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Kicked while we’re down

This will be the first and only time I make mention of Northampton’s traditional shoemaking industry in the report. Kicking… feet… shoes… geddit? Geddit? EPICBANTZ LMAO ROFLcopter looooollloooooll etc.

OK, it’s shit humour, but after losing 3-0 to Northampton last night  I’m not in a particularly jovial mood right now. That this was a better performance than Aldershot almost feels inconsequencial, but then reality checks have that strange effect.

Have we progressed much further forward since even the Bristol Rovers game? Yes, I know it wasn’t a penalty, and I know that Seb decided to pick last night of all nights to have a brainfart, but a semi-decent League Two side would have still got a result out of this game.

This was the kind of AFCW I saw on the odd occasion in the Conference. Trying to be intricate because they didn’t know how to do it simply and effectively. Lacking any sort of cutting edge up front, and always prone to the opposition taking a rare chance at the back. Conference sides weren’t capable of punishing us, but League Two sides like Northampton are.

If last night reminded me of anything, it was the Stevenage FAC game from last season, and to a lesser extent the Luton home League game in January. And even though it’s only September, that worries me. See, we got promoted because we developed a winning mentality at the right time, we knew how to go to places like Fleetwood and win 2-0.We weren’t the highest caliber of squad in that division, but we knew how to get the result.

We’ve now lost that one defining ability, and we’re looking like…… well, we look like a upper mid-table Conference side in League Two. For the first time this season, I genuinely believe too much of this squad is out of its depth. The slack that has been given for the Bristol Rovers defeat, for the first half against Plymouth, for the Macclesfield debacle – hell, even the luck riding we had against Port Vale – has been tightened.

Apparently, there were a few (genuine) comments aimed at TB during last night, and a couple of observers seem to think he’s feeling the pressure. He’s certainly finding out the hard way that being one of the best ever managers in non-league doesn’t help you in the 91 Club, and he needs to figure out how to stop this rot and quick.

Yes, it’s only September etc etc, but it’s best to sort it out now. When you’ve had eight games where you’ve only dominated in a handful of halves – let alone the full 90 minutes – you can’t let that go for another eight games. Hell, you can’t even let it go for another four.

I don’t know if it’s TB’s day off today, but he needs to forget pottering about in the garden and go back to the drawing board. If he’s cut out to be a manager in the Football League, he’ll need to devise a new way of playing, together with a new mentality. How he does that is up to him, but something needs changing.

Trying to be the lower league equivalent of Arsenal isn’t going to cut it any more. If it was ever effective in the first place, that is.  The Gunners have been proven to be a busted flush, and unfortunately right now so are we. We have time to re-adapt, to rework our style and formation so it can get results and even dominate games once in a while, but we need to do it soon. And I’m not sure if we can even wait until January.

Not having the transfer window open doesn’t help us right now, but loan signings are always an option here. At this very moment, TB should be phoning round anyone and everyone he knows, be it an old friend at a Championship side, or an agent desperate to give a client a job, and find at least one player kicking his heels who has the character and ability to pull this squad together. In other words, somebody with a clue.

It was suggested last night that we need our modern day equivalent of a Mick Harford, or Clive Walker when he came to Woking. Or even Marcus Gayle. Somebody with nous and no little skill. If such a player is available for only a month, we could do a lot worse. I don’t really buy the money-will-be-an-issue argument here, because if we genuinely offered Marcus Bent a contract, we can certainly afford a couple of loanees…

People already seem to have mixed views on C-Mac, but he’s no worse than what we’ve had this season. You don’t get offered professional terms and start in Carling Cup games for West Ham if you’re crap, put it that way. The argument that you have to start loanees as part of a deal is a favourable one for us right now : if we have a proper, League Two quality defensive midfielder (for example) even up until Xmas, that will be a good short-term plug.

What we do in January becomes ever more important, and plans for then should be made now, but we cannot go for another couple of months like this. We’ve spent five weeks playing in competitive Football League matches again, and it’s clear we have some big problems already.

If the first three games were novelty value, if Hereford was the hangover, if Macclesfield was “one of those days” and Port Vale was an unexpected gift, then Aldershot and last night were the final wake-up calls we need. The honeymoon is over, and Danny Kedwell’s penalty at Eastlands is now ancient history.

We are now about to enter one of the most important three months of the AFCW era for some time, perhaps ever. Get it right and we’ll look back on this period of play and wonder what all the fuss was about. But get it wrong…