Thursday, 12 March 2009

Decline and Fall

Our current slide is a bit worrying, isn't it? Going into a tailspin doesn't have to have disastrous consequences as long as you pull out of it quickly, but that's something we've signally failed to do. Our aspirations have changed dramatically from being a hot tip to get into the play-offs to something approaching outside bets: I think that's how you'd describe a side who has to win three games in hand to get level with the last play-off spot.

The root cause of this decline is not clear, of course. I've already looked at Gavin Ward's removal from the team, but clearly the goalkeeper is not the only person who should shoulder the blame. The elephant in the room is the coincidence of Wrexham's loss of form and Andrew Crofts' arrival.

Plenty of fans on Red Passion have brought the issue up mind, and a run of seven games without a win since he came from Gillingham, coming after a run of fine form, has raised a lot of eyebrows. It's certainly fair to say that Nathan Fairhurst, who was enjoying a good vein of form when he made way for Crofts, has every right to be disappointed to lose his place. However, Saunders said shortly before the transfer that irrespective of whether people are playing well, he isn't nostalgic and would drop players if he could bring in others who would improve the team. That's the ruthless attitude you want to see in a manager, but his lauding of Crofts on his arrival makes it difficult to reverse his decision without losing face.

It's a peculiar conundrum. Crofts undoubtedly has the pedigree, as Saunders correctly pointed out. You can see it in some of his passing. However, it might be argued we've lost a little but in midfield when we don't have the ball.

Fairhurst and Andy Fleming might look like a lightweight pairing, but they are full of energy and press relentlessly when we haven't got the ball, forcing errors and regaining possession swiftly. Crofts is more of a holding midfielder, and I wonder if this has brought about one of those subtle shifts in the make-up of the side which has far-reaching consequences.

It all comes back to that idea of a tidal wave being caused by enough butterflies beating their wings simultaneously. There are a number of small factors stacking up to destabilise the side, some of which lead on to the next. Young players are bound to have inconsistent patches, so a young side is likely to suffer downturns in form. When you get a few key players lose form and confidence at the same time, you have a problem, and I think it's fair to say that Mike Williams and Jon Brown will recognise that they've not quite been at their best in the last couple of weeks.
Then there's the issue of our habit of conceding sloppy goals which, irrespective of the fact that a Conference level you're always likely to have to build a team from players who make errors, is getting beyond a joke. There always seems to be somebody ready to lose concentration for an instant at some point in the second half. Whether that's a fitness issue-I believe Saunders is frustrated by this issue in some respects and would dearly love to get a good pre-season in with his players-is a moot point.

Oh yes, and just in case I forget, we have lost our best player through injury for the rest of the season. With no real cover for him, that might just have an influence too, don't you know?

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