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South Bank Hank

Nov 4, 2003
...well it MIGHT do since we have games coming up thick and fast, our team isn't functioning as a unit, we have no quality on the bench to shake things up and so many of our better quality loanees have returned to their clubs (even if in some cases this might not be for too long). We certainly don't look capable of playing many sides off the park in the next few weeks that's for sure!

To find our last League win, you actually have to go back to Tuesday 28th October against when we defeated Leeds, but since then we've struggled to 3 draws and 3 defeats.

But here's the thing...

I remain utterly convinced that Steve Tilson, Paul Brush and Ron Martin are exactly the right partnership for this club.

As a club, it's clearly our way to play with a small squad. While we had some concerns at the time, it served us well when we got promoted from the second division and it served us well when we went up as Champions from the first division. You could argue that we had some luck with injuries in those years, but with the odd loan-signing here and the odd-loan signing there, we were able to keep a tight ship and progress with a tight-knit squad. This time around, we've been exposed, but I genuinely think it's going to get better, although as I've said, it's possible it may get worse first!

Replacing Nicky Bailey
Our biggest problem still seems to be this: how do you replace your average, run of the mill, Nicky Bailey. Show me the manager at this level and with this budget who could have replaced a player like this who completely ran the show, a player who swept up in front of the defence, a player who turned defence into attack before popping one it at the other end himself to show the strikers where the net was, a player who left just a couple of games into our new season. Show me that man and I'll show you a footballing genius!

We could have planned for Bailey's departure of course, what with him fresh on the transfer list and all, but then even with a degree of foresight, shiny new Bailey's don't exactly grow on trees.

Playing as a TEAM
It's always been easy to look for scapegoats, be it from our leadership in Ron Martin, our management in Steve Tilson, or in the players individually - Simon Francis, Jimmy Walker, or Kevin Betsy in particular. Some of them will need to look at themselves for their contributions but, for me, it's the team as a whole which needs to start functioning as a unit, from the attack through the midfield and back to the defence. This for me is where we're struggling right now. But for me, it's also where we have reason to be cheerful. Eventually.

In the only games this season where we've managed to start with Freedman and Barnard, for instance, we've won 3-0 at home (Orient), 4-3 away (Crewe) and 1-0 at home (Hereford where the scoreline largely flattered the opposition). Macca was injured yet in those same games we still benefited from a functioning midfield of Sawyer and Christophe, neither of them quite offering the same dominance as Bailey, but fine acquisitions nonetheless.

At the time we were sniffing around the play-offs and playing some enjoyable football yet since that time, our strikers have had injuries and suspensions and our midfield has struggled with the loss of both of the aforementioned midfielders.

Struggling with short term answers
Our midfield is definitely creaking right now. People seemingly are crying for Moussa but he wasn't the answer then and he isn't the answer now. I doubt we'd have been a better team yesterday for example for having had Moussa in it. People argue that Tilson should again have planned better for the loss of our loaned midfielders. They'd be right of course because the gap hasn't been adequately filled. Milsom seems to have been the player Tilson had in mind to see us through the congested period where Christophe isn't able to play but he doesn't seem to be the answer and we may suffer as a result. We're still missing that vital cog in midfield. But that cog ain't easy to find.

Darkest hour before the light
So our otherwise decent attack has been injured or suspended, our midfield is still suffering the brilliance of Nicky Bailey and our defence is stuttering under pressure. We're going into our busiest period of the year. It's going to be rough. We might even lose the next couple of games to add further pressure after our recent poor run of form.

But then comes January...

I believe we will strengthen the team.
I believe that Freedman and Barnard (who brought a huge improvement with them yesterday) will cement their places back in the side, with Laurent, Revell and Walker pushing them from the bench.
I believe this attack will relieve the pressure on our midfield as it did earlier in the season.
Christophe will come back into the midfield.
I believe we will get more value from players like Stanislas.
And I believe our midfield will relieve the pressure on our defence.
Sadly, I also believe our defence will continue to make mistakes at the back but such is life.

Reasons to be cheerful

Folks - it's possible that this isn't going to be the merriest of Christmases but I think we'll turn the corner. We may not even have a season left to chase but how many of us expected miracles this season anyway given where we were at the start. There's still plenty to be cheerful about in the future.

One of those things is a leadership team determined to see us through the difficulties of the current financial climate and take us to a new stadium. Another is a management team that has made more right decisions than wrong ones, and possessing a greater track record of success than failure. And another is the probability of a strengthened team through returning players and new signings.

It's rough right now, but we should certainly keep the faith!

* To stop those delightful allegations from those sharp-witted brainiacs who accuse SZ of being up the club's ****, these are my personal views.