By Paul Marshall
Let’s be positive!
Unfortunately, what’s happened at the club over the last two years has happened and in hindsight we should have all seen what was coming after the playoff final loss to Millwall. The writing, looking back, was very clearly on the wall – in huge capitals and bright flashing lights.
As much as a shock it was to hear about the news that David Hopkin had resigned, it didn’t feel like the punch in the stomach that you got when you heard that Phil Parkinson or Stuart McCall had left the club. It almost felt like a relief.
Obviously, three very different scenarios – and also in a very different places, both club-wise and league position wise. Yet the belief that we could escape almost certain relegation this season was somehow placed on the back burner when I heard the news.
The thought, especially after Saturday’s result, that we would just carry on chucking the towel in at every possible opportunity was absolutely gut wrenching. That’s not the City way. We’ve been used to players busting a gut for the manager, running through brick walls for the fans. Yet this group of players, recently, have shown nothing to prove they deserve to wear the shirt – or provide us with the belief they can survive the drop.
The togetherness, fight and performances that the players showed in December was abruptly ended with a bang against Barnsley and Southend, and from then on they’ve looked a totally different group of players. The ‘fantastic run’ that Hopkin said we’d been on since the beginning of January was halted by an underwhelming performance against Fleetwood, and then again on Saturday against a team who hadn’t won in five and played the majority of the game without their leading scorer after being sent off in the sixth minute.
There’s never a good time for the manager to leave, especially when you’re second to bottom and with a month coming up that would frighten any relegation threaten manager to think about their future and to consider whether to jump ship. Crowd unrest was beginning to get bigger by the game and Hopkin had already commented on the boos starting to ring out, especially around Valley Parade. I think he saw the writing on the wall, if not now but almost certainly in the summer.
So, despite this, how can there be any positives to come out of this decision?
Mathematically, it’s still possible to stay up. Maybe Hopkin has thrown us a lifeline with enough games left to keep us in League One?
During December, the players showed a desire to play football and get results. Individually we have some very talented players. Jack Payne is a very good footballer, who has shown glimpses of quality that fans have raved about; but this has led to him being nullified by the opposition and not been able to showcase the qualities that he has. Lewis O’Brien has been our stand out player so far, yet recently, mainly due to him being moved out to the left side and by the ball bypassing midfield, he has been on the fringes of games without dictating like he had been.
Similar could be said about David Ball, who during December and January looked an extremely good player, linking up with Paul Caddis very well. Caddis has shown his experience and quality in a very flaky back four.
Jacob Butterfield, despite not playing much this season, looks to have the quality to link up with O’Brien. Offensively he looks good, and seems to have a desire to do well at the club he supported as a boy. George Miller obviously has something to play for. And we all know what Billy Clarke can bring to the squad.
The defeatist tactics used in the Barnsley game to me was a signal that having a Plan B was to go against everything that had worked so well in previous games, including the narrow defeat away at Sunderland. By bringing Caddis into midfield and including Paudie O’Connor for 45 minutes, to effectively play with six defenders was nothing short of suicidal.
The negativity continued, and seemed like it was something that our performances couldn’t shake off. Whether it was an instruction from Hopkin to use the long ball or not we started to bypass midfield and miss out our most creative players. The frustration on the pitch was matched in the crowd, and unfortunately it was Richard O’Donnell who got the brunt of it.
By continuing with this style of play, especially without a target man, was our direct route to League Two. It’s obviously not an easy fix, but bringing in someone with different ideas, tactics and a way of playing will be a boost to the team. The players looked frustrated by tactics, they appeared to be playing with shackles on and unable to express themselves – primarily as they didn’t have the ball, but also due to lack of movement, support and belief in a system that had previously worked.
Unfortunately the players weren’t responding positively on the pitch to the manager, and results showed that. On evidence of recent results, we would have gone down and gone down without a fight, which would have been tragic to see.
The job now is to find a way of getting us to start performing again and getting results. The simplistic view is to get our creative players involved far more, stop the long ball – as we have enough ball players within the team – and tighten up at the back again. We have enough within the squad to get the results and go on a run like we did in December.
I think as fans we always see the worst in any situation connected to your club, yet from the outside the club is a very attractive prospect given the size of the ground, the crowds, the facilities and the history of recent years.
I know this seems ridiculous to read after the horrendous last two years under farcical dictatorship and the looming deficit, but the manager’s job is a very attractive one when you factor in all of the above and the squad at their disposal. I still believe that an out of work or manager would jump at the chance of being able to turn this around.
Glass half full again? You bet.