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Pre-Bradford thoughts

What’s this? An SW19 update? Yes, really.

Yes, it has been very quiet on here recently. Shit happens. While your editor has seen less first team games than Jack Turner this past month, and he’ll be at Brentford tomorrow rather than Bradford, it’s none the less a good time to look forward to our second game this season at Valley Parade. A game that you honestly don’t know what will happen.

Yes, we won up there 2-1 earlier this season, and if at 1700 tomorrow we get the same result, you’ll be walking round with just as big a grin on Sunday as you did after the last time. Bye Bye Wombles, and all that.

But tomorrow has got that bit of a, well, odd vibe about it right now, hasn’t it? Nobody has got carried away with potential third round clashes against Crawley, which is a good thing, but at the same time there’s that gut feeling that it will be a struggle…

Losing to Burton might have something to do that, of course. Before that particular game, we were still buzzing a bit from the Scunthorpe victory and it was reasonable enough to expect us to go up there and finally start putting a run of wins together. That we sounded like we’d gone back to our bad old defensive ways felt like it deflated us more than most similar performances this season.

It’s almost like the penny finally dropped that our defense/midfield – or the tactics employed – just isn’t good enough or consistent enough to be League Two standard. The stats tell part of the story – most conceded at home isn’t good, although we’re middling on our travels. But even the few games and TV highlights I’ve seen recently have suggested that we’ve been relying on a lot of luck and Seb Brown to keep that figure respectable. There’s being competent and there’s being lucky, and we’ve used enough of the latter in the past few months.

Which is why TB’s comments earlier this week about searching for a new striker are a bit eyebrow raising. He gives the impression that it’s only the strikeforce that needs bolstering, and the defence will finally sort it out themselves. You know, exactly in the same way Jon Main was going to score 20+ goals in the Conference once he got a run of ten games and changed the system that put us top.

OK, that’s being a bit harsh. TB did acknowledge, perhaps for the first time, that something is systematically wrong with our defending after last Saturday – something that Brett Johnson echoed. We’ve had close to a week since those comments were made, and it’s not like we’ve had any proper first team games distracting us in training. Those going up tomorrow will hopefully have seen the first signs of a new and hopefully effective way of keeping out goals – if only for the sake of our coffers…

Your editor did manage to secure day release for good behaviour on Tuesday and get over to the LSC game at Wingate. The problem with these Senior Cup games – apart from the £10 to get in – is that they’re a bit semi-competitive. The first team fringers should pretty much sweep what’s before them, but unless it’s our actual first team they never have done. And even on that latter point, that’s not always the case. Remember Chipstead?

Playing a team from the Ryman Premier – and Tuesday reaffirmed my gladness that we never have to do that again on a regular basis – is always difficult to judge. While our management were impressed with some they were clearly unimpressed by others.

Unfortunately, for those fringers, it’s one of the rare times they get to show what they’re worth, and if they don’t take it… Dare I suggest that some of the first team fringers on Tuesday aren’t going to be here next season? The line-up was Jack Turner, Ade Osifuwa, Fraser Franks, Mat Mitchel-King, Gareth Gwillim, Max Porter, Lee Minshull, James Mulley, Ryan Jackson, Brendan Kiernan and Louie Theopanous.

By the time May comes around, and we see the list of released players, you wouldn’t be surprised at a couple of names above being on them. Perhaps more than a couple. If the management thinks that some aren’t performing to the standards expected in a Senior Cup game in December – a tournament that, let’s be blunt, we’re expected to win relatively comfortably – then they’re not going to be considered good enough for the first team in a League Two/FAC contest.

We can be pretty brutal in releasing players if we don’t think they’ll make the step up. Ask Ed Harris. Trouble is, we’re victims of a footballing landscape where the “traditional” reserve side is declining across the board. We don’t particularly want fringe first teamers who are unlikely to start regularly taking up wages and valuable second-string places for the youngsters, but our yoof system still isn’t sufficiently bridging that gap.

We’ll probably see this setup continue for another couple of years at least. There is a temptation for the club to make this second string predominantly yoof teamers next season, while cutting out the fringers and putting money into players who will regularly start in the first team. In other words, rather than wait 3/4 years for that to happen organically we force it through by this time next season.

That would likely mean poor development game results and early exits from both Senior Cups for a good while though, and it’s not like any genuinely promising youngster will be held back from the first team. Plus of course, in past Senior Cups where we’ve had mostly youth but with the odd first teamer in, the games have always been disappointing. Think of Colliers Wood United last season with Ricky Wellard starting.

The one other item of note was the lesser spotted MMK starting on Tuesday. No, he didn’t fall over on the steps, although plenty of Wombles did make a tumble, and we’re still waiting for the commemorative t-shirts. He was…… all right, I suppose. You can’t really judge players on one first half performance back from glandular fever/knee/bruised toenail/post-natal depression/whatever else he had, but I can’t help thinking he’s got a touch of the Ross Montague about him.

He might turn out to be a decent player in our first team, but some people are expecting too much from him right now. Even with the usual caveats, he didn’t stand out on Tuesday, and he’s clearly some way off starting. And that’s assuming he doesn’t get the inevitable bout of yellow fever within the next two weeks…

Anyway, enough of that. We’ve got a big game tomorrow, and it appears our opponents have a virus in the camp. Aren’t we normally the ones who get those?