Part III: The honeymoon is over

Fackin’ Telford!

Oh, sorry – that should be fackin’ ‘AFC’ Telford, because you got mismanaged a few years back and had to start again.

Yes, well, they did us over twice during the festive season. First on Boxing Day, at their place, and then back at ours, on New Year’s Day, both by two goals to one.

Things were going alright until then.

I don’t know what happened, really. We played the same formation, with the same little tweaks here and there according to the match situation, but for reasons I’ve never fathomed we just didn’t show up for either. Maybe that’s just the sort of inconsistency you should expect when you manage at this level.

But I’m not having that as an excuse. It was Christmas, and we were playing our local rivals. The fans deserved better.

Having said all that, AFC Telford are currently sixth in the table. They’re not a bad side, but those back-to-back defeats put me on the back foot. I wasn’t so ballsy going into my next game away at Leamington, who were just below us in the table and have been flirting with relegation so outrageously that it’s made their fans feel hugely uncomfortable.

Left winger Charlie ‘he has the edge’ Edge (I’m not good at nicknames) put us in front in just the third minute, but we conceded an equaliser just a few minutes later – and apart from a late dismissal for the home side, the rest of the game was a non-event.

If I’m honest, we weren’t very good in this game either.

But if I thought I’d hit a low scraping a 1-1 draw against a spa town, I had a shock in store. Back at Aggborough we put in such a pitiful performance against FC United of Manchester it made me weep.

Now, they’re up with Telford in the play-offs, so there should be no disgrace in drawing 1-1. But they were made to play with 10 men for almost the entirety of the game, and they absolutely dominated us. Only an absolutely incredible goal by Joe Ironside, with a first-time volley into the top corner with the ball from the halfway line coming over his shoulder, with two minutes remaining rescued a draw, but in truth we didn’t deserve it.

Suddenly, this little run of two draws and two defeats – plus the 0-0 draw at home to Nuneaton before it – became a bit of a concern. Add in the two-legged defeat to Barrow in the FA Trophy and we’d suddenly gone seven games without a win.

Honeymoon period well and truly over, then. Four wins in my first seven, none in my second seven.

There were no ultimatums from the board, no revolts from the fans or anything like that – mainly because my good start had kept us clear of the drop zone by a useful margin – but it still troubled me. Why had my previously effective tactic, that did so well against Barrow from the division above over two games, suddenly become a bit shit?

Next up was a trip to Curzon Ashton. They’d won just two of their 26 league games but weren’t even bottom of the league virtue of their 13 draws. Anyway, we went there and…

Won! Edge scored twice, Hartlepool loanee Devante Rodney scored a third and that was that. Back to winning ways, albeit against a side in relegation bother.

Then the Southport game happened.

Southport, top of the league. Southport, leading scorers in the division by some margin. Southport, only lost once on their travels all season.

Right, I’ll say up front that it finished 3-3 because I imagine you’re thinking that I might be building up to something (like a heavy defeat, or an unexpected win).

We deserved to win, though. Centre back Tyrone Williams put us in front after just five minutes, they equalised after 20, then we retook the lead through Rodney and N’Guessan put us in dreamland just before half time.

Clearly, whatever I said at half time – which was nothing, because FM Touch doesn’t do team talks – didn’t work. We conceded straight from the restart, which is never ideal, and the equaliser came just after the hour. We had loads more chances to win the game, but we also could’ve lost it in the fourth and final minute of injury time.

We did ourselves proud. Central midfielder Dan Bradley had a bit of a strop in the week and said he wanted to play more games, so I gave him a chance and he repaid me with a nice assist for our third goal.

The players have proved that the tactic works. If there’s one thing I’ve tweaked in the last two games it’s to go more structured rather than flexible, but I’m sure the improvement is down to more than just that.

It’s worth remembering, though, that it’s still just one win in 10 in all competitions. It’s not like we’re flying.

The league table shows that we’re in 16th place, which is where we’ve been for a good while now, and we’re 11 points clear of relegation with just 14 games to go.

Oh – we’ve signed left winger Gianni Crichlow on loan from Macclesfield, and centre back Leslie Sackey on loan from Scunthorpe – more as back up than anything else. I got a shock when my centre back Fraser Horsfall suddenly went back to Huddersfield at the start of January when I hadn’t even realised he was a loan player.

And the takeover went through. Some local businessman has invested some money in us, but not enough to take our wage budget any higher than its existing £11,000 a week level. But we do still have £10,000 to spend in the transfer market.

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