Well, the dust is finally settling from Saturday, a bit like the frost outside SW19 Towers…
I had a brief email from Martin Fielding about the game, as reproduced below:
If we hadÂ the NewcastleÂ gameÂ it would be massive distraction as well at least one more fixture in a diary that is going to look horrendous for Creepy and Luton after the next two weeks when I suspect very few games will be played (the only ground that I know has undersoil heating at this level is Darlo which is why that FA Cup game went ahead there at the weekend under 2 feet of snow).
Having seen how poor Swindon and Charlton were, both Creepy and Luton will have aspirationsÂ to get through to a very lucrative next round tie so will put a lot of focus on their replays -Â let’s hope that as well as exhausting/injuring themselves and collecting red and yellow cards, at least one of them succeeds in getting throughÂ – in addition the exposure for both means that theyÂ will both attract bids for their better players – the NLP is reporting this weekend that Creepy have already had a league bid for their left back Howells which they are likely to have to accept as the guy is out of contract shortly.
Having now put in rather iffy performancesÂ in our two live games, weÂ are now hopefully immune fromÂ thisÂ effect I think (one advantage of our better young players Hatton/Gregory/Brown/Jackson and JolleyÂ having indifferent and/or missing televised games!) and equally we now have the funds to strengthen ourselves in January.
Frankly if our games vs Luton tomorrow and York on Saturday are called off (which must be 95% likely)Â there is a chance that we can enter the new year (a) still on top on the back of full points from our next 4 four league gamesÂ (home against Wrexham and Eastbourne and home and away against H&Y)Â saying “catch us if you can” to Creepy and Luton and (b) almost as importantly havingÂ our first choiceÂ centre backs back together for the first time since the start of the seasonÂ (when you may recall we let in only one goal in our firstÂ 4 games!) apart from the second half/extra timeÂ in the replay vs Ebbsfleet when an unfit Johnson came on to partner Yakubu and ….. guess what …..Â we didn’t let in any goals!All in all if you were writing an Xmas wish list for a team with aspirations for winning theÂ Conference it would look very much like whatÂ AFCW have got at the end of the weekend (with a bit of help from the weatherman)!
Upon watching bits of the second half on ITV again, we showed what our limitations are. Even though we were much, much better in that period, and Luke Moore should have changed things with that header, we lacked that quality throughout the side to take advantage of it. In effect, we looked like a Conference side.
Which when you consider that Stevenage were in our position this time last season is pretty sobering.
I can’t help thinking of TB’s tone of voice and facial expression at 1.40 after the game. We may have found out the hard way that we might be trying to achieve the impossible with our current attitude to getting players in. Read the SW19 report on Kettering and specifically the Point To Ponder section, and upon cool reflection it becomes even more poignant just 48 hours after going out.
You got the impression on Saturday that some players would do OK the next level up, some could but need a bit more work and some would find themselves back in the lower reaches before long. DK, Sammy Moore and Sam Hatton would easily be the first. Players like Seb Brown and Ed HarrisÂ probably would too as they’re young and still learning their trade.Â You could make a case for Luke Moore as well. The rest have a question mark over them.
Christian Jolley, who many would put down as an early Young Player of the Season contender, looked painfully out of his depth against a League Two outfit. He may well get better, and if we do find ourselves in L2 this time next year, he does at least deserve a chance to prove himself. People like Gregory and Yussuf didn’t inspire though, and would find themselves looking for another club before long.
What was clear on Saturday was our need to get in one or two older heads. Another DK level player, or another BJ type, as a minimum. Think of how we relied on Jason Goodliffe and Marcus Gayle in getting to the Conference in the first place – arguably, they did as much to get us up to where we are now as Jon Main did.
Where are our 2010/11 equivalents? Only DK can really fall into that category, and we put too much pressure on him as it is. Right now, we have some promising youngsters who are currently doing OK enough. But that wasn’t enough to – dare I say it – match Crawley’s effort against Swindon on Friday.
Nor is it likely to keep us at the top : right now, the current excus… er, reason for us underperforming this past six weeks is tiredness. Yes, it’s only close to December and we’re acting like it’s April. That is one of the side effects of having a squad with an average age of 22 – we’re lucky as it is that we were able to secure Fraser Franks and Ed Harris, otherwise the problem of tiredness would have been even more acute.
We’re now starting to see why you don’t win things with kids, as Alan Hansen once put it. To put his original quote in context, Yernited were developing people like Beckham, Scholes, Giggs and the Nevilles back then. But they also had experienced heads like Steve Bruce, Eric Cantona, Franchise cunt Ince and Mark Hughes to guide them through. In an AFCW context, we have Mark Hughes and nobody else.
People look at the WFC youth system with some degree of romanticism too. Yes, it developed people like Euell, Perry, Neil Sullivan and Neal Ardley. But less well remembered is that they were brought on slowly (usually in the reserves for a season) and came into a side that would have people like John Scales, Fash, Efan Ekoku and REMBE to allow them to settle down and take the pressure off.
If we had about 3 more players of DK’s experience and standard on Saturday, we would probably have been in the hat yesterday (as I think we would have got a draw). We had three players with League experience – Stevenage had four with Premier League knowledge.
One assumes the club is serious about getting promoted in the next couple of seasons, maybe even this campaign. To do that, it’s going to have to bite the financial bullet and get in two or three players of that genuine League Two standard. By all means continue to search around for the best young talent, but toÂ be legitimate contenders we’re going to need that extra bit of quality, class and experience.
We’ve done it before – Jon Main came into the RP and we got out of it (in the right direction). We needed that better caliber of striker in the CS, so we got in DK. Today, our transfer policy has if anything regressed.
Yes, I hear that this squad could be something special in a couple of years time. Trouble is, that’s a helluva risk to take, especially for a club that needs to be in the League by 2014 at the latest – by “need”, I mean in terms of developing a proper youth/reserve setup. There is a thin line between having that potential we’re all talking about and quickly going back to square one and rebuilding all over again…
By that last statement, I mean that if a player does shine, a League club will just wave a chequebook in our direction. Let’s face it, if a club comes in with a six figure sum for any of our players, the temptation to sell would eventually be too great. Chris Hussey, anyone? More importantly, who do you replace them with? If Brett Johnson goes, we’ll be relying on Ed Harris and/or Fraser Franks to take on the work of a player five years older. Those two could be pretty good in a couple of years time, but they should really be brought on slower than what they currently are.
Ditto if Seb Brown gets snapped up. We would have to replace him with Jack Turner, who’s barely old enough to legitimately buy a porno mag. If we are short in a position, our current transfer policy would dictate that we would have to start looking around primary schools…
Doing it on the cheap sounds very good, but it only gets you so far. One may argue after Saturday that we may have already reached the limit of current policy – Boro (why oh why did they drop that from their name?) were in the same position as us this time last season, and the gap between them and us was the same – this despite us having a far better squad this season after large scale rebuilding. And if we’re struggling to beat Ebbsfleet then how are we going to keep the required level of consistency up to get promotion?
That does assume of course that we actually want to get promoted this season…
Anyway, we face Luton tomorrow, weather notwithstanding. As it stands, tomorrow and York on Saturday being off will do us a favour. It would have been interesting to see how BJ and Dre would have fared against Stevenage, although we can now concentrate on the league.
I’m not that bothered about the FA Trophy, all the while our squad is what it is, that will become a hinderance. In the meantime, we’ll be counting out the money from the FAC run, ITV and ESPN. Methinks some of it should go into the transfer kitty…