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Shrimp and Save

To  be honest, I’m in two minds whether to write something after JP’s critique of our latest loss. I wasn’t going to, but….

Out with a whimper, not a bang… but better?

I went yesterday without expectations of a win. And so I guess I wasn’t disappointed. If your expectations are low you cannot be too let down. But in the end I was and for a variety of reasons. Not least because we got very little luck and it felt: What if 1 What was 4.

Having survived an atrocious penalty decision inside 3 mins, we contrived to hit back and get our noses in front due to a defensive error and decisive finish by Midson. Cue about 15 mins of really good play where we caused them more problems than we have against teams at home for quite a while. But then came a raft of disappointments and, some would say bad luck…

– We lost the lead after a strange decision went against Midson in a 50-50 tussle: the ref called Stuart up whilst he lectured Midson – did concentration get lost with Stuart summoned up field? Subsequently, they went down the other end and despite copious cover the cross – that normally would go out for a corner – ballooned up over the goal, wrong-footing Seb who could only palm it into the Southend player’s path. 1-1

– Losing momentum then, we then had Jolley – who had been struggling to get into the game – diving in two-footed. I thought red card. Others confirmed. Now we were going to struggle

– Starting the 2nd half in a defensive mindset you could see chances coming. The 2nd goal again involved no competition for the ball, from the half-way line to the edge of the box, our defenders so deep and on top of each other its not surprising again more missed tackles and a deflected shot leads to a second goal off Stuart. Again, the run of the ball against us.

– Southend now adopted the ‘pepper the box’ with crosses. With a player advantage, us happy to play on the edge of our box, cross after cross came in. 3-4 Southend players encamped as well so no surprise one free header leads to the third goal and surrender by body language.

– Their fourth? Sums it up really, when it can go wrong it will – clearing header hits another of our players and rebounds to set a Southend player free to lob Seb to take an undeserved 4-1.

So what now for TB? Well, this was not another Accrington or Oxford type game otherwise I’d have written – see previous! There were undoubtedly improvements, mainly in confidence when we went 1-0 up but the old problems still exist. The personnel may have changed but not the way we play.

One new observation yesterday for me though, was how when Southend attacked the midfield seemed to split – 2 went to support, 2 remained further back. With ours it always seemed to be 4 up or 4 back. And 4 back seemed to cause confusion as to who’s responsibility a ball might be.

The January window of transfer opportunity might be our salvation. It might not. Some players excel at one club, fail at another. Can TB find that golden nugget to gel things? Personally, I think our problems are just fundamental in terms of the formation we play and where on the pitch we play it.

I’ve never been a great tactician but I feel a simple 4-4-2 with players playing in positions they are comfortable in (left side players on the left for example) and playing the defensive line further up the pitch will make an immediate improvement. I have yet to see any forward player from a L2 side with absolute blistering pace unhinge our defence -or Jolley or Jackson, probably our fastest two – do likewise. If you are that fast and good you are not playing League 2!

So 23 games in, and 1 point ahead of that 50pt safety target. Will repeating that be enough I wonder? I hope so but I am not so sure. Here’s to a normal WFC surge in the second half of a season!!

Plus points: Seb Brown’s penalty save. Sammy Moore, MMK and Jack Midson. A bit of confidence and better when we went one up. A goal. A Midson goal too. Realistic substitutions this time.

Minus points: Jolley’s tackle. Defensive line too deep. Defensive mindset giving the momentum to the opposition at the start of the 2nd half. Apart from Midson and Mulley the air of resignation in the team at 3-1 down. Hatton’s form and demeanour. Is he injured or just being bloody lazy chasing back at the mo?

The referee’s a… : The slang for a female reproduction organ is too good for this guy. Apart from the red card for Jolley (which everyone near to the incident agreed was right) his decision-making was appalling from the first minute. The Hatton penalty never was and resulted from him being behind play. Did he consult his linesman who must have seen Hatton play the ball away before the Southend player fell over his extended foot? No. Obviously another ref full of his self-importance that believes linesmen are only there for offside and throw-ins. That operational arrangement being allowed, or encouraged is as much to the detriment to the game as the poor level of officiating in general. Refereeing really does have the air of dead man’s shoes – like teachers they rarely get sacked.

Them: Solid League 2 outfit again that, if you think they were 3rd and we were 17th at the start of play, were no great shakes. Indeed when 1-0 up they looked the inferior side and with 11 men we could have managed a draw at least, if not the win. However, their direct ‘get it into the box’ style certainly paid dividends when they imposed their 2nd half advantage. A lesson there for us I feel. More men in the box and get the crosses in. Not fanny about with it. Look what did happen when we got a ball into the box unexpectedly. Southend player, poor control, runs to Midson, volley bottom corner. Result.

Point to ponder: At half time, I wrote in my notes ‘Worthy of 1-1.’ I also wrote ‘Find out about the rest of our season?’ Well, it doesn’t look too promising does it?

But it does strike me, the more I watch and hear from others the more there seems to be a displacement in the personnel and positions they play. For me this is so perfectly illustrated with James Mulley. I am a fan: I’ve wondered why he’s always been on the edge of the team. Apart from possibly Sammy Moore, is there another true box-to-box midfielder at AFCW? So why play him at left wing (or left side when he is right-footed?).

Someone suggested right back for him as a challenger to Sam Hatton. I can see the logic. But are we again negating his talent to shore up a deficiency in another player? By doing we become a team of averages, not excellence. Midson’s talent is to score goals. Seb’s to save them. Sammy Moore to breakdown attacks and set us going. Wellard to find that through ball. Toks to run at teams. Each and every player you can categorise and put into a box. The boxes are in the wrong order in the pyramid that makes up the team at present I fear.

Three’s a crowd: 4529 which contained 724 of them. Pretty quiet from what I heard. However it has been reported that as the Tempest support streamed out in droves early, they were heard to chant something like ‘Didn’t know there was a fire drill.’ Point taken.

Anything else? It was always going to be the case that Ryan Hall of Southend was going to be targeted after his ‘ungentlemanly conduct’ in scoring ‘that goal’ when he played for Bromley, and subsequent imprisonment. Not surprisingly he was the player involved in the Hatton penalty and then got booked for celebrating too much. What did get missed (or probably ignored by the ref who gave SU all the 50-50 challenges) was the foot left in on Seb shortly after, and pushing over MMK after a fair challenge.

Now, there are two thoughts on barracking a player – you put him off, or you fire him up. Certainly Hall was wound up but it also made him play quite well. It was him there to pop in their first goal and it may have been him who shot for their second goal.

Personally, I am not a fan of barracking – it comes back to bite you. I always remember Peter Crouch –at QPR in Selhurst Days – being the perfect example of it going wrong – 25 mins of calling him ‘Freak’ followed by him scoring the opening goal and them winning. I know it’s for each person but I wish we didn’t do it. Why incur the wrath of revenge as well when things aren’t going you way?

Did Hatton go into midfield for the last 5 minutes of the game and we went 3 at the back or was it just a case he got lost? The guy seriously does look not to be with it at the moment.

What do people think about playing offside? Something we don’t do, primarily because we play so deep. Noticed the Southend players appealed everything. Don’t mind a call if you play to the whistle but a number of times when they broke it just needed the defender to hold his ground to allow their player to go way offside. But we didn’t and don’t. Just dropped back and played them back on

Jolley’s Dad was saying the tackle was a yellow. Good support there from your dad Christian, even if it was ‘rose-coloured.’

In a nutshell: Well we haven’t lost in 2012… yet (best positive spin I can find at the moment 😉

I’ve got to be honest, I can’t wait until 24 hours time when we can finally get the Swindon match over. Work calls for me again, but I wouldn’t blame anyone deciding to give tomorrow a miss. After all, £25 to no doubt see Jamie “Undroppable” Stuart and co devise new and cunning ways of managing to fuck up a game is a tad much to ask…

While I never want to lose a game, I’ve got to say that I won’t be too disheartened if we do go on and get stuffed in deepest Wiltshire. I’m not sure if it’s because of this opening paragraph, but I can’t help thinking that a win tomorrow will somehow soften up TB and what he has to do with this squad.

And now the excuses must end. While yesterday sounded more down to Christian Jolley’s immaturity and the usual defensive frailties, we must draw a line under the season just gone and start again. From now until May, we work to be in this division next season. Signings must reflect that – “ones for the future” are no good at this time, we have enough of them as it is. Ditto signings from Dover or Woking or just about any club in the Conference (unless they’re from the legit playoff contenders, and even then I have my doubts…).

Terry Brown has this month to prove he belongs in the Football League, and so does AFC Wimbledon. It’s no good hiding away from this challenge, trying to convince yourself we’re overachieving because we’ve supposedly got the fourth smallest budget in the division. I’m not sure how true that ever was anyway – our budget in the Conference was bigger than Grimsby in League Two (and they had to pay more to get in players because it’s in the arse end of the country), and I always link to Cheltenham having a smaller one than us whenever this comes up…

Think small, act small, you end up small and irrelevant. AFCW is at its best when it ignores this, so why are some people so keen to regress? We’re better than what we’re showing right now, both on the pitch and off it. Or at least should be.

So, who to get in? At around this time of year, the rumour mill starts up with its mixture of plausible and outlandish theories. Sometimes it’s both, like us signing Marcus Bent. Whoever we get in though, we need to start doing it as early in the month as possible. We know that TB is claiming that a striker could be on their way within a matter of days, although I won’t believe it until said player gets injured within the first week he’s here.

[EDIT: About 30 minutes after I wrote this, TB said the following on the OS:

“I had hoped to be announcing a new striker in time for tomorrow’s game, but we’ve gone from being confident we were going to get a deal, to suddenly not getting our calls returned. That’s a shame but we need to move on and so I regard that deal as gone.”

Sounds like a bit of gazumping has gone on. I hope this doesn’t become something we hear a lot of this month, although one suspects we will…]

While writing this, Scott Davis has been linked to us, although whether it’s a 2+2=5 situation is unclear. But those sort of players will do a job for us, and know what the Football League is about. If these sort of rumours are even remotely true then at least we’re looking at the right level of player and not Lee Minshull types.

There’s also Chinese whispers of loanees coming in from Championship and Premiership sides. Providing they’re good ones, I have absolutely no problem with us doing that for this season. Many clubs in our division do this, and we do it already with C-Mac. While signing your own is better, the loan market is a mutually beneficial one. Besides, it might mean a new signing in the summer or two who knows the squad? See Gareth Gwillim.

As for players on the out list…… To be honest, when one reads a few Twitter postings by our players, you get the impression there’s an element of being demob happy. Going on about decent training sessions and “bantz” (theory : the more a player goes on about dressing room banter the shittier they are) may make good reading on a Tweet but when you go eleven games without winning it does become a bit irritating to look at.

Some players may be in for a nasty shock this month, but it’s not like they haven’t been warned. Maybe that’s why this Xmas period has been even shittier than before? Perhaps the players deep down know they won’t be together much longer and as such it doesn’t really matter that much? Sure, there’s professional pride and the reality of finding a new club, but there’s currently a feel of the dying days of the first Conference season where everyone couldn’t wait for it to finish.

Tomorrow could be a swansong for some players in an AFCW shirt, and in some cases it should be one too. For those punishing themselves at Swindon, have a look at the end and see who stays out clapping the fans the longest – it might be telling…

One other thing I’ve noticed recently – it seems some don’t seem happy at others calling for TB’s head. The thing is, when you’re 11 games without a win, and playing piss poorly, you have to be pretty bloody naive or ignorant not to expect some calls for a sacking. Whether it would be the right course of action or not is irrelevant – IMO it isn’t – but we are not immune from being football supporters.

Our manager may use the transfer window to prove the doubters wrong, and because of that I think TB is getting a relatively easy ride right now. No guarantee it will last much longer, our fans have only so much patience, but I bet Paul Buckle wishes Bristol Rovers fans were as tolerant as our lot.

If we are to keep TB, I hope it’s for the right reasons. By that, I mean we have faith in him doing well in the transfer market, getting the best out of those who he gets in and demonstrates his past aptitude for (eventually) adapting to the division he’s in. He might not need to do anything he hasn’t done before with regards to culling squads.

If people want him to stay because he got us into the FL from the Ryman Prem, or because they remember a day last May in Manchester, then that’s wanting him to stay for the wrong reasons. It becomes Jon Main Syndrome, whereby you keep somebody on for sentimental reasons and not whether they can do the job any more.

Is TB out of his depth? He now has a month to prove he isn’t. He may succeed, he may also fail. But he has the chance to do so. And for those who feel it’s extremely unfair to be talking about his job in this manner, remember that WFC got rid of Allen Batsford in the first League campaign of 1977…