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(Not) At The Races


OK, let’s be honest here – who else expected exactly what happened yesterday at Cheltenham 2 Sandown Park 1?


Even if a lot of people were at least semi-predicting this result, it’s become yet another setback in a time of the campaign where the clock really is starting to tick. We’re back to the bottom, having spent a grand total of three days out of the drop zone, and now we have another week to brood and make York yet another must-win game.

Amazing the difference seven days makes, isn’t it? This time last week we were breathing sighs of relief, and finally – finally? – we were making the upward climb. This morning, you can’t bear to look at the table again.

For the first hour or so, or until they went 2-0 up, we were dire. Properly, relegation certainty dire. We kept giving the ball away, we had no real clue what to do with it when we did have it, and the goals were so depressingly soft that I’m simply waiting for the end of the season that I just don’t have to waste my weekends thinking about them any more.

And yet, to prove the notion that the hope really does kill you, why is it that we looked so much different when we scored? It was a damn good strike by Dickenson. And if only Jack Midson hadn’t leant back so much on his effort from the six yard box……

I’m not entirely sure if we would have deserved it, but right now we need points and we’re getting none of them. Anyone who is thinking that we will go down this morning because of our complete inability to take our chances could be forgiven right now.

Think about it – in a week, we’ve gone from winning at Daggers and being two places clear of the drop, to a weird game against Plymouth which saw us back in the relegation places to 92nd again. Not only is that seriously demoralising to write, let alone read, but you have to start openly questioning whether we’re actually going to get out of this.

Yesterday could easily be a microcosm of our season past and in the future. A lot of it was shit, a lot of damage has been done, and our fightback to try and repair it came too late – but with a glorious opportunity missed in the process.

See, that’s why it’s pointless keep going on about how tight things are down the bottom, and how one win against York can see us out of danger again. Yes, it’s true, but can this squad really capitalise on any mini-run of form?

And if you say it can, why has it constantly failed to do so this season?

And it’s all very well NA saying that we started badly, but he’s got to take a fair amount of responsibility for yesterday and this week. What mindset did he set them out with? It seems as though he sends out the side not to lose, but over-estimates the capabilities of the defence to do so, meaning we give away the mandatory silly goal or two and we’re forever chasing the game.

I noted this comment from Chris Hussey earlier this week, bold bit mine:

“But that is what we’re about as a team. Everyone is positive and supportive of each other because we’re in this relegation fight together.
“We go into every game knowing we’re going to win.

From what I saw yesterday and Plymouth, it seems that we go in to a game not to lose, then wonder why we always go behind.

I’ve got to be honest here, I’ve semi-prepared myself for relegation this season. I know there’s still eleven games to play for, it’s still too tight at the bottom etc, but there has been little indication that this side will go on the run of 3/4 wins in a row that will get us out of trouble.

NA does have to shoulder a fair amount of that blame. Yes, he got left a pathetic rabble by the last boss, and yes, we’re still in with a fighting chance of survival. But how many times does he keep saying the players have to listen and follow instructions? A lot of them are his players now, and if he’s having a job getting them to understand him, that’s a problem with his own communication.

After the game, an SW19 reader suggested that we just aren’t gelling as a unit. While losing Meades and Sweeney doesn’t help, our manager seems to change things because that’s what his expensive UEFA coaching course told him to do. Did it also tell him what to do if you’re managing a club that is possibly going out of the Football League?

More on him later. Before that…

Plus points: We fought back after going 2-0 down. Dickenson’s strike. KSL.

Minus points: Everything up until going 2-0 down. Midson’s miss. Darko wandering off Carl “Cort” Cunt style.

The referee’s a…: When you’re down the bottom, you don’t tend to get much. And we certainly didn’t yesterday off him – I’m sure things like handballs by opposition players result in free kicks to us. Obviously not.

Them: A team that knows how to play simple but effectively. The division is full of them, in case we haven’t noticed (which obviously we haven’t). And needless to say, they exploited that very well.

Nice place and nice people though, and should be a blueprint for us if we do survive, as to how a Conference side can build itself up on and off the field with sensible business decisions. They have become a legitimate L2 club in the way we’re not.

No idea why they ever signed Byron Harrison though. He did come on, and managed to make himself as anonymous as he was with us. Perhaps they use him at the local race course for a training partner for the horses? Either that or there’s a Findus factory nearby.

Point to ponder: I wonder if another emblematic problem we have right now is that we have to rely on Sully? The worrying thing is, while he’s clearly not as quick as he used to be (haven’t seen the second goal again but apparently he was slow to get down), he is still by far and away the most competent keeper at the club – and has done more good than harm.

Especially as he’s supposedly playing with a knock most games.

Your editor saw Ruiz play against Barking, and there’s no way the Venezuelan is going to have any sort of long term future in professional football. Normally, you would give Sully a break and play him, but it’s clear he’s not trusted enough not to put us in even more shit.

As for Seb? He seems to be doing OK at Woking, but is “OK” enough? He doesn’t seem to be getting rave reviews, or anything, and you wonder if his alleged high wages will see his contract cancelled at the end of this season – regardless of what division we’re in.

After all, if we’re going to need a competent Conference level keeper next campaign, there are plenty about who won’t break the bank…

Truth is stranger than fiction: (1) Pre-match meal in the “2nd best chippy in Britain, 2013”. It wasn’t. (2) Be honest, how much of a racist do you feel when you yell “Darko”? (3) Very good turnout by our lot, both in terms of numbers – at least 500, apparently – and in good voice too. And for all the moralising about KSL-related songs, rest assured that there was plenty of secret sniggering about them from the more level-headed supporters. Not everyone at the club over-reacts to everything. (4) Passing a place called Charlton Kings – sounds like either a SE London five-a-side team or a male black porn star.

Anything else? We’re now approaching the critical ten-games-to-go milestone, where all bullshit has to stop and results have to be got.

As this place and others seem to be stating more and more, AFCW is becoming very good at talking about getting results, and pretty shit at actually getting them. One senses there’s still a fair amount of too-good-to-go-down complacency about, that all we have to do is get about 4 wins and we’ll be OK.

But we’re not OK. We’re actually in a lot of trouble.

We are now finally going to see how serious we really are about wanting to keep our Football League place. To do that, we need a fucking great kick up the arse to remove our continued expectation that it’s a case of when, not if, we get out of it.

And that starts this week. We need one of “those” buildups now to York, and then if – if – we get the three points, we move onto Southend and try and not to fuck that up like we usually do.

Then it’s Aldershot, another six pointer. Then it’s Accrington, which will become a nine-pointer.

I don’t think it’s hyperbole to suggest that this upcoming six days is amongst the most important in the AFCW era. We clearly need to get another right back in, if only because I don’t think MMK still does enough at his best to justify starting.

But it’s a vital one for the club and manager. Erik Samuelson says he doesn’t get involved with the tactics and team selection. OK, fine, although he was having a few things pointed out to him by NA before the game at Barking on Wednesday.

I would hope he would do this anyway, but I hope he now sits our boss down and tell him he has to keep us up. Whether he makes an idle threat to sack him if he doesn’t, he might have to. Which would be better than the failing nationalised industry approach last time out.

Now, you could argue that NA’s conservatism about trying to win games comes from fear of getting us relegated. Well, if yesterday was anything to go by, we’re not good enough to keep it tight enough anyway, so we might as well go hellbent for the win if we’re going to lose. At least die by fighting for the fucking game, rather than just wave the white flag and claim it’s because the players weren’t following instructions.

For this reason, I have a suggestion for everyone. It’s not a new one, and it’s certainly not one that hasn’t been expressed before – for the final eleven games, I think NA should bring in an experienced old hand to help out with the coaching.

Our current manager is inexperienced, and I think that shows sometimes with the inability to go for the jugular in games. The Learning Curveâ„¢ seems to be getting steeper and steeper, and it’s not the time to keep learning on the job.

If I was Erik Samuelson, I would suggest to NA to get in a coach to help out with getting us over the line. The backroom staff don’t offer anywhere near the knowhow themselves to get us out of this, in the way a fresh, experienced face perhaps would.

Even if such an individual comes in and suggests to NA that he should play KSL a bit longer, or maybe tell him that constantly bawling out players for not listening is counter-productive, it’s going to be worth any potential awkwardness.

I don’t think NA is precious enough, or insecure enough, not to accept help. I know that he regularly seeks out advice from Terry Burton at Arsenal, and we all know he’s highly thought of by Harry. Indeed, I think Mr Bassett could help us out one more time here…

No, I don’t suggest he goes down on the training ground himself – he is too long in the tooth for that. But he’s heavily involved with the LMA, and I seriously doubt if he couldn’t pull a favour amongst his contacts.

Even if it was the guy who helped out Bassey during his temporary stewardship, that will quadruple the collective Football League management experience of the entire backroom staff.

And yes, it will cost money. But right now, I bet if you asked Mike Richardson to write out one more blank cheque to pay for it, he’ll do it. It’s not like we can’t afford it (which is a lot different to won’t afford it – spot the difference), and right now, it really is By Any Means Necessary.

Maybe it’s been done already and NA decides he doesn’t want one? If that’s the case then there’s not a lot of point pushing it further, but we need that one spark to get us safe, which we simply haven’t got at the moment.

Whatever it takes to find that spark, it needs to be done – and quick. The manager, players and (if we’re being honest here) the club have constantly blown good opportunties to secure our season, and it’s fast running out of time and excuses.

We are a lot closer than we think to being exposed as bullshit merchants. Eleven games worth, to be precise…

So, was it worth it? The hills around the ground were nice.

In a nutshell: Tick tock.