I have been preaching the top three is beyond us and I think yesterday finally put to bed those ambitions of overhauling Wycombe in third place. Anyone still thinking we’re able to keep the middle of May free is, I’m afraid, delirious.
I didn’t read Facebook last night, or any of the social media feedback. I slept 90% of the way home then chilled with my other half watching a film. It’s all too predictable nowadays, some shooting down anyone with a negative view, others copy and pasting their usual bile from every other game we’ve lost this season. I don’t sit on either side of the fence, I’m not one who sees no fault in the performances, nor am I overly critical when we lose.
The perspective view is this; yesterday we were poor second half, we maybe shaded the first but it wasn’t something 1,000 fans should travel across the country to endure. I’m willing to put it to one side though, especially as we’ve had a fair few good trips this season. I’m not one who won’t forgive a bad day at the office, but we’re still entitled to express our opinion. Yesterday, Port Vale wanted it more than us.
However, I’m not going to mention the ‘W’ word either, because I don’t believe for one second last week’s heroics impacted yesterday’s game. The only thing that could be said is if we’d not won last weekend, Danny could have had license to change the team.
What struck me yesterday was our midfield simply didn’t exert enough control which led to us looking very disjointed. In the main, the first 45 minutes were dull, two teams cancelling each other out with little to be offered going forward. I thought Rheady might be a bit more up for a match at Port Vale, it is his stomping ground after all and I’m sure beating his hometown local rivals would have spurred him on, but I didn’t really see it.
I didn’t actually see a lot of fire in our bellies at all. Sadly, the man of the moment Mr Whitehouse turned in one of the games that makes you forget how effective his recent resurgence has been, along with Freck the midfield looked a bit powder puff at times. There was lots of running and panting and endeavour but nothing effective. Alex Woodyard looked better than his partners, but we were over run for large parts in the centre of the park.
Up front all of the emphasis was on Matt Green again, even when our new hero Ollie Palmer came on. Matt has taken a lot of criticism but if we were going to create anything it was going to be him. I stick by my judgement all season that we needed another centre forward, but not to replace Matt Green. One chance in the second half typified my argument, Green received the ball in the channel and whipped a dangerous ball across goal to…. nobody. It was the sort of ball Elliott Whitehouse played against Grimsby for Green to tap in, only when Green is doing the work, nobody finishes his efforts.
If we’d signed another striker, not just another fringe player, but a Matt Green type, we’d be top three. Of that I have no doubt. However, I also believe that the one we need was not available. I know Danny well and there’s no chance at all he sat on his hands being too choosy. If he didn’t sign them, they’re not right for the side. Even Akinola was right in August but, with Matt Rhead having proven himself all over again, was not correct for January.
Anyway, there’s no point looking back, to a degree not even to yesterday. It wasn’t a good performance, it wasn’t a good result and the travelling fans were, to some extent, let down. It might have been different if Danny Rowe hadn’t got injured, he looked really dangerous and effective but didn’t get enough of the ball. sadly, Harry Anderson had another poor outing. I’m a huge Harry fan, on his day he is as good as anyone in the squad, but recently he’s just not been on his game. The 4-3-3 hasn’t helped, but similarly he’s a footballer and should be able to adapt. After all, he came on out wide did he not yesterday?
Now for the perspective. That was out first defeat in seven and whilst we slipped out of the play offs, I’ve checked and nothing is awarded on April 15th, so we should be alright. Mansfield have replaced us but their win against Chesterfield was unconvincing to say the least and they’re still likely to drop points. remember, they can only play for nine now, we still have fifteen to compete for. Our goal difference is even the same, so one win from our two games in hand will be fine if we then match their results.
Look, we have a tough run in and I said we needed nine from eighteen to be in the top seven. I still feel that is the case, so three wins from five is the aim. Colchester and Yeovil at home should be games we can win, so we need something from one of Accrington, Coventry or Wycombe. Even a draw with Wycombe, beat Coventry and lose to Accrington should suffice. Sure, yesterday was a set back but as I said at the top of the piece, automatic was always going to be a step too far. Wycombe, Accrington and Luton have been moulding their teams over two or three years, ours is barely recognisable from the National League winning side of a year ago.
In truth, it is remarkable how far we’ve come in such a short space of time and I’m talking about twelve months, not the Cowley’s entire tenure. They’ve built a top-seven side out of the triumphant National League side, but have retained only two or three of the players. Only Sam, Luke, Alex, Elliott and Rheady played for us yesterday and started against Macclesfield.
We must keep our feet on the ground and appreciate that promotion this season isn’t everything. I’m not throwing in the towel, but is it a season too early? We’re at least 12 months behind the current top three, do we need to miss out this season to come back stronger? Exeter lost key players, but the experience kept the remaining squad in the hunt this time around, what could this side do in League Two next year with a few new faces?
I want to go up but, having been convinced that Danny and Nicky are here to stay, I can see the benefits of not doing also. In 1974/75 we missed out on promotion on goal difference, a distressing end to a campaign that promised so much. I’m sure the negative Neil’s amongst the fan base were expressing their indignation around the open fires of Lincolnshire’s pubs, how perhaps Graham Taylor lacked ambition, how we needed a creative midfield and we always had and that was why we missed out.
That summer, we signed John Fleming, kept everyone else and set a points tally that will never be beaten thanks to a chance in the points system. If we don’t make it this year, keep your hats on, your keyboards untouched and your anger suppressed because with the current squad and manager we’re going places and a 1-0 defeat in Burslem won’t change any of that.
It seems I’m always ending my blogs with something poignant and I’m afraid this is no different. A good friend of mine, Sarah Guntripp, moved to Stoke a few years ago. Sarah used to run the Adam and Eve with her Mum in Wragby and became a close friend of mine during an incredibly tough spell in my life. We drifted apart, remaining friends on Facebook and always promising ourselves we’d get back together for ‘one last party’.
I was going to message Sarah and let her know I was in her neck of the woods, but as I looked her up on Facebook yesterday, I found out she died just last week. She was only a couple of years older than me.
Never wait until tomorrow to get in touch with someone you miss today. It might be too late. Sleep tight Sarah and thank you for everything you did in 2001, even closing the pub at 8pm so we could have a twelve-hour locking in. I’ll never be able to listen to that awful Blue song without a tear in my eye again.