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That was the week that wasn’t

Well, it was a better title than “Post Fleetwood thoughts”.

On reflection, our trip to the armpit of the North West ended up a decent point, but our lack of firepower right now has finally come home to roost – there we were, doing pretty well in the first half up there, only getting the one goal and you know what happened after that.

Apart from Newport, where we should have lost on that first half “defensive” performance alone, we’ve become the draw specialists. The fact we’re no longer top doesn’t worry me – it was a bit of a false position in truth, Crawley have effectively bought the title and only Luton really have the required strength in depth to go all the way with them.

It might bring a couple of people down to earth, although I don’t think anyone was getting carried away, and if it helps us to re-discover what got us top in the first place, so be it.

After all, we only need to be top once more this season, on the 30th April.

Anyway, TB’s reaction after the game (both in the post-match interview and in the players bar afterward, says he all name droppingly) was interesting – he seemed pretty relieved, jovial even. Which admittedly may not be what you want to see after losing top spot and hanging on a little bit in the second half.

Maybe the pressure of being top has gone away? Whatever, we’ve lost our mojo recently, although some will argue we never had it to begin with. We do know that our midfield doesn’t have enough bite, and we’re as useful up front as a eunuch in a brothel. Fortunately, it’s still the January transfer window (which IMO should be scrapped) and we do have time and games on our side.

And perhaps increasingly, money. We can safely write off Andre Blackman now, in case there was even a 0.01% chance of him lingering about, but the way it’s ending is rather mysterious and will probably not end up well.

As for the future of our favourite player currently on loan to a Kent side? This is what TB said about Main after Fleetwood, almost word for word :

Not sure about John’s future, it depends on how well he does. John’s suffering from the fact that we play three up front, that’s the system we prefer because it gives us the extra man in midfield. Even today, we looked into going into a 4-4-2 in the second half and it would have meant taking a holding midfielder off Magno Viera, I thought Viera was quite lively today and I couldn’t afford to do that.

It depends on how well he does at Dartford, and how our results go.

So he might still have a future. Which makes things clear. I think.

Those who have read this site for the past eleven years will know by now I don’t “do” tactics. Football Manager has never been something ever on my shopping list. But it does suggest that the Conference is a different kettle of fish to the Conference South and even last season. The standard of player is better, and you have to adapt your tactics to suit.

Paul Fairclough, the ex (and, er, current) Barnet manager always had an expression about the division we’re in : it’s a sophisticated league with sophisticated players. Teams are more clever in this division, which when you consider how Stevenage exploited the gap between us and them earlier this season is a bit breathtaking.

Viera may not be the best player in the division, but the fact we have to have quality and the tactics to nullify such players gives you an idea of how things have evolved. So if Main does come back, he’ll have to learn how to be a professional footballer.

It’s possible we’re building for next season too. The playoffs are always a gamble, and if we did go up there would be some current squad members ousted. Gwillim has already stated he would like to sign for us permanently, though TB did pour some cold water on that – the age old finance issue mainly. From what we’ve seen so far, he’s a solid player and certainly the best left back we’ve had since  Hussey.

I’ve lost count of the amount of times SW19 has written this over the years, but any promotion push will need the likes of Gwillim’s quality, and if he’s too expensive… Doubt if Hudson (who is the only recent signing who has been a bit meh) is cheap. Ditto Stuart, who has (for the most part) been a revelation in defence. The youngsters have done very well getting us to where we are. It’s the likes of Gwillim and Stuart that will keep us there.

We’re still making noises about Danny Hylton, and some would argue our midfield needs sorting. Plenty may lament the apparent jettisonning of our youth policy, but I think it’s more adapting to how this division really is. Normally, you wouldn’t have put so much reliance on people like Franks, Harris and Jackson as we have, but we’ve done so because the budget is supposedly the 14th biggest in the division – although usual caveats apply.

These talented youngsters would normally be brought on slowly, alongside more experienced players. Think of how Chris Perry developed. Our youth policy this season hasn’t failed, it’s just been asked to do too much. We may want Reece Jones to feature more, but we’re handling him the way he should be handled – LSC/Slurrey Senior ties, decent standard of football elsewhere, while putting him in for the odd cameo appearance in the first XI.

And no, there isn’t a frustrated high pitch voice in my head yelling “Reserves. Combination. Reserves. Combination”. Honest…

One could argue that Danny Kedwell’s form recently has suffered because he’s having to not only play his own game but other peoples’ too. On Tuesday, he started to look like his old self again, slotting home one and possibly netting a second. He went way off the boil in the second half though, although getting kicked didn’t help.

It’s not like he’s has many other senior players to help out with the workload – Nokkers and Main haven’t helped him out too much due to their inability/unwillingness to adapt, and you can’t expect the youth to lead by example. BJ and Yak don’t appear regularly, which is why Stuart’s signing was vital.

The possible new striker is an important position, and not just for the obvious reason. Get it right, and not only do we win games but it means we could do without DK simply to give him a rest. To be fair, that’s what we tried to do with Nathan Elder last season, and ironically he might have been the type of player we’re currently looking for.

It’s often forgotten that we are still on a bit of a Learning Curveâ„¢ when it comes to this sort of thing. We can bitch and moan about Crawley’s spending, and we will certainly do that, but it’s going to be like that every season from now on. Mansfield will be next season’s big spenders, and our opponents on Tuesday aren’t shy about spending money (although Fleetwood don’t get it in the neck so much as Crawley, mind you they are a lot friendlier and less antagonistic to deal with), not to mention who comes down.

We adapted to Conference life last season, and our fall away at the end (OK, since January) genuinely surprised a lot of observers. This season, we’ve gone full time without much effort, but this is our next stage of development. A stage that very possibly may be the first genuinely uncomfortable time in the AFCW era. Can we handle it? We’ll have to.

Anyway, we have Southport on Saturday. It’s “Show Your Colours” day, which means what it says. Insert quip about a yellow streak here…