So, how do I start writing about Southend last night in the Paint Pot? And more to the point, how do I find the right balance between hard-nosed cynical realism and giddily planning my trip to Wembley?
First things first – no, there wasn’t any Stevenage writeup. Nobody sent me one, and the bug that had hit me (and by the sounds of it, quite a few) over the weekend – insert your own joke here – somehow seemed better than going through that again.
Secondly, a helpful haiku from Tudor:
Smash and grab at home.
No time to think, just hang on –
Ardley’s new tactics?
Thirdly, what is this thing called the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy second round? Is it some mythical secret place that only proper football clubs get to see? Is it some bizarre freemason thing, where you only see it after wearing aprons, showing your nipples and oppressing Catholics?
Whatever it is, it’s a very welcome thing to experience.
OK, we have the very likely prospect of drawing Franchise again, not to mention having to endure the “joys” of watching Soccer AM for 5 minutes longer than is necessary.
But last night proved something. It proved that the best way of getting your fans onside is to start winning games and put in a bit of fucking effort once in a while.
By rights, we should be licking our wounds at yet another first round exit this morning. The fact we’re not, and we’re talking about who to get in the next round, shows something that got mentioned a lot before home games dragged our mood down again.
This was as much of a second string as NA could have legally got away with last night. OK, you might have put Worner in (and while he was all smiles with Shea at the end, it can’t be comfortable for him right now), but if we could have made 11 changes we would have done.
Nicholson and Beere didn’t do their prospects any harm, nobody seemed to slag off Harrison when he came on, and of the more established players, Fuller and especially Shea came out of it well.
Azeez needs work, although many were suggesting that he once shagged the ref’s missus, given the way he was treated by him. As for KSL, he took his goal very well (as did Barrett), ended up with two Southend players on him before he went off, and still leaves everyone wondering why he doesn’t play the full 90 minutes.
If that’s the case, we need somebody to shadow/replace him when the loan window opens. A jobshare, if you like. I remember the comments (to put it mildly) from after the Stevenage game, and KSL has to be used in some way, shape or form.
All of this brings us onto Harry Pell. Never has a player needed to go out on loan as much as he does right now, and perhaps like Chris Arthur it won’t be a short little break either.
He looked poor in pre-season, only started yesterday because of JPT rules, and his “tackle” seemed totally in character. One senses that patience with him is running out, if it hasn’t done so already, and if even Charlie Sheringham could eventually get sent away from the club…
I couldn’t help noticing the NA interview on the OS this morning for a number of reasons. Firstly, I know Chris “Slav” Slavin has a big photo library, and clearly managed to find the one snapshot of our boss not looking pissed off.
Secondly, the last time I remember the amount of brickbats aimed at him (NA, not Slav) after Stevenage was post-York at KM last season. It took until the last weekend in August for last season to hit us again, and it wasn’t undeserved.
While we haven’t metaphorically called for his car brake cables to be severed yet (and I wouldn’t put it past a couple of SW19 readers to do it literally either), he was clearly under real pressure again before last night.
Winning might not have vindicated him, but it should have taught him a football truism – all us fans want to see is a bit of fight.
Last night, we got that. OK, we can thank Jamie Shea for much of that, but as Barrett and KSL showed, all you need is one opportunity and a bit of dogged determination and good things can happen.
Look at us supporters after Stevenage. Now compare that to us same bunch of oiks this morning. There’s more of a spring in the step, more of a good vibe again, and people actually enjoyed walking away from KM after a game for once.
Yes, it was a penalty shootout win. Yes, Southend will be kicking themselves that they didn’t beat us. And yes, most games we’d get beaten with that lineup. But we didn’t lose, and that came down to a bit of old fashioned style grit.
We won with our backs to the wall, a bit of luck, and with ten men as well. Classic cup tie stuff, in other words.
And NA needs to finally harness that beyond the odd good result.
In the above mentioned link, I saw he said this:
“I said to the players at half-time that they had nothing to lose,” Neal said. “I told them that as long as they gave everything in the second-half and did not fold then the fans would be proud of them. The way they defended the penalty box and wide areas was great. At 2-1 down with 10 men your heads could drop, but we showed resilience to stay in the game.
Bold bit mine.
There was plenty of discussion about NA’s future after the weekend, and I have to be honest here and state that this could well be his last season with us. While I don’t think he’ll be sacked before the last ball is kicked, unless we start losing seven in a row, the benefit of the doubt is getting eroded with him.
Last night has made things different again, of course, but that bold bit makes me wonder if NA is too intense for his own good. Far too over-thinking, too tactical, too much like the product of modern UEFA coaching courses.
And I didn’t expect to use that last comment as early as September 3rd. And yes, it’s still meant as an insult.
Telling players they had nothing to lose is a rare loosening of the strait-jacket, and you can see the results when you tune into that shit programme this Saturday morning.
I think it highlights something that has been mentioned before on SW19, and something I think would genuinely help – NA needs a properly experienced assistant next to him.
One of the negatives about Shaun North returning to the West Country was that somebody like him should have been on the first team bench. Ardley is no longer a rookie manager, but he still keeps making rookie mistakes. You have to wonder if he would have made the KSL error on Saturday if a more experienced hand told him not to.
By all means let him and his best mate Neil Cox work together, but we got through partly because NA himself was more relaxed enough to tell the players they had nowt to lose.
There are enough old hands a la North around who could come in and take some of the thinking pressure off NA. We all know how studious our boss is, so he’s bound to appreciate the input, and even last year North was on hand to dispense half time advice.
How do we get out of the rut at home? How do we keep out of said rut? How do we start beating the teams we’re supposed to? Does NA know how to? I’m not sure, to be honest. But an assistant who has been in this situation before would hopefully give a new perspective, one we lack quite a bit of at times.
No, that doesn’t necessarily mean getting rid of Cox and Bassey, although one does wonder how good our backroom staff really is, and this suggestion is to help and not hinder things for this season.
We won’t go down this route, more’s the pity, although it may end up hastening NA’s eventual exit. But if last night showed nothing else, it should have proved that you solve issues with confidence by carving out results, developing a bit of resilience and getting that bit of luck.
Carlisle will be an interesting test on Saturday, and I don’t just mean the journey up there. They have a new manager, which means the inevitable bounce, and like Hartlepool and Stevenage, they’ve been shit recently.
It will be more likely that a new generation of Dons fans will experience a 6-1 gubbing at Brunton Park, on past form. But if we could just break that cycle of failure that grips us too often, like getting past first rounds of cup competitions, we might finally be getting somewhere.
Don’t hold your breath though.
Other thoughts from last night. The scoreboard looks OK, granted it’s basic but at least it gives the score and the time. At some home games though, looking at it might be an instrument of torture even ISIS would shy away from.
There’s a new ticket priority scheme out, which I have to say tempts your editor into sacking off my very rarely used season ticket. We’ve needed something like this since the Conference South days, and at somewhere like KM I’d argue we’d need it more than most clubs.
Especially when they rig the JPT draw and pit us against *them* at KM in the next round.
A crowd of 1400 or so wasn’t too bad, and that was helped by a decent turnout from deepest Essex. Who unusually for people from Essex were able to be silenced for a bit 😉
To be fair to Sarfend, they should have won it comfortably, and they must really hate Jamie Shea. No doubt they’ll sign him during the next transfer window purely out of spite.
Oh, and Phil Brown was on Sky Sports News this morning, doing his usual guest-in-the-studio bit. Wouldn’t say he looked worse for wear, but his local tanning salon will only see him five times today.
And finally, as it’s likely we’ll be using the loan system a little bit to retweak things, what are the odds of us re-signing Steven Gregory again? It must be about two months before he last got linked to us…