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Welcome to Reality

Well, if NA was under any illusion of what needs to be done, he won’t be after Sparrows 1 Robins 2

There is a caveat to all I’m writing below, which should put it into a bit of context : NA wasn’t really in charge today, SB was. He announced that at the MtM thing, and as such he was the manager in name only…

So if you consider that today was a test event, with three points to be won, that might be the best way of approaching it. Which may also explain why somebody after the game put it thus – the whole of AFCW was shown to our new boss in 90 minutes. A period of promise, some bad luck, some sloppyness, and too many moments of shite.

Some may say we didn’t deserve to lose. I say that when you fail to put your chances away and let in poor goals, that’s exactly what you deserve.

In the interests of fairness, I will repeat what I wrote down at half time, practically word for word:

Word I haven’t used for ages but can see a lot of today – encouragement

Mind you, the next bit I wrote was “bollocks – 0-2, easy header”…

So, when NA properly takes charge on Monday, what will be be thinking from today? He would have been pleased that some of what he’s already tried to do in his first two days showed a little bit in the first half. But he would have equally been concerned at the way we – yet again – faded in the second half.

When we came out after the break, it just looked like, well, the TB era all over again. The manner we played was akin to that, and in truth we were lucky we weren’t 2-0 down before we were so (Antwi, take a bow).

That just seemed to knock the stuffing out of us, and there was a bit towards the end where one of our players managed to mis-control the ball on the touchline and our new boss just put his head in his hands…

If today was a case of our players showing the new regime what they were made of, they didn’t do a very convincing job. Let’s be honest here – you can’t polish a turd. You can put tin foil over it and put a nice little ribbon on it, but it will still be shit underneath.

Today proved how mentally fragile we still are, and in truth always likely to be without some steel added.

Now, whether this toughness comes in much more work on the training ground, an emergency loan and/or a favour or two called in, I don’t know. But you can’t see nothing happening, even out of the transfer window. Even if it means the other youngsters getting to start.

NA said afterwards that he wondered if we can get fitter. Can we? More to the point, are we really fit enough or do we just give the illusion that we are? Are there deep seated problems in the way we’ve been training that need working on as soon as Monday’s session starts? If so, is that a reason why we faded yet again?

So many questions, which makes me wonder if NA will be making a few phone calls to a few people come Monday. If he hasn’t already. And no, I don’t mean phoning Cardiff City asking for his job back. He did say he wasn’t going to change too much – evolution, not revolution. Whether he thinks differently now, or whether he and NC have seen all they need to see and are already making plans to change this weak, losing mentality remains to be seen.

It might simply need a couple of hard nuts in there simply to shake things up. There were no obvious leaders out there again, not for the first time needless to say. Although you do get the feeling that Ardley and Cox won’t be quite so intimidated by a strong character who can also answer back…

What may be clear is that we might not see anything drastic until up to the Gillingham game. We’ve been warned that it might take three weeks to get to grips with our squad and what they’re really like. I suspect NA knows he might have to get up to speed quicker after today.

The game? Well, had both Byron and Luke Moore managed to find the target we would maybe have got something and be lavishly wanking ourselves silly tonight. There were ideas there, especially in attempting to cross the ball, but the quality, er, wasn’t. Although if JM hadn’t hit the bar…

First half, we did at least get stuck in. Occasionally with the desired result. Which again makes the second half even more puzzling.

Towards the end, when we scored, we might have actually got something – we hit the bar again, after all. And at least there was a bit of a fightback again. But today, as too many other times in 2012 and 2011, something was missing.

We now have a fresh pair of eyes and ears with the ultimate responsibility, and in a way it was good that they got to see first hand what we have been really like. It’s not pretty, though not insurmountable. But it’s not going to be an easy transition…

Plus points: Showed a bit of promise in the first half. Last two minutes. Byron Harrison (yes, really). The disappointment I felt being 1-0 down at half time (in a good way)

Minus points: We lost. Two needless goals. Antwi and Jolley were dire. Faded badly. Finishing. The sense that a lot of groundwork is needed.

The referee’s a…: He didn’t really give us a lot, did he?

Them: I can sort of see why they’re doing well – they are certainly a good team to emulate, certainly, although they have the mental attitude we haven’t got at the moment. As said so many times before, they know how to win these games and we don’t – although in today’s case, that’s because they knew where the net was.

Needless to say, Mo scored…

Point to ponder: I wonder if some of the players – hell, all of them – are going to have a nervous rest of the weekend now? Jolley in particular gave a particularly piss-poor first impression, and the general way we faded is going to be noted.

Along with other things, of course.

Which begs a second question – what will be coming out in the fullness of time that put us in this position in the first place? Especially if NA starts turning things round and we start to look a more professional outfit.

I don’t entirely believe the weak mental attitude is down to every single player being weak between the ears – some clearly are, but to affect the squad it has to be deeper. How good has our training really been in sorting that out? The performances suggest that it’s been pretty lousy.

And if it has been down to how we prepare from Monday through to Friday, does that make NA’s task easier? Or harder? Maybe he is correct in evolution, not revolution, and what we need to do isn’t quite so severe after all.

If we had a League Two quality Jason Goodliffe in, as in somebody who can genuinely lead on and off the field, that would only be one player – but somebody who has the effect of four new ones. You would certainly think that he would bring a new ethos to the place, and especially as he would represent the new regime and not the old one.

As previously mentioned, the fitness is getting looked at – and not in a positive way. Do we simply need to tweak it, or does that need a radical overhaul? Only one man needs to answer that, and he was on the bench.

Actually, that is something I noticed about Ardley today – he just stood at the side taking in everything during the game. Never mind a penny for his real thoughts, it might take a Mike Richardson-esque donation…

Truth is stranger than fiction: 1) More people at the ground at 1345 today than 1445 most other home games this season. And there wasn’t even a cheap beer deal. 2) Today was Non-League Day. No further quips, please. 3) Did Mikey T really play “Smack My Bitch Up” before the game started? 4) One day, the club might get a sponsor for both the ex-JS and the KRE. And the ad hoardings on the new stand. No pressure, or anything – just that it would be nice if some money was got in without coming from supporter pockets yet again…

Anything else? To be honest, I don’t know what else to say. It’s clear NA has a big task, and let’s be honest here – some of this squad won’t be here past January anyway.

If the likes of Jolley find themselves back in non-league football at some point this season, they only have themselves to blame now. The onus is back on them – NA and NC are going to get a lot of time to turn this around, and one expects they won’t be held back in getting rid of anyone.

And they won’t be sentimental about it – this is their first management job, and they don’t want it to be their only one. So if the players don’t respond to the changes, if they don’t prove to everyone why they should be Football League players, they won’t be missed.

Fenlon has already pushed Warren Cummings to the proverbial scrapheap, and maybe the likes of Huw Johnson will be taking the place of some more established players before long? That would mean we get to save our transfer budget to get some of the experienced players we really need, rather than just haphazardly spending on somebody who might be fit once in a while.

That’s clearly why NA has been brought in, to some extent, and it’s a route the club wants to go down. It’s a bit unfortunate right now that we will probably have to go into the loan market and/or see who will play non-contract for the immediate future, as we still won’t have enough youth players developed enough to make a difference.

Today was disappointing in so many ways, but at least it will mean no more excuses not to change any more. Will we survive? Probably – this was third placed Cheltenham today, and you suspect with a period of re-organisation we can get something out of these games in future.

But it’s up to the current squad to decide whether they want to be part of that revamp or not. It’s not like they have much more time to decide…

So, was it worth it? Work in progress.

In a nutshell: So much for a new manager bounce…