No Masking The Real Problems

BournemouthWhat follows is mostly an exercise in polishing the excrement that has become our season.

Since getting home from Bournemouth last night I’ve read some quite staggering perspectives on defeat on the south coast and thought I’d bust out a blog with my thoughts.

Yesterday wasn’t about Notts “losing the players” as I’ve read. If anything, yesterday was as a squad amongst their best team effort in recent months. But when you play a side as rich (in talent and finances) when you’re as poorly lacking in the vital areas, there will only be one outcome. We’ve long known we’ve got the square root of naff all in terms of viable options up front. Enoch Showunmi’s efforts cannot be faulted but is desperately lacking confidence in front of goal. It’s pleasing to see at least that supporters have started to acknowledge his efforts, but no one will fool themselves that Big E will be the answer next season. He will likely find his way down the pecking order as our battering ram to call upon from the bench – assuming he can impose himself on opponents a fair bit more.

On a related note, the number 9 debacle that (in my opinion) set our season’s failures in motion is not Enoch Showunmi’s fault, more people need to accept that.

Yoann Arquin meanwhile is happily coasting through until the end of the season when we can tell him where to go. He and Lee Hughes at one point this year were scoring freely for us in tandem, it’s once Hughesy left that the pressure has got to Yoann, but there’s no excuse for his lack of effort which has now become commonplace each week.

If we had someone who could kill games off we’d be in a play-off position, it’s that simple. This over the course of the season has become Keith Curle’s real legacy – not the fantastic unbeaten away record (which since surrendering, we’ve won one game in nine away). His failure in replacing a player like Hughes only gets more staggering with each passing week. It’s not so much about getting over Hughesy leaving, it’s seeing him score a hat-trick in 40 minutes and wondering what kind of spark he’d have still brought to the club and it’s almost comatose supporters each week.

Drawing more games in the division has been our undoing. We sit ten points outside the play-offs whilst in the midst of the most hellatious of run-ins. If we’re as bad as people are making out we’d have been buried lately based on the league placements of recent opponents. Yesterday’s victors, second-placed Bournemouth have a great shout at promotion with a five point gap over the side in third (games in hand might yet have a say in matters). Our Easter opponents, Yeovil and Brentford occupy third and fourth in the table respectively – It’s not like we’ve had it easy in terms of fixtures lately, and we still have a trip to table-topping Doncaster Rovers to follow. Great.

Bournemouth yesterday however wasn’t your routine Notts capitulation though. Notts started brightly, but you only need look at the players in the Bournemouth ranks to know things wouldn’t end well. You’d have been ambitious to predict Notts getting anything from the game before kick-off. Players like Marc Pugh, Matt Tubbs, Bret Pitman and (sigh) Matt Ritchie amongst many others all ooze real match-winning quality and when they’re playing a side with an addiction to not finishing games off then there will only be one outcome.

Make no mistake, Bournemouth were the better side in the first half, but this was a period thoroughly spoiled by a match official intent on making the game about him. The whistle happy official got involved in the game far more than he should have – then when Notts needed him (a handball leading to Pitman’s goal) he went missing. Notts skipper Neal Bishop protested with the official and was booked for his troubles – I’ve seen him protest throw-ins with more vigour and seen no action taken. And by now most have seen the second of Andre Boucaud’s yellow cards. Speaking briefly with him after the match, he was at a loss for words, but he was still quite clearly (and rightly) incensed. We should feel aggrieved, but it’s not the reason we lost.

To Notts’ credit though, and as is the sweet irony of football, it was with ten men that we played with more cohesion. The patient build-up from the back persisted, but to decent effect which is a rarity. But as noted, the final third is where it comes to nothing. You can have all the possession in the world but if your options up front are as limited as ours, then you either pass it backwards, or pump it further up-field and lose possession. Catch 22 in it’s purest sense particularly against opponents as strong as these.

There wasn’t a player on the field who I particularly felt had a bad game yesterday. It’s been a while since I could say that. Jamal Campbell-Ryce put in his best shift in a long time, Jeff Hughes’ goal capped off what was him at his solid best, Alan Sheehan also far more happy to be getting forward than he has recently. Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe has even sung Notts’ praises post-match in how hard we made it for them to play – Bournemouth did not have it easy no matter what you may have heard or read.

Ritchie’s second, and Bournemouth’s third with five minutes to go was just as cruel as it was inevitable.

We have some genuine problems at Notts County currently. We have supporters who don’t want to show up with little to no faith in the board. We have a squad of players disillusioned seemingly with all manner of issues off (and likely on) the field. And we have a board who are likely close to breaking point through the abuse they’ve taken for the mistakes they’ve made in recent times.

Last week the board and manager safely navigated a hastily-arranged fan’s forum. Chris Kiwomya came out fighting, not holding back in highlighting the faults of his players, the same faults that supporters have been highlighting all season long. In a sick twist of fate, there was even praise floating around for Chief Exec Jim Rodwell – such heresy! It could’ve gone worse I guess. But fast forward to the weekend and Hughes’ hat-trick for Port Vale, coupled with Martin Allen clinching promotion with his Gillingham side, and defeat at Bournemouth and we’re mired in misery once more.

People see next year as being one of struggle – but I would ask why? I don’t particularly disagree, just not sure it’s possible to judge right now. At best I can imagine three or four at most of yesterday’s starting XI being present once it’s been announced who is being offered a new deal and sold on (in light of the news we’re apparently losing £250k a month, this is very likely). We already know we’ll see an injection in the first team from the club’s youth ranks. Greg Tempest continues to improve when called upon, Romello Nangle has looked lively in brief cameos, Haydn Hollis has hardly been calamitous, merely a player merely lacking confidence, and Curtis Thompson should consider himself unfortunate to not have had a sniff at more first team action since the Preston North End game.

We know the budget won’t be as competitive as it was this year, sadly. But a low budget by no means we can’t do well next year. It’s been said enough already, but you only need look at Yeovil Town in third and almost guaranteed a play-off berth already. If you wanted to degrade yourself further, Tranmere Rovers’ budget is said to be amongst the lowest in the division, and for much of the season they were fighting for the title. All semi-rivarlies between supporters aside – their season deserves better than the disappointment it would appear to be heading towards.

The real wildcard next season will be Chris Kiwomya. I’m firmly of the belief that his current side is one mostly bereft of the positivity needed to carry out what any manager desires. There is negativity prevalent in the side long ingrained in the team before he was able to take charge, this has only been magnified by the players anger at the loss of Keith Curle as manager some months ago. If Kiwomya is swimming against the tide with his squad this much, then to touch on an earlier point, it’s not as if anyone has hammered us in recent weeks.

There it is – that’s as positive as I can currently get to explaining the recent form.

I’m as optimistic as it comes, but even I don’t see us having enough in the tank to win another game this season. If we do, it’s likely to be via some kind of dead ball situation. I don’t mean that as a criticism, I’m just being realistic. Our problems finishing games are off are here until the end of the season, we need to batten down the hatches and just hold on now. Been saying it for weeks, but no combination of Can’t Jump/Won’t Jump is going to be enough now this year.

Kiwomya’s hands are tied as far as this season goes, and yes his appointment is strange (or as is unspoken, a cost effective one), but judge the man next season when he’s had a budget at his disposal, a pre-season schedule to prepare, and a run of games in the league. Yet still there’s no getting away from the size of the gamble. This could easily be another wasted Summer, another wasted budget. But it’s unfair to criticise too much until we know for certain.

As if the faux-depression of Lee Hughes and Martin Allen’s actions this weekend aren’t enough, I’m just finishing this write up off whilst watching the Johnstones Paint Trophy. Crewe have just taken the lead. How long ago now does the opening day at Gresty Road feel when we thought this could actually be our year?

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