Thursday, 31 December 2009

Fear of January

We're getting a lot of optimistic noises from The Racecourse, with Dean Saunders talking about getting nine points in a week, and Gareth Taylor talking about promotion pushes.

I wouldn't want to hear anything else coming out of the club; you don't want your club to give up the season before January. However, I suspect January might just be the cruellest month when it comes to dashing those hopes.

Have you seen our upcoming fixtures? When we finish our game at Oxford on January 30th, we'll have completed a run of nine games, seven of which were away from home! And just to ensure this road trip is particularly gruelling, the next free Tuesday we'll enjoy is the other side of Valentine's Day!

If we can get the momentum going for a promotion push off the back of that run of fixtures, we'll be real contenders!

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Thursday, 3 December 2009

An Embarrassment of Riches

Never mind where's Wally, where's Angelos?

When we signed Angelos Tsiaklis I was rather pleased. Here was a player who'd done well on loan last season and was clearly technically sound. With him on the pitch results were good last season, so he appeared to be a good acquisition.

I was pleased with his debut at Cambridge too. Having not been attached to a club in the Summer he faded and was withdrawn, but while he was on the pitch he looked quite sharp and influenced play significantly in the opening thirty minutes.

And then nothing; he's not been near the first team since!

Admittedly, we seem to have an awful lot of central midfielders, so breaking into that position isn't easy, especially as Andy Fleming and Christian Smith have sewn the two positions up for themselves in recent weeks. With Hedi Taboubi, Mark Jones, Nathan Fairhurst and Silvio Spann also capable of playing in that position (and Saunders has started Marc Williams too) maybe Tsiaklis is just at the end of a very long queue. But if that's the case, perhaps we oughtn't to have shelled out on a contract for him.

It's a position Nathan Fairhurst is also in. I'm on record as being a fan of Fairhurst, and I'm clearly not alone; hearing a chorus of "There's only one Nathan Fairhurst" ring out for an inexperienced holding midfielder when he was brought on last Tuesday was an unexpected treat! Surely, in the suspended Smith's absence, he'll start at York as Mark Jones sadly failed to take the first chance Saunders has given him to play centrally in a midfield four. And if the Fairhurst-Fleming combination can replicate the success they enjoyed last season, when they were at the heart of our excellent winning run which propelled us into promotion contention until Andy Crofts came and turfed Fairhurst out of the side, then Christian Smith might pay a heavy price for that rash tackle last Saturday.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Paying The Price For Hayes?

I suggested a couple of weeks ago in my leader column that Dean Saunders, in being absent for the Hayes match, had damaged the relationship between him and the supporters, who are uneasy at the thought of a manager who doesn't hold his club as his only priority. Looking at the reaction to the game last night, I'd say that damage was evident after the Forest Green game.

Fans at the game were angry, although Wes Baynes' late goal took the sting out of their protests at the final whistle; on Red Passion they were furious, demanding Saunders ought to go. I'd argue that this reaction is an manifestation of how upset the supporters were three weeks ago.

Yes, the performance was poor yesterday; Forest Green looked to be a very poor side, and in the first half we certainly couldn't claim to be any better than them; we created nothing. We imposed ourselves upon them after the break, but without a great deal of quality, and needed a daft foul by a player who ought to have been sent off already to win the game in the 89th minute. However, I'm not sure that the game in itself would warrant such an outpouring of anger.

Look at it in context. Since we lost to Hayes we've drawn at Histon, a performance which has divided fans when measuring its merits, and put in two good performances without getting the reward we deserved. You really couldn't complain about the way we played against Kidderminster or Swindon, so yesterday was the first chance the hard core of home fans, and let's be honest, that's what we're down to right now, to vent their anger at Saunders since the Hayes debacle.

I'm struggling to think of a worse game of football I've ever seen than yesterday's first half, but if you take in the bigger picture, I suspect the vitriol aimed at Saunders was a little harsh. After all, we'd just put in two good performances (maybe three) in a row, and he did act decisively at half time yesterday, throwing on two subs and switching to 4-3-1-2 in a move which brought about an improvement and, ultimately, three points.

Yet damage was done against Hayes, and yesterday was a chance to express that.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Forest Green Podcast

The Forest Green podcast is now up at featuring Dean Saunders and Wes Baynes.

Three's a Crowd

Tonight's crowd was the first time we've attracted less than two thousand fans to a league match in nine years!

Admittedly there were extenuating circumstances: a freezing night, the third of three home games in a week and Man United reserves live on Sky in the League Cup. Still, the main factor is that we're in poor form in the lowest league we've played in since joining the pyramid in 1921.

In case you're interested, that previous low crowd was in November 2000, when we attracted just 1,584 to see us draw 2-2 with Cambridge United in a game I recall vividly as Lionel Perez was awesome and repelled shot after shot, allowing United to equalise in the last minute!

To put tonight's crowd into further context, we've attracted under two thousand to The Racecourse for a league game just four times in the last seventeen years!

Still, at least we haven't plumbed the depths of the 1980s. The ten lowest average attendances in our history were recorded in ten consecutive seasons then, a pattern which continued into the 1990s: we finished the 1990-1 season with ten consecutive sub-2,000 crowds!

There's time though, eh?

Will We See The Woods For The Trees?

Tonight's game could answer a few questions. Like whether the accepted line on Wrexham, that we excel against the better sides and are clueless when a team sets out to deny us, is true.

Forest Green have not traditionally been a side which parks the bus, but their dire league position and the loss of Jimmy Harvey might lead to a period of necessary retrenchment. If so, it'll be interesting to see how we cope with that approach, as we haven't dealt with teams that do that at all well so far this season, but last Saturday we showed signs that that could change.

Granted, Swindon certainly didn't look to defend deep or spoil the game in any respect. However, there was still a comparison to be made between our approach in that game and previous ones. We looked so confident with the ball at our feet, and players were demanding it too! It was a marked contrast with games like the debacles against Barrow, Salisbury and Hayes when, with the crowd on their back, they looked petrified.

If we can maintain that sort of confidence, and show some patience, we'll break sides down no matter how dogged they are. The more I think about this season, the more I suspect it's a question of mentality as much as anything: the players expect to find it easier against the better sides and are able to relax and play, but have it stuck in their heads that they can't brea down defensive teams. Dean Saunders needs to find a way to release the players and let them lose those inhibitions, and tonight's as good a time to start as any.

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