January 06, 2012

Victoria Park View

CHIP FIREBALL looks at the current situation


Well it's all happening again isn't it? There's certainly very rarely a dull month in the life of your average Pools fan. Since I last wrote we have lost a First Team Coach/Caretaker manager in Mick Wadsworth, appointed another Caretaker in Mickey Barron, and then re-appointed Neale Cooper as manager.

We have broken probably every negative club record for consecutive home games (most without a win, most without a goal, most without a shot on target, most where fans have fallen asleep in the second half, most games in a row where the crowd have been too bored to even boo properly etc, etc) and turned a record breaking start to the season into what promises to be another relegation battle.

Indeed every home game seems to be a carbon copy of the last one, a shit footballing equivalent of Groundhog Day, where we start off okay, the opposition suss we are shit, carve out a few openings, score after about half an hour, then sit back and relax safe in the knowledge that the game as a contest is over.

It was actually pleasantly surprising when Scunthorpe went 2-0 up because at least it proved it actually wasn't the same game on endless repeat, but it still felt like being locked in a room for 6 weeks in which there is only one thing, a television, permanently tuned into More 4 showing never ending repeats of Friends. In many respects Scunny’s second goal was the footballing equivalent of Chandler popping his cock out and taking a slash in the living room. Basically, it proved I was still alive and hadn't died and gone to aimless longball Heaven."Indeed every home game seems to be a carbon copy of the last one, a shit footballing equivalent of Groundhog Day"

I say heaven, it would probably be more like Purgatory, or Limbo, or whatever it's called. You know the place where people not good enough to get into heaven, but not bad enough to go to Hell (people like my now dead Aunty Maureen for example who made really great butterfly cakes, but cheated on my Uncle Tommy for 10 years with the man next door) go to wait for an eternity while their fate is decided. While there they are forced to watch a 15 second clip on You Tube of Peter Hartley punting the ball forward 70 yards, while under no pressure whatsoever, and out for a goal kick over, and over, and over again, every single day except Sunday, when it is replaced by another 15 second clip of Evan Horwood chipping a corner straight into the arms of the barely arsed opposition keeper.

I dunno, maybe on Christmas Day, they get an extended clip, possibly Sam Collins forlornly chasing someone with a bit of pace, Anthony Sweeney just generally staring into space while football is played around him, or Nathan Luscombe eating a very, very, big Christmas Dinner.

In short, the home games are still a nightmare, and since Wadsworth went, the away games are too, which seems to be about the only change brought about by his sacking.

Why Hodcroft decided to call time on Wadsworth’s reign remains a mystery. For once I found myself in agreement with the Sunday Sun, who pointed out that at the time of his departure, Pools were only separated from the team in 11th place by goal difference of the smallest proportion, which was actually pretty decent going given how little had been spent on a team described a season before as relegation fodder.

The simple truth is that had you swapped the home form and the away form around, most people would have been really happy with 26 points from 19 games, a far from shabby return, and we were certainly a lot nearer the top 6 than the bottom 4.

As it stands, the poor home form, falling attendances, and the cup exits, were cited as reasons for the sacking. It’s hard to argue with the bare facts, but in Wadsworth’s defence a few things should be pointed out:

1) Attendances were always going to drop away once the novelty wore off for the first time buyers and the cold weather set in.
2) The manager really wasn't helped by a series of injuries and a lack of fitness in his squad, especially among his strikers. Nish may have been much maligned by sections of the crowd, but the simple truth is that we were nearly 3 times more likely to score when he played than when he did not.
3) The cup exits, while naturally upsetting, can't all be blamed on bad management. We were unlucky to draw the toughest opponents possible in the League Cup and gave them a real game. We got a crappy draw, Scunny away, in the JP trophy, and Flinders gets sent off and gives away a penalty in the FA Cup meaning we played almost the entire game with ten men, and a goal to the deficit.

I wasn't Wadsworth's biggest fan, but he was certainly doing a reasonable job, and given the playing budget was doing as well as could be expected with the players at his disposal. I certainly didn't think he would have got us relegated, and he did sign some decent players, some of whom, i.e. Poole and Baldwin, could be huge players for the club further down the line.

At the time of writing we have played 5 games since Wadsworth left, losing 4 of them. Having seen all but one of those games I have to say the team if anything looks to have gone backwards for the sacking.

It is of course far too early to write off Cooper, but the bottom line, in my opinion, is that the problem lies with the players more than with the manager, and unless money is spent, and a bit of quality brought in, even if only on loan, the new manager will have exactly the same issues that the previous one had.

We still don't have anyone who looks remotely like scoring goals from open play regularly, and without Nish, we don’t really even have anyone who has the basic ability to hold the ball up. We are woefully lacking in creative talent in midfield. Murray has started to look his age, Humps should have been retired last season, Liddle looks like a man who wanted to leave in May, and Sweeney has been spectating for most of the season. None of them gives us any real attacking threat, they all look like they are playing in slow motion, and none of them could be remotely described as a playmaker.

So bereft are we of attacking ideas, that when Gareth Ainsworth came up here the other month, despite being at least 56, he looked like Lionel Messi. "Jesus Christ” shouted the bloke who sits behind us, "is the long haired fella trying to play football out there?"

Indeed he was, and doing it a darn sight better than our own ex-Premier League star, Norberto Solano has been doing. Talking of which, I've no idea whether it was Wadsworth’s decision or IOR's to sign Solano, but Lordy, what a waste of money. I heard he was signed to boost season ticket sales, and there is no doubting he did that, but given he turned down a contract extension at Hull City to come here, he must be on decent money. As of course, must the likes of Sir Ritchie, and Adam Boyd, players who really should have been culled in May to free up cash to bring people in. I heard Wadsworth wanted rid of at least one of those players, but was over ruled by the Chairman. I've no idea how much truth there is in that rumour, but it wouldn't be the first time IOR had given a contract to a player the manager didn’t want.

Ultimately though IOR pay the bills, and IOR get to hire and fire. Some of the decisions made this last 6 months (the season ticket deal, the Solano signing, the return of Cooper) look to have been made on the basis of pleasing the headline writers of the local newspaper sports desks, rather than necessarily being in the best interests of the club, but only time will tell whether bringing back one of the most popular managers in the clubs history, but who has done very little since leaving first time around will prove a masterstroke.

Cooper is certainly one of my all time Poolie heroes, and while part of me is excited he took over, and relieved it wasn't David Penney, I'm also very aware of just how lacking in depth and quality the squad is, and just how hard it will be just to match what Wadsworth was getting out of them, never mind bettering it.

The key for me will be how much or how little activity the club involves itself in during the transfer window. We need at least two more good players desperately.