, and I didn't think that worked as Omari was definitely more effective centrally. A winger he isn't in my view as he, like Kotwica at times, doesn't seem to have the belief to beat a man and get a good cross in.
We created very little in the second half and didn't seem to have the same energy. CBB got to the by-line once and with four waiting in the box his pull-back went back 30 yards to de Vita whose shot was blocked. That summed it up really.
After the goal, Buckle had a problem. with two players off injured, his capacity for change was limited, and in commentary I figured his only real choice was Byron Harrison for one of the central trio (Richards, de Vita, Ferdinand) and to go 4-4-2.
So it was a surprise to see Harry Williams come on. Nothing against Harry as people know I want to see him and our young boys get a chance, but that move speaks volumes for Buckle and what he expects from his players.
I asked him afterwards why he went for Harry over Byron. and his reply was that he sees the players every day of the week, and that his work ethic was good which he is looking for.
Reading between the lines, that suggests Byron's has not been, so sitting on the bench will hopefully be a kick up the backside for him - and I guess the same has to be said for Jason Taylor and Paul Black, who were again conspicuous by their absence from the 18.
My gut feeling however, is that those last two may well be chiselled out of the ice box and brought back in the fold tomorrow, as we are really down to the bare bones now.
Hanks must be doubtful, Taylor is out, Steve Elliott too I am guessing, while Asa Hall is probably still two weeks away...
There will also be no Raffa de Vita as his short-term deal is not being extended. I am not overly gutted by this as I don't think he did enough for us, but for now it does leave us short-handed.
I am sure now however that he has left the club that history will be re-written. He will immediately be raised to some form of iconic God-like status and put forward for sainthood as happens with every departing player, but I have no arguments with this decision at all.
The manager has to free some money up, and this is an opportunity to do so and gives him a bit more breathing pace for the coming few weeks.
We all know we need some new recruits, and we have to hope the manager will be able to find some and improve us - but anyone expecting a radical overhaul will be disappointed.
With his selections so far, players like Andy Haworth, Taylor and Black would probably be allowed to go if someone wanted to take them. If. Big if I suspect.
But that's the only way they will go ahead of the summer as we won't be paying them off.
He needs a strong centre-forward - a Ben Burgess type suited to the lone role would be nice, someone who could turn a cross or pass which is not perfect into a goal, or a decent chance. They are few or far between, and expensive.
Another central midfielder too - a box-to-box man with some real energy.
A winger who can cross a ball? No. He has enough wingers. They just need to learn to cross.
With Taylor out and Elliott not fit yet, a central defender might come into the equation as we have none if Brown or Deaman go down as well.
I cannot see us bringing in permanent signings - if we do they will only get, I think, deals until the summer. I think we will be looking at six-month loans. That will disappoint people I know, but that's the way I see it.
It is a pivotal transfer window. Every window is important, but this one has extra significance with us sitting 18th and six points off the bottom two.
This is Buckle's time to really start earning his corn having been bumbling along with the unbalanced demotivated players he was left by the previous manager.
The fixtures in January include trips to Hartlepool and Dagenham, which are firmly in the 'must not lose' category.
Not until we make our way back from Essex on January 31 will we have a real idea of what lies in store for the last three months of the season.
Hopefully, our squad will have a slightly different look to it, and our points tally will be a fair bit healthier.
Otherwise, it will be a real battle ahead.

Monday, 22 December 2014

All the threes...

Three games
Three goals for
Three goals against
Three draws
Three points
That's the sum of Paul Buckle's opening trio of league games.
Solid and unspectacular it has been, but I don't think there is any question that we have improved on where we were when he came in.
I know we haven't won a game yet, but we haven't lost one, and we haven't crumbled - instead we have shown a backbone and a bit of resilience that was missing in the Stevenage and Wycombe games.
We don't look like being rolled over easily, we have defended a lot better and all over the field the work ethic has been much improved from the last weeks of Mark Yates' reign.
There are no excuses either. It's not going to change overnight, he says. We won't suddenly go from losing 4-1 and 5-1 to winning games in style, he says - yet I get the feeling some fans expect us to.
He has to put foundations into place and that has to start from the back with us not conceding shedloads of goals. There is no other option.
We haven't had a clean sheet for 14 league games - since Morecambe - the longest run of anyone in the Football League, so it's not rocket science that he wants to address that as a priority.
In the last two games, we have conceded to a speculative long-range volley that goes in once out of, say, 20 attempts, and then to a deflected shot which went in off the bar.
Compared to some of the goals we were letting in against Stevenage and Wycombe, and in some games before that, it has to be considered as progress.
We were not exactly creating chance after chance in the last weeks of Mark Yates' reign so it is unreasonable to expect us to start doing so straightaway under Buckle.
Even more so with two senior out-and-out strikers at his disposal and that will have to be a priority for January - but we must not get carried away with the idea that this month ahead is going to suddenly turn our season around with some kind of magic wand. It won't.
He will look to add a few bodies, maybe three at the outside I would guess, but the bulk of the team will still be those who have been here all season.
It will be evolution, not revolution, so anyone expecting the solid, unspectacular stuff to magically disappear on January 3 will have to be disappointed I'm afraid. It will be a very gradual process.
There seems to be a perception somewhere that the manager has some sort of massive January pot of money to spend - a pot which Mark Yates wouldn't have had.
I don't think Yates can say he wasn't backed by the board - practically every time he went to them and asked for reinforcements, he was allowed.
Buckle has what little money there was from the FA Cup and a little bit more which seems to have been forthcoming from the mystery man who put in the 500k a few seasons ago.
And I also suspect that there might be a little suggestion from the board that a player or two going out might not be such a bad thing either.
Jason Taylor being left out for the last two games suggests he might be top of that list - but I don't forsee a queue of takers and I don't see us just deciding to hand him a wedge of cash to pack his bags. I hope not anyway.
The manager has seen Taylor in training every day, so seems to have made his mind up about him. It is a slight surprise to me I must admit, as if anyone in our team typifies solid and unspectacular, it's Jason Taylor.
Another who does that is his namesake Matt - and he was outstanding on Saturday. He won just about every header he competed for, put his body on the line a few times and put in a real captain's performance.
Portsmouth really came on strong in the second half, especially the first 25 minutes or so, but it was mainly down to him, backed up well it has to be said by Troy Brown, who kept their direct goal threats to a minimum despite their territorial superiority.
Did Trevor Carson really have that much to do? I can only remember one save - right at the very end by his near post. I know Paul Jones wasn't exactly heavily occupied either, and all in all I thought a draw was about right.
I felt the first half was even. They started well but I felt we finished the half stronger although neither side had really threatened a goal until Omari Sterling-James put us ahead.
Our formation screamed resilience as Lee Vaughan was back and Omari came in with Byron Harrison dropped and Terry Gornell up front on his own.
Slightly surprising, but it was the hard work of Terry ahead of the languidity of Byron. Terry got little change out of the Pompey defence and had a thankless task, but I thought he applied himself very well and put a good shift in.
Vaughan had an up and down game. He got himself into some good positions up the field but his crossing was poor - or there was never anyone to hit - and defensively he was found wanting at times.
Taylor was outstanding and Brown mostly solid, while Craig Braham-Barrett had another good game - one of his best I felt when playing in a flat back four - as we know he struggled in that system last season.
He didn't get forward as much as he has in previous games, but did set the goal up and kept up his high performance level this season.
Up against Jed Wallace early on, he looked after him well, so much so that Wallace switched wings late in the first half to try his luck against Vaughan.
There were still concerns about our midfield. Still we move the ball too slowly, still we tend to get caught upfield and lose the ball, exposing us to a counter attack, and the quality of our passing is not generally good enough and we turn over possession too easily at times.
Again it was disappointing to see Kane Ferdinand employed wide on the right, but I thought he had a better game, but again Raffa de Vita disappointed me.
He worked hard enough, but he doesn't impose himself on games enough for me. I am sure he is a player who can be effective for us, but the manager needs to find his best role - otherwise with a desire to bring players in and his deal ending, it may end up being bye bye and thanks.
Omari has his new deal safely tucked away, and celebrated it with a start, a very well-taken goal, and unfortunately what proved to be a very crucial miss as well.
He is a hard-working player, and for his size he isn't afraid to get himself stuck in and that attitude will endear him to the manager. He won two or three decent flick-ons against players four or five inches taller, and showed good body strength on occasions as well.
His goal showed a refreshing confidence. He was surrounded by a couple of players and could have taken the easy option of a lay-off, but decided to take the bull by the horns and got his rewards for it - just like Zack last week.
It was another example of a young player showing no fear and backing their ability, and I hope to see more of that. I won't criticise players for having a go - can't win the lottery if you don't buy a ticket, and I've seen too much shilly-shallying on the edge of the box this season - one more pass? No. Shoot!
Omari's new contract, and that for Zack Kotwica and Joe Hanks as well is a refreshing change from the usual policy of waiting and waiting until the summer, then scrambling around to get the players we want to keep to sign their deals.
I saw a report saying Hull were looking at Hanks the other day. I am always a little sceptical about these things, and suspect maybe an agent at work hoping to hurry a new contract along. Well done. It worked... not that Joe isn't a good player as he most certainly is and fully deserves the deal.
Good to see the club being pro-active, and good to see that Buckle seems serious about letting our young players develop. Those three aside, we have Harry Williams and Bobbie Dale on the bench, with Adam Powell and James Bowen waiting as well.
Harry has had a run-out and Bobbie was ready to come on right at the end at the weekend, and I hope their deals are next in line as we cannot just discard them.
Players do not develop at 18 - they can flourish later and we need to invest that time in them and not expect it all to happen straight away.
They all need gradual exposure to first-team football but the manager will need to be sensible and pragmatic with them. All I have been asking for is for them to have a chance - not just sidelined and told they aren't ready or aren't worth bothering about.
Further up the ladder, Harry Kane is 21 and only just establishing himself in Spurs' team after several loan moves, while Ryan Mason is 23 and has been a pro there since 2008 but only now is he getting his first-team chance after five loans.
We saw Jack Whatmough on Saturday. He is 18, and I am sure that if Pompey don't go up in the next season or two, he could well be off to a higher level. I thought he was quality, even if he does like like he should be hanging ten at Fistral beach.
Youngsters can flourish at this level and we need to make sure we benefit when they do come into full flower. Yes, we all want Zack to start every week, and I think under this manager his chance to do that will come, but we just need a bit of patience.
At least now they are being taken a little more seriously at first-team level, and that confidence being placed in them by Buckle and Rob Edwards is bearing fruit with the goals for Zack and Omari.
He will use them, and he will do so at the expense of more senior players. No more being picked on reputation as Jason Taylor and Byron Harrison have discovered recently, with Hanks and Omari dislodging them from the team.
He knows what he wants, and expects from his players and seems to have a plan. Work hard and show the right attitude and you will succeed. Otherwise it's cheerio. It's his way or the highway.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Rome wasn't built in a day

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

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Words are fine - but let's have action

AFTER Sunday's gutless surrender to Dover, it seems the reality has finally dawned on Paul Buckle.
But instead of hopping on a plane back to Mrs B in New York, instead he has been laying down the law it seems, with a lot of talk of all the players being on trial and having to prove themselves to him.
He shouldn't have to be telling them that. They should already know, and it should be a given that they go out and give it their all in training and games.
However, as we remember from the end of last season with not-trying-in-training-gate which came to light after we lost at Rochdale, players at this club have form for this sort of thing.
It seems that our players do constantly need to be told that they have to work hard and show commitment when they play for us, or they might find themselves out of a job pretty quickly.
Remember - only Trevor Carson, Matt Taylor, Lee Vaughan and Asa Hall know they will be in gainful employment after the end of the season.
It is telling then that two of them didn't play on Sunday, and the other two are just about the only ones from the seniors who can be excused too much blame for the Cup defeat.
The rest are out of contract and don't so far seem to be going the right way towards getting themselves a new one, either here or anywhere else.
This should be the time of year when they start raising their levels of performance. January is approaching, the time when they might get a move somewhere else, put themselves in the shop window or get the tap on the shoulder from the manager to talk about next year.
It is also good to hear from Troy Brown that the players heard the chants and boos from Sunday. That was the idea Troy. You were supposed to. Now pay attention to them and start performing.
I must say I like the cut of Buckle's jib so far. He seems to be saying all the right things, but the proof of the pudding will come as we see if he backs his words up with action.
He is still in his honeymoon period. He can't be expected to work miracles after two weeks, and after two pretty lame displays so far, can still hide behind the fact that he inherited this bunch and has to make the best of it.
But even so, he needs to start making his mark - and that starts with his team sheet on Saturday.
I don't want to pick up a team sheet at Field Mill at around 2.15pm and see an unchanged starting 11.
That would be tantamount to a vote of confidence for the shambles we saw on Sunday, and also tell those who are sat on the bench or in the stand that no matter how badly we play (if it is possible to play any worse than Sunday) that they will not get a look in.
Steve Elliott is not fit and Vaughan has one more game of his ban, so the back five will not be able to change.
In honesty though, they weren't the worst thing about Sunday, the terrible marking for the Dover winner aside. But defending has not been our strong point in the last few months.
We have now gone 13 league games without a clean sheet, since the 0-0 game at Morecambe, when we left the Globe joint top of the table. Yes. Joint top. Seems like a parallel universe.
Since then we have shut out Oxford in the JPT and Swindon in the FA Cup, but too many goals have gone past Carson in the league, despite his heroics in many of the games. He can't save everything.
But defending isn't just the job of that back four. Yes, some of the goals we have let in have been woeful - down the poor marking from set-pieces for instance.
Good defending also starts at the top of the pitch where forwards hold it up and provide an outlet, and that hasn't happened nearly enough.
It is also helped by the midfielders, breaking up play, tracking runners and covering whenever necessary. That hasn't happened nearly enough either. Too often we have been brushed aside too easily, caught beyond the ball or allowed shots from the edge of the box with no closing down.
We have been a soft touch. Too easy to pass through, and too easy to break down on the counter attack.
Buckle's first task on Saturday is, I feel, to give us more of a backbone and make us harder to beat, so my suggestion would be a 4-5-1 formation.
The three in midfield could be set up one of two ways, with one sitter and two further forward, or two players sitting deeper and one further up to support the front man.
If there is one sitter, I think that has to be Jason Taylor. Further forward, I want to see Kane Ferdinand moved more central, where he can be more effective.
Against us for Southend when they beat us 4-0 at Roots Hall (the night Sido was sent off) he scored and had an excellent game in a central role - yet since being here he has been shunted out wide.
It's the usual situation - either play him in his best role, or send him back to Peterborough. It is pointless to have him here and not use him to his maximum potential.
I'd also find a place alongside him for Joe Hanks as he has that energy to get up and down, can pick a pass and can also get into goalscoring positions - had he been in those situations Taylor found himself on Sunday, I'd have bet on at least one of them going in.
I don't think he has done much wrong this season. Remember he is only 19, and will make mistakes sometimes, but I don't feel he has deserved to be left out. He can also deliver a decent set-piece.
The other set-up in midfield could be two deeper and one further forward, and there could be a few combinations here.
He could play Taylor and Hanks deeper with Ferdinand ahead of them, or Ferdinand and Hanks deeper and then maybe use Harry Williams further up, off the front man.
Williams' best position is that 'number 10' role and that is where most of his goals at reserve and youth level have come, and he would make those runs into the box and get into goalscoring positions. Like Hanks, I feel he would have converted some of the chances that fell to Taylor last weekend.
As well as helping make us more solid, we need more goals from midfield and the likes of Ferdinand, Hanks and Williams are more than capable of providing them.
At this point, you may have noticed that Matt Richards has not been mentioned. That's because I feel he needs to step out of the team for the manager to try out other combinations. I don't feel he offers the steel, tackling ability or mobility that we need at the moment, and he doesn't move the ball quickly enough to raise the tempo.
We need some kind of spark in the team, and need to try to get some more pace and an attacking outlet in there, so we need to get our wingers out of the icebox and try to get some chalk on their boots.
We have four of them - Andy Haworth, Raffa de Vita, Zack Kotwica and Omari Sterling-James - and it's time they were used properly.
Two of them need to start. From a pace and spark point of view, that would be Zack and Omari - but you also have to counter that with the need to help the full-backs out defensively from time to time, and you might get more of that from Haworth and de Vita. So that is a dilemma for Buckle.
I'll throw in another two outside-chance alternatives. Craig Braham-Barrett was our best attacking threat last weekend getting down that left-hand side - so what about starting him wide left and slotting Paul Black in at left back? Or he could give James Bowen another go, either at left-back with CBB ahead or on the left hand side.
That leaves the one up, and it's a 50-50 selection here as we have been left with two senior forwards. I will never stop marvelling at the ineptitude of how that has been allowed to happen.
But hopefully that is something Buckle will rectify in January with the little bit of Cup money he has left, and if we are playing one up on Saturday it has to be Byron Harrison, who is the best of the two we have in that role - but it is vital that the advanced midfielder(s) and wide men get up in support.
So all in all, while he may not have the biggest squad, he does have alternatives which need to be explored in the light of Sunday's surrender. The status quo will not do.
Over to you Mr Buckle.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Dover and out

IN December 2009, Mark Yates inherited a mess of a football club, blighted by the Martin Allen era.
He stabilised it and came within a whisker of taking us into League One - in all honesty, he should have done it.
But now, five years later, we are back to square one again, with a new manager once again inheriting a disillusioned, demotivated, uninterested, low-quality squad of players with half a season to save our league status.
Let me say straight away that I am not including our crop of young players in this. They have been sidelined, under-used and mistrusted while a stream of loanees came in and largely made no impact at all.
But the senior players at the club are a disgrace, with only a few exceptions.
That spineless, pathetic 'performance' they put in yesterday let down everyone at Cheltenham Town FC. The chairman, board and especially the fans, who have again been betrayed.
For 18 months now they have been shortchanged by inept performances from players who will come and go without a care in the world from club to club, picking up their wages.
The fans, meanwhile, will still be here long after they have gone, but the harm of their ineptitude is being felt in falling season ticket sales, a falling number of floating fans, falling numbers wanting to travel away, and falling interest in the club in general.
Performances like this will only make the apathy set in further.
I am not in a position to preach to people about going to games. I am fortunate with my radio work that I don't spend my money on games. If I didn't do the radio work I have to admit I would be thinking twice about wanting to watch this bunch of players for much longer, so I don't blame anyone who is having those doubts.
My Twitter time line has been full of fans saying they are not going to Mansfield on Saturday, even at a cut price £7 a ticket. These people are the stalwarts. The regulars, who spend their hard-earned cash backing their club.
The next home game against Portsmouth is a premium game. The away fans may come in big numbers, but the floating fans without season tickets will not.
Who can blame them? They have had enough. Cheltenham fans never boo the team off. But they did this time, having started the second Connor Essam's goal went into the net eight minutes from time.
Our fans have been an unbelievably patient bunch, putting up with 18 months of rubbish. The previous manager and the players got an easy ride. On Sunday, the worm turned.
Not on the board, who have performed miracles for 15 years and recently made the change that the majority of them wanted.
Not on the manager. He has only just walked in the door. He is a human being after all, not a miracle worker. Even Pep Guardiola would struggle to make a silk purse out of what Paul Buckle has inherited.
But on the players. They have to take the rap for this one. No hiding place. This one is down to them.
The build-up to the game against Dover was all about one thing - just how much this match meant to the club, both on and off the field.
Financially it was crucial. I know some fans think the club is obsessed by money above all else, but I don't agree with that. At League Two level it is a hand-to-mouth operation. What comes in very quickly goes out again, so the chance to make some bonus funds is obviously going to be absolutely vital.
For Paul Buckle it mattered as well. He wants to make changes to the squad he has inherited, and a win could have given him scope to do that.
There should have been an incentive for the players. There are Man United, Liverpool, Man City and Arsenal fans in the squad. A win and they could have been playing against those sides.
Some fans said they weren't bothered as a win would have meant some of them being replaced. Nonsense.
A win and good performance might have changed Paul Buckle's mind about them - especially with all but four of them looking at unemployment in June.
It matters to the fans as well. A Cup run boosts the whole club and the town. It increases interest, it motivates fans to come to games, re-awakes those fans who have drifted away.
The players should have needed no motivation. A home FA Cup tie against a Conference side with a massive third round carrot at stake, to make the club some much-needed cash and send the fans home happy for a change should be enough. But no. Obviously it wasn't.
As I write this, Dover have just drawn Crystal Palace. Good luck to them, as they fully deserved it. Hope it is on the TV then our players can watch it and see what they missed out on.
The trouble is that I doubt that most of them would care about that.
Our performance was absolutely pathetic - one of the worst I have seen since we joined the League. Dover were a well-organised, functional team with players who knew their jobs. They wanted to win more than we did, and they deserved to win. They scrapped for every ball and our players got what they deserved. Humiliation.
Buckle had little choice with his team, picking an unchanged 11.
There is part of the problem - no pressure on anyone for their place, so what incentive do they have to perform as they know they will play and take their money every week.
Take the front two for instance. What club at this level of football had only two out and out senior forwards at the club? Absolutely terrible planning.
Byron Harrison and Terry Gornell know that if we play two up front, they are going to play. So they can carry on giving us insipid, lazy performances.
They are not helped however by our one-paced midfield, where Matt Richards and Jason Taylor offered no mobility, pace or creativity whatsoever.
All over the field, the ball was treated one of two ways - like a hot potato to be got rid of as quickly as possible or as something to keep knocking sideways or backwards at a snail's pace while Dover were able to maintain their shape or press us back further and further.
Some players hid. They didn't want the ball at times and were happy just to move it on anywhere else so as not to take the responsibility in the hope that someone else would.
Kane Ferdinand and Raffa de Vita offered absolutely nothing at all. Ferdinand is a creative, central midfielder who can score goals. In his three games for us, he has been sidelined on the left or right totally unable to have any effect on the game whatsoever while our central midfielders amble around taking four or five touches to go sideways, or charge around like a bull in a china shop achieving not very much at all.
There is no spine to the team. There is half of one - Trevor Carson and Matt Taylor are at least something to work on, with Steve Elliott when he is fit to join them.
But further forward there is nothing.
Craig Braham-Barrett was picked out after the game by Gary Lineker as just about our only decent outfield player yesterday, and at least he has some pace and energy. No one else does.
His runs and attempts to get behind the Dover wall was the only time we looked vaguely like doing anything - but then the delivery was a let down, or the finishing from the pull-backs and crosses was powder puff.
No ruthlessness, no real Neil Grayson-like desire to throw themselves in and maybe (heaven forbid) hurt themselves to try and score that goal. Jason Taylor could have had a hat-trick with shots from around the box. None of them hit the target.
We have a lack of pace, mobility, energy and quality in the squad. Too many of them are in the comfort zone, going through the motions as they know the squad is so unbalanced and small that their places are not at threat.
I am sick and tired of watching us get an attacking throw in and seeing four or five players just stood around waiting for the ball. No movement, no quick runs, no desire to make something of it.
Same goes for corners and free kicks. Let's just put it in there and see what happens.
When a player does actually go down the flank, time after time a cross comes in with maybe one player in the box against three or four defenders. No midfield or wide players busting a gut to get into the box.
Dover had a cruise. They played very often six at the back, and we never really looked threatening for any length of time. Their impressive forward players Payne and Murphy ran all afternoon and put a real shift in causing our defenders a lot of problems. Ours never got in behind their wall.
We were bullied. Again. I got fed up of hearing Mark Yates saying we were bullied and outfought.
It happened time after time after time. And it happened again here.
No backbone. No physicality. No fight for the ball. No challenges for headers in midfield. I don't think we have won a second ball in midfield since Steve Cotterill left. Doesn't feel like it anyway.
I would be quite happy not to see some of our senior players wear the shirt again as I honestly feel that some of them don't deserve to. They are short-changing the fans and the club, those who have put their trust in them and who pay their wages.
Paul Baker today has told Paul Buckle he will be able to make changes in January, so unfortunately we have this lot to put up with for at least another four games until that process can start.
But yesterday's spineless shambles has lessened that ability, so he might have to manufacture some more ways of bringing people in. He will have to be more ruthless than he might otherwise have been.
For a start, he will probably have to think long and hard about the futures of de Vita and Omari Sterling-James, who are on short-term deals.
I would let de Vita go as I really do not think he has done anything. OSJ would be a bit more unlucky as he has shown flashes of what he can do - but like so many others has been overlooked and not used in his best role.
Andy Haworth is another who has been under-utilised and it is no surprise that he has asked to go out on loan. If he is not going to be used, then try to find a club for him. Otherwise, give him a chance.
Talking of a chance, he needs to trust our youngsters. I would rather see Zack Kotwica, Bobbie Dale, Harry Williams, Adam Powell and co given a proper run out. At least they might actually care and actually want to be out there, play for the shirt and play for the fans.
But as we know, they have been mistrusted and under-used and I hope that doesn't continue and I hope the manager does not carry on introducing loanee after loanee to further stunt their progress in the hope of a quick fix.
I have done a bit of research and found that Mark Yates signed 41 loanees in his time as manager (and then add the four he inherited from John Schofield).
Of those 41, only 11 started more than 10 games (Luke Garbutt, Jimmy Spencer, Jack Butland, Marlon Pack, Matt Thornhill, Medy Elito, Paul Benson, Shaun Harrad, Michael Hector, Michael Ihiekwe and Matt Green) - and I would class only seven of his loanees as anywhere near a success.
Those seven are Koby Arthur, Hector, Pack, Butland, Garbutt, Spencer, and Ben Burgess. The other 34 offered various things from the odd good thing (Shaun Harrad for instance) to absolutely nothing (Billy Daniels or Lee Lucas anyone?).
It is no coincidence that five of those seven were here for a decent amount of time, while Burgess started nine games and only Koby Arthur of the short-termers was any sort of a hit (he only started twice).
It must dishearten Russ Milton and Jamie Victory to see player after player come in as they work hard to develop young players then see those efforts given little more than lip service further up. This has to stop.
Kotwica has been the biggest loser. He has only started two games and made 26 subsititute appearances in the last two seasons. No wonder he seems to have flatlined. Having fast-tracked him with a contract before his scholarship ended, we did not build on his early impact in the side. We stunted it.
Joe Hanks too - two games in two seasons while the likes of Kemar Roofe, Daniels, Lucas and co took his place in the side. Then he gets a few games, scores twice from midfield and is rewarded by being back on the bench again.
And Harry Williams. 38 goals at all levels last season from midfield, and a couple of starts (almost token) at the end of the season, then nothing until the last five minutes on Saturday. It seems now that Buckle believes he is a striker as he came on up front.
James Bowen came in at Stevenage and was just about the only success, but then was discarded again.
Adam Powell can actually pass and Bobbie Dale knows where the goal is, which many of our players cannot or do not.
Other clubs at our level do not treat their young players like this. Oxford for instance gave James Roberts a three-year contract and have given him a run in the team, and he has scored goals. He is 18, as are most of our youngsters.
Northampton too. Ivan Toney is also 18. He has been a regular, scored goals and nearly signed for Wolves recently for £500,000. The rewards of giving youngsters a chance.
See Exeter too. Two of their lads are in the England under-20s squad.
We have had some decent enough youngsters in the past but we have discarded them all too quickly without really seeing if they are good enough.
Some of the current crop might unfortunately go the same way and we could have to sit back see them develop elsewhere like Sam Foley, an "injury-prone midfielder" who is now scoring goals in League One for Yeovil, or Marley Watkins, an "inconsistent winger who runs up blind alleys" who is now starring in Scotland for Inverness and on the verge of the full Welsh squad.
Players develop at different paces and we need to try to give these lads the best chance of doing so and also make sure we benefit from it and that starts with giving them exposure to first-team football.
It is always a risk giving young players a go, but what does Buckle have to lose? He has just taken over so he isn't going to get the sack and he just needs to take the plunge.
It's a scrap now. 27 games to save our League status, and get 27 points at least to get past the 50 mark.
I am not sure whether a lot of our players are up for the scrap - I'll take 22nd now.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Small steps...

IF Paul Buckle wasn't aware that he had a pretty big job on when he flew across the pond late on Tuesday night to become our eighth Football League manager, he knows it now.
He has inherited a squad with their confidence on the floor after four successive defeats, and has the task of lifting it pretty quickly with Sunday's FA Cup tie and the run-in to Christmas coming up.
As an opening match, a game with Oxford United, a team who have been underachieving this season, represented an interesting first assignment, and it would be decent barometer for him to see exactly what he has on his plate.
It could have gone either way. A decent performance and a convincing win might have papered over the cracks - persuaded him maybe that Mark Yates had left the squad in decent nick, and maybe there wasn't much surgery to be done.
But that wasn't the case. We took a point, which I (was was Buckle) was happy enough with overall, but which we probably didn't deserve, and that result represented a small step up from the heavy defeats we have suffered in our last two outings.
Rome wasn't built in a day. A new manager coming on was not suddenly going to solve all our problems in the space of 90 minutes - we know it is going to take much longer than that.
The main intrigue pre-match surrounded his team sheet and the formation - would he ditch the 3-5-2 and would any players who we haven't seen much of be given an immediate opportunity?
The suspension of Lee Vaughan and the injury to Steve Elliott which ruled him out more or less forced his hand defensively, and it was a good job he had Matt Taylor back or he would have really been struggling.
With the personnel available, he really had little option but to play 4-4-2, and after the match he did say he thought that was the way forward for us - so no 3-5-2, and not even the bearest mention of a diamond...
Jack Deaman was deployed at right back, and Taylor was alongside Troy Brown, who has been in the spotlight over the last two weeks with some costly errors, and Craig Braham-Barrett at left-back.
He would have been under some pressure as well, as his displays last season in a flat back four were not exactly convincing, and he, more than anyone, had come into his own in the wing-back role - so how would he cope with a return to a four?
All in all, I thought we were better defensively. Taylor's return was a big bonus, and he and Brown had their hands full with Tyrone Barnett, who was very lively, and along with Deaman and CBB had a tough task with the movement of Danny Hylton and Alfie Potter.
There were a few blocks, interceptions and we were indebted to Trevor Carson for two or three (and one unbelievable) saves - but after letting in nine goals in two games, it was step forward - granted a small one.
The goal was conceded was a poor one, a diagonal ball going from back to front, catching us a bit square and playing offside, and Barnett going through to finish it well.
Deaman, considering it was his first League game as a right back, did okay - as well as we could have expected - and provided a great cross for Byron Harrison's well-taken goal, while I thought CBB had a decent-enough game overall and still tried to get forward when he could.
The 4-4-2 system also provided another quandary. Could Buckle solve the Yates problem of being unable to make that system work with our midfield two?
No was the answer - well, not immediately anyway, but it seems that we are going to keep trying to find the key to that riddle.
Our midfield four did plenty of pressing, but I felt we were passed through all too easily and all too often, and this is definitely an area for scrutiny for the new gaffer.
He deployed Jason Taylor and Matt Richards centrally, with Raffa de Vita on the left and Kane Ferdinand right, and I thought Taylor was the pick of the quartet.
This was my first look at Ferdinand, and I felt he struggled to get into the game bar coming to life with the odd little flash of inspiration with a run or pass - he would clearly be happier in the centre, and he was when we changed the formation later on in the game.
I thought de Vita was also a peripheral figure, and was taken off. He has to try to impress more than most with his contract coming up for renewal soon, and I have to confess I wouldn't be rushing to renew it.
Bar the Swindon game, he hasn't shown enough for me, whether that be in a position down the left, or centrally or even up front, so he needs to improve swiftly in my eyes.
When we had the ball in midfield, I thought it was all too one-paced. Oxford's passing was quicker, their movement was sharp - but we were too slow, there was no tempo and I felt we were just too static.
We are crying out for an energetic box-to-box midfielder - someone with energy to make decent runs and get beyond the front two into goalscoring positions. Whether Asa Hall is that player we don't know yet as unfortunately we've not seen him.
The only time we really had any spark to our passing and movement was the move which brought the goal, and it was a great finish from Byron - really out of character with much of the rest of our display.
The front two of Byron and Terry Gornell picked themselves really after John Marquis' departure, and they had a tough time against a pretty resolute Oxford back-line.
Byron tried to compete and give as good as he got, but poor Terry had an off day. It was one of those where nothing went right for him, with neither his first touch, hold-up play or passing all going astray.
Another forward will also be something that Buckle will be looking for - a different type to Terry and Byron, and in my view we need a poacher, a six-yard box player, someone to try to get centre-halves turning towards their own goal, and with a bit of pace.
Buckle said afterwards that he knew that with Terry and Byron we were not going to get in behind them and would have to rely on crosses - which we didn't see enough of, so that comment might be good news for our previously under-used wingers.
De Vita and Gornell were the players taken off with Zack Kotwica and Joe Hanks coming on as we tried a 4-5-1/4-2-3-1 towards the end, but they weren't able to nick a victory.
Their introduction, along with Harry Williams finally being on the bench for the first time this season, was a good sign for our young players and their future under the new manager.
Post-match, Buckle said he wants the players to be fitter - and we did seem to be flagging towards the end, but I think that showed to me that they had put in a good shift, and I certainly felt there was a lot of effort there.
But there was not much quality. In January, I feel the manager has to address the lack of pace and mobility in the side, especially in the final third, as a matter of urgency.
While players like Jermaine McGlashan and Kaid Mohamed were not everyone's cup of tea, they had pace - they could break quickly on to teams and get us up the field (even if they didn't always deliver when they got there) but at present we lack players who can give us that outlet.
Koby Arthur did it, and that's why he made such an impact. At this level, pace is a massive asset and teams with that and players with good movement and mobility can cause problems.
We don't have that, so our passing is slower and we struggle to cut through sides as Oxford were able to cut through us too easily - like Stevenage and Wycombe did before them.
Regarding the manager, I watched him carefully before and during the game, and noticed a few interesting things.
Firstly, he was out there before the game right in the middle of the pre-match warm-up, with lots of talking and passing on instructions, and was deep in conversation with Russ Milton and also got all his substitutes together at one point.
Then during the game,  he was often animated, and in regular conversations with Shaun North, Steve Elliott and Steve Book, with all four often passing on messages and information.
Much of his reaction during the game was to encourage - thumbs up for players even if things went astray - but there was the odd admonishment and the head-shaking after the Oxford goal spoke volumes.
The draw made him the third CTFC manager to avoid defeat in his first league game in charge. Only one has won his (Martin Allen against Bristol Rovers), Buckle joins Bobby Gould in drawing his opener, while Steve Cotterill, Graham Allner, John Ward, Keith Downing and Mark Yates all lost their first League games.
Resilience was the keyword of his post-match interview, and we did show that. He said he feels 4-4-2 is the way forward, and also mentioned his desire to strengthen the squad in January.
The key to the latter will be next Sunday, and the visit of Dover in the FA Cup - and this is a match the importance of which cannot be understated.
A win and a decent third round draw will give the whole club a shot in the arm both financially and from a confidence point of view.
A win would allow the board to give their new manager some leeway to undergo a bit of surgery on the squad, and try to put his own imprint on it.
But Dover will not be a pushover. Their win at Gateshead on Saturday took their unbeaten run to nine games in all competitions and so they, unlike us, will go into the game with confidence.
They will be tough nut to crack. I expect them to come with a 5-4-1 or 4-5-1 and ask us to break them down. It will be a tight affair and I have to be honest and say I would not rule out us having to make that midweek trip to France Kent at some point between the Mansfield and Portsmouth games.
So it's another big week coming up to follow the at times traumatic one we have have just had - and this one may well define our season.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Buckle up boys and girls...

Media preview
PB welcomes PB. That's not going to be too confusing, is it?

So it has happened.
After nearly five years, Mark Yates' reign came to an end and we bid farewell to a man who gave sterling service to our club as player, captain and manager, ran through brick walls for us and tried his best to give us what we wanted.
But in the end, he couldn't quite deliver it, and his departure was, let's be totally honest, inevitable given the recent league results and performances, allied with the chairman's rather muddled statement on Monday which wasn't exactly equivocal in its' backing for our now ex-manager.
So now we move into a new era - but with many memories of Yates' time in charge. Wembley, 6-5 at Burton, Spurs, Everton, West Ham, Mo's header at Hereford, Marlon's free-kick... I could go on and on.
There were some not so good reminiscences too - I still can't listen to Coldplay's Paradise, the 8-1 at Crewe, and some other heavy defeats on the road culminating in the 5-1 at Stevenage - which will now go down as the last time I saw a Yates team play, and the frustration of all those dropped points from winning positions.
But we now thank Mark for all he did, wish him good luck and hope he gets a new job quickly, and have to move on to the future under Paul Buckle's management.
I am not going to go into great detail about the Yates reign and manner of his departure. Just read back through the 200-plus posts on this blog to get a good idea of the ups and downs, or read my mate James Young's brilliant piece on the reign and whole recent situation from today's Echo here. Sums it all up very well.
It is slightly ironic that we welcome Buckle on the third anniversary of a 3-1 win at Oxford which was about as good an away performance as we ever put in under Yates. Would be good if the new man could lead us to performances like that one...!
Tuesday was a mad day. The Yates announcement was not a complete surprise to me when it came early in the morning, then it was all about the speculation game.
James Beattie? Nigel Worthington? Russell Milton? Those were the popular names in the Twittersphere, but suddenly the names of Paul Buckle and Paul Trollope appeared from nowhere and came to the forefront, rising to the top of the bookies' odds. And we know they are rarely wrong.
Then, an announcement on Thursday at 9am for the new manager, we were told. The new man has been earmarked. Then it became Wednesday at 2pm - and we now know why, as Buckle caught an earlier flight back from New York.
Blimey, that's a bit quick - and there lies my biggest nagging issue with this process.
Not about the man who has been appointed - he will be judged by me on his results over time - but the haste with which it has been done.
I still recall being sat in a pub in Edinburgh on Saturday morning and getting a text that Keith Downing had gone. Then, a few hours later after watching Hibs beat Dundee United, I was back in the same pub when Martin Allen was appointed. We all know how that one turned out.
Now, I am not comparing Buckle to Allen in any way - that would be grossly unfair when the guy has been in the job a few hours, but it just all seems a bit quick.
I can understand the board wanting to avoid that caretaker hiatus which can bring instability to a club - Buckle coming in means we can just settle straight in to a new era.
But where was the harm in seeing who else was out there? See who else would have applied, and whether a new 'number one candidate' no-one had even considered was waiting out there to put his case forward.
When it became more and more evident that it was going to be Buckle, another thought entered my head.
His assistant at Torquay and Bristol Rovers was one Shaun North - how much does his presence here have to do with Buckle being our 'number one choice?' and what role has he had in the appointment?
We will probably never know for sure, so let's just hope their reunion can be a fruitful one.
Unsurprisingly, the social media reaction has been mixed - some are pleased, others non-committal, others wanted someone else and a few have already bookmarked the Conference Premier directions page.
So much as expected, I guess.
Other clubs' fans have also put their oar in. I have had mainly positive comments about him from Torquay fans, some of whom wish he was still there, and nothing but negativity from Bristol Rovers followers.
Again, much as expected given his records at the two clubs.
After a play-off semi-final and FA Trophy final defeat, he took Torquay out of the Conference, and then, after a season of stability, took them to the League Two play-off final, where they lost 1-0 to Stevenage.
He left immediately to go to Rovers, where it didn't work out for him at all, and it all ended very acrimoniously.
Rovers sacked him after seven months when they were 19th in League Two and he then went to Luton, where he also lost in the Conference play-off final, to York, but left there to go to the USA with his now-wife, the NBC TV presenter Rebecca Lowe.
I remember him bringing Torquay here in the JPT to face us under Allen, and they passed us to death to win 3-1. We also faced his Rovers team, beating them 3-1 at the Mem, and they were very poor - so we have seen both sides.
Overall, in 307 games, at these clubs, his win percentage is 45.28 per cent - which is not the worst, and does show his level of experience around this level of football.
He has, however, been in America for a year, so what is his current League Two knowledge level? He says he has kept in touch, so let's hope he has.
But despite those doubts, it is done, and Buckle is now our manager, so let's get used to it.
Many fans wanted change. They wanted new ideas. A new pair of eyes. A new philosophy. A new everything, basically.
Well there you are - the board have given you what you wanted, so it's pointless moaning about it now.
It's time to get behind it, whether Buckle is the man you wanted or not. It doesn't matter what he has or hasn't done at Plainmoor, the Mem or the Kennel. It's what he does here that counts.
Look at Allen. He was a total disaster here, but got Gillingham up and is a good fit for Barnet it seems. Not every manager succeeds at every club - we love Steve Cotterill for instance, but ask Stoke or Portsmouth fans about him ... not so complimentary.
It doesn't always pay to listen to what fans of other clubs say about players or managers.
I hope we see a massive crowd on Saturday, especially those 'hundreds of fans' we kept being told by Yates' critics had turned their backs on the club and didn't want to come any more as Yates' football was boring them.
The players now have a clean slate. From listening to his first interview, he stressed that he has high standards and high expectations from his players, especially on the training ground.
He expects hard work, dedication, and  wants players to stay behind for extra training - so the Playstation afternoons which used to rile so many when players talked about them on Twitter might be put on hold for a bit - and let us remember there are plenty of contracts up for grabs.
If my recollection is correct, only Trevor Carson, Asa Hall and Matt Taylor have a contract past next summer - so lots to prove for lots of lots of people.
With the loan window ending tomorrow, Buckle will have to go with what he has for now, so the squad has six games - Oxford, Dover, Portsmouth and Newport at home, and Mansfield and Exeter away - until the start of January to impress.
That Dover game will loom large - and might also have played a big part in the haste of the appointment as the board, I suspect, did not want to go into that with a caretaker boss.
For Buckle, that game will be a massive one as it will no doubt govern his budget for January and any need for reinforcements or potential departures which might become evident to him over the coming weeks.
For now, he will be hoping Matt Taylor reports fit from training and comes through okay for Saturday as that will be his key area to address.
His early plans are not helped by having Lee Vaughan out for three games. He needs to find a right back as we don't have a natural back-up, and that issue may force his hand when deciding whether to bin the 3-5-2 and go back to a flat back four.
Hall will be out until Christmas is seems, so Jason Taylor, Matt Richards, Kane Ferdinand and Joe Hanks look to be competing for starts in midfield - even more so if he decides he doesn't want three in there any more.
The change of manager could also be good news for the largely-neglected wingers, who might finally get some chalk on their boots.
Andy Haworth might see this as the opportunity for a new beginning after being listed for a loan move, while Omari Sterling-James and Raffa de Vita especially need to hit the ground running with their short-term deals coming up for decision time in a few weeks - again for them Dover could be crucial. Lose that game and their time might well be up as not renewing their deals could be an easy way for Buckle to make room for new faces.
Up front, John Marquis' loan finishing now leaves us short. Byron Harrison and Terry Gornell look to almost be automatic choices as it seems we won't get a last-minute addition to the striking options.
But my biggest wish for Buckle is that he gives our youngsters as much chance as the seniors to stake their claim for a place in the side.
Hanks has been in and out of the team, but is now out again, while Zack Kotwica has had less chances than he did last season, and largely flatlined as a result.
We bizarrely have not seen Harry Williams at all after he ended last season in the side after scoring 38 goals at various levels from central/attacking midfield/number 10/in the hole.
Bobbie Dale was on the bench a couple of times, and our lack of forwards might give him an opening into the 18, while Adam Powell is another who hasn't made the breakthrough yet, and James Bowen was a stop-gap selection at Stevenage.
So all in all Yates did not seem to trust them. Let's hope Buckle is different and his mate Shaun North, along with Russ Milton, can get into his ear and tell him about these lads and we can get to find out of they are good enough, rather than helping other clubs bring their youngsters on in our first team.
It would be nice to see that, rather than a succession of short-term loans which blighted the Yates reign, especially over the past two seasons.
He rather took his eye off the ball regarding the loan system after the Jack Butland-Luke Garbutt-Marlon Pack successes so let's hope Buckle adopts a more pragmatic approach to it and elects to concentrate on what he has got rather than what he can find elsewhere.
I have always been more about results than entertainment, so I just hope he is going to bring us winning football, and just overall make us harder to beat.
We have been too soft at times, an easy touch, crumbling under pressure and showing a lack of backbone as we conceded goals in clusters and failed to defend leads on too many occasions - more than 60 points lost from winning positions in the last two full seasons.
So I don't really want to play like Real Madrid if those tendencies are not going to change. I'd rather play like Mansfield if it means we stop surrendering too easily.
Becoming harder to beat and showing a bit of steel in key areas is more important to me than making countless sideways passes in a game with the ball barely leaving the floor.
You have to mix it up a bit in League Two, and I just want him to give us a team which competes and does not get brushed aside easily as we tended to do - especially on the road - too regularly over the past two seasons and at times before that under Yates.
Most of all he needs a chance from everyone, whether you wanted Yates to stay, or are disappointed with the choice of his successor.
And consider this. He isn't going to be able to change everything overnight - his first task is to stabilise things, stop us conceding poor goals and folding up easily, and to bring a bit of confidence back into the squad.
Only when he does that can he start to move us up the table - but these six games to end 2014 are big ones for him, and especially his players, many of whom are now really playing for their livelihoods.
Some will relish it as a chance to prove themselves as maybe they feel they haven't had a fair crack of the whip. Others might not be the new manager's cup of tea so might drift out of favour. It happens when managers change - and can be all about the players' attitudes.
All three outcomes this season are still possible. We can still get automatic promotion as there are enough points to do it, although the recent performances may show we are miles from it. We can still make the play-offs, but equally - and let's not kid ourselves - we could still end up in the bottom two.
There is never a good time to change the manager. Only time will tell if the board have got this one right - but we have to trust them, and hope that they have. As fans, all we can do is support Paul Buckle, and support the board's decision to appoint him.
It's time to Buckle up, and enjoy the ride...

Monday, 24 November 2014

Que sera sera...

I wasn't at the game on Saturday, and the scoreflash which arrived at my phone at 3.03pm announcing Steve Elliott's goal while I was drinking South African cider in Covent Garden was a welcome sight.
The five flashes - four Wycombe goals and Lee Vaughan's red card - which followed were not so welcome, so I had a few more South African ciders, and forgot about it in a moshpit at Brixton Academy, with a bit more cider followed by a few shorts.
I know. I'm far too old for that sort of thing. On reflection it sounds like I made the wiser choice.
So now we really have a problem. Where do we go from here?
Nine points from 36. Four defeats in a row, the last two conceding five goals, then four - and from what I have been told, Vaughan's red card didn't have as much impact as maybe Nathan Thompson's had a couple of weeks before.
Today we had a statement from Paul Baker which can only be described as vote of confidence, without the confidence part - basically he is saying we know the results are rubbish, and we sort of think Mark Yates is the man to turn it around, but we aren't really sure. Sort of.
All a bit indecisive, hardly a ringing endorsement, and hardly suggesting that the manager has a long-term future in his job.
Basically, we are now down to everything going from game to game. One bad result and he is out. Oxford next Saturday is a must win.
Even a draw might not be enough, and losing to Dover is unthinkable.
That would surely be terminal - but that game is the one looming on the horizon and is so financially important for the rest of this season and beyond.
The club simply cannot afford to lose that game, so to rock the boat with a managerial change before that might well be something that the board want to avoid. Too much turmoil.
I know some fans have made their minds up already, and say enough is enough. Fair enough - but I just get the impression that the board want desperately to give Yates the next two games and then reassess.
The caution from Paul Baker also displays his seeming reluctance to go through the process of picking a new manager after having his fingers burnt by Martin Allen and Bobby Gould. But it increasingly looks like he will have to do it at some point soon unless the results turn around dramatically.
Many fans say that Yates would not be in the job now if he was not our former captain and had such links to the club. I have to say I agree with that. It has definitely bought him some time an 'outsider' might not have been given.
Others point to the two play-off seasons as a sign of what Yates can do. Yes they were great. But that was a long time ago now. As the players have moved on, maybe we have to move on.
He has not been able to re-create that formula from 2011-12 for one reason or another. But we cannot go on living on past glories. Those days have gone, and are consigned to YouTube memories. This is about the here and now.
The board have to decide if now, he is the man who can inspire this group of players to turn around this slide in form - and also assess whether the players want to do it for him any more. That is the crux of it.
If they think he is, then let's get on with it. Say he is the man, give him a proper vote of confidence, and let's all get behind him. If they don't think he is, then let's move on, and see who else is out there. No indecision.
Basically, back him properly, or sack him.
Whatever happens, some of the players need to take a long hard look at themselves and ask if they have been doing all they can for their manager.
Paul Baker said in his statement that the fans can 'influence the decision'. But the main people who will influence the decision are the players. Their performances in the next few games will decide whether Yates keeps his job. The old 'lost the dressing room' thing.
Only the players know if they are putting it all in for their manager, but some of them need to raise their performance levels dramatically if they want the man who has put his trust in them and given them a livelihood to keep his job because at the moment they are not repaying that trust at all.
The time is never right to change a manager. Some clubs have done it in this division, and it hasn't been the magic wand they were looking for - Hartlepool and Tranmere are still beached in the bottom two, York haven't dramatically improved and Carlisle, after an initial lift, have gone a bit hit and miss again.
Those four are in the bottom five along with Dagenham, where Wayne Burnett has come under pressure after their Cup loss at Southport. Next above them are Oxford, where Michael Appleton has had a tricky few months after taking over, then us. Above us are Mansfield, who got rid of Paul Cox last week.
Burton are a different case as Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink has taken over a group of players who were in a good position and a confident mood. Two wins in two games is a decent start for him.
From a sentimental point of view, I don't want Yatesy to be sacked. This is Yatesy. A decent bloke who cares about and ran through walls for this club. Our captain, our number eight.
I'd love nothing more than to see him turn it round, stick his fingers up to everyone who has doubted him and has called for his head and take us on a long unbeaten run, storming up the table and into the third round of the Cup.
I don't want him to get abuse from the terraces or on social media (and I have read some in the last few days and it makes me sick - yes, have an opinion on whether he should stay or go, but at least keep it civil, without saying he is a 'c**t who should f**k off' as one - now blocked - so called CTFC fan posted).
I don't want his reputation soured by a messy end to his association with our club, if it is the end. He deserves better, and he deserves some respect.
But there is no room for sentiment in football I'm afraid. If the board ultimately decide that it is the right thing for Cheltenham Town FC that he has to go, then I will trust and back them to make that decision. Whatever will be, will be.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Heroes to zeroes

Did you hear the one about the team who won 5-0 in a Cup game against a team from a higher level, then got thrashed 5-1 themselves a week later by a team below them in the league? Good joke eh?
Er, Mark, it's not a joke.
That really happened?
Yes it did happen - and in the same way as those who saw the Swindon game were left rubbing their eyes in disbelief then this nightmare left many of us looking through our fingers at a defensive horror show.
Inconsistency had been a buzzword this week after we followed the York defeat with the Swindon result, and once again it reared its ugly head.
How can 10 of the same players who put it eight or nine out of 10 performances one week then come out and get fours or fives seven days later?
If anyone has the answer to that, they would probably make a great deal of money. The simple answer is these are human beings, not machines.
I am sure that one day in your job you perform really well, then the next is one of those where you can't do anything right. No? Must be just me and our team then...!
It is impossible to comprehend just how bad our defending was, especially for the opening three goals - in fact it just got worse as each goal came along.
We knew there would be one change from last week with Craig Braham-Barrett suspended, and there were raised eyebrows when we saw James Bowen's name on the teamsheet.
I was pleased to see him given a chance as I have been beating the drum for our young players to get an opportunity.
I could see the thinking behind it - Mark Yates wanted there to be the minimum disruption to last week's team,so changed just one position rather than two, which would have happened had he moved Paul Black across to left-back and brought Jack Deaman in as many (me included) thought he would pre-match.
It wasn't Bowen's fault that we lost 5-1. None of the goals were down to him - but I hope he wasn't looking along the back three hoping to learn anything from them.
If he was, in the first seven minutes he would have had a great lesson in how not to defend from set-pieces.
Stevenage's first goal came from the third corner they had won in a row. We had defended the first two badly enough, allowing a free header from both, and didn't learn from it.
Lee Barnard was left free again and his header set up Chris Beardsley for the opening goal - then we did it again and Jason Taylor scraped it away to Charlie Lee and he curled, under no pressure, a lovely shot past Trevor Carson for the second goal.
Seven minutes in, and it was practically game over.
We tried to come back, Bowen got forward well and Byron Harrison had two headers which he couldn't get on target - but Stevenage always looked like adding to their total.
We looked terribly weak in the back three. Black was struggling aerially against Barnard and Beardsley, whose movement had Brown and Elliott at sixes and sevens.
Our midfield was comfortably second best and we were totally unable to get any decent possession in the final third.
Stevenage were always going to score again and they did, and in absolutely farcical circumstances which made some of Swindon's defending last weekend look accomplished.
A long punt downfield saw Lee Vaughan beaten in the air by Lee, and as the ball went into our penalty area the back three stood totally still as Beardsley ran in unopposed and belted it past Carson.
Ridiculous. So 3-0 after 37 minutes definitely finished things off, and now it was a pride thing - damage limitation. We didn't restore very much of it.
Yates made a change after the third goal with Steve Elliott the fall guy for the terrible defending, with Zack Kotwica coming on as we went to a 4-4-2.
Any of those back three could have come off, and if anything I thought Troy Brown was the prime candidate as I thought he was the worst of the trio and has not, in my view, had a good season thus far - but then we would have had two left-footers in central defence, so it kept the left-right balance.
With the game over, Stevenage didn't need to exert themselves after the break, and we did get a goal back, which was one of the very few positives - a good finish from Byron to take him to six for the season and he is now our top scorer.
Stevenage did add two more, both defensive howlers with even the up-to-now blameless Carson getting in on the act and catching the bug from those in front of him.
Were there any other positives bar Byron's very confident finish for his goal? Not really, and you wouldn't expect there to be from a 5-1 loss.
Bowen's performance was one of our better ones, as was Kotwica's cameo. He tried to be positive and have a go but without being able to get many decent crosses in - but at least he had a go.
So that's the first time we have let five in since the FA Cup defeat to Everton, and our biggest league defeat since the 8-1 nadir at Crewe - there have been a few four-goal losses since then, but not a five until now.
I do have some sympathy for Yates as he must be tearing his hair out at how 10 of  the same side which was so determined and passionate one week can then put in such a limp and weak performance seven days later. But he needs to find the answer to that conundrum. That's his job.
After the game, he said we were outfought and bullied. Again. He is having to say that too often - Shrewsbury and Plymouth for instance - and he needs to find a solution to it.
League Two is a physical league, so we need to be more physical and match that. That's not going around kicking everything that moves, but just simply doing the basics of competing. Winning personal battles around the field, winning second balls, getting tight to your man, marking properly, tracking runners.
We did it last week, we did it at Cambridge, we have done it many times this season. Yesterday, we did none of it in key areas.
Unfortunately, our squad is not big enough to simply drop five or six under achievers after a game like this and bring five or six more in. Yates has to work with those he has and find the solutions.
He needs to ask them why they seem unable to carry out a game plan once they cross that white line, as their failure to do so is letting not only him down, but also the board and the supporters who travel up and down the country as well.
It is time to get tough with them. Ultimately it is the players who hold the key to whether he keeps his job or not.
It cannot all be down to the manager all the time. The 'it's his team, he signed the players, he motivates them, he coaches them' mantra cannot always wash. The players cannot simply be absolved of responsibility for playing superbly one week, then terribly the next.
I am afraid though that you have to put last week's Cup result to one side. Yes it was great. It was very important financially for the club, but it didn't get us any league points, and a look at the league form since the end of August makes very grim reading.
Since the 1-0 win over Hartlepool, which saw us move to 13 points from the first 15, we have taken nine points from the last 36 available - two wins, three draws and seven defeats.
That is simply not good enough - and many teams this season with similar records have already changed their managers. So it is no surprise to see my Twitter timeline filled with doubts over Yates' future, many of those simply saying enough is enough.
I would be very surprised if that concern was not being mirrored at board level. Surely they must have debated it informally at least.
So what can the manager do with his squad?
One thing he will surely have to look at is changing the 3-5-2 system, which, having made us more solid early on in the season, is now not having the same effect.
He hasn't been helped by the injury to Matt Taylor, the defensive lynchpin and his skipper. But the loss of one player should not have such a detrimental effect on a team or formation. We should be able to cope.
The 3-5-2, however, is a system which suits our full-backs. Lee Vaughan, most of the time, and Craig Braham-Barrett undoubtedly look happier in it. A flat back four would expose them defensively.
Conversely, I don't feel Troy Brown looks suited to the 3-5-2, yet would be happier in a back four.
If he changed to a four, Yates would then have make a decision to leave one of Elliott, Brown and Taylor out when they are all fit. On form at present, that would be Brown.
Then we go into midfield. For whatever reason, we seem to have always struggled to play with a two-man central midfield under Yates. Most sides play with a three, and the third man brings more stability, and should (I repeat should) make us more solid, and harder to beat. But that hasn't been the case recently.
The plan in pre-season was to have the enforcer Taylor, the passer Richards and the box-to-box man Asa Hall as the three - an attempt to mirror the jobs (if not the ability) of the successful Penn, Pack, Summerfield trio.
Yet Hall's injury four minutes in at Bury has scuppered that. Joe Hanks, Omari Sterling-James and Raffa de Vita plus the on-loan Jordan Wynter have all been tried in there with varied success, but the formula has never been quite right.
Like Taylor's absence, Hall's injury has been keenly felt - and it will probably be Christmas by the time he comes back in. But again, we should be able to cope with it.
Another issue with the 3-5-2 is that we don't use wingers. But we have a few of those on the books - Andy Haworth, OSJ, de Vita and Kotwica are all happiest in that role - but they need 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 to get a real look-in and to be really effective.
So what does he do? 4-4-2 suits a few players, but causes problems elsewhere. 3-5-2 does the same and effectively freezes players out of the squad. A Catch-22 wherever you look.
The only consistent part is the '2' up front - and despite the difficulties further back, Byron Harrison has four goals in two game, and Terry Gornell four in the last six, so their form has improved after long barren spells for both.
That is timely as well as John Marquis has one match left of his loan, and that gives Yates another dilemma... does he look for another forward, or instead push Bobbie Dale up the pecking order and decide to prioritise a shake-up for his leaky defence or try to freshen up his midfield?
Alternatively, he could play 4-5-1 - but that is perceived as negative, and then the question is which one of Harrison or Gornell is more effective as the '1'?
That's his dilemma - but what about the board, and their conundrum over the manager's long-term future?
This season was his last-chance saloon. After the two play-off seasons, last year was a write-off and instead of a two-year deal, he was given another 12 months.
The chairman made the 'last chance' scenario very clear. He even said this would be his last contract. Then, at the fan's forum recently he was asked where he wanted the club to be in five years. League One was the reply. That seems a long way off, as this run of form suggests a play-off push is a long way away for another season, maybe even written off already.
We are only six points off seventh, but current form does not lend itself to optimism of that gap being breached.
The board have been very loyal. Many club boards, I would suggest, would not have given the manager another year after a campaign like the last one. I suspect Yates' status as a former captain and those two play-off campaigns are all that saved him last summer.
Now let me make this quite clear - I am not calling for a change right now. However, the next three games could tip the balance one way or another. I cannot believe a change would be made before the Cup tie whatever happens in the two league games.
We have Wycombe and Oxford at home in the League, then the Cup tie with Dover - a game which could map out our season one way or the other from a financial point of view.
Four points or more from the two league games, and a win over Dover will buy him some time - then the third round draw will decide our financial destiny - and the board would then have to decide if they think Yates is the man they want to make the best of any financial windfall they want to put the manager's way for January.
Less than four points and a win over Dover makes it very rocky for him despite the Cup win, but defeat to Dover is unimaginable. He would find it hard to survive that I think.
But as I said above, some on my Twitter timeline say his time is up, while others continue to maintain that he is still the right man for the job.
Here are some of the arguments put forward on Twitter since Saturday, and my views on them:

There is no point in changing the manager, who could do a better job?
You never know who is going to apply for a job until there is a vacancy.
It is likely that we would get a raft of applicants (Burton had more than 60 for their job) and once you have sifted out the Football Manager experts, there might be some surprise names in there, and someone you think would do a decent job, but hadn't expected to be interested.
Then it would depend what sort of manager you want, and there are several categories.
The experienced manager - one who might have failed elsewhere more than once, or unluckily got the push after a dodgy spell (also known as 'the serial failure').
The young buck  - those looking to make their way in the game, someone who has recently retired from playing and wants to get on the ladder or who has had already had one shot at it.
The lieutenant - someone who works in a club's academy or is a coach/assistant elsewhere and might have potential to handle the top job.
The ladder-climber - A manager who has done well at a lower level and has earned the chance to make the move up to the Football League, as Yates was when we appointed him.
The internal promotion - Someone from within the club who the board feel would be able to turn things around (otherwise known by many fans as 'the cheap option'). Can work in some cases - Gary Rowett at Burton made this move, and Gary Bowyer at Blackburn is also having a decent shot at it.
The club hero - An ex-player of ours who has taken or is taking coaching badges and is up for a shot at the hotseat.

Be careful what you wish for/Better the devil you know
When the manager is changed, then you have to trust the board to pick the right successor - and remember many of the current board helped to appoint Martin Allen and Bobby Gould.
This decision however would be more crucial if it occurs as when Allen and Gould were appointed we were in League One, so had that added safety net. That is not there this time - a wrong appointment could be a real disaster for the club.

It's gone stale/He has run out of ideas/He has taken us as far as he can/he's a non-league manager out of his depth
I think these four can be grouped together and some of it smacks to me of the thought of change for change's sake, ie he has had his go at it and it's time for someone else to try - we've had enough of having the same manager for five years, give someone else a go - I don't know or mind who, just someone else.
What has gone stale? The club? The team? Or is that just people are bored of us being a mid-table club in League Two, who wins a few and loses a few every season?
Maybe that is what we are. A mid-table club in League Two. The budget, attendances and overall club finances would suggest that, so under current circumstances it is going to be tough for anyone to take us any further than that without any significant input of funds.
A change of manager is not a magic wand. Same players, same budget, same restrictions would apply to anyone else coming in. All they would bring is their own ideas and motivation, which some feel Yates has run out of.
The 'non-league manager out of his depth' one is interesting and very unfair in my view, considering he is now the third longest-serving manager of the 92 and has taken us to two play-off campaigns...

The football we play is boring - there is no entertainment
The old 'results v entertainment' debate - and it all depends what people want more - the team to win, or the team to win well.
Is it not enough just to win any more? It is for me. I'd take 46 1-0s every time, bit I know some wouldn't.
I appreciate we haven't been doing enough winning by any scoreline by the way.
Do we have to win with a swagger? If so, this is League Two, and I haven't seen any team this season who have played with a swagger against us - organisation and taking chances either when they come along or are gifted to them by our mistakes has usually been enough.
We have won with a swagger under Yates at times, especially in the Wembley play-off season, but he has never been able to re-create that formula.

Results have not been good enough
No argument here. They haven't been. Not over the last three months and for last season too.
Nine points from 36, and a fall from 2nd to 16th in the table is not pleasant reading and, as we are always told, football is a results business. Yates needs to get some results.
Our fans are, by their very nature, a patient bunch and our board is fiercely loyal.
Not many managers have been turned on by our fans and I hope that doesn't happen to Yates, who is a decent bloke who has done his best for the club as a player and a manager, giving us some good memories in both roles.
I would hate it to turn sour, to see people abusing him and for things to get nasty. I really hope that doesn't happen.
I hope people get behind the team in these next three crucial home games.
Whatever happens, we all support the same club and we all want the best for it.