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Friday, 26 November 2010

Will the real Mr Yeovil stand up

... or put his feet up after Christmas? - by Cruncher

This is not a simple instance of assessing managerial ability - it's what actual practicalities we are faced with afterwards: very likely to be a rookier rookie with even less budget. Circumstances control us to the extent we need to support a manager who is committed to the cause in restrictive conditions, no matter how much we do or do not believe in his abilities to do the job. Much like early-2009 for the good of the club when we and the Board needed to continue supporting Russell Slade. Only, the Board didn't.

It's not a question of whether Terry Skiverton is lacking here or naive there, or caught in a trap with too many loan players, or getting the balance wrong in his squad, or leaky defensive tactics. It's like everything at the club - a decision mastered by the situation we have arrived at after a succession of misguided years.

If December results turn out as bad as November's than Skivo would have to go and we would likely be forced into a punt on Mr. Cheaper-than-chips fresh out of kindergarten, but our best chance for at least a bit longer appears to be sticking with a determined man with the hope that potential at long last materialises into points.

How we could afford to pay up his contract and source (let alone afford) a suitable replacement, is dilemma enough. And even more difficult if it involved swapping the entire management team. It all points to the Board appointing another option that strongly suits their purpose, but with even more restrictive conditions for that replacement to be under, and with even less appeal and money to attract/afford the required quality. I believe that this criteria narrows it down to such a degree that we would be hard-pushed to match or improve on what we've got - but I concede that there might be a point when we must do something, if only as a hopeful shot in the dark. For me, that assessment point would be at the turn of the year.

Bluntly, it strongly appears a desperate punt on a cheap novice will be our only route if we sack the manager - on balance I'd run with what we've got until the Christmas fixtures are done and dusted. Seven points from five December games would be my minimum, which would take us to exactly the halfway point in the season on twenty-two points and likely at best to be the top of the relegation slots. That in my book would earn him another month with a target of a further nine points from the six January League games. If he gets to that minimum, then he'd be in position to be retained for the duration with the job to chase a target of a point and half per game for the rest of the season. Which is about the state that Slade was in at that point but not retained.

The situation we are in is dictated by the situation we are in. Norman Hayward could lend to the club enabling a reasonable chance of a good replacement - but does that sound overall a good move? - which also would most probably impact from the word go on what that good replacement would have in his squad budget. Unless Dean Bowditch (say) is sold in January to fund not a replacement striker but a replacement manager - could you really endorse that gamble?

Skivo has been a nearly man in management for a long while now with performances that hint at a potential that doesn't materialise. This is a restrictive situation that only has a faint flickering candle at the end of the tunnel. He has in the past been dubbed 'Mr. Yeovil', now he has to earn that moniker like a man striving for his Finest Hour. He has the steel, there is no doubt, and for just a bit longer we must believe that he can still come up with the knowhow and to make it effective.

Support him this month, and judge him by the Sheffield Wednesday or perhaps Plymouth game. Hope like hell he turns the corner, but if he skids into the sidewall then we will be forced into that desperate cheap punt. If we can find a way that won't be at the detriment to the club of affording a new manager of the right ilk, then Skivo's time could well be up now at this point - but if we were in that healthy a position then the manager might not be in this plight. How much is down to his failings and how much is down to constraints, is down to subjective opinion.

But don't rush towards a desperate punt just yet. Because that last shot in the dark is such a flimsy gamble, we have to back Skivo until it becomes even more urgent not to do so. Perhaps there is an alternative, but it doesn't appear there is, not without cost that the club can't bear. For December: no doubting, just absolute support and then either reap the reward or worry like hell.

The real debate needs to step away from centring on the manager. There are many astute observers who cannot shake off loyalties to do this - I urge them to think long and hard. As some have noted, Terry Skiverton is a manager who we cannot fully judge. Attention should concentrate on why that is so.


Thursday, 25 November 2010

Tipping point reached?

There comes a time in the affairs of struggling football clubs that fans can, in the fullness of time, look back at and say, "There. That was the point when I knew things had to change, and change quickly." It's the tipping point, the time when fans stop being patient and giving the benefit of the doubt; the time the boos start and the abuse rains down from the stands to the pitch and the dugout, and, if there's any justice, to the posh seats in the Main Stand where the Board sits.

Tuesday night's 2-0 defeat at Bournemouth may just have been the tipping point in Terry Skiverton's reign as manager of Yeovil Town FC. It's not so much the loss that people have found hard to take, after all Bournemouth are way up there in the league table and have only dropped 4 points at home all season - no-one with any sense seriously expected the Glovers to get much if anything from the game. No, it's the manner of the loss that's the problem. The same old problems on view, the powder-puff attack, the meaningless long-balls, and most damning of all, the cluelessness in defence. Add to that the dissent shown when Adam Virgo was substituted and Sam Williams angry reaction to the Glovers supporters jeering of him when he was hauled off; it all adds up to the feeling that events are conspiring to undermine the manager and his staff. Just at the time he needs a bit of luck to go his way, he's getting none.

Having said, he's not helping himself. In my last blog I asked why, when it's patently obvious that the defence is the weak link in the team, did Skivo bring in another striker on loan (Adam Phillip)? To compound that why did he then add another attacking player, winger Ivan Sproule, on a month's loan from Bristol City? Especially when, according to City boss Keith Millen, Sproule's objective was to get match-fit in order to challenge for a place in City's first team in the new year. If he's not match-fit, why the hell is he playing for us? Now, at last, the gaffer's talking about bringing a defender in (and as I write it's been announced that 18-year-old Leicester defender Tom Parkes has signed on a month's loan), but he's beginning to resemble the little boy sticking his finger into holes in the dyke while the water is lapping up to his chin and rising steadily.

The last 7 league games tell their own story: Won 0, drawn 1, lost 6, goals for 9, goals against 17. We are now 23rd in the league, 6 points away from safety and with the worst goal difference in the division. We now require play-off attaining form to guarantee League One football next season. The bookies make us 10/11 on to be relegated at the end of the season, and it's not often at this stage of the season that the bookies are wrong. We have a huge mountain to climb.

And what is the Board doing, while all around them Rome burns? Fiddling, obviously! Not content with the ludicrous decision to increase ticket prices by £1 all round in January, chairman John Fry has today decided to insult supporters intelligence further by announcing an announcement that there may be an announcement concerning improved facilities at the club in a few weeks time; that is, there may be an announcement in a few weeks time, not miraculously improved facilities, obviously. It seems the Board have been talking to the South Somerset District Council amongst others, which of course brings the long-delayed Sportzone project to mind, though maybe I'm guilty of making 2+2 equal 5 there. Talks are evidently on-going with interested parties, including the Council, with Fry saying: "At this stage I am optimistic of a positive outcome which it is anticipated will provide economic benefits to the town and the club." And, of course those economic benefits will also go to the main shareholders in Yeovil Town Holdings Ltd, the company that now owns the land surrounding Huish Park on which any development will take place. And the main 2 shareholders? Club chairman John Fry and club owner Norman Hayward. Let's watch this space, though it's got to be said we've had this kind of talk from Fry many times in the past and nothing has ever come of it.

Back to Skivo and I suppose it's time I got off the fence. Should he stay or should he go? I'm reluctantly coming round to the view that time is running out for him to turn things around. I am naturally reluctant to call for a manager's head even at the worst of times as I strongly believe that continuity is the best policy nine times out of ten; I'm also reluctant to see change for changes sake simply because all too often you're better off with the devil you know. However there does come a time when one cannot ignore the signs of failure all around and indeed it becomes unfair to everyone - not least the man himself - to keep an obviously out-of-his-depth incumbent in a job. Not that I think we're quite at that stage yet, but the signs aren't good. For what it's worth I would give Skivo the next month to find a winning formula. By January he'll have been in the job a month shy of 2 years. That's long enough to make his mark and show he's got what it takes to turn things around. The ball's in his court.

In the meantime we all get a break from football league action this weekend with a trip to Hartlepool in the 2nd round of the FA Cup, weather permitting. The bookies make the home side evens favourites, the draw is priced at 12/5 and a Glovers win at 27/10. My fiver, more in hope than expectation and proving once and for all the old adage about a fool and his money, is going on the draw. The running total tells you all you need to know about what kind of season we've had up 'til now: -£30.25p. Perhaps the best outcome of all this weekend would be for the game to be postponed. At least that way we would definitely be in the hat for the 3rd round draw!

Sunday, 21 November 2010

L1: Charlton 3 Yeovil Town 2

Heroic Failure Repeated: Match report and comment from Cruncher.

Today at The Valley I witnessed a purposeful Yeovil. Hard-working with good invention, this was in so many ways a cohesive performance to be proud of. I also witnessed another Yeovil loss.

The two returning full backs Craig Alcock and Nathan Smith were impressively straight back into their stride, while my wish came true for Jean Paul Kalala to regain his midfield slot next to Shaun MacDonald. MacDonald has performed very well lately but his benefit to the cause had been restricted by too heavy a workload while Kalala was out injured, or deployed at right back . Today the Welshman was simply magnificent, whether mopping up against the odds in the tightest of situations or pushing forward to start an attack. I would be surprised if there was another comparable midfield display by any other midfielder in League One this weekend. No disrespect to Owain Tudur Jones's stint, he certainly had his moments but Kalala's combative edge is essential.

Yeovil set the mood from the off. Players were linking well and passes were accurately and confidently being played to feet or into space. Sam Williams was prominent in his spearhead role, Dean Bowditch looking very sharp and inventive playing off him. It was Bowditch who cleverly created an opportunity for Gavin Williams who unfortunately couldn't wrap his foot around the ball enough from a sharp effort in the box, as the Charlton defence closed in. Then Gav struck a free-kick with too much deftness and not enough venom, enabling Rob Elliot a cosy catch. Still the Glovers came purposefully forward, Sam Williams setting up Andy Williams only to have his shot blocked, followed by another effort from the same player which many thought was home, but unfortunately hit the side-netting. Shades of London opposition of last week crossed my mind - would we get punished by a quick raid at the other end?

Alas, that is what happened. Charlton attacking on the right chose not to wait while Yeovil disputed a throw-in decision. This gifted the Charlton winger two yards which gained the receiving Johnny Jackson the crucial one yard he needed to hit the ball first-time past the helpless John Sullivan. Yeovil, by far the more penetrative and fluent of the two sides, a goal down after ten minutes. Here we go again.

To their credit, the Yeovil players responded well and were level in five minutes, with Andy Williams getting his third on the trot, a very well-taken goal after well-worked linking with Sam Williams, sending the travelling contingent into rapture. Didn't last long though, with Therry Racon turning to fire neatly home. Again there was the familiar element of self-destruction as Kalala's pass put Alcock under pressure, his only blip (apart from a ballooned shot) in an otherwise strong showing. Charlton were 2-1 up against a Yeovil side who had been superior on the balance of play and chances created, the costly and frustrating theme of recent times.

The home side were at last looking confident, and created opportunities breaking quickly which resulted in shots across the face of the Yeovil goal. Yeovil though were not going to roll over, with Bowditch laying off the ball for Sam Williams but his effort was straight at Elliot. Bowditch himself had a better chance after good work right on the stroke of half time - bearing down on goal he needed to follow suit from Andy William's equalising strike of last week's first half injury time against Dagenham which was notable for both placement and power. Trouble was, Bowditch chose placement, which enabled Elliot to dive to his left and a golden chance at a crucial time was lost.

The referee had not been afraid to give the away side their share of decisions and early in the second half they gained a free kick in an attacking position. Gavin Williams hasn't been so convincing for a while now with his place kicks, this time opting to put it low and fiercely-hard across the Addicks box, a decision which paid off as the ball ping-ponged around until someone somehow struck it cleanly into the goal. Paul Huntington was my guess at the time, It transpired it was the defending foot of Gary Doherty.

We dared to hope that surely we were at last going to get at least a deserving point. With the home side's confidence clearly hit, more hope was to come when Christian Dailly was sent off after clobbering Sam Williams as they challenged a high ball on the right-side. To be honest, from the faraway view I'm not sure, but the referee believed the immediate and confident flapping of his linesman's flag. We would all have taken a draw, but now, despite Racon (I think) forcing a good save out of Sullivan with an angled rasper the game seemed there for the taking. The deep-down feeling that misery would follow - surely that would at last go away, wouldn't it?

Of course, it wouldn't. The referee had been a bit picky on occasion but on fouls had had a decent game and certainly not afraid to upset the locals. The left-side linesman though had annoyed the Yeovil support a few times already, the precedent to bamboozle was set in the first-half when he cocked up on a foul and an offside or two, and ruled an Alcock header not to have kept the ball in play. So when sub Akpo Sodje chased a long punt forward it was all-too expected that the linesman would flag against Huntington as a result of Sodje's flop to the ground.

Sodje had proved a handful since he came on, and we need to see why we had stretched ourselves enough against ten men for him to be chasing a long punt to turn into such significant danger. The unfair but harsh truth for Huntington after an impressive day's work is that he didn't deserve the foul against him or the subsequent sending-off, but also needs to know not to put out his outstretched arm to give a happy flag-flapper any excuse - and the gusto deployed by the lino did indeed suggest a body-language of sheer joy at his opportunity to be judge and jury. From the ref's own body language I was convinced he viewed it the same way as did the green and white masses - that contact was soft if indeed it was at all, but he chose to trust that his linesman had both a better view and reasonable judgement. So from the point the incident occurred, the linesman's spoiling of the day seemed inevitable. A fuming John Sullivan rushed 25 yards to, er, constructively debate the matter with the official. Johnny Jackson scored from the spot, a heart-breaking 3-2 defeat.

The obvious comparison of recent heroic failure is the Milton Keynes match, what with defensive lapses and a dodgy late penalty putting a very impressive fluent Yeovil performance to the sword and by the same score. Certainly it was better than last week, but it's hard to find comfort when we perform well against stronger opposition but suffer from key mistakes, yet perform worse against lower sides making even more mistakes. Overall it is clear that bad luck is playing its part, and we look to Bournemouth in midweek as an early chance to alter the long and cruel losing streak that we are on. With the Cherries having a goal difference of fourteen goals, they mirror our goal deficit of the same amount: a hard task is becoming harder.

Reality is stark in times like this. A stronger bench today might have seen us take immediate advantage of Dailly's dismissal. Teams can and do go down through bad luck, though I feel that our problems are fuelled by limitation in squad strength and size. We were the Light Brigade (light by an experienced striker and a speedy cb) riding into the Valley of, er, defeat.

Much emotion and many words abound at the moment. I am clear on my own thoughts - we are overdue on a clearout in the Boardroom, but I see no value in dismissing the manager. What I would ask Skiverton doubters to ask of themselves is this: are you bringing your emotion about the Board into your logic about the manager?

Quick appraisal of the players:

John Sullivan - 7/10: The irony is that he did not have much to do which points to a 6, but he can't be apportioned blame for the goals and pulled of a very good second half save when needed along with doing his basic chores correctly.

Craig Alcock - 7/10: Good performance after absence.

Paul Huntington - 8/10: Reads it well, solid under pressure with good distribution, had his (and our) day unfairly spoiled by the Happy Flagger.

Adam Virgo - 7/10: Solid enough for the most part.

Nathan Smith - 8/10: Very impressive performance.

Gavin Williams - 7/10: Seen as a weak link first half by one or two but I thought did well overall (with one or two golden moments), his place kicking has been off the boil for a while but he did whizz one across that led to the second goal.

Jean Paul Kalala - 8/10: His passing is better these days, broke play up smartly that led to Andy Williams's goal but his pass across the back let Charlton in for their first. Overall though he was very good.

Shaun MacDonald - 9/10: Magnificent.

Andy Williams - 8/10: Strong attacking, tracked back well, very well-taken goal.

Sam Williams - 7/10: The master of both Dailly and Doherty in the first half, linked and battled well and at times very well, covered acres of ground, not appreciated by the moaners. Needs goals though!

Dean Bowditch - 8/10: Classy in the first half, shame he missed the effort on 45 minutes

Adam Phillip (87 minutes, on for Andy Williams): Only on for a few lively minutes, I agree with those that wanted him on following Dailly's dismissal.


Friday, 19 November 2010

I should have stayed home

Many thanks to Cruncher for going above and beyond the call of duty last weekend and making a 400-mile round trip to supply a match report for the Dagenham debacle. I was enjoying the Millennium Stadium experience at the time and watching a cracking game of rugby between Wales and South Africa which the hosts would have won fairly comfortably if it wasn't for a bunch of drugged-up Springboks and a blind and biased New Zealand referee. Still, the stadium was magnificent, the atmosphere incredible and I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity (and naturally took full advantage of it) to drink as much beer as I wanted while watching the game (Brains, of course). All around me 54,000 like minded souls were doing the same with South African and Welsh fans all mingling together, all consuming copious amounts of alcohol (I don't think I've ever seen so much beer/lager drunk in such a short space of time by so many) and all without even the vaguest hint of trouble or bother. A real eye-opener for anyone used to having their bottle top removed from their plastic soft drink bottle and to being segregated within an inch of their life at their nearest football ground. The only fly in the afternoon's ointment came with the regular text updates I was receiving from Huish Park. As I said to my long-suffering wife, who was having enough trouble at the time getting to grips with the complexities of the rugby union line-out laws never mind offsides (though she's very good at offside in football); 'how the hell do we expect to stay in League One if we can't beat the likes of Dagenham & bloody Redbridge?' She had no answer and I'm beginning to wonder if anyone associated with Yeovil Town Football Club has either.

Watching the Glovers this season has been like watching a Formula 1 car with slick tyres going round Silverstone in the middle of a thunderstorm. All's well on the straights and a fair old head of steam is sometimes built up, but disaster lurks at every corner, the brakes are useless and the less said about the pit-stops the better. With a third of the season gone, the league table doesn't lie: 23rd, 4 points away from safety and the joint-worst goal difference in the division.

The answer it seems is not, after all, the recruitment of another loan striker. At the start of the week the arrival of Chelsea reserve-team striker Adam Phillip on a month's loan was being regarded by a sceptical fanbase as Skivo's attempt to turn our mis-firing strikeforce into a deadly attack, capable of taking those chances spurned on a regular basis otherwise. Five days later and it now seems that the lad will be lucky to get onto the pitch at all before his month is up, as the manager has said he will wait to blood his new player at least until one of our other 6 loan players has returned to his club, which will be in three games time at the earliest. One feels a bit of sympathy for Phillip in that case, having to sit out at least 3 more games before he gets his chance, but one also feels sympathy for existing players at the club who have waited even longer for their opportunity. The likes of Craig Calver, Billy Gibson and Ed Upson must be wondering what they have to do to get some playing time in a losing team and I would also wonder how Luke Freeman would have reacted when he heard that another striker was being drafted in. The Arsenal loanee may have made 15 appearances on paper this season, but only 5 have been starts in the league and in many of his cameos he's been pushed out onto the left. Despite that he's still managed a couple of goals and one might have thought that he would have been worth trying for a while in his favoured striking position. Similarly Andrew Williams is as capable in front of goal as he is on the wing and again might have been worth a spell up front before the resort to the loan market.

I don't necessarily think that a new loan in was a bad idea mind you, but I do question the wisdom of bringing in another forward. To my mind what's needed above all else is some solidity at the back. We give far too many goals away, more often than not from set-pieces where the marking goes awry. We need, well, you name it, we need it. The recent absence of Craig Alcock has shown up the inherent weakness of the squad - how many other L1 clubs would have no recognised cover at right-back? John Sullivan is a decent keeper and by all accounts a nice fella, but would anyone argue he's a step up on Alex McCarthy or Stephen Henderson? Similarly both Adam Virgo and Paul Huntington have excellent qualities but somehow, as a pair, combine to leak goals as well as score them at the other end, and their only back-up is the injury-prone Stefan Stam. The left side of defence I would generally exempt from criticism as between them the two Nathan's have, in my opinion, done good, to use footballing parlance. So I would have been looking for a utility defender, someone to fill-in for Craig Alcock until his return from injury and then put pressure on the central defenders to perform. And, I hear you say, who would this paragon of virtue be? Not a clue, I answer, that's what the coaching/scouting staff get paid for. But these kind of players are around and it is possible to borrow them. We've done it before, for example with Liam Fontaine, equally adept at full-back and centre-half.

There, that's the defence sorted. Next week I will explain how to turn water into wine and describe how, on Football Manager 2011 I sold Andy Welsh to Portsmouth for £250,000 and a sell-on fee. Who said computer games were unrealistic?

Tomorrow the Glovers take on a resurgent Charlton at The Valley, god help us. The home side are 8/13 favourites, the draw is priced at 14/5 and a Yeovil win at a surprisingly miserly 9/2. My fiver, more in hope than in anger, is going on the away win. Come on Yeovil, shock us all! Running total: -£25.25p

Just read: Fall of Giants by Ken Follett; and Another World by Pat Barker. Fall of Giants is another huge, and I mean enormous, tome from the author of Pillars of the Earth and World Without End. It follows the fortunes of five different, but somehow inter-related families from the outbreak of the First World War to the Armistice, from the coalfields of Wales to the Russian Revolution via the White House and the War itself. It's a page-turner (which is a good job as there's 850 of them to plough through) but it managed to keep my interest until the end. It's not of the same standard as Pillars of the Earth, but it's still worth a read if you've got plenty of time and are strong enough to pick the bloody thing up. The first of a trilogy still to come, be still my beating heart. In contrast I read Pat Barker's creepy little study of a dysfunctional family living in a haunted house in one sitting, and then stayed awake half the night unable to settle. Terrific writing and proof positive that less is quite often more.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

L1: Yeovil 1 Dagenham & Redbridge 3

Match report and comments: By Cruncher

Last week at Rushden was about missing chances and finding it hard to get into our fluent stride against organised opposition. This week was, er, about missing chances and finding it hard to find our flowing stride. While luck did influence the two contrasting results, Dagenham & Redbridge were last week's well-drilled opponents with knobs on.

Yeovil still had enough chances to win this game. Missing good opportunities and messing up approach play though have become costly habit, the Daggers goals came from Yeovil attacking play breaking down. Three good Yeovil chances spurned in seconds led to the Daggers breaking down the right appearing to strive purposefully for a corner. Will Antwi's leap was softly contested to allow him a fairly easy header for the Daggers to go a goal up with 18 minutes gone. Yeovil were shaken. They hadn't been convincing but they had had the balance of play and had been punished following their most purposeful stint. In the period that followed, though, they were poor.

Dagenham snuffed out Yeovil's unadventurous blunt effort with ease - dominant in the air and with good recovering pace at the back - and first to the loose ball. Going forward their threat wasn't the sharpest, but on the back of their lead they on occasions got the ball forward quickly and held it up well enough to make us all worried that another frail moment might be near.

Until, in first-half injury time, Andy Williams, having drifted across to the left from his opposite flank, was set free by Owain Tudur Jones to thump an impressive strike past Chris Lewington. No dithering, no hanging on to the ball to 'make sure' - just one perfect clean confident clout - hard and true - that the situation demanded. Out of the blue it was 1-1 and game-on, now sort 'em out Skivo for the second-half and this match is there for the taking...

The second-half did see an improvement, patches of fluent play and numerous chances. There is no doubt that luck played a part against Yeovil this week, as they came agonisingly close a number of times. Mistakes though were also still an unfortunate factor, but on balance the home side had worked and probed well enough to have deserved a second goal. Dagenham were still positive and determined themselves, and Yeovil had to be careful at the back. As time wore on, and despite Gavin Williams and Luke Freeman joining the fray in a fruitless attempt to sharpen the attacking effort, the worry intensified that we might again get hit at the back, and that is exactly what happened with the Glovers showing a degree of naivety on two occasions. Abu Ogogo put the away side 2-1 up with a shot that didn't seem good enough to beat John Sullivan, though overall the Yeovil keeper had had a very good game. Late-on, the exposed Yeovil defence fell victim to Medy Elito angling in from the left, switching the ball on to his right foot to neatly beat Sullivan at his far post.

Yeovil battled on, but it wasn't to be, Paul Huntington unlucky with a firm header against the bar. 3-1 wasn't a reflection of any Dagenham dominance because they weren't vastly superior by any stretch, but there can be no qualms with the result that came about by our opponents maximising a combination of Yeovil misfortune and flaws. I had the pleasure of meeting up with my brother who was up from Devon for the day - not at all a football fan but always persuadable by the lure of a Hungry Horse sirloin. It was plain even for him to spot weaknesses causing the lack of Yeovil first-half cohesion. John Still's men had been efficient muggers on the day, whilst able to resist the Yeovil quality when it did surface. Shaun MacDonald's all-round midfield efforts were again admirable, I feel that he would do better with Jean Paul Kalala in there batting next to him.

It's going to be a tense few games coming up, because the harsh truth is that if we don't get a decent quota of points from those games then we could be adrift even before Christmas. The season is far from lost at this point, but it was a significantly bad result against a team also battling the drop. Those points thrown away against Swindon with three minutes to go are now appearing more crucial than ever they were. With just 3,500 regulars turning up, the future is presently appearing significantly bleak. Terry Skiverton will continue to fight for the cause, we must support him and there is no doubt that lack of squad-depth is a problem; such times inevitably turn the spotlight onto the Board and lack of off-field progression. That debate which has been simmering for consecutive seasons, is now appearing to be the main and constant topic for most supporters.

I had a long day of train travel yesterday. At the station for the first return leg I was surprised to note that the Dagenham contingent waiting for the train consisted of just a handful of supporters - the merry band of Londoners were in fact Dagenham players returning from their grand day out on the train - well not just some players but the entire team, management, staff, the Chairman in fact the whole caboodle. Gavin Tomlin was kind enough to tell (but not convince) me that we'll 'be alright.'

Final word was from my brother. He had to admit that it wasn't so bad as the last time he went. That time, so I now learn, was fixed in his memory as the most rotten of experiences, as I had taken advantage of his good nature to get a lift to the match. As that had been the awful second replay against Millwall in 1975, I could see why, but had no idea just how deeply for thirty-five years he had been carrying his scar. But now, he confessed that his mood had lightened and he might be persuaded to give it another go (with a compulsory sirloin). On the timespan from his first to his second match, I would expect his third might see us losing the Champions League Final in 2045 preceded by a steak and a shandy @ 98 Euros. But apparently no, it might even be this season - what do they put in the water, down there in Devon?

Final thought for Taff: Hope you enjoyed your Birthday and yer gallivanting in Wales. A very shrewd move by your wife to get you out of Somerset for this match, though desperately hard luck on the Wales result, certainly ran the Springboks close. Now prepare to do yer duty at HP again in three weeks when GJ comes down, or er, might come down if he can ride the wrath of the irate Irishman.


Thursday, 11 November 2010

A shot in the arm and then in the foot

It's not been very often I can say this in the second week of November in the last few years, so let's make the most of it: Yeovil Town are still in the FA Cup! Fair play to Skivo and his team, last Saturday's 1st round tie at Rushden was a banana skin waiting to happen, so to come through, albeit with the aid of a dodgy refereeing decision, was a veritable triumph. A shame that our 'reward' is a 2nd round trip to the winners of the Hartlepool/Vauxhall Motors tie, but hey, it's the 2nd round! I'd forgotten what that looks like.

Of course the club has managed to take away any possible feelgood factor as soon as it arrived with the announcement yesterday that ticket prices are going up in the new year by £1 across the board. It's all the fault of the Coalition Government's VAT increase in January according to Martyn Starnes as quoted on the club's official site. According to Mr Starnes the club "cannot afford to absorb the rise in the VAT rate imposed by the Treasury.". Funny that, because when the previous Government reduced VAT rates in 2009 the club point-blank refused to lower prices in mid-season in response because "the cost of doing so is prohibitive in terms of administration and arranging coinage," (ABFUP minutes 26th Feb, 2009). So it's possible to change the ticket price mid-season when it's going up, but not when it's coming down. Yes, I see.

We all know the VAT excuse is specious bollocks of course. I've no doubt that the club is struggling financially and needs the extra income so why not just come out and say so? Try treating supporters as adults Mr Starnes and tell us the truth instead of hiding behind a VAT increase that in real terms is nowhere near equivalent to a pound on the price of a ticket. The club needs the money - fine, tell us straight and make a virtue of that necessity. Make people feel that by paying extra they're helping the club to survive. As it has been handled the price rise just gives floating supporters another reason to bitch and moan about the club and not bother attending games. So that will be the recession's fault again then.

It was also interesting to see that the Meet the Manager/CEO meeting, due to be held at Huish Park tonight, has been cancelled. No reason was given for the cancellation but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to work out why our CEO would probably have preferred not to face the public the day after he's announced a price increase. Or it might simply have been that they hadn't sold enough tickets to justify going ahead with the meeting. Speaking for myself I had thought about going but had decided not to, mainly because I didn't see much point in speaking (with no offence intended) to the monkeys when the organ-grinders were elsewhere. I don't think the decision to charge a fiver to attend the meeting was a good one either, even if the admission price did include a free drink. The days of fans being locked out of Gary Johnson's Meet-the-Manager meetings seem an awful long time ago now. Where has all that enthusiasm and energy in the fanbase gone? It's been knocked out of us in the austere years since and replaced with apathy and doubt. And until there's real change at the club, at the very top, you can't see anything altering. Just more of the same year on year, with the club declining gently in ever-decreasing circles....

Having thoroughly depressed myself it's worth remembering that we're still in the FA Cup and have a winnable home game to look forward to this weekend. Dagenham & Redbridge are of course familiar opponents from our non-league days even if tomorrow's match is the first time both clubs have met in the Football League. For the first time in a very long time the Glovers are outright favourites to win the game at 11/10, the draw is priced at 12/5 and a Daggers win also at 12/5. My fiver's going on the home win. I missed putting a bet on last week which is unfortunate as I would undoubtedly have bet on a Yeovil win at Rushden, honest, but that's the way the cookie crumbles. As it is the running total for the season is a rather alarming -£20.25p. Yikes.

No match report on the blog this weekend as neither myself nor Cruncher will be at Huish Park on Saturday. Cruncher won't be there because he lives well over 100 miles away, and I won't be there because I'm off to Cardiff to watch Wales v South Africa instead, a 50th birthday present to yours truly from my darling wife. And to save HHH the trouble, I'll say it for him: I must really be in her bad books for her to give me that! Have a good weekend, I intend to. Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me, happy birthday dear Taff, happy birthday to me!

Sunday, 7 November 2010

FAC R1: Rushden & Diamonds 0 Yeovil 1

Completing The Circle: Rushden & Diamonds 0 Yeovil Town 1 - Match report and comments by Cruncher

Yeovil at last triumphed in the FA Cup First Round as they overcame the team that started their miserable four barren years in the competition. Rushden & Diamonds, although not reproducing the 2006 humiliation of playing neat triangles through the Yeovil ranks, were again a stern test. Yeovil carved out the better chances overall but it was hard going to find their free-flowing stride against an organised and well-oiled Rushden machine that had unified purpose and some pace at the back.

I had anguished whether my pre-match Diamond Burger was as good as the day was going to get, the run of FA Cup blanks, recent defensive lapses and Rushden form had firmly sorted this task as one of hope ahead of expectancy. The team was as expected without Gavin Williams at his club's request, Luke Ayling still waiting for parts of his ribs to be prised off Dean Lewington's elbow and returned in the post. Andy Welsh and Andy Williams came in with Jean-Paul Kalala dropping to right-back. Diamonds also lined up 4-4-2, both teams looking to use width.

The first twenty minutes or so was a battle: unforced errors spoiling the odd bit of Yeovil promise, the Glovers frustratingly not testing Joe Day in the home goal while facing (as were the away support) an annoying low sun. As time wore on they did create some good chances, the best of which was through excellent Dean Bowditch work to set up Sam Williams with a firm thump that unluckily hit the post. Bowditch continued to harrass the home defence, he had a crisp shot just over and hit another too near to Joe Day as well as setting up Paul Huntington to head against the bar. Diamonds though were competing strongly and created chances of their own. John Sullivan saved excellently from Ryan Charles, and he may have also got the touch that sent a Lewis Spence rasper on to the bar - hard to tell in that sun.

Yeovil pegged the Diamonds back a bit more for periods after the break, but it remained a fairly even contest. The Glovers could not make their better opportunities count, while the Diamonds still threatened the Yeovil box without penetration. This finely-balanced state of affairs certainly added to the cup tie edge as the minutes counted down, the away end playing their part with passionate voice. The Yeovil support remained positive and sustained and admirably led by the very vocal supporters along the back of the Air Wair.

When the goal came, not many could tell who the scorer was. Although the stabbing sun had gone by the start of the second half, the far-end view under floodlight was murky. It was clear though that Sam Williams had set Bowditch up well for a strong shot that Joe Day saved. Andy Williams, it transpired, followed up to score his first Yeovil goal at the most crucial of moments with just seven minutes remaining. I will go against the grain a tad by letting my bias serve me well here and suggest that there was a degree of sanity in letting subjective opinion triumph. Bowditch had after all gained the space after his run and shot, and although he hindered the keeper's view he hadn't drifted offside on purpose to gain advantage. And .. er .. if you give me a few hours I will dig up another straw to clutch at. Anyway, such luck for Yeovil is as rare now as a spare Rushden fiver, as Antalya explains on the Green Room: the stance WE have to face very often and that is "Sod you" we won you didn't. Quite right, cheerio Diamonds, hello Round Two.

A quick appraisal of performances: John Sullivan was excellent throughout - please stay fit, John. The back four were good collectively and individually, Huntington the more impressive of the centre-backs on the day with Virgo still having a decent game. Jean-Paul Kalala in an unfamiliar role was involved a lot and impressed defensively and going forward. Nathan Jones too was decent, one vital clearing header was the highest I have seen him leap, as he responded to Sullivan's forceful demand of 'Away!' Shaun MacDonald was everywhere, superb engine and excellent all-round display, with Owain Tudur Jones blowing hot and cold. Justin Edinburgh's tactics kept wingers Welsh and Williams on their defensive toes, Williams's direct approach the more threatening on the day. Up front, Sam Williams had a day littered with too many mistakes and some basic ones to boot, with some good bits chucked in. He has been doing well in his spell back since suspension, and this comparative off-day adds weight to my theory that we need a back up for his role. He was unlucky to hit the post after being superbly set up by Bowditch, who was class throughout but unfortunately without the shine on his shooting boots.

A mention before I forget of the Rushden hospitality and the stewards I encountered - super-friendly and all round top-notch.

Rushden themselves have come full circle, back to the financial reality of pre-merger days, as the Yeovil fans - noisily, predictably and merrily - reminded them. This fixture was down by almost a thousand on the one of four years ago, and with home crowds averaging around twelve-hundred it will be hard for them to keep hold of Edinburgh. Sustaining a challenge for the play-offs might be key to that, but he stands out as a manager ripe for a step-up.

Yeovil didn't find top gear with their flowing play by some distance but credit and respect is due to their opponents for that. The joyful players' celebrations might have confused the neutral as to who was the underdog but this was a vital hard-earned win. So there we are, a cup tie that could have gone either way, Yeovil with a bit more bite on the day but owing the day in the end to a bit of fortunate refereeing subjectivity. Would we have taken that at the start of the day? .. You betcha! ... bring on the draw for Round 2.


Wednesday, 3 November 2010

L1: MK Dons 3 Yeovil 2

It's tough at the bottom - match report and comment by Cruncher

The bitter disappointment of Saturday's late throwaway needed a Yeovil side with character and grit tonight at Milton Keynes. And that is indeed the response the Glovers gave, with a decent performance thrown in. Unfortunately, all it brought in the end was, er, bitter disappointment.

On balance of the ninety minutes, Yeovil deserved at least a draw against a team unbeaten in the League at home. The Dons had only dropped four out of twenty-one available home points while conceding just three goals. If the game had been marked by judges holding up cards for style and content Yeovil probably would have been the narrow winners. Only it wasn't. It was back to at least matching their opponents in all departments but with a few key moments that made all the difference, a theme that defined much of our League One effort last season and has cost us a load of points already this year.

Yeovil's opener by Dean Bowditch reflected the visitors being the more threatening, a well-taken goal that Nathan Jones's precise through-ball deserved. The team continued to perform well, a flowing series of moves ended with Gavin Williams chipping just over, while at the other end a glancing Sam Baldock header had John Sullivan admirably palming clear. The Dons reply though when it came was a soft one to let in - Dean Lewington was as unchallenged as a six-footer in an Under-10s game to pop in an easy header from a corner. I think it was Luke Ayling and Owain Tudur Jones who were guilty of being static as Lewington leapt, with Sullivan perhaps sightly drawn too near to his near post. Yeovil got back into their stride, Ayling surged forward on a determined and skilful run that lifted the away crowd and Bowditch 's left-foot stinger tested Stuart Searle. After the break the Dons had a forceful spell that got them their second goal. A good strike by Jemal Johnson, but far too easy how Sam Baldock carved out the inviting opportunity from a cut-back on the right flank, coupled with Yeovil histrionics claiming that the ref had missed something.

For the few minutes that followed, there was a hint that the home side might overrun their visitors. Even the home crowd at last sounded like a home crowd, but Yeovil battled through it and soon were creating chances again, and the Dons support returned to cautious mode. Yeovil very much still in the game, but not quite breaking through.

On a run high up the right-side, Ayling was met by a thumping tackle by Lewington, sending the ball into the stand while simultaneously appearing to catch Ayling's ribs. I can't be at all sure it was intentional, but it was certainly effective as Ayling struggled even to take the throw-in, and broke down immediately afterwards. Andy Welsh came on, Jean-Paul Kalala moved to right-back. In a moment, the Glovers were level, Paul Huntington and Adam Virgo were both forward and it was Virgo who took his chance inside the box to shoot in off the post. 2-2, and deserved, and now a pulsating finish to the game.

Sam Williams who had done his usual to a good standard all night made way for Andy Williams, who was put clear to cut in from the right side of the area. A strong run bearing down on goal had the away support hoping with baited breath - unfortunately it was power without accuracy as Williams found Searle and not the back of the net. Bowditch went off for Luke Freeman, and it seemed a draw was the main hope now.

Only that too was scuppered, keeping to the miserable pattern we have come to expect. It was a long way up the pitch, but my first thought was that there was daylight between Sam Baldock and the covering tackle. Could be wrong, the replay should tell. Anyway, the ref was sure and penalty to the Dons. Peter Leven down the middle as Sullivan guessed to his right and 3-2, three minutes to go, here we go again. Hard on the keeper who had made a decent return, and hard on the overall effort, but this is League One and we know to expect its consistent message that it won't forgive your errors, or, er, the funny ways of referees.

Previously Bowditch had had a strong penalty appeal turned down when spinning clear of his man, but the decision was that he had offended. Presumably it he wasn't for diving or he would have been booked, so it must have been for pulling his man back - only the whistle seemed to be delayed until he had got clear of his marker. My instinct was that he had been fouled in the area by the last man, and the ref bottled it, deciding to blow against Bowditch if he got clear. That's how I saw it as it happened, I don't think I was clouding my view with wishful thinking. The exact same thing happened minutes later, but this time in a deeper position outside the box.

Most players would get sevens with a couple a bit better, for me the best player on the night was Luke Ayling, although his defensive work was frail for the first MK goal. He does have all-round qualities and is becoming stronger and stronger going forward. I'd be quite sure that he'd be a better midfielder now too after having this stint at right-back. Andy Williams was by some distance the most effective of the subs. Virgo was up the front near the end. I think a back-up for Sam Williams is long overdue; squad constraints mean he was taken off presumably to protect him for the next game, but I feel sure his role is needed for the ninety minutes.

A good performance, overall a bit unlucky but it is still the lapses that are so costly. This might well reflect our ever-weakening financial clout, but I feel the management team and the men on the pitch deserve our complete support. I admired the way they picked themselves up after the weekend, just sort out the lapses! Terry Skiverton will need to decide if it's carrot or stick that is needed - we shall see.

As for Rushden & Diamonds on Saturday, we should be too strong for them but we all know that doesn't mean we will be. I have a hunch that wingers and pace might have a key part to play, but we'll see.


Monday, 1 November 2010

The Time Has Come

The Time Has Come - blog post by Cruncher

My first ever blog also had this title, looking ahead on Scratch's Pride of Somerset to what was Skivo's first full season at the helm. Now I feel it's time to dust the header down and use it again, because when all is combined I am uncertain about our destiny. Uncertainty can't run forever - the time has come, for, er... something.

To be honest about where we are, my view is that we are no longer just a poorer club in League One but a weaker one - and there is a difference.

Gates are running considerably higher than last year after seven home League games, at an average near 4,800 compared to around the 4,200 mark at the same stage last year. Don't let that fool you though, there have been more of the higher-attended games in this year's opening batch and even those have seen a significant drop on the same fixtures last year, in fact all corresponding fixtures are down bar the Leyton Orient match (the bald guy, he always could draw 'em in). The most telling fact is that the home section of the home crowd is still dwindling. The time had already come in previous years, on this topic.

As for the Board, my perception is this: Mr. Hayward capitalised the club to suit Mr. Fry's purpose of keeping out all and sundry. While this might be admirable to keep out the rogues and the inept, it also unfortunately keeps out the bright sparks with their fresh thinking who would roll up their sleeves to increase gate revenue as well as establish permanent money-making schemes. As I see it, Holdingsgate (as Taff usefully christened it) is in lieu of making progress in a proper and safe way. And I would hold to that even if separation of the club's land turned out to be some fantastic venture in the long run, because I don't agree with putting off (for example) local or supporter investment - with accompanied ideas, enthusiasm and endeavour - in favour of a punt with the club's plot.

In any case, the land separation route does not appear to be a plan that was made with specific investors already in mind - or else where is the next step of getting in the finance? As time drags on without even a hint of development specifics, it seems more and more likely that the separation is in case a chance comes our way, rather than separating assets to suit money already lined-up. Perhaps it might be viewed as reasonable for the club to do it that way, but if the club sets aside its prime assets for a hope that doesn't materialise, the club's land remains unprotected to potential risk in the future.

I still green-tintedly believe that Terry Skiverton can eventually get us up to dizzy heights, or at least achieve 20th place or better year after year. At the same time, the-never-gets-sorted has its accumulative effect, nagging away. If the time doesn't at least appear on the horizon fairly soon, we won't have the strength to hold on to what we've got.

With immense admiration and respect for a lot of the good past work, for the Board and for the future, the time may well have come. If someone of the right stuff comes knocking on their door, I hope the Board would see it that way too. Equally, anyone knocking on the door needs to have a clear vision to revive gates and create revenue streams.

Mr. Fry can proudly take acclaim for a marvellous chunk of our history, which took us from rising above the brink of oblivion to the brink of entering the Championship. If anything, it is that 2006-07 push to near-promotion which clearly endorses the message that all good things come to an end, as our Chairman had cast off the prudent cloak he had long donned. That was a gamble then, and Holdingsgate is a gamble now. What happened subsequently with Slade's pay-off (presumably followed by another following an unwise club statement) also gives the clear message that error can follow error once a wrong turning has been made.

A quick word about the manager and the Chief Executive: as far as I can see, Terry Skiverton is too constrained by compromises, especially for a rookie. My instinct is that his time has not come, and I back him to continue. Martyn Starnes may or may not be excellent, it is hard to tell while he his not given the free-reign that normally goes with the role. Would their allegiance to the present rulers be enough for their downfall if a new owner arrived? - Maybe, maybe not. It could just as likely be the making of 'em.