Because of some extensive travel across southern Africa it’s been a couple of weeks since my last posing and if I’m honest I sat down with the best intention of doing a proper catch-up. I wanted to do a game-by-game report delving in to the whys and the wherefores.
But then as I sat down to write I realised that the story for the Oxford, Wimbledon, Northampton and Carlisle games was all remarkably similar: We gave it a go and we came up short. We started strongly, but conceded weakly and that I’m afraid is something of an epitaph for the season.
Following the Carlisle game at the weekend I took some time to try and understand why this has been the case this year. I still don’t buy in to the whole “sack Yates” school of thought, regardless of the momentum that appears to be gaining at the moment. If you look at the decisions he’s made with players and strategy on a budget that whilst not small, was largely spent before he arrived I think he’s done ok. I would venture that the calls he’s got right far outweigh the errors he’s made and I doubt that any of us in his position could go through a whole season without error.
Sadly though I think that the few errors he’s made have cost us dearly. I accept that we’ve conceded some weak goals this season and Saturday against Carlisle was a case in point, but I see the defensive weakness stemming from the lack of protection from the midfield. Lack of pace, bad first touch and simple naivety have left those behind horribly exposed and on more than one occasion overrun. The recent brief recovery of Lanre and the addition of Dunne have proved positive steps, but with a midfield so lacking in mobility and positional sense they were always on a hiding to nothing.
Going forwards the faith placed in Matt Harold has proven to be one of the few major high points of the season. He’s grown in stature and raised his popularity to that of a genuine player and not simply the goalkeeper of MK Dons folklore. But, he’s had little or no help all season. Once Rhys Murphy left (again through no fault of the manager, but the soap opera behind the scenes) Matt was left looking at a very shallow pool of talent for a partner. Barnard sadly has stolen another season out of a club on the basis that he used to be a good footballer. This is one of the errors Mark Yates has made. I don’t blame him, the CV was good enough, but sadly the player we got was well past his best in terms of both ability and attitude. I’d be surprised to see him find another football league contract based on what we’ve seen this year. The other strikers in Deacon and Shamir (I refuse point blank to put Gavin Tomlin in the bracket, but more on him in a minute) were only ever intended to be back-up players I’m sure. Our expectation on them to step up to become the next Rhys Murphy was simply unrealistic.
And now to the biggest problem of the season for me and the one error that Mark Yates may well look back on as his most costly: Creative midfield. Quite simply we don’t have one. Jimmy Smith has been a different player this season, but he’s not the man we’re looking for in this role. He’s become a very good player this season doing all the thankless, scrappy midfield work that nobody ever wants to do. He’s done it well, but he’s not the guy with the creative edge that we needed. The key error here was that Mark thought Luke Rooney could do this for him.
I’m convinced that Mark Yates brought Rooney in based on their previous working relationship, not his recent performances. It was clear to some of us that this was a gamble based on his fragility of temperament and sadly this proved to be one gamble that didn’t pay off. What we’ve needed all season is a Lee Fowler. Maybe not the man himself (although many of us would like to have seen it) but someone very similar. The sort of player that can link the play together and turn a game on its head.
What we’ve missed is creativity. I get that we needed stability and that retaining our Football League stats was always our priority, but without creativity in the midfield we’re always going to struggle to progress further. Sadly, without creativity we’ll also struggle to get people through the gates. The season ticket prices (more in my next post on this) are in my opinion good. Less than £10 a game to watch from the terrace is great value for money if you’re being entertained. But if you’re not being entertained and simply treated to what we’ve had to endure this season, £10 suddenly seems like a little too much.
And finally, Gavin Tomlin: He’s been the subject of derision for a while now. Some it justified and some not. No player ever put his own price tag on his head. John Gregory paid the money, Gavin Tomlin didn’t price himself in to the market so it’s unfair to judge the contribution of a player on the basis of a valuation he’s had nothing to do with. I also don’t buy the acrimony aimed at him because of his wages. Very few of us would ever get a job that’s paying so much money we would turn round and go “no, that’s too much, pay me less”. Again, John Gregory did the deal with the assistance of our previous owner and board. We can’t direct our frustration and poor investment at Gavin.
What we can place at the feet of Gavin Tomlin (and let’s face it, if it’s not placed at his feet he’ll never get it) is the appalling attitude and lack of work rate. Fan’s don’t usually turn on a player for no reason. They may not give them long to prove themselves, but a friendly demeanour and enthusiasm to please is a great tool to have in your armoury. Sadly Gavin doesn’t have these so he was left dependent on his performances. And this is where it all started to go wrong. Perhaps he believed a little too much of the Gregory hype. Perhaps he really did think he was too good for Crawley. But you know what? He signed for Crawley. Nobody else wanted him and we took him in. If you’re here, you’re here for a reason. If you’re really as good as you say or think you are, you probably wouldn’t be here Gavin…!
On Saturday in the first half against Carlisle I had to ask my eldest who this new Gavin Tomlin was and where he’d been for the last couple of years. He was lively, skilful and direct. All the things he hasn’t been since he arrived and all the things we’ve been crying out for in midfield all season. His departure at half time for the first time ever was greeted with sadness by the fans. Usually Gavin Tomlin being substituted is greeted with applause. But this time the sadness for me was tinged with regret and what might have been. If you’re good, you don’t just lose that talent. What you lack is the mentality or ability to utilise it. Gavin showed in 45 minutes against Carlisle that he still has the ability to utilise it, which leaves me to the sad conclusion that the lack of visibility of that talent is down to mentality.
Sadly, Saturday’s performance was too little too late. It will go down in our minds as a cameo appearance from someone we’ll not see in a Crawley shirt again after Barnet at home on the 7th.