Date: 5th February 2020 at 9:33pm
Written by:

Here is a blog piece by long time fan Mike Holland. Have a read and as always, comment, share and get the discussion flowing.

Madness in his Method

It was always a long shot but three defeats in the last week have made it inevitable that the mighty Saddlers will not be pushing for the play offs this season. We will travel in numbers again to Forest Green but we will not travel in hope or expectation. For the third season in succession our form has deserted us just as we enter Early Bird territory; Mr Pomlett’s hopes of attracting average gates of 5000 home fans will not be met for the 2020 – 2021 season unless we take the Bradford City approach to selling season tickets.

There have been some huge positives since this time last year. We have a chairman who has a very clear plan and who will engage with the fan base; the away following has been simply phenomenal given the type of football we have been playing (often aimless and always inconsistent); despite only winning 4 times at home the home support has been predominantly positive; and I really think that not diving into the market for a panic loan deal or permanent signing in the January window is a sign of strength – although it also tells us that we struggle to compete for signings with a lot of other clubs. Our under 18 section appears to be thriving again. We also have pop-up bars!

On the pitch it feels that very little has moved on from last season except that we are in a lower division. I am not advocating that we change our manager yet again – we need some stability after three years of turmoil since Smith jumped ship; and anyhow, the Chairman has made it clear that he’s backing the manager. I think he may be reassessing that if we’ve made no tangible progress by the end of this calendar year in what is a really poor division – Mr Pomlett is no fool and he will be as frustrated as we are with the patent lack of method in the approach of Darrell Clarke.

Team selection continues to baffle most of us. It’s taken 5 months of the season for the manager to realise that Lavery and Gordon are his best 2 up front. Sadly, that’s where our attacking threat ends as Gaffney and Adebayo just aren’t good enough (to the point where we are better off playing with a lone striker when Lavery and Gordon are unavailable). Hardy can feel hard done to – he’s one of the few players who has not been given a decent run of games to impress and he should have been sent out on loan for the rest of the season. The same can be said of Jules and Kory Roberts. If Kory isn’t fit then he shouldn’t be in the squad and he should be getting game time elsewhere; two years ago he looked like he’d be a fantastic player but then injury intervened – let’s give him some game time. Given the shambolic defending recently – it’s often either feast or famine – he deserves a run of games.

Culturally I have concerns about a number of areas. We have no leadership on the pitch. We were excellent against Crewe in the first half on Saturday, but when we needed someone to take the game by the scruff of the neck after going behind we were found woefully lacking. Alfie Bates has potential as a leader – to see him screaming at Liam Roberts when he wasn’t given a ball quickly enough a few games ago reminded me of a young Scott Dann doing the same to a much older Ian Roper. Bates needs to be in and around the squad every week.

That penalty against Morecambe is a real worry for me. In a well drilled and disciplined team things like that simply do not happen – everyone knows their role. Similarly zonal marking does my head in – it allows players to abdicate responsibility for picking up a man. For us it also means that we have no-one on the half way line – even when we are behind. I cannot find any evidence that says zonal marking is more effective than man to man marking or that clearing the ball from a corner to allow its instant return is better than keeping
someone on the half way line. Even as a statement of attacking intent we should be doing that.

Clarke also talks constantly about each game being a different project and that’s why his selections differ (wildly) from game to game. What this says to me is that we always pay too much attention to the opposition than to our own style of play – it’s too reactive and again is not a positive sign of intent. Finally on this (although it’s a feeling and I would like to see the statistical evidence to back it up) we are picking up so many medium term injuries that there must be issues with our fitness and conditioning. Is this why we don’t tell the press about our injured players?

I last wrote an article like this two years ago when things were looking dire under the manager before last; since then I have had to face the bitter disappointment of being rejected by Liam Keen for a place in the Saddlers’ Social team in the E&S! it would be great to write after a promotion season but I will settle for writing about a club where I can see coherence at all levels. UTS!