Here’s my column from last week’s Leader. It forms part of the paper’s comprehensive pre-match coverage every Friday, featuring interviews, an in-depth look at the opposition and lots of statistical analysis. All content in the column (c) www.leaderlive.co.uk.
Don’t panic! It feel natural but it would be premature to do so.
Let’s not kid ourselves: the last fortnight has been grim. The performance at Lincoln was limp and rather than bounce back and show everyone that it was an aberration, last Saturday was just as bad.
We had much more possession than we did at Lincoln, but only because Chester allowed us to. They picked us apart in the opening half hour, then withdrew into an extremely well constructed defensive shell, happy to invite us onto them because they were confident they would repel us. In other words, a side with no points outmanoeuvred us. That’s not an easy thing to take.
There are fundamental issues to address. We average two goals conceded per game. That can’t be allowed to continue.
By leaking goals we put too much strain on our attack. If you consistently let two goals in a game, obviously you need to go some to get anything out of it. Once the creativity dried up, we were heading for disaster.
And the creativity did dry up in the last two matches. Andy Bishop, with no goals in his first six matches, has taken some flak from the terraces, but I’m not totally sure that’s fair. He simply hasn’t had many opportunities to open his account – I can genuinely only recall three chances that have fallen to him in the course of the season so far, and only one of them was the type I’d have expected him to stick away. Whether that’s his fault or down to the players who ought to be teeing him up is an interesting issue for debate.
But despite the poor start to the season, it’s no time to panic. Teams sometimes take time to gel, and there were extenuating circumstances around the last two performances. Although our midfield appeared to be the outstanding area of the squad when the season kicked off, if you take both Jay Harris and Dean Keates out of it, you’re clearly going to see a dip in quality. The lack of heart we’ve shown since Harris was suspended is alarming, but he’ll be back after the Nuneaton game and we’ll surely be the better for it.
Admittedly, the defensive issues are looking trickier to solve. The fitness of Mark Creighton and Stephen Wright are crucial at the back, and clearly we can’t guarantee that either of them will be available consistently over the course of the season. But defensive issues can be addressed through good work on the side’s organisation, and our record at the back over the last couple of years shows that we’ve got the coaching staff to whip them into shape.
Let’s not forget the consistent success we’ve enjoyed under Andy Morrell and Billy Barr. We weren’t doubting their capabilities as they were winning 98 points or taking us to Wembley twice. Just because they’re having to assemble a squad on a more restricted budget doesn’t mean they’ve suddenly lost the capacity to produce a winning team; they just might need a bit more time this season.