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Beast Mode Off

Merry sodding Christmas.

So, our little run of wins end, and we’re back to a depressingly familiar vibe of whale wankness that becomes the default position too many times.

Actually, things must have been bad on Saturday, because I received not one but two sizeable reports from pissed off SW19 readers (are there any other kind?). Sometimes I don’t get a single one even if we win…

Enough snark. First up, here’s Oli Duffy:

The most recent league game I had had the privilege to witness was away to Northampton, and we all know what happened there.

However, having heard and read about our two away wins prior to the game against Mansfield, I arrived at Kingsmeadow full of confidence and Christmas cheer.

Today… bah humbug. Humbug is indeed a fitting way to describe Mansfield’s display, for they had dishonesty and deceit aplenty.

Although, before I talk about them, I’ll give my opinions on us.

Once Akinfenwa had left the pitch injured and assaulted the poor dugout, it became abundantly clear that when it comes to playing teams below us in the table we have no plan B. And our plan A is hardly anything to get excited about in the first place.

Azeez was useless, and unfortunately I got the impression he often went into all 50/50s looking for an opportunity to get a free kick rather than win the ball. Tubbs faded into obscurity, occasionally showing his talent but otherwise the absence of his usual strike partner was obviously detrimental.

Our defence and midfield was solid – Goodman’s uncharacteristic error notwithstanding – but little else. Moore and Bulman clearly put their all into the midfield, but they clearly struggle to turn their hard won possession into anything offensive.

It is extremely worrying that our most dynamic attacking player appeared to be Barrett when he made his forays into the opposition’s penalty box.

Special mention for Shea, who was awesome, and he should perhaps feel aggrieved that his outfield team-mates could not produce one or two moments of quality as he did.

We should have won, even with Goodman’s cock-up. Even with Akinfenwa getting injured. However, we did not adapt.

Azeez was placed into the formation in place of the Beast almost as if it was a like-for-like swap. Which it simply is not. Even when they went a man down, we did not change our tactic. Neither did Ardley see fit to shake things up when we went a goal down. Our major tactical innovation was placing more emphasis on hoof-ball.

Maybe Ardley either has a lack of ideas of how to deal with situations when we have the on-paper advantage? It appears he has a one-size fits all plan for lower league opposition. Perhaps it is the challenge of facing better teams that inspires him – and his players – to think outside the box?

As for them. Cheating, lucky, dirty. That will do it. I could list their sins, and then some more. I could bemoan the referee who was unable to deal with Mansfield’s tricks.

However, that is not the issue. That stuff happens in League Two, in fact it happens in all football. The issue is that our management and players cannot overcome it.

Merry Christmas.

And now one from Tudor. Don’t expect just a haiku this time.

Witless, Shitless, Clueless and (for 85 minutes) Gutless. Welcome to the Weird and Not-So-Wonderful World of Neal Ardley’s Wimbledon.

First the haiku-format match report:

Dead leg for Bayo.
Brain dead from the rest of them.
I want to go home.

After numerous Groundhog Day experiences with an Ardley-inspired (sic) team over the past couple of years, I have to admit I’m now suffering from PTSD (Pissy Tactics Stress Disorder)

I’d finished my car park duties (under the careful stewardship of the indefatigable Meadow), and gave serious thought about giving the game a miss and heading home for a nap.

I wish I’d listened to myself.

For me, this game encapsulated everything that – over the past three and a half years and under successive managers – I’ve come to hate about League 2:

1. Cheating clogging rugby-style tactics,

2. Referees that bottle big decisions*,

3. Clueless tactical fuckwittery from a Womble manager, insistent – despite all knowledge and experience of these cheating clogger-type teams, on playing ‘the right way’,

4. Uninspired, leaden-footed “patient build-up play” from us, giving a well-drilled 10-man League 2 team plenty of time to organise themselves against our so-called attack,

5. Waking up in the final few minutes to go full kitchen sink in an attempt to salvage something. Hey, where did those principles about ‘playing the right way’ go, then?

6. Some tired old bollocks in the post-match interview about ‘not following orders’, head scratching, or some new twist on it that invariably means blaming the players, or throwing anyone under the bus except the manager himself. God forbid.

* 2. fair play Deadman gave one straight red card, but he bottled a second yellow later on (deciding to give a ‘final warning’ chat instead), and never got to grips with the conveyor belt of kicking and thuggery that the ‘next-man-up-without-a-yellow’ would dish out…. and how he missed the all-pro wrestling/New York cop chokehold on Barrett in the penalty area in the final minutes, I’ll never know.

When we ended up playing at high tempo from the 85th minute onwards, we finally had chance after chance. But then their goalie made some lightning reaction saves and blocks.

Fair play, but perhaps if we’d turned the screws and tried at least tiring them out for the first 50 minutes or so they’d been down to 10, maybe?

But pitty-passing sideways, looking for the “optimum” passing lane – or whatever UEFA coaching bollocks buzzwords NA had rectally-infused during his coaching badge induction ceremony – does neither.

I appreciate that the “Football League” is the Holy Grail to the vast majority of our fans, but surely nothing is worth the purgatory of being stuck, year after year in this Jean Paul Sartre-like hinterland (or Silent Hill/Walking Dead otherworld, for you gamer-types)?

League 2 – the division that Football Forgot.

I fucking hate this division. If I wanted to watch rugby, then I would head up the road to Twickenham and watch the Harlequins.

However, given the amount of cheating the likes of Mansfield and Stanley do, they themselves would surely be better suited in a Southern Hemisphere league.

Ardley Making Progress?

I fully accept the notion that NA would make a decent League 1 manager. For one thing, he seems to like playing football, with passing and all that stuff. For that matter, he’d make a great Conference manager too – where, as Our Former Manager showed, you can patiently pass the ball around and slowly tire the opposition out.

Unfortunately, we are stuck playing 46 games in League 2, where the oppo will pressure and harry you if you decide to try and hang onto the ball. Go down, to timewaste/get a breather and reorganise if feeling under pressure: then jump on the second ball or a mistake and run up the field and HAFSOG without the need to think about it too much (q.v Mansfield yesterday).

However, faced with reality, NA has no gut instinct to change things. Yes, he’s changed to a more direct hoofball, hold-up play with Bayo, but his midfield phalanx of robots invariably then start tippy-tappying around and getting into position.

Which sort of defeats the object.

We also now only have the rare occasion when Fuller gets bored (or given a permission slip) to bomb forward and whip a cross in from the sideline. On the other side, Kennedy’s balls tend to float softly into the box, where their centre back can easily wrestle his way into position.

It seems to me as if NA thinks his Plan A is so wonderful that there is no need to change it – even if Akinfenwa goes off injured, or we find ourselves against 10 men.

Where’s our “Plan” for those sorts of occasions? Why aren’t they drilled to change formation and tactic when necessary? Football is a fluid game. Things happen on the pitch. It’s played on grass, not on paper.

Furthermore, he’s forced into a perpetual state of surprise in the second half of games when the opposition manager alters tactics or moves things around.

For instance, yesterday, bringing Azeez on for the injured Akinfenwa, NA didn’t change the tactics one bit – instead continuing to knock balls forward for one of the Bayos to control and hold up, when the two are completely different players. I realise that NA loves his identikit players, but THE TWO BAYOS ARE NOT INTERCHANGEABLE!

Tubbs drifting out to the right wing when he should be told to stay in the box didn’t help, but that seems to be his new position (just like Midson and Kedwell before them, when as-fucking-usual we had no attacking wing-play).

NB: After Azeez got subbed and the more direct and physical Oakley came on, we suddenly started to play better. And when our central defenders ploughed forward in the final few minutes, we started playing like we had a man advantage.

Too little too late.

Sorry, we should have been pushing and prodding (forwards, not sideways) and making them work from at the very least the 46th minute.

Oh and just STFU.

Given NA’s continued tone-deaf comments after games (we “gave everything”? Really?!!!?) I can now appreciate why we persistently come out so flat after half-time.

I don’t know what he says to them to go with their fairtrade Satsuma and cup of Indonesian chai, but if they’re only half as dispiriting as the chunks of reheated spew that come out of his mouth after yet another shitty loss, then I can understand why the players stumble about for long periods like someone slipped Rohypnol into their water bottles.

Chemical X.

I accept (if disagree) that NA has to run the rule of law by KSL (and Arthur) if they’re unwilling to kowtow to his training regime (group effort etc). However, it can be no coincidence that he has fallen out with just about every single “flair player” he’s had.

Guess what? Those types of player are willing to think outside the box. That’s what makes them exciting. Instead, his answer seems to be training them to be just like the other 4,586 ball-controlling midfielders that NA has either gone out to get or turned other players into on his squad.

Ardley has his squad of little robots, doing precisely what he tells them to do. So it’s unfair to then blame them for allegedly not doing what he wants in actual game time.

It’s also unfair to expect anything other than the dour, rigid displays that we’ve experience in the past two years.
This is his squad. His rules. And it shows.

He needs to find a way to handle flair (but thick) players, because wherever he ends up later in his career, he’s going to continue to face this.


BTW I’m so glad that the “lads” look great in training. I bet they looking really smart and impeccably-dressed in team photos too. I might follow Nick’s suggestion on the WUP guestbook and ask to transfer my season ticket to the training ground for next season.

I do not come to praise Caesar, but I do not come to bury him either.

The widely-accepted goal for us seems to be to tread water/avoid relegation for as long as it takes to get NPL planning process. But then, if we’re successful, surely we will still be asked to watch dour, mid-table ‘effective’ League 2 football for a further 3 years, while it’s being built and a metric fuck-ton of money gets dropped into the stadium build, instead of the team.

How about the inevitable “settling in period” at a new stadium? Just another year or two before the new income streams kick in? What if we’re saddled with managing the debt of NPL for another season or two…. In short, when does this not-so-fresh hell end?

[SW19: A thought while reading/sub-editing this – should we get the go-ahead, will we be crippled by people hanging on too long just to “see it through”? Not just manager but people off the field too. A new build at its earliest won’t be finished until 2017, and that’s a very long time to keep sweeping things under the proverbial carpet…]

How long do we allow NA to remain naïve/stubborn/non-pragmatic? How far does his “learning curve” last?

I’m willing to accept that he’s a better manager than League 2. But right now, he’s a League 2 manager. If he can’t learn to further survive and adapt, then he’s not going to last long anywhere.

He’s ‘cutting his teeth’ on us, that I accept, warts and all, but a few years in and it’s the same mishegas….? That said, I think he’s far more suitable as a Director of Football somewhere (presumably if we can’t afford him).

He came from the world of training and nurturing and academy administration. Also, his own footballing career was based on hard work and training, so it’s no real surprise that he’s more interested in that side and cannot relate to ‘flair players’ who’d rather do their talking on the pitch.

Anyway, rant over.

What next, Boss?

We’ll probably follow the usual pattern of a dour draw, followed by an unexciting win, then an horrendous capitulating loss, for the rest of the season, and beyond…

If I only had the potential excitement of a Barry Whizzbang player that NA could throw on for the final 15 minutes every once in a while, then the season might be worth staying conscious/sober for.

But then, as they say, it’s the hope that kills you.

I’m not sure how I’m going to follow all that. Mind you, if you’ve managed to stay the course thus far…

It clearly says a lot when the Beast going off hardly registers in post-match discussion. I guess we’ll lose him for Pompey and Exeter, and given his penchant for self-publicity, it’s going to crucify him if he can’t play against Liverpool.

But I cannot recall such anger and all-round pissedoffness about the “tactics” displayed. There’s playing poorly, and there’s playing ineptly.

The former you can put up with from time to time – I understand if players aren’t going to go full pelt until the FAC game, many other players at many other clubs would in the same situation.

And I have to admit, the three points we’ve got since the draw was made is three more than I thought we’d have by the new year.

But the absolute lack of ideas that everyone is talking about is shocking to read. Suddenly, Neal Ardley isn’t such the tactical genius he thinks he is after all.

Bad day at the office? We have quite a few of those, don’t we? A few too many…

When seasoned observers are saying this is one of the worst FL games in the AFCW era, the ones who didn’t go can smile smugly to themselves. Others are saying that we could have scored a couple more ourselves, but that might just be putting some Solvite in the cracks.

We’re thankful that Boxing Day and Exeter a couple of days later are coming up, because it will give us a quick chance to put this one down to just brainfarts. If we don’t do that, then we could be seeing a turning point that will be very hard to turn back.

Once the Liverpool game is out of the way, plenty more minds will start getting made up by about February. Some have been made up already, although one or two were made up the day after NA joined 😉

If – and when – NA loses a significant section of the support, it becomes very hard to get that back. Probably impossible. There were hints on Saturday that’s starting to happen, and let’s be honest – he hasn’t done enough to convince people otherwise.

That’s for the new year and beyond. Of more immediate concern is the first real hint that Tubbs could be on his way in January. To be honest, this was always expected to a degree, especially as our current manager did say that his loan wasn’t “bombproof”.

Will we miss him? Of course. Has he set the place alight like we expected him to? Not so much. BMO has been the high-profile player, and at times he seems to have played a bit part.

The most important thing here is contingency planning – we didn’t do that when Smith went last season, although we lucked out with Appiah.

Get that right, and it won’t be an issue. Get that wrong, and this won’t be a fun 2015. And the last thing we want is yet another fucking relegation battle…