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Wednesday, 15 December 2010

The darkest hour is just before dawn...

...So the saying goes. The problem for manager Terry Skiverton, and for the Board of Yeovil Town is that dawn may yet be some time off. Think things can't get worse after last night's desperately disappointing 4-2 loss at Hartlepool? Believe me, they can. Anyone who was at Huish Park to see the Glovers lose 1-3 to Merthyr Tydfil back in 1994 knows exactly how bad it can get.

Thus far in Skivo's managerial career the Huish Park crowd has, by and large, been pretty supportive of him and the things he's been trying to do. Judging by the postings on the green room II over the last week or so that support is eroding fast. I spoke about a tipping point being reached after the 2-0 defeat at Bournemouth three weeks ago and said then that I thought Skivo deserved the chance to at least stay in charge until January. I've changed my mind now. On Saturday we have a home game against Carlisle United. If ever a game has been a must-win game then this one is surely it. Anything less than three points will be unacceptable.

I'm finding this a hard blog to write. It's not nice to be contemplating the demise of Mr Yeovil, the man who has done so much on the pitch to get us where we are today. But the hard truth is that Skivo as a manager has been found out this season. His team - and it is his team, he's the one who has signed the players and who asked us at the start of the season to judge him on how they performed - has been found wanting in the basics of both attack and defence. It makes me angry and upset to see a good man floundering, but I'm not so much angry with Skivo. I'm angry with the men who have put him in this unenviable position, I'm angry with the Board.

It's the Board who should be looking at themselves today. Yes, by and large they've kept the club solvent, the small matter of a million pound loss in the last financial year nothwithstanding; but it's they who have allowed the club to stagnate over the last few years, who have failed to build on the legacy left by Gary Johnson and Jon Goddard-Watts. It's the Board who have allowed mediocre non-entities to keep positions of influence in the club and who do nothing but alienate fans and take revenue streams and potential revenue streams away from the club. It's the Board who hounded out the previous manager Russell Slade on wholly spurious grounds and then cynically appointed the one man guaranteed to unite the fanbase behind them, even though we all knew Skivo was the cheap option to end all cheap options and that it would probably all end in tears. And now, most cynical of all, it's the Board who have split the land assets of the Huish Park site away from the football operation and have the temerity and chutzpah to tell us that there's no other way to attract new investment into the club. New investment? Don't make me laugh. I could tell you stories, doubtless many of you reading this could tell me stories too about people, fans, potential investors with money, ready and willing to invest in the club in the past but who have always been turned away. And why were they turned away? Because they wanted a say in how their money was spent and our glorious leaders weren't prepared to dilute their power and their shareholdings in the club. Self-interest rules.

Skivo's time is probably up. But this current Board's time should also be up. There's a lot of rumours flying around the town at the moment. I myself have heard from several different sources that offers have been made or are in the process of being made to buy the club from it's current owners. I only hope the rumours are true. John Fry and Norman Hayward have shown themselves to be unwilling and unable to either attract investment to the club or to invest themselves. On top of that they have allowed a culture of failure to thrive at Huish Park. If they have any true feeling for the club then they should dissolve the holding company they have created, give the football club back the land assets they have taken from it, and last but not least, sell up. Go, and go now. Leave with your legacy more-or-less intact. It's time for real change.

Monday, 13 December 2010

L1: Colchester 0 Yeovil 0

All Graft and no Craft - by Cruncher

A train journey into London followed by another out of it is often more chore than pleasure, but my first trip to Colchester's new(ish) stadium was straightforward and pleasant enough, despite the hordes on their annual pilgrimage to Selfridges and Hamleys and the like.

I met two away-shirted Yeovil lads to whom I was now going to be useful with directions to the shuttle bus bay, except they mysteriously weren't safely zipped-in-pocket like I would have bet a tenner that they were. Anyhow, no problem, we'd just ask the blue-and-white striped guy in front. Except he didn't have a clue and was hoping we could tell him, as he told us with American accent. Amazingly, he had in fact crossed the water to watch his chosen team for the first-ever time. The young Glovers had cracked it on their mobile internet just as the Big Yellow Warehouse blocked the view and we realised we had stumbled our way to the bus.

The friendliness on the bus signalled how it was to be at the ground, right through to the ticket office staff and stewards, and the few Colchester fans I had a brief word with. When I asked the American guy to account for his strange hobby (he could have chosen one of the Big Four or anyone to follow) he explained that it was the result of some serious drinking with Brits when stationed in Germany, and as far as he was concerned a drunken pledge is as good as any - he was stuck with his choice and he wasn't budging. We all knew what that was like, but extra kudos to him for walking madly with eyes open into what chooses us.

Frost and snow had at last made way for football. The modern stadium - with one end closed and empty seats aplenty with a good distance between the pitch and the stands - was a good contrast with the old Layer Road ground holding supporters packed in like sardines close to the action. Conditions were in fact as perfect as you could expect for a mid-winter football match, a dry clear day with the surface in very good nick. The scene was set to cure our mid-winter blues, my hope was that the enforced break had enabled the squad and management to talk through their woes and come up with some answers. The specific answers I was looking for were to benefit the good play we were capable of by putting away our chances and cutting out the lapses in defence.

Terry Skiverton though opted for a change of plan to a blunt but resolute 4-5-1, with both Sam Williams and Adam Philip confined to the bench to provide for a three-man central wall (Shaun MacDonald, Jean-Paul Kalala and Luke Ayling) flanked by Andrew Williams and Ivan Sproule, with the shadow-chasing job unsurprisingly given to Dean Bowditch. Yeovil's season to-date had seen either dismal failure after a woeful performance, or glorious failure despite good open play. This display hardly had a whiff of invention, one-touch flowing moves or sustained attacking intent. What it did have, and in bucketfuls, was a Yeovil determined not to be brittle against their loftier opponents as they set their stall out to battle their way to a result rather than bombard and create.

The first half was as even and as uneventful as they come, with the slight difference that the Colchester centre-backs were having a picnic clearing under no pressure whatsoever. Shaun MacDonald provided an odd moment or two of spark alongside his good tackling and covering play, with Nathan Smith also doing well including having our only serious effort on goal with a long range shot that was narrowly off-target. Paul Huntington too had done well, but unfortunately injured his ribs when making an urgent clearance. Young Tom Parkes came on for his debut and looked the part from the word go, quickly tackling Kayode Odejayi on a rare threatening surge forward and then out-jumping him for the ball. An amazing physical presence for his age with an assured air; just on this showing he seems to have a good future ahead.

Overall though, it was no spectacle. Colchester also looked blunt going forward, but in Odejayi they were holding the ball up at times whereas the Yeovil formation didn't allow for their normal pass and move - it was either head-tennis or hoof and chase, and then repeat it all again. But hearts and minds were strong, and they were sternly matching the huffing and puffing of the higher-placed home team who were certainly not showing any serious potential to rip though the Yeovil defensive layers.

After consecutive losses we ought to have felt happy with the prospect of grinding our way to a result, but with the continued ineffectiveness of the Colchester attack in the second half it did seem that perhaps we should have reverted to the usual 4-4-2. Especially, I thought, when a knock forced Bowditch to be subbed by Adam Philip - too much too ask for the youngster to be the sole man up front, though to his credit he gave it a good go. A Colchester fan had told me that they had been getting results but not performing well - this match seemed to prove that.

I had just thought that we had not made a lapse at the back when, on cue, Adam Virgo duly obliged by gifting Odejayi space in the box. Happily though, it wasn't punished as John Sullivan was forced into his one serious save of the match and what a sensational save it was, stretching to tip the close-range effort on to his bar. I have for a while now supposed that Virgo might be accountable for a fair few of these lapses, and although he does good work in between I think it might be a key point.

Sam Williams at last entered the fray. With two up front, we now had options and at last got forward a bit more. Nathan Smith cropped up on the right wing and forced a good save out of Ben Williams, Andy Williams had a strong shot closed down just in time. And in the fourth minute of injury time Sam Williams set Adam Philip on a positive run in on goal only for keeper Williams to block his effort as the away support anticipated a joyful end to the game. The ball rebounded to Sam Williams who had to stretch for his first touch to gather the ball, and the second whistled just agonisingly wide of the left post as he got his shot in before being closed down, to add to the long list of 'if only' moments for this season.

A useful point but a deep feeling of there were three for the taking against an unadventurous Colchester side, who ironically on that performance had elevated themselves into the top-six. The Yeovil plan on the day had kept quiet a number of players who had caused us problems in the past, but I couldn't help but feel that maybe we had sold ourselves short by rejecting our normal flowing strategy for this game. Hindsight though is a wonderful thing, and this was debated amongst a million other things by a small crew of us on the train.

The conclusion has to be that it is now up to home form to at last become decent to make this weekend's result an effective one in our quest to survive. We have to hope that the injuries picked up by Bowditch, Huntington and Virgo are not serious. As for formations, I hope that the 4-5-1 was a short-term fix only. Despite the very admirable steel and application shown in this defensive performance, it was a weak Colchester effort that allowed us to get away with it. Others won't be so helpful, and in any case we need wins (and now even more so that we are bottom after fellow strugglers all won) and for that we need a front-line, options when in possession and an attacking intent - at home at least.


Sunday, 5 December 2010

Lions led by donkeys

I think everyone's probably had enough of the cold weather by now. Certainly everyone at Yeovil Town will have had enough of it. No game for a fortnight and even though we've enjoyed a mini-thaw this weekend (enough of a thaw to make one wonder if the Peterborough game may not have been postponed in a little too much haste earlier in the week), this Tuesday night's re-scheduled 2nd round FA Cup tie at Hartlepool is by no means guaranteed to go ahead regardless of what today's pitch inspection might bring, as a return to freezing temperatures is forecast from tomorrow onwards. [Edit - as I write, the news has just come through that the match is indeed off, re-scheduled for 14th December]

On the other hand, maybe an enforced break was just what we all needed. Time to recharge the batteries, to reflect on the season so far and to put right what's gone wrong. Time for the coaching staff and the players to step back away from the treadmill of game after game after game and to focus on the things they do well and to work on those things that haven't gone quite as well. Time for a fresh start, in other words. Time too, to hit the ground running when football does eventually resume. Lest we forget we are 23rd in the table and 6 points away from safety coming up to the Christmas period. It's going to take a huge effort to make that gap up.

Away from the football and I'm sad to report that once again the club has proved that it has difficulty in organising a piss-up in a brewery. A group of ten of us booked a table at the club last night - a 3 course dinner and Abba's Angels, in honour of my sister-in-law's birthday. Unfortunately when we got to the club we found that the lift to the top floor was out of action which meant that I, as a wheelchair user, was unable to access the Alec Stock Lounge. It was explained to us that the lift had broken down the previous day, an engineer had attempted a repair that morning but didn't have the part required. We asked why the club hadn't contacted us after the engineer's visit to tell us not to come because they knew that a wheelchair user would require access to the Lounge via the lift and they also knew that the lift was out of order, but no-one could answer that question.

Well, these things happen. In the event a charming young lady - the head waitress I think, though unfortunately I didn't get her name - dealt with myself and my wife with great courtesy, gave us a refund and went further than that by giving us a bottle of wine and plated up our dinner for us to take home. Kudos to her and her staff, who all seemed genuinely embarrassed and upset. In the meantime and after much discussion we persuaded the rest of our party to carry on and enjoy the evening, accordingly they went upstairs to claim their table, whilst we made our way back home with our wine and our dinner.

Except that when the rest of our party got upstairs they found that their table wasn't actually there. Despite two previous vists to the club; once to put the dinner order in and once to pay for the evening, as well as a phone call from the club to my sister-in-law to confirm the booking; on the night there was no record of their order. My brother, by now angry as well as Amazed, confronted the catering manager, Mr Robinson, and demanded an explanation as to why no-one had contacted us to tell us the lift had broken down, and how had they managed to lose all trace of our party's food order not to mention the table booking? Mr Robinson claimed not to have a contact phone number to ring, forgetting, perhaps, that he himself had phoned my sister-in-law earlier in the week to confirm our booking and to confirm that he was aware that a wheelchair user was included in the party and that a space would be left on our table to accommodate. He couldn't explain how the dinner order and table booking had gone missing.

To cut a long story short the evening was by now irredeemably spoilt. A refund was demanded and given and everyone left. We never did see Abba's Angels and the club missed out on £300-worth of ticket money plus another £100 (at least!) that would have gone behind the bar. More to the point, the attitude and evasions of the catering manager has ensured that none of us will return for a function at the club, at least while that particular gentleman is still in his post.

In the great scheme of things no harm was done. No-one died or was injured and all we lost was an hour of our time. But the whole episode is symptomatic of the decline of our club. The poor bloody staff doing their best to provide a service led by an incompetent management who couldn't care less. Only at Yeovil Town FC could such a culture thrive. Change at the top to get rid of the dead wood is so badly needed that it's not even funny, not anymore. Is there no-one out there who can save us?