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Bearing the Brunt(on)


Bloody hell.

I’m not sure what that “bloody hell” relates to, but Near Scotland 4 Near France 4 is a good description as any. Mind you, after some nasty WordPress issues this morning, which delayed publication until this afternoon, your editor was saying stuff a bit stronger…

So then, as we re-acclimatise to life back in t’South again, and as our nose bleeds finally stop, Saturday was perhaps the classic display of what’s right with AFCW and, just as importantly, what is wrong.

The positive stuff first. We can score goals, and perhaps something that we haven’t seen in this second journey in the FL – we can capitalise on the oppo defence being crap for once.

We are able to come back, and show that oft-mentioned “R” word. We got a bit of luck and we took it. And given that I would have actually settled for a point before the game, we have now gone the last two games unbeaten in all competitions.

Don’t underestimate that last bit, by the way. Points mean prizes, as we all know, and it’s better to get a crappy draw than a valiant loss.

Sadly, a 4-4 tie shows there’s a fair amount of problems still to be resolved. The obvious one is that the defence is simply too slow – the gamble of very, very experienced (ie old) players has finally failed.

No, it doesn’t help that Fuller is apparently carrying an injury (he’s a lot better than he showed at Carlisle), but it seems that time has finally caught up with Benno.

Which is a dreadful shame, but when we got him from Cheltenham because he was the wrong end of the age spectrum, this moment was always inevitable. Remember, without him we’d probably be in the horrific sounding Vanarama Conference, and it’s no shame to know when to realise your playing days are numbered.

When the loan window opens, NA needs to get in a pacey young CB, to play either alongside Barrett or Framps. I refuse to believe there aren’t any out there, and while I don’t doubt Will Nightingale is being groomed (not in that way) we need somebody a year further down the line than him.

Mind you, having seen the goals again on Sky this afternoon, it’s not just our back line. Why are we so fucking lacking in movement across the whole field? Jesus, even your editor moves quicker than some of our lot.

Is it a fitness thing? In which case, questions should be asked of Jason Moriarty. Or is it something else?

Make no mistake – we should have won on Saturday, perhaps even by 3-1 or 4-1. But we let in the second goal from our own corner – I’ll repeat that, from our own corner – and it really deflated us before the break.

Which leads us onto the second major problem with us right now. NA can’t be blamed for Fuller limping, or Benno’s birth certificate, or even the general creakiness of our defence – unless you believe he should have bought at least one centre back who isn’t playing for his pension.

However, he can be blamed for the way we come out in the second half. This isn’t just related to this weekend just gone, I saw the same against Hartlepool and no doubt most of you will mention St. Evenage too  as part of a sorry tale.

Quite simply, his team talks at half time are poor. That is three league games in a row where all the opposition has needed to do was to go at us in the second half, and they got their rewards.

I was shocked at how flat we were after the break, it was almost like we expected to lose 5-2 before the stroke of luck for the penalty. That we took it, and made the journey home a lot nicer is great on one level, but we shouldn’t have needed that in the first place.

Did Azeez save NA’s bacon? Perhaps. I was glancing at various social media places when we went 3-2 then 4-2 down, and there was a definite anti-Ardley feeling. More tellingly, from people who have previously supported him.

He needs to work on that, and quick, because it’s those sort of things that turn fans against manager for good. We got away with it this time, but for a while over the weekend, the worm was starting to turn.

Of course, like Moriarty with the fitness, one could question what influence Cox and Bassey have too, and how effective they really are. But I promised not to mention that again 😉

Still, for the neutral it was a good game, and we got an extra ten seconds on the highlights reel because of it. Whether we’ll now become this era’s Newcastle under Kevin Keegan remains to be seen, but if so then get extra protection on your life insurance.

Rigg had a good game, and while I won’t deny my reservations in the past about him, I think we would miss AA if he wasn’t playing. Remember, most of the division would give their right bollock to have him and Tubbs up front…

Plus points: We didn’t lose. Good finishes. Never gave up. Sean Rigg. Tubbs. Azeez being in the right place at the right time.

Minus points: We didn’t win. Defence creaking. Too little movement. Flat after half time. Almost letting the game go.

The referee’s a…: He gave us a penalty and sent their bloke off. What more do you want?

Them: Should really have buried them at 1-0 then 2-1, but couldn’t believe their luck against us. Therefore, their complaints about the penalty are misguided 😉

You get the feeling they’ll continue to struggle until they can make moves in January, because not every team will gift them what we did. It’s easy to forget that it wasn’t so long ago they were in the Conference (albeit for one season), and like Brizzle Rovers it might not be a massive surprise to see them there next campaign.

Which is why drawing 4-4 is as much an annoyance as a reason to be happy. But then, it’s nothing new.

I don’t know the ins/outs, but it seems they’re looking to sell Brunton Park and move into a new stadium. The car park behind their stand was quite sizeable, and if they can get permission etc they’ll be sitting on a tidy little profit if they can use it correctly.

Carlisle has always been one of those clubs who are known, but for no obvious reason. A bit like Tranmere. I guess it’s because the length of the journey is one of English football’s great away trips, although at least it’s motorway all the way – Plymouth and Exeter are worse trips IME.

Their programme featured the 6-1 gubbing from way back when, and it didn’t seem the worst place up north to visit. Oh, and I don’t think they were happy about the ref…

Point to ponder: So, what do we do with Benno?

It’s now become pretty bloody obvious that the moment we all expected is drawing ever nearer, and this is already starting to look like the season too far. The trouble is, how do you deal with somebody who has been so important in improving our back line since NA got here?

Do we keep propping him up, and hope that he somehow stumbles along? We saw why that’s not a good idea up in Cumbria. Do we say enough is enough, and turf him out? No, he’s still useful in some way, and I would hate us to do that.

Although there’s no point in denying this – a serious injury will finally derail his career.

Do we start making him a player coach? Although that would make Cox and Bassey look like Jim Smith in terms of experience, and I’m not sure if Cox himself will like somebody muscling in on his defensive work.

Whatever the short-term future holds for him, it’s a decision that will need answering soon. He’s doing sports journo courses, and he’s obviously clever enough to know that his time as a player is getting shorter. And we might have to start making that decision for him.

It was mentioned above that it would be a very good idea to get a loan CB in who will cut the average age in half. Alongside him, we would need either Framps or Phillips or even Barrett, as they all still have a bit of life in the legs.

Benno would be best coming off the bench from now on, with cameos in Senior Cup games and the like. Maybe give him a role with the u21s, teaching them how to defend and the like? I know Reevesy was also a defender, but Benno didn’t find the back of his own net as often…

Truth is stranger than fiction: 1) Their PA guy must have found “The Best 90s Album In The World Ever” in their collection. Forgot the last time I heard the Lemonheads. 2) Why were there so many stewards looking at our lot in the second half? Mind you, the steward with the Mohican looked a massive slapped arse when we sung “You’re just a shit Mr T”…. 3) Seeing AA signs for the Hillsborough Inquiry whilst pulling into Manchester on Friday afternoon. Easy to forget just big a thing it was and continues to be.

Anything else? OK, Franchise in the JPT. To be honest, there was a pretty high chance of this happening (think somebody worked out that we could have drawn a maximum of three other teams), so you shouldn’t have been that surprised.

I have to be honest, when I found out about it (I was here) I think I just shook my head and chuckled to myself. No, we’ve gone through all this before in recent weeks, but this time I hope we approach it somewhat differently.

Before the C1C game there, it was as though the game didn’t exist. The club itself seemed so determined to pretend it wasn’t going to take place that it looked to have found its way to the players that evening.

We all remember the mood afterwards, especially how we failed to turn up, and it did make me think that we handled it wrongly – we beat ourselves up over it so much, that we became emotionally crippled as a result.

The JPT is different. It’s an immensely winnable one, and if we play it right then we can finally get one over on the cuntstains. But talking about “play it right” and actually doing it are two totally different things.

We have to accept that the game will happen, that they won’t go away. They are certainly not going to go bust, despite what some people will constantly tell you (out of wishful thinking as much as anything), and chances are we will keep facing them at semi-regular points from now on.

We might have to give them just a bit of acknowledgement, if only for our own mental wellbeing.

Granted, individual fans will want to put it out of their minds, and your editor still isn’t going to go or watch it on telly. But I am but one individual, it’s the club itself I’m thinking of.

The club needs to start getting people “into” the fixture beforehand, even doing things like pre-match interviews saying things like “we know what it means to the fans, so we’re going to go there and give it our all”.

Remember, a third of our regular matchgoing support went up there last time regardless. I remember speaking to a couple of them at Margate (hey, it was better than the game) and they seemed to find the club’s approach pretty discouraging and a tad insulting to their own efforts.

One wonders if AFCW panders to the hardliners a bit here, the sort that think the club mentions Franchise too much. Your editor remembers some quite embarrassing abuse aimed at those who suggested that, horror of horrors, they played well against Yernited.

But one wonders how widespread that viewpoint is. Perhaps not as deep as one may believe, although certainly vocal.

It may sound like I’m encouraging the club to “legitimise” them, and this very fixture. And in a way, I suppose I am – but that’s down to dealing with what the reality is, not what I want it to be.

This latest encounter is different again to even the C1C – if the last one had a “oh jesus, not this again” reaction, this one has a definite “this is rigged, isn’t it?” bewilderment to it.

And yes, I wouldn’t trust Soccer AM as far as I could throw them over this.

We will still need to play them at KM one time, which really be a horrible encounter – I honestly couldn’t think of a worse venue to host such a volatile contest, and would genuinely suggest limiting capacity to 1000. But this one got treated with a bit of a yawn…

Ironically, Franchise beating Yernited 4-0 might have done us the biggest favour of all, because they were effectively forgotten when the post-mortems at Old Trafford started. They had their big moment in the sun and they were ignored.

And even when they did get some column inches, they still kept getting reminded they stole a league place.

They didn’t get the wonderful “oh look how well they’ve done in Milton Keynes” that they expected to get. Deep down, that’s what we fear about them doing anything, that it somehow justified 28/5/02.

But that fear proved to be unfounded, so we shouldn’t cower about this latest fixture.

Don’t get me wrong, I hate their entire existence and I really hope they do go bust. I hope Kunt “Karl” Robinson gets done for tax fraud and Wankie to become the next one convicted under Operation Yewtree.

But as none of that is going to happen, the next best thing is to treat this game as normal, and use the uniqueness of the fixture to motivate us to finally win at their shithole.

Because that’s the best way of revenge…

So, was it worth it? Eventually.

In a nutshell: We came all this way. We still didn’t lose.