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University Challenged

If, in the first week of August 2009, you said to me that it would be Footlights 2 Polka Theatre 2 in February, and I would come away disappointed with the result, I would have both laughed and snapped your arm off at the same time.

Well, I am disappointed, but perhaps not in the way I should be.

I dunno whether it was the way we let it go back to 2-2, or whether it was the opening 25 minutes, or what, but yesterday finally proved why we are not playoff contenders.

A playoff contender can kill the game off.

A playoff contender uses a man advantage to their, er, advantage.

A playoff contender goes 2-1 up and makes it 3-1.

And most of all, a playoff contender doesn’t let a lowly side in the division who hasn’t won in 7 games make it look like clueless chumps for large sections of the game.

I should be happy with the way we came back, how we did put some passes together and cause them quite a few problems. But then, that’s what I expect as a minimum from us in these sort of games anyway. I’m not happy with how we started, and I’m certainly not happy with how we finished either.

During the game, I wrote the following on my notepad:

2-1 up, oppo down to 10 men, 25 mins left – surely we can’t fuck this up, surely?

I guess I must have found some gap in the space-time continuum where my scribings changed the course of history forever. Either that or it was so sodding obvious we’d mess this up again. Believe it or not, I wrote it soon after we headed against the bar and out, which would have made it 3-1 and (probably) give us three points…

It’s frustrating, and in all honesty I can’t help but think we’ve gone backwards a bit. Yeah, yeah, Learning Curveâ„¢ and all that. But while I think we’re collectively talented enough we’re starting to get tested mentally, and yet again yesterday we had to claw back from yet another crap start. We should have been 2-3 goals down before they scored first anyway.

I would be very surprised if we didn’t get through either Oxford or Luton without a major tonking. As in, a 4-0er. You can see it coming, and I’m not sure how we’ll react as a result. Something has gone missing from us in 2010, and I’ve got no idea why.

Is it the new loanees? It’s not uncommon for Conference sides to put loan players in though, and I would expect a degree of professionalism from our squad. It’s not like we’ve done this without reason anyway – Blanchett isn’t setting the place alight, and he’s no Chris Hussey. But before then, our choice was BJ at left back (which clearly unsettled us at the back) or Derek Duncan. Nuff sed.

We’ve lost Inns and Moore, and the likes of Kennedy haven’t performed week in, week out. I can’t believe the luck (lack thereof) with ACLs this season, seems like we’ve not only shagged a witch but slipped one in the Grand Wizard too.

So what do we do?

That all said, this theory has been going around a lot recently in my head, and it’s worth repeating : I think a lot of players are fighting for their positions next season. Right now, many of them are doing a very good job of collecting their P45s and getting the Bromley manager’s phone number. To be honest, I haven’t listened to TB’s interview on the BBC but I’m told he’s starting to lose patience with the players.

It seems to be a regular space filler feature on SW19 recently, so here goes again – right now, you would keep DK, JM, Brett Johnson, Quiche, Wellard, Hendry, Gregory, and maybe Moore and Poole. I’m still not too sure about Hatton, so I’ll be generous and he can stay. Or rather, he still has the photos of one of our top brass and the hooker from Frenzyville.

The rest?

I’m sure Pullen will have another pop at the supporters after this, but his two fine saves were cancelled out by his two mistakes for their goals. I really can’t see why people think he’s better than Seb Brown. Judge is on his way, I imagine Conroy might be too. All in all though, this is starting to be a bit of a headache for TB, who knows he can’t totally dismantle the team.

We do have two of the trickest fixtures coming up now. So, knowing us, we’ll get wins at both of them. But I’m disappointed because this seems typical of the season thus far – flashes of brilliance, equal flashes of turd and liberal helpings of meh. I believe the young persons of today use terminology like “win” and “fail”. I’m not sure we’re either this season.

Of course, it might not be as simple as the players simply not being good enough. I’ll explain why later, but for now, Mansfield at KM looks like one almighty blip…

Plus points: We didn’t lose. Came back well. Some decent passing at times.

Minus points: We didn’t win. Beginning of game. Game after they scored their second.

The referee’s a…: Better than last week. Then again, Mr Fish would have been an improvement too.

Them: Started off with their arses on fire, making us look ordinary. Got their goal, then allowed us to get back into the game. Once we did, they really did look pretty rubbish, and their player getting sent off summed them up. Like the game at KM, I ended up being disappointed in not getting more out of them. I do wonder if we continue to have a mental block against most ex-League sides in the division. Maybe that will come with our own increased professionalism?

Ground was interesting, a proper ex-League one. Even if the away end was 100 miles away from the goal. Their ballboys were slow, let’s hope Gary Glitter comes round their school to perform a concert, that will wake them up. Oh, and their fans were noisy when playing well and quieter than a Franchise fan in an ID parade when they weren’t. Got to say though, they have supplied the world with one of the most brilliant if stereotypical club badges ever:

As for Cambridge itself, what a strange place. I’ve never been there before in my entire life, and in truth I’m not exactly tempted to go up there on a sunny Sunday afternoon. The traffic is shit (took me 40 minutes to go two miles) and regular readers know what esteem I hold Oxbridge types in anyway. Never trust a section of society that takes a boat race seriously.

Point to ponder: Remember earlier when I said that it might not be as simple as the players simply not being good enough? Glad somebody is paying attention. Anyway, we seem to have a problem that has run throughout today’s game and the T&M tossfest this week. Are we paying for a lack of a high level reserve team?

The ability to being in the Football Combination – sorry, the Combination – is one that is open to us but for whatever reason we decided not to go in for this season. So really, unless you’re a first team regular or you’re 18 year old, your game time at AFCW is always going to be limited.

If you look at the teams in that link I posted, playing the likes of Crystal Palace and Brentford has to be better all round than playing in the Suburban League. OK, we might end up getting a few tonkings, but surely it would be better to give somebody like, say, Steven Gregory a couple of afternoons playing a Championship reserve side than risking him on crappy pitches against Met Police reserves.

Right now, it seems our reserve setup is basically a load of 18 year olds, a few triallists and the occasional cameo by a first teamer working on some match fitness. I know that there are reasons why we’ve had to neglect our stiffs setup, but as we move more into full time and we can’t offload players so easily these days, maybe it’s time to do something about it?

And besides, it would sort out who to play in the crappy county cup games. Not to mention giving your editor something to do on Wednesday afternoons…

Truth is stranger than fiction: (1) Hearing the away turnout – 769 – announced over the PA. Can’t ever remember that happening before, though one wonders if they do that when Gateshead visit. (2) Speaking of the PA – was it me or was it shit? Heaven help us if there was a blaze and you had to evacuate, and you had to work out instructions over it. You’d probably end up being directed into the fire. (3) Going through a place en route called Trumpington. Sounds like a Camberwick Green spin-off, and looked like the kind of place Daily Telegraph readers go to die. (4) Seeing a bloke slumped over a motorway bridge on the M25 going there. Couldn’t he have waited until after the game?

Anything else? Yes. Seems like we’re getting used to the etiquette of being in all-seater stands again. As in, people moaning like fuck about people standing up in front of them, and the people standing up moaning back that the original moaners have a choice where to sit and shouldn’t sit at the back. That type of thing.

When you think about it, we’ve had to make some pretty drastic adjustments as a fanbase since 2002. One season, you’re in the Championship and all that it entails. Since then, we’ve been to “grounds” that have in some cases been literally fields-with-a-fence and straw bales. Not to mention death traps like the Beaverdome and various other eccentric venues that time and H&S legislation forgot. So it’s no wonder that we go to a former League setup and don’t really know how to act.

As a fanbase, we’re in a bit of a confused state right now in how to behave. Up until last season, we were a League fanbase in some very non-league surroundings. Now we’re back to almost 2002 levels of football culture, we’ve somehow developed a bit of the non-league mentality ourselves. Going to the Abbey Stadium shouldn’t be a new, exciting adventure for us. But it is. I’m not sure if it’s a Learning Curveâ„¢ because unlike running a club it’s not a “new” thing. Or at least, it shouldn’t be…

So, was it worth it? Really can’t answer this one. Seriously. We haven’t lost in two games now, yet I feel like we’ve lost 5-0 in both of them.

In a nutshell: Roll on Luton. No, really.