In pulling together the final copy for my upcoming book, I realised I hadn’t done on over view of the season. Maybe the disappointment of Exeter stung hard, maybe the almost immediate contract news on Neal Eardley pushed me towards next season, but there was no overall assessment of he season.
In essence, there was no final chapter, my book would end with Exeter defeat and nothing more, something that wouldn’t do justice to a good first season back. We won a Wembley final, we finished top seven and we competed with everyone we played. No side outplayed us twice, only Exeter beat us twice and they needed four goes to do it. We beat the champions twice too, proving on our day we’re a match for anyone.
Does any of that matter though? After all, we’re still in League Two next year, we still have to go to Grimsby and they’re not really in our shadow as some sections of our support thought we could proclaim. Okay, our managers are tested and their’s is not, but we’re separated by miles and not divisions this coming season.
Danny strikes me as a manager who will not sit around in his office congratulating himself on a good first season, but he will analyse, looking for points to develop. That’s manager speak for criticism, I was taught it on one of those god awful courses all managers go on at some point. We sat around the room and came up with ‘developmental points’ for each other, basically looking for nice ways to tell each other what they did wrong. I’m not going to tell Danny what he did wrong, I’m not qualified nor do I profess to know better than him, but instead of a season review, I thought I’d end with five things we learned last season.
5: The loan market wasn’t our friend
For whatever reason, the loan market was not kind to us last season. I suppose getting Sean Raggett back made it seem as though we’d done really well, but he was the only real hit in a season of misses, not just with players but also opportunities.
Raggs, Ginnelly, Dickie and Maguire-Drew. You know what strikes me about that? There’s room for one more and that point baffled me all season. We had the scope to bring in another player, we hadn’t reached our limits and yet for some reason, we didn’t utilise the last remaining place. The obvious position we needed to strengthen was a striker and whilst Danny says he won’t bring in players who don’t improve the squad, surely any striker at all would have been useful at some point?
Ginnelly would have been an Imp now in my opinion had he not suffered an early injury, but his form dipped and I suspect Burnley wanted him playing regular football. Dickie was another disappointment, clearly earmarked by Danny as the long-term successor for Raggs he showed some good form then just disappeared. Was it an injury, or was his Oxford move on the table and Danny knew not to persevere. The thinking was he joined permanently in January, I’m sure of that, but again we were let down.
Speaking of let downs, Maguire Drew. I’ll say no more. Actually, I will. Maguire Drew is clearly a talented boy but it struck me had didn’t have the work rate we require and I thought his positional sense was way off. He could kick a ball nicely, but so can I. Sometimes.
Danny Rowe was a coup in the loan market and he showed what a good player he was, but was he really a success? Two superb goals gave us a glimpse of what he could do, but either injury or the tactical change seemed to side line him as the season progressed. Jordan Williams was average, nothing more. Ryan Allsop and Scott Wharton both did well, but yet again we loaned four and had space for five.
I feel the loan market let us down a bit, both in quality and how we managed to play it. Maybe the players weren’t available, but the truth is part of the reason we came up short at the end of the season was that some players took much of the load whilst certainly in the first half of the season, the loan players took very little.
This could be a good thing or a bad thing, but through the season we played three different systems, 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3 and of course 4-4-2. The big question is, did we play any of them efficiently enough, or were we a jack of all trades, master of none?
Remember, this piece isn’t me criticising the team, merely looking where things might have been better. I think we had a great season, play offs and a cup win are not to be sniffed at, but a manger’s role isn’t to simply praise and neither is mine.
The 4-3-3, for me, marginalised too many key players. Harry Anderson never settled in it as he’s an out and out winger and it also put Danny Rowe in the shade too. We tried a few different players coming off Rheady and Green, but none shone. Jordan Williams looked good against Grimsby, but we go back to the three striker problem. You sensed when Danny started playing all three of the forwards he’d more or less just said “fuck it, why not,” and rolled with it. That is why I didn’t ever feel confident in the play offs because it felt as though it all came too early. Danny found a system he liked but didn’t have the players to fit it, which contradicted the early part of the season.
We started 4-4-2 and whilst we did have the players to suit that, the two central midfielders being defensive drew much criticism from the keyboard warriors. I liked Bozzie and Alex in the middle of the park, but the problem then was Rheady’s mobility. The big man needed to be able to do more running to fill the gap, but couldn’t. That meant a reliance on the long ball, but any flick on had to be chased by Matt Green. He then played a lone striker role as the big man caught up with play, leaving us looking shot shy in games against Crawley and Cambridge. Had the wingers been up to scratch it might have worked better, but only Harry put in consistent performances out wide before the system change.
Then there was the 4-2-3-1, a way of getting the two midfield players and another creator in the mix. This eliminated Matt Rhead but meant a new approach of going in to feet and heaping reliance on the ten role. I think Billy Knott was the only player we had who could fill it, but sadly we know things didn’t work out there. Three systems, all contributing to a play off spot, but none ever without their obvious faults. Going into next season I suspect we might remain 4-3-3, but now Alex has gone, who knows? Much depends on recruitment, meaning that the players will define the system.
The positive of course is that we never mastered one approach but still had the work rate and application to win trophies. Imagine if one of these systems clicks, or if the new arrivals fill some of the roles we were missing. It could be carnage.