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.
I know it was only one game, but last Saturday felt like it might have been the start of something.
It’s natural to wonder if a manager in his first job will be any good in the transfer market, and Dean Keates has inherited a massive job as he must overhaul his squad by the end of the month. Thankfully, the impact of his first two signings made a massive difference to the team and suggested we should be excited about the prospect of the other players he brings in.
Their success can be explained quite simply. Keates has looked at his squad and decided what type of players would knit in well with those he already has. It’s an obvious approach, made remarkable by what has been happening at The Racecourse over the last two seasons.
Gary Mills’ approach to recruitment seems to have been the exact opposite to Keates’. Players were brought in it seems it was only then that he started trying to work out what he’d do with them. Why else would Lee Fowler be signed amidst great fanfare, made club captain, and not selected? He didn’t fit in with the manager’s tactical strategy, which wasn’t his fault as it appears his manager hadn’t actually devised that strategy when he signed him.
Keates is much more methodical. We’ve a good target man in Jordan White, so Keates brings in an experienced striker who makes runs which White can reward; we’ve looked vulnerable down the flanks as a midfield diamond leaves full backs exposed, so he brings in a high quality left back. It’s not rocket science, but it’s extremely pleasing when a couple of judicious signings are able to elevate a team as they did last Saturday.
Signing James Jennings at left back is a major coup. Last season he was in the National League team of the year, and he immediately showed his qualities against Woking, both in terms of how he tightened the defence up and how comfortable he was going forward.
He deserved massive credit for a piece of composure on the half way line which might not have seemed crucial at the time, but lead to our first goal. Put under terrific pressure by two Woking players, facing his own goal and gradually losing his balance, the easy option was to thrash the ball blindly clear and concede possession. Instead, he kept his composure and played the ball the way he was facing. The reward for retaining the ball came swiftly, as Curtis Tilt drilled an accurate ball forward to White, whose clever lay-off allowed John Rooney to score.
Izale McLeod was the new man up front, and while he had a more mixed time of it than Jennings, there was real potential in how he shaped up. We’ve got to remember that he hasn’t played much this season, and he’ll surely look increasingly assured as his match fitness grows, but while he might need some time to get fully into the swing of things, his intelligence and compatibility with White were already clear.
His willingness to peel off and search for space behind the defensive line once White received the ball allowed the big man to flick accurate passes into his path. Give him a bit more game time and he’ll hopefully be banging those chances in.
I said a couple of weeks ago that we were embarking on a crucial run of games which would shape the nature of our season. Five games out of six against sides below us in the table, four of those at home, offer us a chance to pull ourselves clear of the relegation scrap and use the rest of the season to start planning for next season. So far we’ve won two home games and carelessly lost an away match which should have been at least a draw.
It’s crucial tomorrow that we maintain the momentum generated by those two home victories. If we win, it’s three home successes in a row, and three wins out of four overall, all against sides in the bottom four. Let’s hope that performance against Woking was indeed the start of something.