I’m gutted; it’s typical that whenever I’m not around, something happens. On deadline day, when I walk the dog, we make a signing.
If I go to the loo during the game, a goal is scored. I book one weekend away all season and that’s the weekend we appoint a new manager and he gives his first press conference. Still, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I’ve been able to watch it. It’s not easy though is it? The Twitter feed says it’s going to be streamed live of YouTube and what happens? Nothing. I’ve seen quite a lot of upset people who missed it thanks to whatever technical difficulties were being encountered.
Eventually, after fifteen minutes of cursing and moaning, I got the feed and welcomed in the new era for our football club.
It’s strange to think that the previous ride is over, but it is. The Grimsby fans think it’s hilarious and other clubs love suggesting now we’ve lost the manager who guided us to where we are, we’re going to collapse again. It’s a fear at the back of everyone’s minds; that this is the beginning of an era we won’t be so proud of.
That’s the sort of attitude that Michael Appleton has to fight through. That’s the perception he’s got to change. The thrashing at the weekend was very apt in a way, a crushing finish to a period of instability and uncertainty. How can it only be a few weeks since we were top of the league, unbeaten and hadn’t conceded at home? How was it less than a month ago I left Sincil Bank bursting with pride at our fine display against Everton, and yet here we are before Green Day have woken up and we’ve got rebuilding to do.
Before I consider Michael Appleton as a man, I want to delve into the message a little. It’s very much a case of ‘we’ve got a job to do here’, rather than ‘we’ve got a job to keep doing here’. I found that very interesting. This whole ‘lost eight in nine’ or whatever it is people are saying; I’m not putting a terrible amount of weight behind that. One of those defeats was Everton, the other was a weakened and fatigued side in the EFL Trophy. Two defeats have come during a period without a manager too; this crisis that some people seem to be building up is not as severe as people think it is.
Yet, I was left feeling that we were in a rut after today’s presser. I felt that the squad might not be good enough and that results might take a while to come. That surprised me; less than six weeks ago this squad of players were having superlatives poured on them. In August, we had three League One quality centre backs to choose from. Now? We’ve not got one. The squad we all purred at on deadline day is suddenly not good enough for our level. I can’t help but think, even from so-called rational thinkers, that everything has been overplayed a little.
It suits the club for this to happen though and perhaps that’s part of it spreading so rapidly. After all, a new manager always had a huge gap to fill and to enhance the feeling of us being troubled and on the slide gives him time to settle in. He’s clearly of the belief there is a job to do and warned that it might take six months for his style to come through. Personally, I can’t help but feel that is an over-estimation. He inherited a team of journeymen at Oxford, but has good ball players here. That lack of heart we showed on Saturday came as much from a lack of leaders as anything. Michael O’Connor didn’t start and the midfield duo didn’t function. Jason Shackell had a bad game, Bozzy sat on the bench and that contributed as much as anything.
That said, I don’t want to pile pressure on the new man and frankly, there is clearly a job to do; if the players can turn in such a hollow, vacuous performance after just ten days without a manager, then there clearly something to be addressed.
On to Appleton the man. I felt he handled the conference well, I thought he had some tough questions to answer and some bad ones too (how long before the fans get a chant for you like they did Danny? Seriously, who lets these people in the room?) and yet he dealt with them well. His background is fascinating; anyone thinking this is a four-team journeyman looking for the next paycheck is wrong. I enjoyed his recollections of his time as a player and the lessons he learned from his injury hell.
I feel he has a tag to shake just as we do. Whilst we want to throw off the Danny Cowley era, he was careful to point out he had moved on from his Oxford success. At one point he even said; I don’t want to keep talking about this because we’ve moved on (or words to that effect) and I wasn’t sure whether he meant us as a club or him as a manager. It’s almost like two people coming out of big relationships, believing they’ve found the right fit and still being quizzed incessantly about their ex; it’s inevitable but at some point everyone needs to leave well alone.
Completely disregarding that last paragraph, I remember that first presser with Danny and Nicky, the magic that swept through the place the second they walked in the door. Did I feel that in this press conference? No. Why? Because we’ve had the magic, the redemption and the rebirth. We’re galvanised and grown, developed and assumed an identity. Now, in League One, magic won’t work. Coaching will, methodical tactical approaches will and hard work will.
I’m excited about the new era. I feel that there is an underplaying of where we are, helped in no small part by a humiliating home defeat on Saturday. Maybe I can see the positives having not sat through the thumping, but up to Doncaster away in the cup I felt we’d been competitive in every match and only since the rumours started have we been poor. I think Michael Appleton has a strong squad to work with and a good background of coaching and developing good players. However, the club have been careful not to overstate the quality he’s inheriting and he’s been careful not to raise expectations too early as well.
That’s why things are very different this time around in terms of an introduction to the fans. Back in 2016, there was no underplaying what the management inherited because we all knew. There was no expectation to fulfil, no bar to raise, no predecessor to live up to.
This time out a good football man, an intelligent and driven coach with a varied and contrasting background to the man he replaced, has nothing to prove but an awful lot of expecting fans to prove it to. He certainly passed his first test but football management is about one thing and one thing only; results.