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So, where do I start………..?

There are shit games, and then there’s games like last night. The fact I’ve slept on it and I’ve managed to become even more pissed off over it tells its own story. To give the bottom side – a side who are at the foot of the table for a good reason – the double over us and their first clean sheet since they did us over at KM…

OK, Billy Knott going off didn’t help (and looks like we might have to endure Chris Bush now GG went off too). And if JE had managed to put away that easier-to-score-than-miss. But lest we forget that in the first half alone we had to clear off the line and make a great last-ditch tackle in the box to ensure we were still goaless at half time.

True, we did pick up in the second half, but the stats according to the BBC (therefore take with a massive pinch of salt) are sobering : 61%-39% possession. For them, obviously. Shots – 8-3. Shots on target – 6-0. Even if we did manage a shot on goal, that’s pretty awful regardless of the way you try to spin it, and it would just about be acceptable if we were playing the runaway leaders of the division.

But I’ll say it again – those stats were at the team who are bottom of the table and hadn’t won in something like 13 games.

And that worries the fuck out of me. If you ask me right now whether we’ll stay up, I have to be honest and say that I don’t know. We should stay up, because there are enough games to get them. And the bottom teams still have to play each other. But when Northampton scored, our heads dropped and we lost any remaining chance of getting anything.

Question is, why? It’s not like we haven’t had any rest – we’ve had two weeks and a bit without anything, and we should at least have been refreshed and fired up. We weren’t. In fact, we seemed to play like total strangers in the first half, so you have to wonder what exactly we did in our enforced break.

Do we think we’re safe? If we do, we need the biggest fucking wake up call we ever need. We are not safe. Anyone watching last night and not knowing the position of the teams could have been forgiven for thinking we were the ones adrift at the foot of the table.

If we do find ourselves in the relegation dog fight, I’m not convinced we can get out of it. Teams like Northampton and Plymouth and Daggers will at least know how to scrap. We don’t. We give the impression of a cheaply built imitation of a supercar – looks aesthetically pleasing, makes a nice sound once in a while but when you start using it the bits start to fall off.

It currently appears to be the worst of both worlds – the pragmatic stuff has been pushed aside for an idealist, fantasy style of play, but we now don’t have the players or the tactics to do one or t’other. If you want to do the latter, then increase the transfer budget to £5m and buy from Championship sides.

Games and results like this does bring out the navel gazing, although you could be forgiven for doing that right now. Has the way we’ve done it for the last four years run its course? True, that might be an implied comment against TB, but I’ll come onto that later. Whatever side of the debate you’re on though, you have to agree that something isn’t right.

It’s little things like why is Jason Prior already injured? Getting injured on a matchday is one thing – JS injuring Charlie A in the warmup against Port Vale notwithstanding – but Prior has only played five minutes or so and he’s already got something called haematoma. Is it simply bad luck or something more fundamentally wrong with our fitness and medical approach?

We may never know, but the way we’ve done it is now not good enough. The results and performances suggest that. And it’s been like that all season – we haven’t really improved that much since the Bristol Rovers game, we’ve had little spells of good results but there was also October to January. And we’ve lost the last two games…

Which leads us not-quite-so-neatly onto TB. There was the usual knee-jerkism after the game that happens at every football club, but on cool overnight reflection, are we seeing the very first signs that his tenure may be closing with us?

The last two games have seen his side out-tacticed (?) by Dean Holdsworth and Aidy Boothroyd. And it will continue to be out-manoevered more and more, as sides work out that as long as you can keep our goalscoring chances to a minimum, you stand a good chance of winning. Just wait for the inevitable defensive fuckup and you’re most of the way there.

Quite a few fans were more than keen to pronounce TB as a genius after winning three straight games. All of a sudden they’ve gone quiet for some reason. And one is left to wonder whether our manager really did change the squad or whether he just temporarily bought himself time and papered over some very real cracks.

What made last night worse was that it was almost like the transfer window never happened. Five new players in, and it could have been the Crewe game at KM, or even the reverse fixture from last night. And I bet the likes of Euell weren’t cheap…

Before the game, I was approached by a Northampton fan doing a survey on the NHS up there. He reckoned that while his side were bottom, they had the right manager in Boothroyd. Right now, I can’t say the same about TB. He has failed time and time again to, ahem, seal the deal about whether he’s a Football League level manager, and the more instances of the outright shit we saw last night, the harder that is to put right.

When a manager’s time is starting to reach its end, the things that went well for him before seem to go missing. And under TB in February 2012 that’s starting to happen – he’s done well with us since those horrible Ryman Premier days, but every manager has a shelf life.

The ability to adapt to the division he’s in is painfully lacking right now. Last night and the Aldershot game were two contests you would have expected us to get four (or six) points out of. We got none. And as said above, we got tactically outdone in both of them. Last night, somebody made the comment that TB was tactically limited, and with the constant refusal or ability to have an effective plan B, you could say we’re one dimensional.

He admitted last week that he doesn’t know his best back four, and last night he blasted our forward line. But hang on – isn’t our strongest asset our goalscoring? If that underperforms, or is easily neutered, then what chance do we have elsewhere?

Oh, and I see we’re looking at yet another striker. I really offer no further comment.

Actually, this does lead us on to the second crucial bit about TB’s future with us. His transfer dealings are suddenly becoming more miss than hit. Byron Harrison hasn’t scored, looks quite ordinary in the games I’ve seen him, and he got taken off again at Sixfields.  C-Mac is warming the bench, presumably dropped. These were two permanent signings in a crucial transfer window period who you can’t guarantee to finish the game. Or indeed start one.

Yes, we got Billy Knott, but was that TB selecting him or was he handed on a plate to us by Martin O’Neill? With the exception of Jack Midson, the best signings this campaign have been those on loan. We’ve got Knott and Moncur for another month, but they’re not our players and if their parent clubs want them back, they can recall them with a 24 hour notice.

Perhaps more worryingly, we’ve signed two players this season in Harrison and Max Porter who we have apparently been scouting for a while. That really doesn’t say much about our scouting and transfer decision making, does it? One wonders what the club is going to do during the summer should we stay up – if we do stick with TB, I would want it to be because the club has the utmost confidence that this was just a painful transition period – and not because of sentiment or personal loyalty.

Do you have faith in our current manager properly rebuilding during the summer? To be honest, I don’t know if I do. There’s an argument for continuity, that our manager has to be given a bit more time and that he’s probably already making mental notes of who to bring in and ship out.

At the same time though, we have a massive rebuilding job to do, and one wonders if we should just have a clean sweep across the whole area, and get in a new management team with fresher ideas and a clean slate. If only to stop any current shortcomings becoming deeply ingrained within the squad and harder to shift.

Whatever happens, we’re certainly learning more about ourselves in the last six months than we probably have done in the last nine years. We’re certainly learning we’re not as good as we think we are, nor that we’re as special as we want to believe. It’s up to us to make that next step up to be a legitimate Football League club, and not some flukey bunch of non-leaguers who can’t believe their good fortune.

And as last night proves, when you rely too much on luck…