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.

Monday, 10 November 2014

It really did happen...

MOST of the time, writing this nonsense is a cathartic way of trying to exorcise some demons from a disappointing result or performance.
But this time, I am sitting down to compose this in the hope that it will finally confirm for me that it did actually happen.
I have listened to Ian Randall's commentary (here) about 20 times, and watched the goal highlights (here) about another 10 times. It has just about sunk in by now.
However, there is no doubt that this was an afternoon which will not be forgotten for a long time.
It will go down as one of our best FA Cup results of all time, and must rank in the top three home performances of Mark Yates' reign - that's how good it was. I haven't seen us play this well at home for a long time - maybe since that 3-0 Southend game in the Wembley season.
It was the first five-goal haul at home under Yates - the first since John Schofield masterminded a 5-1 success over Barnet. We hadn't scored five anywhere since Dagenham in that Wembley campaign.
Every single player was nothing short of fantastic - no less than an eight out of 10 for any of them - but Byron Harrison has to be singled out for scoring our first hat-trick since Michael  Pook on that day at Burton.
Much maligned this season for lack of goals and perceived lack of application, he was the centre of some heated debate at Thursday's fans forum.
"He is an enigma," said Yates, who acknowledged it could be hard to get the best out of him, and to 'read' his character, while one fan suggested if he wasn't going to do the business, maybe we should just get shot.
But yesterday showed why we are not going to get shot.
This was bully Byron - the one we saw at the end of last season, the one which scored 15 goals in a mediocre team, had scouts watching him and scooped all the player of the year awards.
However, the display and the manner of his goals also served to sum up the enigma which is our number 9 - why can't he do that more often...? Where has that Byron been this season?
Let's hope he can keep this up. Let's hope this hat-trick will be a catalyst to fire him up, starting at his old club Stevenage as Saturday showed just what a potent weapon he can be for us. Swindon's defenders could not handle him at all.
He got his rewards for persistence, for chasing lost causes and for busting a gut to get into positions where he could cause real problems - two things he had not been doing all year.
He now has a lovely mango-coloured match ball for the mantelpiece - and it was great to interview him afterwards with a smile on his face - here - and he was very honest about his form this season and the flak he has been getting.
Pre-match, I was sure he was going to come back into the side for John Marquis, but you'd have got good odds on Paul Black's name being on the teamsheet, especially as one of the back three.
Black came here in the summer with many fans hoping he would replace Craig Braham-Barrett in the side, but CBB has been so good this season in the new formation he has barely had a look in.
He has started two games in central midfield (and, to be honest, not looked great in either) and had 45 minutes in the back three against Oxford in the JPT, so on paper this was a bit of a gamble.
But like every other gamble we took in the game, it paid off handsomely and he was, like everyone else, superb. Ironically he might now get a chance in his favourite position as CBB is banned on Saturday.
All the talk pre-match had been about Swindon's athletic young side, their passing game and quick tempo and movement, and for the first 10 minutes we saw just that.
We barely touched the ball, and I am sure I am not the only one who was slightly worried. We were pressed back, defending on our 18 yard line with the midfield three joining in.
I suspect the possession for the first 10 minutes was probably about 90-10 against us, with the odd foot in and a hasty clearance or two about all we could muster.
Then it changed thanks to a long punt down field, which the Swindon defence looked petrified to deal with and in nipped Byron to score - almost instantly you could see the belief flowing through us.
Byron and Terry Gornell suddenly realised that putting pressure on the back three would pay dividends, and our midfield trio also decided that getting stuck in to the Swindon youngsters would also knock them out of their stride.
Then came the sending-off - and although (as expected) he disagreed with it, I was pleased to see Mark Cooper not label it as the sole reason for us going on to win, choosing instead to question the desire of his players in both boxes.
My view is that it was a definite foul on Gornell, and Thompson was the last man. Gornell was running through, level with the edge of the penalty area (not towards the corner, Mr Cooper) and as Thompson was the last man, with no cover behind him, the letter of the law says red card.
Had he got through, yes he still had work to do, but would have cut in on goal and had a goalscoring opportunity.
So now it is all about how the two teams react. The team with 11 needs to guard against complacency, while the team with 10 needs to galvanise itself and try to look to make light of the numerical disadvantage.
But we were not complacent, and Swindon did not show that determined attitude - and as the half wore on we made the extra man count.
CBB was the major recipient, as, having been pegged back early on by Nathan Byrne, he was finally able to get moving down the left-hand side, and he worked well with Raffa de Vita, who put the cross in from a short corner which led to the second goal.
Harrison won the header, and Gornell did the rest for a 2-0 lead at half-time (here is a great alternative view of the goal).
That is always a dangerous lead, 11 men or 10. Cooper had half-time to sort his players out, and the next goal would sort it out. 2-1 is game on and jitter time, 3-0 is game over.
Soon it was 3-0, and game over. That was thanks to the marauding Braham-Barrett, more shambolic Swindon defending and a Harrison tap-in.
Basically, that was that. Swindon fans started to leave and our players could now express themselves with freedom. Matt Richards, Jason Taylor and de Vita were all over the Swindon midfield, with Massimo Luongo, who had run the game early on, and Yasir Kasim now anonymous.
We saw at Cambridge that Matt Richards likes a volley - and that peach he hit will join that one from the Abbey in the goal of the season reckoning. It was a cracker. Don't know about you, but I could watch that goal all day.
Then more ridiculous defending gave Byron his hat-trick - and also meant it didn't matter that John Marquis came on and missed a golden chance to make it six.
De Vita also came mighty close with a first-half crack against the post and then a flying second-half volley. If they had gone in, we could have had eight.
See them here, in hEaLeR-vision ... but that's just greedy. Five will do just fine thanks.
Aside from the result, the main thing to look out for was the attendance, and more to the point, the home portion of it after the brouhaha about pricing.
In the event, it was just under 2000 of a crowd of 3470 - and the £18,000 prize money will add to the coffers as well.
As I have previously said, I was against the pricing structure and I don't criticise anyone who stayed away, wither because they simply couldn't afford it or just opted not to pay on principle. That is their choice or necessity.
I have some respect for those who came to the forum on Thursday and had their say about not only the prices but also those whose season ticket seat was moved. I hope the club will take heed of this episode on all fronts, and I applaud the terrace reduction for the Wycombe game.
The board had their reasons for pricing the game as they did, and I think it is just time to enjoy the result and move on from it - at least until they announce the prices for the second round game...! Over to you on that one Mr Baker - let's make it affordable for everyone and get a decent crowd in, shall we?
So who was nervous as those balls were coming out? I was wanting a home draw against a non-league side, as on paper that gives us the best opportunity of being in that third round bag.
I was watching all the teams on the left disappearing as the balls were coming out and was worried as Bristol City were still in there. I was desperate that we didn't get them, so it was a relief when Dover came out.
This draw gives us a totally different challenge. From having little hope according to the formbook, to being the favourites. But our 5-0 win and Dover's win over Morecambe is enough to show everyone that formbooks are nonsense.
No complacency - and this game will be a pivotal one for our season. £27,000 at stake in prize money, and that place in the third round draw - after which anything will be a bonus.
It's very unlikely to be live on the TV, but it might get moved to Sunday maybe, for that new Final Score programme as we are playing a non-League side and the draw has not been kind to the non-league survivors with few real stand-out ties.
Before then, we have three big league games, at Stevenage and at home to Wycombe and Oxford, which we need to get some points out of.
High standards were set on Saturday. We won't hit those heights every week, but the effort and commitment was back after it dropped off in the first half against York, and we now expect it to stay at these levels.
That is the only way we will get performances like the one on Saturday. Let's face it if the team don't get confidence from this result and performance, then they never will get confidence from anything, will they?

Sunday, 2 November 2014

The negativity returns?

SO it didn't take long, did it?
The new dawn that this season was supposed to bring, the wave of optimism which was going to take away the clouds of last season seems to have vanished for many, just as we say goodbye to October.
Yes, I saw yesterday's game. Yes, I saw the most inept 45-minute display I have seen from us this season - but I have to admit I would be more worried if that had been the norm, rather than the exception to what I have seen since August.
Let's get the blame out of the way first. I don't blame the manager for that 45 minutes. There. I said it.
In Friday's Echo I wrote a piece about the game, and picked my team. Two changes - Joe Hanks and John Marquis for Omari Sterling-James and Byron Harrison. The manager picked the same side.
On Twitter beforehand, the majority of people on my timeline also picked the same side, and the majority were happy with what the manager had done after they saw the teamsheet.
The same team, same tactics and same formation which most people apparently wanted him to play. The 3-5-2 which some people have been crying out for him to try for the past few seasons, because we can't play 4-4-2, and 4-5-1 is negative.
The same 11 players who performed so superbly at Cambridge only 10 days ago, and pulled off a superb victory.
90 minutes later, Eusebio should have started. So should de Vita. Why was OSJ dropped? Why did he put Hanks back in? Or Marquis? He should have dumped the 3-5-2. Hindsight is a wonderful thing isn't it?.
So it went wrong, and the manager was getting the flak. It's his team. It's his tactics. It's his formation.
But when they cross the white line and fail to follow his game plan, fail to do the basics, fail to show the application, fail to win any of their battles, are completely and utterly out performed, and look a totally different set of players to the ones we saw at the Abbey despite all the work on the training ground on shape, York's threats, defending set-pieces etc, what can he do?
He can only do what he did. He changed it.
Our three in midfield were being dominated by York's two. Our trio of central defenders were looking nervy from the start and conceded too many fouls and failed to go with the movement of the front two.
Our front two were static, low on work-rate and high on outstretched arms and complaining to team-mates and the referee - with John Marquis making it booking number six. Neither had a sniff of goal.
It was one-way traffic, and it was pure good fortune that we had not conceded at least three times before we finally did.
Russ Penn was too streetwise for Joe Hanks, and having got him booked and then on to a final warning ahead of a red, Mark Yates did the right thing in taking him off.
He moved Troy Brown slightly forward, but then he gave the ball away and a little ball down the channel to the side of Jack Deaman and Lee Vaughan (see also Plymouth's third goal last week) finally gave York their goal.
So more changes, this time Eusebio for Deaman, and a change to 4-4-2. Yes, 4-4-2. You know, that system we can't ever seem to get right.
But hey, guess what. It worked. And we dominated the second half, with Eusebio (for half an hour, until York worked out how to stop him getting the ball) a box of tricks and a constant danger.
On the other side, Raffa de Vita was also effective, his best game for us and a far cry from that anonymous display at Shrewsbury, then change number three saw Byron Harrison come on for Marquis.
He added a different dimension as well, winning flick-ons, holding the ball up and using the width, running the channels and showing the work-rate we had been asking for from him.
Gornell should have scored with a header, and scuffed another chance from a rebound. Harrison was denied by two fine saves and there were other balls flashing across the box and loose balls bobbling about which just needed a bit more anticipation and a bit more bravery.
So there was no stubborn sticking to his guns from the manager, as we have been frustrated by in the past. He saw it was wrong, and he changed it as soon as he could, and it nearly worked for him.
But it didn't and the bottom line is that we lost the game, no matter how we dominated the second half, and no matter all the chances we had. The first half display was enough to make sure we got what we deserved from the game.
And so with the result, it seems, has come the return of the glass-half-empty mentality. 
"We are in the bottom half now." Yes. Just. 13th is in the bottom half, but it's very tight.
"We are three points off 18th." Yes, true. But we are also three points off seventh. The play-offs.
"If we lose our next three, we could be 22nd and out of the Cup." Yes, true, depending on other results. But if we win them all, we could be in the second round of the Cup, £18,000 (plus any gate receipts, if there are any) better off and in the top seven.
You can put rose-tinted glasses or dark-tinted shades on the situation, but my reality is that where we are is where we deserve to be.
We are an average, middle-of-the-table League Two side. The players we have in our squad are of the quality we can afford, and they play in League Two for a reason.
Some weeks they will play well, like they have more often than not this season, but they will also play badly. We have to accept that, and yes, it is just as frustrating for me as it is for you. 
As long as they put the effort and commitment in as they did at Cambridge, then I would hope most would be happy with that. For 45 minutes yesterday they didn't do that, and they deserve to be criticised for it.
That inconsistency is why they are this level - if they were consistently able to produce their best performances week in week out, they wouldn't be here. Or if they did, other clubs higher up would soon be sniffing around.
From being hailed as heroes at Cambridge, they have gone back to zeroes and are now "a poor squad of non-league players" apparently. Guess it is true that you are are only as good as your last game.
Yet our budget and crowds are such that we have the team the club can afford. That team is probably destined to finish in mid-table, or just below that. We have beaten two sides currently above us, Bury and Accrington, and yesterday's defeat was the first against a team sitting below us.
So that suggests 13th is about right for us at the moment, and that many of the teams above us will finish above us, and the many of the ones below us will finish below us.
That is my view of reality. I know some won't like it. Some will say I am being unambitious and showing a 'little old Cheltenham' mentality, and fine, that is your opinion, but I think this is our level, and we will have to accept that, and people will have to decide if they want to sign up for it or not. 
I'd love us to be top of the league, or fight for the play-offs every season, of course I would. I want to see the club progress. But, and again some will say I am being boring and unambitious, but for now I will settle for keeping League football here. 
We waited long enough for it, so I certainly don't want to see us lose it. Doing that is only going to become more and more difficult in the coming years given the club's finances and the crowds. 
At present, I feel anything else is a bonus unless there is someone out there with some spare cash they want to throw into the black hole that is League Two football. If that doesn't happen, sorry to say I fear that we will eventually seriously struggle more and more to keep our league status.
Hence why the board have to run a tight financial ship, and keep us within our means, ever-shrinking as those means are.
What I struggle to understand is when I hear people who have been watching the club as long as I have saying they are turning their backs on it, regretting their decision to buy a season ticket.
It is their decision of course - but having seen some really terrible stuff in front of one man and his dog in some pretty ropey places in the Southern League for a long time, I don't get how a few mid-table seasons in League Two are now a step too far, and how this squad can be "the worst I have seen in xxx years" after some of the seasons and teams they have endured, at various levels.
If we are all so bored of being mid-table in League Two, other clubs will swap places with us in a heartbeat. Bristol Rovers, Grimsby, Wrexham, Hereford, Stockport County to name a few. But we lose this status, we won't get it back, and the club could easily spiral downwards, as a couple of those names above have done.
I know some will cite the cost. I fully get that. My last blog made clear my feelings on the cost of football in general and especially next week's FA Cup tie. Football everywhere, not just here, is too expensive.
Others cite entertainment, or the lack of it. But this is League Two, and it is a slog. There are not many teams in this league who are going to try to play expansive, passing, flowing football. They are going to try to be organised and functional, as York were.
Every game is a battle, and I'm afraid that to expect thrilling football every week is unrealistic. The Conference would be worse.
I fully accept that home fans have been short-changed of late, especially last season - but sometimes I think you just have to ride the rollercoaster that this division is. I do not think you can just expect the team to come out and turn on a sparkling display every week. It's not going to happen with League Two players. They are often going to annoy and frustrate. It goes with the territory.
Others say they are disillusioned as they feel the manager has had his day, has taken us as far as he can, has hit a ceiling, has gone stale, should have gone at the end of last season... however you want to put it. 
Yes we could change the manager, but would it alter anything long-term, and would we attract anyone better? 
There might be a short-term lift as there often is, but long-term it wouldn't be a magic wand to make the budget bigger, it wouldn't suddenly transform the squad, or make them all better players, and I doubt if it would attract hordes more fans. Would we suddenly play an expansive, entertaining style with a new manager? No. This is League Two.
I just feel all it would be is a new name on the office door. He would have the same players and the same resources to deal with. It would be changing the manager for the sake of it, and I don't feel (at the moment) that it is worth it. Only if the results take a serious downturn in the next two months will the board even consider it.
And even then if we did it, and it went wrong - then what? Do we turn into Leeds and change it again and again until we get it right? 
Despite their win yesterday, York haven't exactly shot up the league having changed manager. Ditto Hartlepool, Carlisle and Tranmere. I will be interested to see how Burton fare when they appoint a full-time successor to Gary Rowett.
On the other hand, Wycombe are paying the dividend at present for sticking by a manager after the narrowest of narrow escapes last season.
I actually think tactically Yates has been better this season. He has made substitutions and tactical changes which have won us points or gone very close to doing so. Most of our wins have been down to switches he has made.
His interviews are better as well, with yesterdays being one of the best. Honesty, and no excuses. No defending the performance, no defending the players, as they didn't deserve it. No excusing the first-half display just because of the improved second period. I thought it was refreshing.
The bottom line is we all want a winning team. But is that the only thing which might ultimately will bring the crowds back? 
Is winning enough any more, as after the Northampton win, "three points, but it was a crap game" was one reaction I saw post-match - so maybe even merely winning isn't satisfactory. The modern fan is only happy to win in style it seems?
One thing that is certainly not going to win the fans back is the pricing for next weekend's Cup tie - in fact all it is likely to do is alienate more of them, and yesterday's result won't tempt too many who were dithering about paying the price to dig into their pockets, unfortunately.
But it's that old vicious circle again. Less crowds means less money coming in, means less for the manager's budget, means less quality in the squad, means less chance of success on the field, means less crowds... and so on. Hence why the pricing decision for next week is, in my view, not right.
That decision is why the attendance figure next week will make just as interesting reading as the manager's team sheet - and he has some big decisions to make, in system and personnel.
The 3-5-2, we have been told, has made us more solid defensively - yet we have now conceded at least once in our last 10 league games so it seems that he will have to at least consider dumping it, at least until Matt Taylor is fit again. But going back to a flat four would bring its own headaches.
I assume that Troy Brown and Steve Elliott would be paired together. Brown has not been at his best recently, and it also brings into focus the defensive capabilities of Lee Vaughan and Craig Braham-Barrett.
CBB has been a plus of the season, thanks largely to the 3-5-2 and the way it has allowed him to use the attacking side to his game. 
Vaughan has looked suspect defensively (I thought Saturday was his poorest game for us) and we saw CBB struggle at times so are we going to risk that again by going to a four?
We also know that we have struggled with 4-4-2. It has just never worked, mainly due to the lack of a midfield two we can rely on. I cannot believe Yates will play 4-4-2 against Swindon, as I think we would get over-run in there.
More likely is 4-5-1 or a variation of it. I wonder if he might play more of a 4-2-3-1 with Richards and Taylor as the deeper two, with one man ahead of them, two wide men and one forward.
The three could be OSJ or Hanks centrally, with de Vita and Andy Haworth wide - assuming that if Eusebio's loan is extended, Wolves will not want him to be cup-tied. If he can play, he should.
I think that Eusebio would have been sent back to Wolves but for the cameo yesterday. He does not fit into the 3-5-2 and if that is the system we were going to carry on playing, then why keep him?
But the first-half nightmare and subsequent change of formation and his display might have changed the manager's mind. Had 3-5-2 worked, and had we won the game with it, it could have been curtains.
He is not alone in not fitting into the 3-5-2. Add de Vita, Haworth, OSJ and Zack Kotwica to that list. If the formation does change, their fortunes might change for the better as well.
The choice to be the '1' is Harrison or Gornell as Marquis will not be able to play as his loan ends in late November, so Millwall will not want him cup-tied as they might want to use him themselves in round three or loan him to someone between then and January who might want him for round two.
Neither of them are exactly suited to that role, but Harrison would be the best bet, especially if we are going to play two wide men to provide crosses for him. De Vita put some good balls in yesterday and we'll need some more of them to have any chance.
He faces big decisions for a big game.