Search This Blog

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

A man for all seasons

Best not to say too much about Monday's 3-1 defeat at Swindon, just put it behind us and move on. Those that were there called it a piss-poor display at best and certainly the goal highlights on the BBC site don't make happy viewing, especially for the defence. A shame to end what has easily been the most successful decade in the club's history on such a note, but to look on the bright side at least it's a defeat against the likes of Swindon that we're all moaning about. Our final game of the '90's was a 3-0 loss at Forest Green Rovers which maybe puts that Swindon result in perspective. We may still not be very good, but at least we're not very good in the football league rather than the wilderness of the non-league game. And we don't have to go to The Lawn anymore! I still did away games in those days and I can remember being colder at The Lawn one Boxing Day than I've ever been in my life before or since. I hope never to be that cold again.

Annyway, it's my final blog of the year and indeed of the decade, easily the most successful ten years in the history of this great little club. We're very lucky really, those of us who have supported the club at this time in it's history. We've seen so much success, so many good players and marvellous games and we forget that for most of this club's existence fans have endured, well, mediocrity is perhaps a little harsh as a description, but it's certainly been more famine than feast, with only the odd Southern League or Isthmian League title and occasional giant-killing in the FA Cup to keep us warm. That was up until the start of the decade anyway.

Dave Webb started the whole thing off with his full-time revolution in the final couple of months of the 99-00 season, which laid the groundwork for the success that followed. Colin Addison so nearly took the club into the football league in the one season he was allowed, just falling at the final hurdle to a Rushden side that literally had money thrown at it to guarantee success. Gary Johnson took over from Addo and the rest, of course, was history. The FA Trophy in his first season, the Conference title and promotion to the holy grail of the football league a year later. Two years after that we were League 2 champions and it seemed like the sky was the limit. Sir Gary moved on to bigger though not neccesarily better things at Bristol City and after a hiatus Russell Slade took over, in his first season leading us to that never-to-be forgotten night in the play-off semi-finals against former European Cup winners Nottingham Forest at the City Ground, when in front of the live tv cameras the Glovers came back from a 2-0 1st leg deficit to beat Forest 5-4 on aggregate - in my humble opinion the finest single result in this club's long history.

Through all that time one man, Steve Thompson, was a constant at the club. When Dave Webb was appointed manager in March 2000, he took over from Thommo, who had been acting as player/coach since the resignation of Colin Lippiatt earlier in the season. Thommo became Webb's assistant and then in turn assistant to Addison, Johnson and finally Slade, as well as having most of a season being manager in his own right after Sir Gary left, successfully keeping the Glovers in L1, when most were expecting him to fail. His loyalty to the Yeovil cause never wavered even when he could have joined Johnson at Ashton Gate, and he was finally rewarded with the sack alongside Russell Slade in February 2009, 11 years after he first came to Somerset. Sad to say that Thommo was not only let down by the Glovers but also by Slade himself - it became common knowledge that Slade subsequently broke a promise to take Thommo with him when he took over at his next club, Brighton.

All the more pleasant to report then that Thommo has, at last, got a new job - manager of ambitious Zamaretto Southern League Premier Division side Truro City. Not the easiest of appointments for Thommo, but he must be delighted to be back in work at least. The very best of luck to him there, let's hope he can firstly stabilise the club and then get them moving up the pyramid. There surely can't be anyone better qualified for success plying his trade at that level.

Back to League One and next up for the present-day Glovers are Leyton Orient away, on Saturday. It all looked fairly rosy in the Glovers garden following Boxing Day's 4-0 win over Wycombe, but a weekend is a long time in football never mind in politics, and the loss at Swindon plus other results in the division means that a further loss next weekend could see us only 1 point away from the relegation zone. Not exactly a must-win game then, but certainly an important match not to lose. The bookies make Orient narrow favourites at 11/8, the draw is priced at 12/5 and a Glovers win at 15/8. My fiver's going on the draw, again. Running total: -£4.50p.

Finally I'd like to wish everyone who reads this blog a very happy new year. I hope you all get exactly what you deserve in 2010. Cheers!

Just read: The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets' Nest by Stieg Larsson. The final part of the acclaimed Millennium trilogy and every bit as satisfying an ending as one could hope for. The sadness comes with the knowledge that with the author's untimely death this is the last novel in the series and there'll never be a sequel. Come to that I doubt there'll ever be another heroine to match the author's creation, Lisbeth Salander. I sat up to 2am and gone finishing this book and could no more have stopped and left it to the morning than I could stop breathing. Original, stunning and addictive writing; literally unputdownable. Brilliant.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

L1: Yeovil 4 Wycombe 0

And a merry Christmas to you too! The Glovers gave a decent Boxing Day crowd of just over 5,000 the best possible Christmas present with a 4-0 win over relegation threatened Wycombe, even if the scoreline did flatter us slightly. In the end the difference between the teams was that we took our chances at one end while at the other keeper Alex McCarthy made a couple of world-class saves to deny the opposition and to ensure the 3 points remained in Somerset.

We lined up as follows (4-4-2 diamond):

1. Alex McCarthy: 9/10 - Superb display of goalkeeping craft. Will take the plaudits in particular for the 2 second-half saves that kept us in a 1-0 lead at the time, but made several other crucial saves as well as dominating his penalty box throughout the 90 minutes. I watched Asimir Begovic look completely at home in the Portsmouth goal in the Premier League on tv the other day, but even though Begovic impressed me enormously in his time here last season I never saw him play as consistently well as McCarthy does. We've been perhaps understandably focussing on the likes of Ryan Mason and Steven Caulker when talking about possible stars of the future, but on this performance McCarthy will be the best of them all.

2. Craig Alcock: 8/10 - Solid defensively and a threat going forward, the quintessential modern fullback. One block he made in particular after McCarthy was (for once) left stranded saved a certain goal. Excellent.

4. Stefan Stam: 7/10 - Brought back into the team to presumably add more strength in the air - and it's paid off.

5. Steven Caulker: 7/10 - The usual solid display we've come to expect. Amazing to think he's only just 18 - he plays with the maturity of someone twice his age.

8. Keiron Murtagh: 8/10 - Shaun MacDonald's replacement and the best compliment I can pay him is that we didn't miss our Swansea loanee at all. Scored the opener, could and perhaps should have scored another and put in the kind of shift that someone with his physical attributes should be putting in. If he can keep up this standard of performance and get a run of games under his belt then maybe at last his considerable potential will start to be realised. It's up to him.

13. Ryan Mason: 6/10 - started on the right of the diamond but seemed to be interchanging with Gavin Tomlin as the furthest forward attacking midfielder throughout the game. Not a bad performance from Ryan by any means but maybe not quite up to the very high standards he's set himself lately.

21. JP Kalala: 8/10 - Usual position at the base of the diamond and his usual all-action, terrier-like performance with the added bonus of a well-deserved goal. Top-class.

28. Nathan Smith: 7/10 - Not quite back to his best yet, but he's getting there. Needs games, and Skivo seems keen now to give him his chance. Made several good breaks forward and looked more solid defensively, though still inclined to lose position at times. Still, promising.

9. Sam Williams: 8/10 - I said the other week that the only thing missing from his game was one thing - goals. Well, that's 2 scored in 2 games now and if he carries on leading the line like this for the rest of the season then we're going to have a big asset on our hands. We know about his strength and ability in the air, yesterday he began to show us a little more of his repertoire with some canny flicks and tricks. They didn't always come off, but it's good to see he's got the confidence to try.

10. Gavin Tomlin: 7/10 - Started at the tip of the diamond but tended to swap positions with Mason as the game went on. More effective in the more attacking position for my money, but well worth his place in the team anyway. He's really come back strong after his injury break and looks a more confident player now he's away from the front two and we're not relying on him or expecting him to score goals. More to come.

14. Dean Bowditch: 6/10 - Had one or two dangerous moments but a touch subdued otherwise, in comparison with his last couple of appearances anyway. Made one stunning break in the first half which was stopped by a last ditch tackle. Seemed to be limping a little when subbed, so I just wonder if he was playing with a bit of a knock? Always a threat nevertheless.

11. Andy Welsh (81 mins for Ryan Mason): 7/10 - His first few minutes on the pitch for a while, and good to see him looking so up for it and indeed providing the cross that led to Sam Williams goal.

16. Scott Murray (75 mins for Gavin Tomlin): 6/10 - As with Welsh above, his first few minutes on the pitch since the Walsall debacle at the beginning of the month.

26. Jonathan Obika (67 mins for Dean Bowditch): 8/10 - The Wycombe defence simply couldn't live with his pace and he took full advantage to notch his 3rd goal this month. Unlucky not to start, but when you have 2 strikers in the form that Bowditch and Williams are in then someone has to miss out.

As said above, the 4-0 scoreline perhaps flattered us slightly. The first half was very even in terms of chances and we were a shade fortunate to be going into the break leading by Murtagh's strike. The first half of the second half (if you see what I mean!) was again fairly even but Wycombe could consider themselves unlucky not to have at least equalised, McCarthy producing 2 stunning saves to deny the visitors. Yeovil's second goal through Kalala on 71 minutes was the crucial moment in the game - after that Wycombe poured forward in search of taking something from the match and left huge gaps at the back which the Glovers counter-attacked against superbly. Another thoroughly entertaining afternoon at Huish Park anyway - let's hope the 1000-odd extra home fans who turned up were encouraged to return another time. This team deserves their support.

The result leaves the Glovers in 13th position in the table, on 28 points; 7 points away from the relegation zone and 7 away from the play-offs. Up next, tomorrow, are Swindon away. The bookies make the Robins favourites at 4/5, the draw is priced at 5/2 and a Yeovil win at 5/2. My fiver's going on the draw. Running total: +50p. Woo-hoo! Back in the black!

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Draws are not enough

The good news after the Glovers 1-1 draw at Hartlepool on the weekend is that we're now unbeaten in the last 3 games. The bad news is that in every single one of those 3 games we have been unable to go on and win the game after first taking the lead, and that's something that must be a concern to Glovers boss Terry Skiverton as we enter the busy Christmas period.

It was a familiar tale in the north-east on Saturday. Sam Williams put the Glovers in front with a very welcome goal after 20-odd minutes, his first strike since September and only his second of the season. We couldn't hang on however and in icy and snowy conditions Hartlepool equalised through a somewhat scuffed (judging by the BBC highlights) Andy Monkhouse effort. Both teams had chances to win the game thereafter but the consensus seems to have been that the draw was a fair result. The club handed out free away shirts to all 85 away fans at the game as a thank-you for making the effort to go such a long way in such difficult travelling conditions - a great gesture and one doubtless appreciated by the away support at the match.

The weekend's results saw the Glovers slip down to 17th in a very tight table on 25 points, 5 away from the relegation zone. Yeovil have the somewhat unusual record of having drawn more games than anyone else in the division - 10 in all, 5 home and 5 away. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to conclude that if just a couple of those drawn matches had been won then we would be relatively comfortably ensconced in mid-table on 29 points; and if say half of those drawn games had yielded 3 points instead of 1 then we could even be right up there challenging for the play-offs at this moment.... But of course if my auntie had balls then she'd be my uncle as the saying goes and we are where we are precisely because we haven't been able to hold onto leads and haven't won enough games because of that.

Next up are strugglers Wycombe on Boxing Day, and if ever there's a team that we really have to win against then Wycombe are them. They've been stuck in the relegation zone all season more or less, but just lately have started to put a few results together since former Aldershot manager Gary Waddock replaced the sacked Peter Taylor. The bookies make the Glovers evens favourite for the home win, the draw is 12/5, and a Wycombe win 11/4. Given the stats above I perhaps ought to be betting on the draw for the rest of the season and would doubtless have been a couple of hundred quid better off If I'd been doing that right from the start. As it is my fiver's going on the home win. Running total: -£9.50p.

Today's the day we're supposed to be informed as to what the situation is regarding those players out of contract at the end of the month. Terrell Forbes, Jean-Paul Kalala, Andy Lindegaard and George O'Callaghan are the players concerned; plus there's uncertainty about the status of loan keeper Alex McCarthy, following the sacking of former Reading manager Brendan Rodgers 5 days ago. It had been assumed that McCarthy's loan at Huish Park was to be extended for the rest of the season, but any new incoming manager at Reading may now have something different to say about that. As for the above-mentioned four, the rumour-mill says that Forbes is already signed up for the rest of the season, Kalala will sign up, O'Callaghan will leave and Lindegaard no-one knows, or cares, given that he's barely featured except on the bench. Finally there's still a faint possibility that we haven't seen the last of former loanee Shaun MacDonald, who has now returned to Swansea, though I doubt we'll hear any more on his situation until after the Christmas period now.

Will the rumour-mill be right? I certainly hope that it will be regarding Forbes and Kalala, both have proved themselves as key members of the first team and we would miss them very badly if either were to leave. Lindegaard and O'Callaghan's possible absence I'm rather more relaxed about. Lindegaard has barely made any impression on the first team since his return and while he may be a useful utility player to have on the bench covering several positions at once, to my mind anyone not pushing for a place in the first team is a luxury we cannot afford. Similarly O'Callaghan has never really justified his place in the first eleven, flattering to deceive on too many occasions and proving rather lightweight in the rough and tough world of League One. Having said that, I wouldn't want either player to leave if the board were to refuse Skivo the means to replace them, so it's all going to come down to money, or the lack of it in the end.

Just read: Polity Agent and Line War by Neal Asher. The final two books in the Cormac series, set in Asher's Polity universe. Superb space opera, every bit as good as anything produced by Banks, Hamilton, or anyone else writing in the genre. Thoroughly recommended.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Hartlepool preview

Just a quickie post today - Christmas is coming, turkeys to slaughter, trees to decorate, presents to wrap etc etc; no time to waste.

Hartlepool away tomorrow, one of the longest trips of the season for our hardy band of away travellers and with the forecast as it is it would not be surprising if a combination of freezing temperatures, ice and snow saw the game called off. The Glovers will hope it goes ahead however, if ever there's a good time to play the Monkey-Hangers it's now, with at least 7 of their already small first-team squad hors de combat through a mixture of injury and suspension, and with them having lost 4 out of their last 5 games. In contrast the Glovers should pretty much be at full strength numbers-wise and on a bit of roll after decent results against the MK Dons and Norwich City.

A good chance to get one over on the bookies then? Let's hope so. Hartlepool are evens favourites for tomorrow's match, the draw is priced at 11/5 and a Glovers win at 11/4. Lump on boys and caution be damned! My fiver's on the away win. Running total: -£1.50p.

Tomorrow's game is notable for the fact that it's likely to be Shaun MacDonald's last outing in a green-and-white shirt for the forseeable future. My fellow Welshman with the Scottish name returns to parent club Swansea City after tomorrow's match with his future uncertain. It seems unlikely that Swansea will want to keep him permanently, and with his contract expiring in the summer they may well be looking to make what money they can from him in the January transfer window. It would be nice to think that Yeovil would be far-sighted enough to make some sort of bid for him - sometimes you have to speculate to accumulate and it's easy to see Shaun following on in Chris Cohen's footsteps to a bigger club in year or so's time - but we all know that's just not going to happen. There's a chance that we might be able to get him back on a long-term loan deal in January if he's not sold, but I'm not holding my breath. Hawddamor Shaun a diolch, you'll be missed.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

L1: Yeovil 3 Norwich City 3

I'm still gutted 24 hours later. The Glovers were within seconds of a famous win over giants (in comparison with ourselves) Norwich City when in the final minute of injury-time Darel Russell's speculative shot took a touch off teammate Gary Doherty to squirm its way past Glovers keeper Alex McCarthy and into the net. Ah, football. From elation to utter dejection in less than a minute.

Still, let's be positive. I think most Glovers fans would have settled for a point beforehand against a team who beat us 4-0 back in August and with all the resources average crowds of over 20,000 can provide. The Glovers began the match with the same team and diamond formation that worked well against MK Dons last week, and took the game to the visitors, pressing them back. We went 1-0 up on 21 minutes, Dean Bowditch helping on a bullet header by Steven Caulker from a corner - a corner that I thought should never have been awarded by the way, but it's about time we had an official's error work in our favour. 1-0 at half-time and so far so good, in a half punctuated by Norwich's constant petty sniping at the ref and his assistants.

The visitors should have gone down to 10 men just after the break, left back Adam Drury sliding in late on Gavin Tomlin and leaving his studs in the Yeovil player's chest. As we've seen too often lately however it always seems to be the opposition that gets the benefit of any doubt no matter who the referee, and Drury escaped with a yellow card. The visitors equalised on 60 minutes, Grant Holt's sheer physicality proving too much for Nathan Smith and providing Chris Martin with a tap-in for the equaliser. The Glovers could and from my vantage point should have had a penalty almost from the re-start, Bowditch seemingly being bowled over in the box by Gary Doherty, but of course the official disagreed. Two minutes later and Doherty was in action at the other end, nodding home a free-kick with the Glovers defence AWOL and keeper McCarthy in no-mans-land to give Norwich a somewhat fortunate lead. Back in August perhaps heads would have dropped, but Yeovil are made of sterner stuff these days. The excellent Shaun MacDonald made it 2-2 with a shot from the edge of the box on 67 minutes and the match see-sawed back and forth, chances being made and missed at both ends. An enthralling match reached it's climax in injury time. Substitute Jon Obika headed in at the near post in front of an exultant home terrace to put the Glovers 3-2 up before the Canaries last-gasp Doherty reply. 3-3 the final score and terrific entertainment for all those privileged to be present.

Yeovil team (4-4-2 diamond):

1. Alex McCarthy: 6/10 - Marked him down a point for Norwich's second goal, when he came, hesitated, got lost and ended up out of position. Usual solid display otherwise.

2. Craig Alcock: 8/10 - Good going forward, sound defensively, all-round excellent.

5. Steven Caulker: 6/10 - What a footballer this lad is. Directly involved in our first goal, and one run in the second half saw him dribbling through what seemed like half the Norwich side before he lost control when on the verge of pulling the trigger. But, primarily he's a defender, and we are conceding too many headed goals from set-pieces and crosses for which he is partly responsible.

6. Terrell Forbes: 5/10 - The same criticism as for Caulker - we're conceding too many headed goals from set-pieces and crosses for which he is partly responsible.

28. Nathan Smith: 6/10 - Getting closer to the Nathan Smith we remember from early last season but not quite there yet. One or two promising forward runs which came to nothing, and defensively was responsible for letting in Grant Holt to provide the cross for Norwich's first goal. I hope Skivo perseveres with him, he needs games to get back to his best - and at his best he'd be a huge asset to us.

21. JP Kalala: 8/10 - Fine, battling performance at the base of the diamond. Didn't give the highly-rated Wesley Hoolahan a sniff all afternoon.

25. Shaun MacDonald: 8/10 - Possibly his last appearance in a Yeovil shirt at Huish Park and one of his best. All-action box-to-box display culminating in a well-deserved goal. Would love to see him return after Christmas but the chances are that a club with money will snap him up. Super player, reminds me of Chris Cohen. I wouldn't like to say who is better.

13. Ryan Mason: 8/10 - Began the match on the right of the diamond and ended at the tip. Equally effective in both positions. Always seems to have time on the ball and is stronger than his appearance suggests. Excellent.

10. Gavin Tomlin: 8/10 - Started the game at the tip of the diamond and caused the Norwich defence plenty of problems from there. Less effective when swapped with Mason after the break and after being shaken up by Drury's studs in his chest, but never stopped running and making himself available.

14. Dean Bowditch: 8/10 - Has that rare knack of always being in the right place at the right time. Scored one, probably should have scored another when one-on-one with the Norwich keeper and in my view should have been awarded a penalty. Let's hope he can keep fit for the rest of the season.

9. Sam Williams: 7/10 - Just like last time against Norwich, battered from pillar to post by an aggressive defence but kept bouncing back. You'll never meet a more whole-hearted player, my on-going worry about him is that as a striker he ought to be scoring more than he does.

26. Jonathan Obika (81 mins for Dean Bowditch): 8/10 - Didn't have long on the pitch, but long enough to score what we all thought was our winner with a brave header.

What a game! The first half didn't have the non-stop goalmouth action we enjoyed after the break, but in it's way was just as satisfying inasmuch that we took a deserved lead and looked very comfortable holding that lead against what was obviously a very decent side. The second half was encouraging for the way we bounced back against adversity and didn't let our heads drop as perhaps we have in the past. And let's not sell ourselves short - Norwich looked to be every bit as good as their form suggests they should be and were as physically imposing and cynical as any team I've seen at Huish Park. Yet we stood toe-to-toe with them and refused to be intimidated or bullied despite some weak refeering, which was very encouraging to see. And one of the best things on the day was the return of something called an atmosphere at Huish Park. Even the Cowlin Stand began singing at one point, something I haven't heard for a couple of season's now. It was all very reminiscent of past years, dare I say it almost Johnson-esque. It was bitterly disappointing of course not to have won the game, but as has been said previously we won't be judged this season by our results against the likes of Norwich. Any points we can get from the biggest clubs in this division are a bonus, and we thoroughly deserved the 1 we gained yesterday. With a little luck we could so easily have had all 3 on offer.

The only disapppointing aspect of the day was the size of the crowd - or the lack of it. A total of 4,964, with around 1,000 making the trip from East Anglia. This team deserves better support than it's currently getting. If you missed the game, you missed a cracker. A Christmas cracker, no less.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Bah, humbug.

Tomorrow we welcome one of the biggest club's in the division to Huish Park for what is the last home game before Christmas. I'll say that again, the last home game before Christmas. Bloody hell is it really? Are we that close to Christmas? Have you done your Christmas shopping yet? You'll have to forgive my smug look - I finished my Christmas shopping yesterday with the exception of one or two small bits and pieces. I can relax in a self-satisfied warm glow of contentment which will naturally be replaced by sheer blind panic on Christmas Eve when I realise I've either bought entirely the wrong thing or duplicated something I bought a couple of years ago instead; followed by a mad dash to the shops to join the last-minute rush. I hate bloody Christmas, bah humbug.

So, Norwich City, at home, for the second time this season. They gave us a bit of a thrashing in August, in the 1st round of the League Cup, so it will be instructive as well as fascinating, not to mention possibly painful, to see if they can do it again. The bookies don't give much for our chances, for what that's worth. A home win is a 10/3 shot, the draw is priced at 5/2 and a Norwich win the odds-on favourite at 5/6. I suppose the sensible bet is the away win, but how can any Glovers fan resist 10/3 for a home win? Not this one at any rate, and that's where my fiver's going this week. Running total: Back in the black! +£4.50p.

Team selection: Will Skivo keep faith with the diamond formation which picked up a very useful point at MK Dons last week, or will he revert to the 4-4-1-1 that was effective at home right up until the defeat by Walsall? Will we see the return of wingers Andy Welsh and Scott Murray? Will he play 2 out-and-out strikers? I haven't a clue, and if us fans can be kept guessing then presumably Norwich won't have much idea either. What we can be sure of is that after what seems like weeks of wet and windy weather, tomorrow's game will be played in calm, settled and cold conditions - which should suit our passing game. If I was in charge I would stick with the team and formation that played last week, with the possible exception of replacing Terrell Forbes with Stefan Stam at the back. Norwich are a big side and good in the air, and in my view Stam would be a safer bet than Forbes in dealing with that threat.

Let's hope we get a decent crowd in tomorrow. In this case I would say decent would be around 6,000. The weather's going to be okay, Norwich will surely bring their full allocation and it's the last home game before Christmas. If we can't attract 6,000-odd in those circumstances then something is surely very wrong.

Good news: Darren Way was spotted this week out jogging on the streets of Yeovil. From the brink of death to out jogging, who would bet against Weasel playing football at some level again at some point in the future, however impossible it may have seemed at one time? The man's an inspiration to us all.

Just read: The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson: Wonderful sequel to The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Another complex, gripping thriller set in Sweden and featuring one of the most unlikeliest yet compelling heroines in fiction. It's another long book, but I galloped through it in a couple of days, rarely putting it down. Can't wait to read the final part of the trilogy now, The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets' Nest.

Monday, 7 December 2009

L1: MK Dons 2 Yeovil 2

The Glovers came away from their endeavours at stadium:mk on Saturday with a point following a 2-2 draw with the MK Dons. I'd never normally moan about an away draw and I'm not going to start now, especially as I got back 18 quid after putting a fiver on that very result. Nevertheless there's a teeny tinge of regret that after going a goal ahead twice during the match the Glovers weren't quite able to hold on to those leads and take all 3 of the points on offer. Credit where it's due though, after a bad run of results this was in the end a very welcome point away from home against a side in the play-off places before the start of the match.

Skivo rightly changed things around at the start, abandoning the familiar 4-4-1-1 in favour of the 4-4-2 diamond as advocated by a certain very shrewd judge before the game. In addition both wingers were dropped and Gavin Tomlin and Nathan Smith returned to make their first starts for some time, again as advocated by the same very shrewd judge before the game. Modesty forbids me from identifying that shrewd judge, suffice it to say that who needs UEFA coaching qualifications when the Football Manager series of pc games is available to all. The game turned on a couple of refereeing decisions that managed to enrage the Yeovil camp. Firstly Dons defender David McKracken escaped with a yellow card after fouling Dean Bowditch thus preventing a goalscoring opportunity with the Glovers already 2-1 up, when a red card seemed the more appropriate punishment - a decision even Dons manager Paul Ince admitted could have been overly lenient. Secondly was the award of a penalty to the home side when Terrell Forbes was deemed to have dragged over Aaron Wilbraham in the Glovers box when tv replays suggested it was the Dons player that committed the first offence before Forbes's reaction. Skivo's come in for a bit of criticism for his anguished reaction to the referee's performance after the match, but I don't blame him for speaking out. Referees seem to get away with mistake after mistake with it seems no public sanction and yet again errors by the officials have cost us points. The received wisdom is that such mistakes even themselves out over the course of the season, but does it? I suspect it may do for the Leeds United's and Charlton Athletic's of League One, it's the smaller clubs like ourselves that always seem to end up holding the shitty end of the stick. Good for Skivo for not just rolling over and accepting it.

The result moves the Glovers up 1 place in the table to 13th, on 23 points. However we are now only 3 points away from the relegation zone and even with 7 other teams between ourselves and the 21st placed club, Brighton, we could, theoretically, if all the results went against us, end up in the relegation zone ourselves next week should we lose at home to next Saturday's opponents Norwich City. But it's not likely!

Just read: Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett. It's funny but these days it's quite fashionable to admit to liking Pratchett's books whereas a decade or so ago he was more widely regarded as just another fantasy writer, albeit a fantasy writer with a sense of humour. And yet I far prefer his earlier work in comparison with his output in the last few years. The good news is that Unseen Academicals, the latest in the Discworld series, is something of a return to the man's early form - I even found myself laughing out loud in several places, something I haven't done to a Pratchett book for a long while now. You either 'get' the Discworld with its wizards, witches, trolls, dwarfs, vampires, werewolves and various other weird and wonderful creatures, or you don't; and if you don't then Unseen Academicals is unlikely to change your mind about the series as a whole.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Franchise preview

MK Dons next up for the Glovers, or to give them their full name, the Milton Keynes Dons. To me, that still sounds wrong. The club formerly known as Wimbledon are the only football club in England and Wales to have been allowed to pick and choose their location and to have been given a place in the football league, with the vast majority of their former fans choosing to start again from scratch rather than follow the new club. A franchise, nothing more and nothing less. I used to be a bit of a fan of American football and can remember raising my eyebrows when the Baltimore Colts moved lock, stock and barrel to Indianapolis and again when the Cardinals moved from St Louis to Arizona. What happens to the fans when teams move like that? Did Baltimore Colts fans still follow their team from hundreds of miles away? Do St Louis supporters fly down to Tempe, Arizona for Cardinal games? Do Colts fans go to watch the new(ish) franchise in their city, the Ravens, or do they regard them as interlopers? It's all a bit strange, a bit foreign, a bit un-British damn it.

Be that as it may we are where we are. In the early day's of the Dons life away fans would regularly boycott trips to Milton Keynes and the nickname Franchise FC became common currency, but it's got to be said that slowly but surely the Dons are putting their difficult birth behind them and these days are now more-or-less regarded as just another team. Sad but true. The Glovers travel there tomorrow more in hope than expectation having never won at stadium:mk (all lowercase) as it's trendily known, nor at it's predecessor, the National Hockey Stadium. We also travel there in poor form, having lost 4 out of our last 6 games. The one ray of light comes with the knowledge that the Dons are on a run of even worse form, having lost 5 out of their last 6.

The bookies certainly don't expect us to get anything out of the game. The home side start as 7/10 favourites which stops me putting my fiver on them as I never bet odds-on on anything. The draw is priced at 13/5 and a Glovers win at 4/1. My fiver's going on the draw. I didn't bet on Tuesday night's game (just as well as I would have gone for the home win) so the running total remains at -£14.50p.

It will be very interesting to see who is picked for tomorrow's team and the formation chosen. Skivo has acknowledged that changes need to be made and that all places are up for grabs so we may see the return of Gavin Tomlin and Nathan Jones for example. It wouldn't surprise me either if both Scott Murray and Andy Welsh found themselves surplus to requirements tomorrow, but above all else I hope the gaffer plays two out-and-out strikers, whoever they may be. For what it's worth I would be inclined to shake things up fairly radically, as follows:

Our away form has been so poor I would go back to basics, to what worked well for Russell Slade's team at times last season: My formation would be a 4-4-2 diamond:

Alex McCarthy
Craig Alcock, Stefan Stam, Steven Caulker, Nathan Jones
JP Kalala (at the base of the diamond)
George O'Callaghan, Shaun MacDonald (left and right of the diamond, respectively)
Ryan Mason (tip of the diamond)
Jon Obika, Dean Bowditch (if fit to start, Gavin Tomlin otherwise)

Subs: Richard Martin, Danny Hutchins, Kieran Murtagh, Sam Williams, Gavin Tomlin (or Dean Bowditch), Andy Welsh, Scott Murray.

What isn't an option for me is persisting with what we know now doesn't work, especially away from home. Whoever plays and whatever formation is used we really need to get something out of tomorrow's game, to instill some belief for the rest of what is a tough month to come.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

L1: Yeovil 1 Walsall 3

I couldn't resist it in the end. The forecast was for wet and cold weather, Spurs were on the box and I fully intended to stay home to watch that instead, but at 6.30 last night my better half told me in no uncertain terms to stop moping around, get my waterproofs on and get to the bloody football. So I did. There's some habits you just can't break.

The forecast was spot on for once. It was wet, it was cold and it was fairly windy, not as bad as against Charlton the other week, but still significant. Walsall won the toss and elected to play with the wind in the first half and this was fairly crucial inasmuch as it enabled them to put us on the back foot straightaway, and they took full advantage, going 2-0 up after 20 minutes with 2 identical goals. Both of them crosses from the left and both of them unchallenged headers giving Alex McCarthy no chance in the Yeovil goal. The Glovers pulled one back on 30 minutes, Jon Obika converting after a bursting run from Craig Alcock split the Saddlers defence, and that led to the home side's best spell of the game with some excellent passing football being played but, alas, with no end product.

The second half was a non-event. Yeovil completely failed to take advantage of the conditions now in their favour and failed even to show any urgency until the final 10 minutes when they belatedly seemed to realise they were losing the game and began to get more men forward. Not that this increased our goal threat in any way and only really assisted the visitors who scored their third on the break with 2 minutes left. The resulting exodus saw around half the 3,500 hardy souls who turned up on a filthy night leave the ground before the final whistle. In more ways than one, it was a miserable evening.

Line up (4-4-1-1) and merit marks:

1. Alex McCarthy: 6/10 - Did nothing wrong but left hopelessly exposed by probably the worst defensive display of the season.

2. Craig Alcock: 5/10 - I've marked him up 1 point for his crucial part in our goal but apart from that did nothing of note, other than give the ball away too often.

5. Steven Caulker: 5/10 - Comfortably his worst display of the season. It's asking a huge amount of someone of Caulker's age to be the rock on which the defence depends and for the first time this season (that I've seen) he wasn't able to live up to those expectations.

6. Terrell Forbes: 5/10 - What's happened to the Terrell Forbes who was playing so confidently a few short weeks ago? Looked a shadow of his former self last night.

23. Danny Hutchins: 4/10 - No lack of effort, but perhaps is now being caught out playing as a right-sided full-back on the left. Both first half goals came from crosses from his side of the pitch.

16. Scott Murray: 5/10 - One or two decent runs and shots in the first half which came close, but ultimately no cigar. His lack of pace nowadays was very evident after the break. Set piece delivery provided nothing. Disappointing.

7. George O'Callaghan: 4/10 - He's been banging on the gaffer's door to play more apparently, but this performance will have done nothing to persuade Skivo to pick him again. Most passes went backwards or sideways. No invention or energy. Very disappointing.

25. Shaun MacDonald: 7/10 - In contrast to his midfield partner full of energy and running. Did his best to take the game by the scruff of the neck but couldn't do it on his own. One of the few Glovers prepared to have a shot at goal and was unlucky in particular with one effort that looked to be going in until it deflected wide off Ryan Mason. If only all our players had the same energy and commitment.

11. Andy Welsh: 5/10 - Same comments apply as for Scott Murray. Too peripheral too often. Disappointing. I see a few on the green room are moaning because he was subbed yet again, but I had no problems with the decision. Scott Murray looked marginally more effective at the time, though effective is perhaps not the right word.

13. Ryan Mason: 6/10 - As with Steven Caulker in defence, it's expecting a lot to rely on an 18 year-old to spark your attack game after game. Walsall clearly knew Ryan was our main threat and marked him accordingly. The few times he got free on his own he looked as dangerous as ever and indeed should have been awarded a penalty after the break. No lack of effort but not quite his night.

26. Jonathan Obika: 6/10 - Took his goal well enough at the second attempt but not a huge amount of threat from him otherwise, though to be fair the supply to him was very lacking.

9. Sam Williams (70 mins for Jonathan Obika): 5/10 - Was quite puzzled by this substitution at the time and am still puzzled now. Unless Obika was injured or otherwise running out of steam of course. Whatever, Williams on his own up front was even less effective than Obika had been, so it didn't work.

14. Dean Bowditch (61 mins for Andy Welsh): 4/10 - I've said it before and I'll say it again: Making your best striker play on the left wing is like trying to teach a pig how to sing - it wastes your time and it annoys the pig. Bowditch is a striker, a goalscorer. Play him as one, please.

28. Nathan Smith (77 mins for Danny Hutchins): 3/10 - Another strange sub, unless of course Danny Hutchins was injured/knackered and had to depart. Again however, it didn't come off with Smith looking like Bambi on ice for the 15-odd minutes he played and Walsall's final goal coming from a cross from his side of the pitch.

So much for optimism about the play-offs. If defeat at Gillingham last week was a reality check, then this was a reality check and a half. Walsall are a tidy enough side with some decent players, but they're hardly world-beaters and won't IMO be anywhere near the play-off mix at the end of the season. Yet they saw us off with relative ease, by working hard all over the pitch, closing us down fast when we were on the ball and by using the conditions intelligently - in other words they did all the things we didn't do.

Such is life. The good run we were on is now most definitely over and with 2 tough games coming up against Franchise FC and Norwich City then the bad run we've recently embarked upon may well continue for a little longer yet. I think perhaps that Skivo needs to think carefully now about how he uses the assets he has in future. The 4-4-1-1 formation that served us well up until the Leeds game may by now have been sussed by our rivals and it could well be that it's time to tweak it. I've already said my piece on an earlier blog as to how I would change things, and Skivo himself has admitted that he needs to think again in regard to away games in particular. Let's hope he gets it right. The result last night moves us down 1 place in the table to 14th, 9 points away from the play-offs but only 5 away from the relegation zone. There's no room for any complacency.