If memory serves me right the first fixture against the adopted club of the Class of 92 who I affectionately call ButtSmellingEvilGig FC (owner anagram) at Mill Farm was a close affair and we scraped a point with a later equaliser from Willo. We have gone on to dominate many sides and rack up a massive goal tally while Kiddy, Chorley and Salford alike have been better at keeping it tight at the back, but have nowhere near the firepower according to the stats. So this was an unexpected result as was the home defeat by Chorley and looked what happened after that.
It feels like we have been struggling somewhat with the balance of the side since James and Sam have been absent. With both of them in the side, we looked naturally robust and yet very creative because with James in a three behind Rowey it meant Sam and Bondy had to establish dominance in midfield as a platform for the likes of Brads and James to interchange, while Brendon provided out and out pace with width. This attacking flexibility has smashed most sides off the park even when we weren’t playing at our best. Hence the GD and the points tally.
Hence, I can see why Chally has put Brads in a more central role in the three, as his game is perhaps closest to James’s? However adding Bohan to the mix isn’t anywhere near a like for like with Brads. The big man brings something completely different and I feel he is better deployed further upfront just off Rowey, not in the three just behind. Equally, while Cas has done pretty well having been thrust into action, he hasn’t provided the same feistiness and as a result, Bondy’s game has also had to change. With this in mind, I can see why young Kristian and Tom H have been brought in to rectify this imbalance. If indeed that why we’ve gone in for more depth and variety in midfield.
When you leak five irrespective of the opposition, questions have to be asked of the back four/five as well as the defensive element of the midfield. If we’re being brutally honest we haven’t had the same dynamism or snap in the middle of the park and this appears to have affected the back four. I’m not a qualified coach so it’s hard to know how to rectify the phenomenon, but it looks to my untrained eye that we are yo-yoing, one minute playing playing too high up the pitch and the next minute drifting back, so when the play breaks down more regualry than say it did historically, we look sloppy on the turn and are struggling to be decisive and get stuck in when needed. Teams are pressing us much more now and we need to deal with this somehow. Earlier in the season we had James’s quick feet as the ultimate outlet as he would drfit into little spaces either side of the oppositions midfielfers, and now it appears without that cutting edge we are struggling to counter and break with the ease we did before. We need to find alternative options to launch the counter offesnive from.
Also one of our real strengths, when we are at our best, is the ability of Tom and Macauley to get forward into the channels in advanced positions behind the opposition’s midfield, this gives overlapping options and the chance for the likes of Brads and James to advance further and terrorise the defence with runs across and in behind the CB’s. However, when we lose possession we are badly exposed from time to time. The nerves that this causes is palpable and as a result when the lad’s bomb-on, their first touch is slightly more hesitant than a few months ago and this hesitation allows for the oppo’s midfield to get back and squeeze the space, leaving less progressive options for the lads to exploit.
When it’s all said and done, we aren’t playing as well as we could be, and the change in personnel has highlighted our inability to replicate the same cut and thrust with different lads wearing the shirts. This leaves only a few options in my mind:-
1. We give Chally time to coach the different solutions with the ‘existing’ crop of players. Thankfully I think we have too much in the way of quality to play that badly again and would expect the current crop to rise to the challenge after a good kick in the arse. Can they adapt quickly enough? Also if James, Sam and Josh are likely to be back soon we can reasonably expect that with a bit of luck around not reinjuring themselves the team that quite simply smashed the bejesus out of all comers will be back together. The question may be, how long before this realistically comes together and can we get a good enough return while we wait?
2. We add Kristian and Tom H into the mix and focus hard on bedding them into playing the way we were with James and Sam in the side. The vast majority of professional outfits have the reserves and the youth set up playing the same way as the first XI the majority of the time, but without the quality in depth required which Chally continues to elude to, an introduction of new players is inevitable. Although it takes time, you hope that the calibre of the new lads will allow Chally to move this forward if he so wishes. He has the mandate to change it as much as he wants as the manager anyway, but a 5-0 ass whooping gives him a little more freedom to change it more radically if he wants without the likelihood of a player kickback.
I get the feeling lines has been drawn and Chally is about as frustrated he can be without having to take more radical actions. He is 100% right, though, that if a player is capable of delivering the key elements of their role having been coached these specific tasks time and time again, BUT they aren’t capable of delivering it week in a week out when it matters, then there is no other option than to recruit.
This is a more costly and risky model to pursue particularly at this time of the season, but if Chally feels this run of average to poor performances are going to continue and he can’t replace the likes of Sam, James & Josh then he should definitely look to buy players that not only improve the squad technically but can provide a longer term stability in the roles they can play. The big issue here is that too much chop and change will destabilise the good work we have already done.
3. We develop fresh systems to use. I think a fair criticism of the side is that when we have struggled from time to time during games, we don’t appear to have a plan B or the ability to change a system that will challenge a team that is getting the better of us. I cannot comment on any alternative solutions as I haven’t seen any that depart from our ‘standard’ set up. But surely we have the talent in this squad to change the way we deploy during matches when the fit hits the shan. We are a full-time club so I’m sure we have the time to do this.
For me, the players lacked aggression, passion and confidence at the weekend which is a deadly combination against a ferocious and talented foe such as Salford. We need to address these interdependent issues and rapidly or we will find ourselves in the perennial dogfight that has plagued the club over the last few years. My advice to anyone about to fall back into the same trap that they have endured previously is to change the methodology or approach or the slip caused will produce the exact same results give or take.
However, we must not forget where we have come from and what we are capable of. The players need to have a good look at themselves for sure, but not just for a case of self-flagellation. They need to remember how good they can be and get their heads right for the fight. Don’t underestimate the power of the fans who believe we can do this. We will continue to stand with the lads and Chally, game in and game out and I sincerely hope they know this, understand this and value it. It’s time to stand together, be strong in our collective belief and play/sing our respective hearts out. Being a Coaster means we expect no less of each other.
Of course in Chally and the lads we trust.