A couple of weeks ago we were horrified at how quickly things had gone wrong; suddenly we’re loving life again.
Losing key players and three games on the trot cost us our outside chance of staying in the title race, and has probably meant that qualifying for a home semi-final in the play-offs is beyond our reach. However, the last two matches have made light of the crisis, and underlined the value of Dean Keates’ diligence.
Keates deserves a massive amount of credit for being so successful in a restricted transfer market. To get a perspective on his success in bringing emergency strikers in, consider what happened at this point of the season two years ago.
Bryan Hughes needed to find some players to increase our cutting edge, having inherited Sam Ricketts’ lop-sided squad. Unlike Keates, he wasn’t operating under such harsh restrictions, but the trio of players he brought in were below par.
Anthony Spyrou arrived from Norwich’s Under-23s and wasn’t ready for the task; Kemy Agustien wasn’t up to speed and dropped out of contention after a disastrous performance at Ebbsfleet; and Jermaine McGlashan might have scored a bizarre winning goal at Barnet, when the backspin on a deflected shot sent it into the net when it was heading wide, but he was too lightweight to make any real impact.
To be fair to Hughes, he may have been heavily influenced by Brian Flynn in his transfer dealings, but there’s no doubt the trio made virtually no impact on our campaign.
McGlashan started three games, but never managed a full 90 minutes. Spyrou and Agustien made their debuts in the same match, and started the next game, but were withdrawn at the break. Their only subsequent appearances were in a meaningless last game of the season when we fielded a second string team. Agustien played the whole of that match, the only time any of them actually completed a game.
I’m not trying to say that our three new forwards are long term solutions, or that they are going to power us into the Football League. However, there’s no doubt that, in the restricted circumstances he was able to operate in, Keates has certainly improved his options.
Obviously, Gold Omotayo has made the most striking impact. He’s an honest-to-goodness target man, who wins plenty of headers against centre-backs. His delicately cushioned assist for Dior Angus’ goal at Halifax was beautifully executed, he rattled the Shaymen’s defenders throughout, and he took his goal at Woking nicely.
That’s a goal and an assist in 120 minutes, which means Keates’ signings are already in credit compared to Hughes’ unfortunate trio, who managed one goal and no assists in 566 minutes between them.
Chris Sang, in just two very late substitute appearances, has shown that he might have something. He’s quick, and showed a cool head when he played Omotayo in for his goal. On paper, he was the signing with the least on his CV, but in the short glimpses we’ve had of him, I suspect he might be rather more than a punt in desperate circumstances.
We know that Keates keeps tabs on players who have caught his eye, and whereas Spyrou was a raw striker who wasn’t ready for the fray, Sang looks like a player whose qualities have been carefully scouted.
The third new man, Keanu Marsh-Brown, looked like he still needs to get fully up to speed, which is understandable as he’s played little football lately. but he’s an exciting signing if we can do so. He’s been consistently successful at this level before, and has consistently made me feel worried when we’ve played against him! His substiute appearance against Chaesterfield was full of promise, and the word from within the club is that they’re impressed with the attitude and ability he’s showing.
I know it’s not fair to compare these signings, but the truth is that, at a point where our season was in jeopardy, Keates has acted decisively and effectively. The promotion push is back on, and we have Keates’ problem-solving to thank for that.