It may be one of the biggest cliches in football, but it happens to be true. Titles really aren’t won in February, but they can be lost.
When it comes to relegation issues however, it really isn’t over until the obese woman with the irritatingly loud voice starts warming up her tonsils. Many a season has plenty of tales about last gasp winners that keeps a club up and sends another lot down.
And then there’s the Torquay police dog…
Sadly, we have to talk about AFC Wimbledon in the 2012/13 season. There was something depressingly familiar about losing 2-0 to Chesterfield, but as the title suggests, a light bulb seemed to come on yesterday.
I’ll be honest here – I think we’re going to go down. Yes, I know we have sixteen games left. Yes, I know that we still have games against Barnet, Aldershot, Accrington, Plymouth and Brizzle Rovers to contend with. And yes, I know this side has looked the most “League Two” side that it has done since, well, ever.
But something is wrong.
It’s been wrong for a good while, certainly since last season where we got away with it. But it’s becoming clear that we’ve struggled to address them, which is why we’re bottom and there’s a growing expectation that we’re doomed.
Port Vale on Tuesday seemed to knock a lot of stuffing out of us. For this year, up until that game, there was optimism. Quite genuine, as well. But after coming back from the Potteries this week, the deflating feeling has properly, genuinely shocked me.
For the first time, you have to question Neal Ardley. He clearly underestimated things at Vale Park and our confidence got whacked out of us. We badly, badly needed a reaction at Chesterfield yesterday, and it sounds like the only one we got was from our fans after exchanging pleasantries with their stewards.
It clearly hasn’t been a good week for him – this on KSL’s curfew doesn’t make NA look good, in terms of checking out whether he can actually play or not, and just as what happened with TB and every other manager we’re likely to have, you can’t afford too many chips away at your perceived competence.
NA is a rookie manager, and he’s made some rookie mistakes this past week (him admitting taking off Midson yesterday was a mistake – well, perhaps he should have known not to take him off?). And the trouble is, because he’s done that the confidence in him is starting to drain away.
And when you need results now – not in the future, not in April, but NOW – that’s fatal.
Look, I like NA. I actually think he’ll develop into a good manager, if relegation in his first managerial role doesn’t scupper his employment chances. But did the club make a gamble here that it shouldn’t have done?
By that, I mean NA’s lack of experience. He was brought in to do a job that was going to take a lot of hard work to rectify, and you have to suspect that the Football Club Board underestimated big time the damage done by the previous management regime.
That NA has even got us into – mathematically, at least – the grasps of safety is no minor miracle, but as a fellow AFCW fan said to me on Boxing Day, “I would have expected us to have made a move upwards by now”.
And we haven’t moved upwards. Hell, even when we went on our unbeaten run we managed not to go upwards but bottom of the entire Football League. And in all likelyhood, we’re going to stay there.
See, there doesn’t seem much reason to be optimistic right now. To get ourselves out of trouble we need to dig deep, and we’ve done a lot of digging deep as it is. And we’re still in big shit.
We need a spark which we haven’t got, and we need to start putting together three or four wins – which we’ve not done this season and have shown nothing to suggest we ever will.
I know we’ve signed Pell, Bennett and GA, and if we do stay up those three will be pivotal. But the games are properly starting to matter now, and we’re losing them.
What can NA change that will give us that bit of life? Are we finally finding out that Simon Bassey isn’t the great motivator people seem to think he is? The proverbial “sources close to the training ground” suggest that he got out the Vince Lombardi coaching manual this week, and it doesn’t seem to have worked.
The club won’t elbow Ardley, it would lose too much money and too much credibility to do that (think about it – two managerial cockups in one season?). But perhaps those who mention getting in an experienced coach to get NA through this and maybe keep us up have the right idea?
You do wonder if by going for a managerial team with so little experience, whether the club was trying to be too cheap in its recruitment policy? After all, we apparently had 30+ serious applicants and the shortlist was basically NA, Bassey, Rob Page of Port Vale and one or two others who I’ve forgotten. That did suggest a cost issue as much as ability.
And if it was, were the powers-that-be underestimating the business side of being a club in the Football League?I guess the club’s thinking over the manager was that it didn’t need as much to get this team upwards as it actually did, that a rookie manager would still have enough to get us out of trouble, and I suspect us being bottom in February and losing form again wasn’t anywhere near the plans.
What does AFCW do now? Seriously, it’s given NA a lot of money (presumably) to kickstart this whole squad into life, he’s bought some popular signings and we’ve found ourselves five games without a win again.Does it simply close its eyes, and pray that somehow this collection of loanees, thumb-sucking little boys and mouthy braindead cunts finds enough to get enough wins to move us up just two places?
To be honest, I think we deserve to go down. I hate writing that, but we’ve done precious little this season (and last season, come to think of it) to justify thinking otherwise. We haven’t taken what chances we had – think of Bristol Rovers at home and how much we thought we’d turned the corner, and I haven’t even mentioned the points we threw away in January. Not to mention us winning against York, but everyone getting distracted by the borderline-psychopathic obsession with Franchise.
And yes, if there’s a time for the club and team to finally grow a set of balls and claw ourselves out of trouble, it’s now. Either way, this summer will see the biggest overhaul yet, and it applies as much to the backroom staff and those off the field as well as on it.
There’s certainly going to be some major fault-lines exposed in the coming weeks and months, although they’ve probably been there for a good few years. And if the 1999/2000 season was anything to go by, a team in real shit suddenly finds its skeletons falling out of many a closet.
The club will change, because it will be forced to. As a club, we’re actually quite reactive and not pro-active, and relegation will be a much nastier shock than many realise. But the bit that needs to change now? Whatever it is, don’t hold your breath.
Can we stay up? Yes. Will we stay up? No. Things have been consistently too shabby this season, and not enough has changed to make me think it will suddenly kick into life.
Don’t get me wrong, if we now go on a great run at home and it ensures we’re in the JPT next season, I’ll be as happy as anyone. And I will more than happily disown everything I’ve written here. But two years ago, your editor was made aware of a slip-of-the-tongue by somebody high up that we would be “winging it” in the Football League.
And I guess we really do reap what we sow…