By Mark Davis
It’s not as lonely as you’d think up here behind the picket fence. Many have gathered on this unrealistic grassy knoll and, if I didn’t know better, I’d say they were willing me to shoot. Aim low and true, back and to the left…
I can’t speak for the others who find themselves here, but I can say why I ended up looking through a crosshair as a motorcade moves slowly from the safety of Euston onto Elm and then approaches me along a devastating Dealey Plaza.
He is good. He is really, really good. He’s tearing us apart. I’m sat at the top of the Main Stand at Valley Parade in awestruck silence. It’s a cold late December afternoon and Rochdale are playing some of the best football I’ve seen in League Two. Four brilliant goals in 40 odd first-half minutes have arrived thanks to a fluidity of movement and speed with the ball that I’m no longer used to seeing in the hoofball league. Most away sides come here with five across the middle and hope to frustrate us. Not this Rochdale side.
They are hugely impressive this afternoon and there is one man at the centre of almost everything they are doing. He’s commanding the middle of the park and springing up everywhere. His touch is great, but his awareness and precision of pass is destroying us. Who on earth is their number 7? He’s just what we need.
Who is he? Jason Kennedy.
I am thrilled when he signs for us several months later. My mind recalls that late December afternoon and I can’t wait to see him play alongside the combative leadership of Gary Jones; to see him read the game as well as Nathan Doyle. He’s probably Championship quality, so he’s going to be just the improvement we need to compete in League One. Exciting times.
Who is he? Because that is not Jason Kennedy.
It’s now a cold afternoon in January. I’m stood looking on in disbelief at a first half display from a City side I do not recognise. The faces are familiar, but that’s it. Bramall Lane sees over 3,000 of us in attendance; testimony to the belief bestowed in us by the on-field and off-field events of 2013; testimony to our joy at being a league higher for the first time in over a decade; testimony to the faith the vast majority of us have in what Phil Parkinson is building at our club. The new culture of positivity he’s created is breath-taking when set against those suffocating days in League Two.
But this first half is genuinely shocking and we are playing some of the worst football I’ve seen for a long time. We have no shape, no structure, players are chasing the same ball, or losing the same player, leaving so much space in the middle of the park it’s frightening.
Seeing Gary Jones look around him at team-mates hiding on the pitch, misplacing easy passes and shirking tackles (that’s you Mark Yeates) is just heart-breaking. New signing Aaron McLean turns away and shakes his head, as Yeates decides against challenging for a 50/50 ball out wide and the Blades break on us yet again. We’re already 2-0 down and by the end of this we could be onto a real hiding that will de-moralise us even further.
As I reflect on that first half, although he is by no means the only one under-performing, there is one man at the centre of almost everything we are doing wrong. He’s all over the place, but not in a good way, either tracking the wrong man or giving up tracking the right man. His touch has deserted him, only dimly aware of what he’s meant to be doing. At one point he seems to jockey an opponent, only to unfathomably step aside and allow the Blades man to charge past him.
His indecision is destroying us, none more so than when he makes no attempt to clear the ball from our goal-line as the Blades score a second. He’s simply in the way as McLaughlin tries to get a hand to it. He should have attacked the ball positively so that our ‘keeper isn’t needed. It’s his post, after all, and schoolkids know you always take charge if it’s your post.
Who is he? Despite myself, it is Jason Kennedy.
So, this is how I find myself stood on the grassy knoll. There are plenty of others gathered here. It hurts to be stood here and I can’t conceive of us actually going through with it… assassinating Kennedy is never, ever justified. Surely? But as I stand here, I can’t shake the thought that – for all the talk of Davies and Wells over the last 15 odd games of decline – it’s undoubtedly our midfield that has struggled.
Our midfield is too easy to play against. Attack us with any pace through the middle and we’ll crumble; if we do win it back, we’ll bypass that same midfield with a high-ball to Hanson, or a wide-ball for someone (anyone) to chase.
Right across the middle everyone is seemingly undroppable, but for the wrong reasons. Who’s going to replace them? I don’t believe that Parkinson can’t see this too. He knew this was going to be a problem and he addressed it. He signed proven quality in Yeates, De Vita, and Kennedy. And they are badly letting him down. And that hurts too.
He was meant to be a big solution to this – the brilliant Jason Kennedy from Rochdale. His guile, tenacity and precise football intended to complement Jones and Doyle. Yet not since the dark days of Darren Morgan have I seen a midfielder wander around in the City shirt allowing games to pass them by so inexplicably.
The motorcade is right in front of me now, and it seems there’s plenty of people stood around me who think it’s time to fire the metaphorical bullet and call time on his controversial term in office.
I’m holding fire, hoping that a glowing performance will come forward, remind us of why he was elected, and we can pack up the countless rifles that have seemingly gathered here and simply walk away.
I don’t want to go through with it, but it is now time to talk me down…
It’s up to you.