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.
Ain’t football grand? A fortnight ago I was starting to get concerned about where we were heading this season, and was dreading going to Chester and getting a good beating.
Not only would that have confirmed that we were in serious danger of being dragged into a fight for survival which we didn’t look well equipped for, but it would also have confirmed an uncomfortable truth: that for the first time in a while, Chester look a better team than us.
Yet I don’t feel anywhere near as apprehensive about tomorrow’s match now. In fact, I’m actually looking forward to it.
Why the swift change of mind? Primarily, that’s because all of a sudden we don’t look like the same team at all. Obviously, that’s partly because we aren’t actually the same team. In the first half of the transfer window Dean Keates had already managed to carry out an impressive makeover of his squad. He achieved the impressive feat of removing ten players, replacing them with four, and yet still managing to make the squad look substantially better.
I don’t want to get too carried away, as there’s still a lot of work to be done, but those unpleasant thoughts of relegation are fading rapidly from my mind.
Keates has recruited judiciously, and the experienced characters he’s brought in have had a significant impact. Players like John Rooney and Anthony Barry have improved notably now that they’ve been paired with better team mates, capable of offering them better passing options with their intelligent movement.
My optimism is further fuelled by a dip in Chester’s recent form. They’ve lost three of their last four matches, and have only shut their opponents out once in their last eight matches. That’s a far cry from earlier in the season, when they kept a superb seven clean sheets in a row.
So all of a sudden we look competitive and Chester are in the middle of a mini-slump. On Boxing Day Chester were unbeaten in nine games and ten points ahead of us, while we had lost four in a row. The turnabout has been so drastic that is we win tomorrow we’ll be just one point behind them.
Hopefully we can put in a performance which will add further momentum to the Keates revolution tomorrow. Whether we do or not, though, it’s clear we’re heading in the right direction. If we can pass Chester on that way, that’d be a nice bonus!