November 04, 2011

Victoria Park View

CHIP FIREBALL looks at how thing are going


It's been a long time since I read the book, so I can't remember for the life of me whether Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde had a happy ending. If forced to hazard a guess I would say probably not. Which may be a forebear for the remainder of the season for Hartlepool United.

A season that began with records being broken, and fans chanting "We are unbeatable, we are unbeatable" has seen within the space of a month those chants turn to "Wadsworth, Wadsworth, sort it out !"

At the beginning of October, Pools fans were up in arms that MW had been overlooked for Manager of the Month, by the end of October some had started suggesting on the message boards it was time that he was replaced, such has been the massive turn around in results and performances. The manager’s worst nightmare is of course the slump, the run of consecutive defeats that can set alarm bells ringing, or be the final nail in the coffin." last season’s relative success, especially against the stronger teams, was largely down to exceptional workrate and a refusal to allow the opposition time to settle on the ball, or find any kind of rhythm"

At the time of writing, Pools have played 15 league games, winning 6, drawing 4 and losing 5, which is a decent first third of the season. Indeed had those wins and losses been evenly interspersed I doubt anyone would be having a go at the manager. Unfortunately for Wadsworth they haven't, and to make matters worse only 2 of the wins have come at home, or in the televised away game, which are the games that the majority of the season ticket holders will have seen.

Fans are notoriously fickle, and many have very short term memories. Many of those baying for blood on the message boards will care not a jot for our excellent away record, they will simply bang on about 4 home defeats in a row, where we have conceded a boatload, and scored just the one, solitary, debateable, penalty.

And of course fans are justified in slating the performances against Charlton, Tranmere, and Wycombe because they were indeed abysmal. Nobody wants to see their side capitulate in such pathetic fashion. At the same time many fans in the ground and on the message boards do seem to see things as either being black or white. The manager is great or he should be sacked, an individual player is either hopeless and should be sent packing, or he is Championship material. Some of them seem incapable of comprehending that managers and players are human, and therefore vulnerable to the same failings as the rest of us. None of us are perfect, we all make mistakes, and all have our good days and our bad days. Yet for some so called fans, when it comes to Third Division footballers, common sense seems to go out of the window.

As a result we now seem to have a whole plethora of message board pundits who have to lump players and managers into certain categories, often on the flimsiest of evidence, at the earliest opportunity, and once they have labelled these players and pigeonholed them, they will hardly ever change their minds.

Thus after 2 games we get those who have decided Nish is shyte and can't head a ball, Luscombe is class and should be starting every game, Horwood can’t defend and has no positional sense etc, etc. There is no need for common sense in the world these fans inhabit, merely a need to be vindicated, and an over-riding belief that anyone who sees things differently is obviously wrong.

Remarkably, at two games already this season I have seen Pools fans squared up to one another and ready to trade blows over a difference of opinion on a footballer. Footballers who have normally come to us as untested youngsters released by bigger clubs, or as journeymen lower league players. You may get the odd player like Solano or Sweeney who have come via a different route, but most are here on free transfers because they were not able to perform consistently at the clubs who released them. Players who can have a few good games, followed by a few bad games, indeed it is very rare at Pools to see a player play to his best consistently for 30 or 40 games in a row.

Generally what most decent fans ask is that players give of their best, put the effort in, and do as much as they can to be competitive, and only really gripe when they believe players are not doing that. They can also see that certain players may be playing with an injury or are up against better opponents and cut them some slack. When a bad run comes, as it will as sure as night follows day, though maybe not to the extremes seen this season, they look for a rational explanation, rather than for a scapegoat.

As one of those level headed rational fans, I look for explanations for the dip in form and results. One possible explanation is the injuries that have affected influential players like Solano and Sweeney. Another is that the players began believing the media hype during their brief time in the spotlight towards the end of the unbeaten run, and became complacent. Another possible explanation is simply that several key players have all suffered a dip in form at precisely the same time: a coincidence of costly proportions. Another could be the manager's constant tinkering with the team and the formation. And of course, most plausibly, a combination of all those things.

What I have noticed is that last season’s relative success, especially against the stronger teams, was largely down to exceptional workrate and a refusal to allow the opposition time to settle on the ball, or find any kind of rhythm. Lads who weren’t exceptionally gifted, like Sweeney, Larkin, McSweeney, Gary Liddle, Paul Murray, and Steve Haslam would run their proverbial balls off and make things as difficult for opponents as possible in every area of the pitch.

In the last few games that simply hasn't happened, and teams have had all the time in the world to play football against us. Charlton for instance had ample time and space (even in our own penalty box) to string passes together and go through the gears at will, without anybody in a blue and white shirt unduly harassing them. 6 months ago this simply would not have happened. I accept that Wadsworth has decided to replace his workhorse players with ones he considers better footballers, but those players need to realise in order to play football you need possession and to get that sometimes you have to roll up your sleeves and fight for it, right through the team. Your forwards have to set an example and defend from the front, and ours, Nish and Boyd in particular, do not seem prepared to want to do this.

In some ways it’s a shame that the likes of Sweeney, Larkin, and even James Brown (Huddersfield away springs to mind), are not fully fit at present because these players, as we saw last season, will at least run their blood to water, and right now I suspect that is what it may take to turn things around.