April 06, 2012

Victoria Park View

CHIP FIREBALL looks back on the season


And so another season draws to a conclusion, on a run of poor form, lacklustre performances, and dwindling attendances. Its hard to believe as I sit here typing on Aprils Fools Day, that at times this season we have been on the fringes of the play off race. I think that probably says more about the general lack of decent sides outside the top 5, than it does about our own performances.

The season fortunately got off to a record breaking start. Then 6 weeks after winning all our league games in September, IOR decided to sack the manager. The reasons given were poor results, a lack of entertainment and dwindling crowds at home. For the record we managed 26 points from 19 games under Wadsworth at a rate of 1.36 points per game.

Since Wadsworth left we have picked up 24 points from 21 games at a rate of 1.14 points per game. As often happens when a manager is replaced mid term, there is a temporary improvement and then the team returns to its previous level. Obviously in our case following a return of 13 points from 12 games under Cooper in February and March in which we managed to score just seven goals, things have got progressively worse. Indeed in eight of those 12 games we didn't manage to score at all.

So bad has this current run been, we are now actually generating fewer points than we were under Wadsworth, and scoring less goals. If the sacking was done to achieve better results and more entertainment, it hasn't worked."had Wadsworth not just offered Luke James a permanent deal but actually played him in the first team he would probably still be in a job"
 So apart from telling us that Hodcroft made a decision which hasn't improved matters what have we learnt? Well firstly it seems pretty clear that had Wadsworth not just offered Luke James a permanent deal but actually played him in the first team he would probably still be in a job.

Secondly that Cooper has got no more out of the current squad than Wadsworth did. As both of them are decent managers and a pretty good judge of players, this suggests that rather than the manager, it is clearly a large chunk of the playing squad who are probably not good enough or consistent enough to suceed at this level.

Last season we picked up something like 7 points from our last 10 games. Once safety was secured the players just seemed to go through the motions. This season has seen a similar pattern. At the end of January we were genuine play off contenders. Then Cooper got the same slump in form in February and March that Wadsworth got in October and November. Essentially the players could not perform well week in and week out.

As a result Cooper has reverted, as Wadsworth did before him, to a safety first 4-5-1 formation, which keeps chances at both ends to a premium, and produces bore fests like the game at Walsall and the one at the Vic against Oldham.

Another thing we have learnt is that the fans seem willing to cut Cooper a lot more slack than Wadsworth. Even after the Sheff United game where for the third home game in a row we neither scored nor won, fans were still prepared to state on the message boards that he had turned the season round and saved us from relegation, neither of which is actually factually correct. You could just as easily argue that it was the points Wadsworth picked up at the start of the season that kept us up, and that in terms of points per game the change in mamagement made things worse not better.

Clearly Cooper did not sign the players in the squad, he inherited them and he can only be judged truly, once he has had the opportunity to bring players in during the Summer, assuming he is still the manager. I say that because IOR have actually sacked managers previously ( Cooper and Newell ) who on paper at least appeared to be achieving.

I did state In my Bizz column when Cooper took over that he would struggle to get any more out of this squad than Wadsworth did and this has proved to be the case. This I believe is because a lot of them are simply not good enough, and packing the midfield to generate low scoring games in which we lose by 1-0 margins cannot disguise this.

Clearly there needs to be a major overhall in the Summer, but we say this every year and every year the usual suspects escape the chop. Obviously players such as Luscombe, Solano, Haslam, and Larkin are expected to go. Likewise Nish if he is out of contract. However will Hodcroft be minded to release a few others?

Personally I see no benefit in retaining the services of Gary Liddle. He made it clear last Summer he wasn't going to commit his long term future to the club, and he has played much of the latter part of the season like a man going through the motions. Just how good a player he thinks he is I do not know. What I do know is that he has played a large chunk of the season in a 5 man midfield where having the extra player should help him to shine. The reality is that in most games he has been totally anonymous, and in none of them a genuine contender for man of the match.

He has something like 2 goals in 32 appearances this season, a woeful return for a man playing in the middle of midfield with the luxury of having a holding player behind him in Paul Murray.

It must surely be time to end the playing career of Ritchie Humphreys. He has also made getting on for 30 appearances this season either in midfield or up front and has scored once. Like Liddle he poses virtually no goal threat to the opposition either directly or by setting up a team-mate and rolls around the field achieving very little other than to clutter up the place. Loyal servant and all that, but his wages could be better spent on someone younger with more of an eye for goal.

Adam Boyd is another that has been a fans favourite in the past but who is well beyond his sell by date. Ten goals in the last two seasons is a sorry return for a striker, and the fact that even with our injury crisis this season, he hasn't been able to hold down a first team place says it all.

You could also argue a pretty good case for releasing both Monkhouse and Brown, and even getting shot of Sweeney if he was out of contract (which he isn't) so in and out has their form been this season. Likewise Austin and Horwood.

A good indication of just how ambitious Pools intend to be will be displayed by the retained list. If only 3 or 4 of the senior players in the current squad go then I can't see much room for improvement or grounds for optimism. However if the cull gets up to around 6 or 7 then clearly both Cooper and Hodcroft are intending to really go for it.

Only time will tell.