A year ago to the day, we went to Northampton and lost – in a game that if you were to fast-forward exactly twelve months has a rather depressingly familiar tone about it.
I reproduce the report from that game below, if only to point out one thing – back then, Northampton were bottom yet had enough to get out of it. On February 14th, 2013, we are in exactly the same position as the Cobblers.
Can we do exactly the same as them?
The trouble is, you can take what was written below in one of two ways – you can either use it as a motivational tool, that if Northampton could do it last season then so can we. Or you can read it and shake your head that in the space of twelve months and three managers, not a lot has really changed…..
So, where do I startâ€¦â€¦â€¦..?
There are shit games, and then thereâ€™s games like last night. The fact Iâ€™ve slept on it and Iâ€™ve managed to become even more pissed off over it tells its own story. To give the bottom side â€“ a side who are at the foot of the table for a good reason â€“ the double over us and their first clean sheet since they did us over at KMâ€¦
OK, Billy Knott going off didnâ€™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 â€“ 8-3. Shots on target â€“ 6-0. Even if we did manage a shot on goal, thatâ€™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 Iâ€™ll say it again â€“ those stats were at the team who are bottom of the table and hadnâ€™t won in something like 13 games.
And that worries the fuck out of me. If you ask me right now whether weâ€™ll stay up, I have to be honest and say that I donâ€™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? Itâ€™s not like we havenâ€™t had any rest â€“ weâ€™ve had two weeks and a bit without anything, and we should at least have been refreshed and fired up. We werenâ€™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 weâ€™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, Iâ€™m not convinced we can get out of it. Teams like Northampton and Plymouth and Daggers will at least know how to scrap. We donâ€™t. We give the impression of a cheaply built imitation of a supercar â€“ 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 â€“ the pragmatic stuff has been pushed aside for an idealist, fantasy style of play, but we now donâ€™t have the players or the tactics to do one or tâ€™other. If you want to do the latter, then increase the transfer budget to Â£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 weâ€™ve done it for the last four years run its course? True, that might be an implied comment against TB, but Iâ€™ll come onto that later. Whatever side of the debate youâ€™re on though, you have to agree that something isnâ€™t right.
Itâ€™s little things like why is Jason Prior already injured? Getting injured on a matchday is one thing â€“ JS injuring Charlie A in the warmup against Port Vale notwithstanding â€“ but Prior has only played five minutes or so and heâ€™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 weâ€™ve done it is now not good enough. The results and performances suggest that. And itâ€™s been like that all season â€“ we havenâ€™t really improved that much since the Bristol Rovers game, weâ€™ve had little spells of good results but there was also October to January. And weâ€™ve lost the last two gamesâ€¦
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 youâ€™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 theyâ€™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 werenâ€™t cheapâ€¦
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 canâ€™t say the same about TB. He has failed time and time again to, ahem, seal the deal about whether heâ€™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 managerâ€™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 thatâ€™s starting to happen â€“ heâ€™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 heâ€™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 weâ€™re one dimensional.
He admitted last week that he doesnâ€™t know his best back four, and last night he blasted our forward line. But hang on â€“ isnâ€™t our strongest asset our goalscoring? If that underperforms, or is easily neutered, then what chance do we have elsewhere?
Oh, and I see weâ€™re looking at yet another striker. I really offer no further comment.
Actually, this does lead us on to the second crucial bit about TBâ€™s future with us. His transfer dealings are suddenly becoming more miss than hit. Byron Harrison hasnâ€™t scored, looks quite ordinary in the games Iâ€™ve seen him, and he got taken off again at Sixfields.Â C-Mac is warming the bench, presumably dropped. These were two permanent signings in a crucial transfer window period who you canâ€™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 Oâ€™Neill? With the exception of Jack Midson, the best signings this campaign have been those on loan. Weâ€™ve got Knott and Moncur for another month, but theyâ€™re not our players and if their parent clubs want them back, they can recall them with a 24 hour notice.
Perhaps more worryingly, weâ€™ve signed two players this season in Harrison and Max Porter who we have apparently been scouting for a while. That really doesnâ€™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 â€“ 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 â€“ 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 donâ€™t know if I do. Thereâ€™s an argument for continuity, that our manager has to be given a bit more time and that heâ€™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, weâ€™re certainly learning more about ourselves in the last six months than we probably have done in the last nine years. Weâ€™re certainly learning weâ€™re not as good as we think we are, nor that weâ€™re as special as we want to believe. Itâ€™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 canâ€™t believe their good fortune.
And as last night proves, when you rely too much on luckâ€¦