>Decisions Decisions

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Two huge games in three days: there’s a new challenge for Dean Saunders to get his teeth into, and there are plenty of conundrums to consider.

A word I keep using in commentary of late is “intensity”, especially since our results have slipped, and that has made me reassess one of the ideas I’ve clung onto in the face of fashion and popular opinion. I’ve got to accept that rotation’s an essential part of modern football.

The reason I’ve drawn that conclusion is that the intensity (there’s that word again) has fallen off in recent weeks, and we’ve paid the price. It’s an inevitable consequence, I suppose, of playing a high pressure pressing game with a side which relies heavily on young on-loan players. Indeed, they are the key components in playing that way.

Don’t get me wrong: I think it was the right way to go about sorting out the situation Saunders inherited, but it was always likely that the youngsters would tire, and that’s why I have to accept that rotation’s necessary.

Ive always baulked at rotation, my formative years as a fan being spent watching settled teams succeed. Like Michael Palin’s son in the episode of “Ripping Yarns” who is forced to memorise all the youth teams of Barnstoneworth United from the 1920s, I can parrot off the regular starting eleven of the successful sides of my youth:

Davies, Evans, Roberts, Davis, Dwyer, Shinton, Sutton, Thomas, Cartwright, McNeil, Whittle.

Clemence, Neal, Hansen, Thompson, A Kennedy(sorry Joey-you were before my time!!), Case, McDermott, Souness, R Kennedy, Dalglish, Johnson

See? Sad isn’t it?

So I’m hardwired to feel that’s the path to glory. Trouble is you only have to look at the old games on ESPN to realise that, while football back then was frantic, there was much more chance for a breather, which isn’t that surprising as if we believe the mythology the players’ pre-match routine was to drink a vat of booze the evening before, then set new standards in romantic conquest al night before consuming a herd of steaks for lunch!

Football has changed, the pace has increased and is now relentless, so rotation has become necessary, which should play into our hands. We certainly have a bigger squad than most other Conference sides, and while they’re not all viable options (remember, Brian Little bought some of them!) we’ve still got enough depth to rotate to an extent.

The double header throws up an interesting test of Saunders’ use of the squad. He rested Andy Fleming on Tuesday, but how will he switch things around this time? Does Fleming return at the expense of Nathan Fairhurst, who was very unlucky to lose his place when Andy Crofts came in just as he was running into form, and hasn’t let us down when given rare chances since.

Likewise, will he risk Sam Williamson and Wes Baynes, both of whom are not fully fit, or Ashley Westwood, who is also carrying a knock and will probably struggle with playing two games a week for the rest of the season. Does Louis come back, and does he have the legs for two games in three days, a decision which will have to be made with the fitness of Matt Jansen also a consideration. And in a different sort of decision, does Anthony Williams, who did very well against Forest Green and Woking, survive his erratic performance against Northwich?

These are all tough decisionswith major consequences. Saunders’ conclusions could go a long way towards whether we get into the play-offs this season. Still, that’s what he’s paid for!

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