Time to Take Stock

CENTRAL PARK... er... takes stock


Well, here we are, just over half the games played and sitting at 14th in the table: 12 points short of a play-off position and 8 points from oblivion. If I had known that this was going to be the case back in August I would have been spared a lot of sleepless nights. 

 I know Colin Cooper was proclaiming his confidence all along, but I have to say that I was listening to such sentiments back in the 1960s and the manager’s early season confidence wasn’t always borne out by events on the pitch back then. In those days we usually knew by well before Christmas that he had been a little over optimistic and the depths beckoned once more. Colin Cooper’s reassurances therefore seemed all of a part with what had gone on previously and fitted the pattern that is found throughout football.

It is part of every manager’s approach irrespective of their team or division that, no matter the results of the first six games or so, all will be well once the lads have settled into their rhythm for the ‘marathon’, not the ‘sprint’, which lies ahead of them. After a few more games with improved results still eluding them they usually make reference to the injuries that are holding them back and looking forward to showing what the lads are really capable off when the medics have done their stuff. Then in the month leading up to Christmas the penny drops with the board of directors/owner finally losing patience and replacing the manager (or head coach) with somebody else who has had the same kind of failure at another club(s) as the man who has just left. The new man will then begin in the usual fashion by saying that he has not come in to criticise the old regime, and then will go on to do precisely that.

He will talk about getting the whole squad in a position where they will be up to the physical challenge that lies ahead. In other words he has inherited a bunch of slobs who can’t get out of bed on a morning. He will talk about them having a more professional attitude, meaning he will be wanting them to get out of their own bed on a morning and not that of the love of their life, who they met the night before and whose name they just can’t quite remember.
"he will be wanting them to get out of their own bed on a morning and not that of the love of their life, who they met the night before"

Next comes talk of strengthening the squad, meaning he has identified three or four first teamers who should be making their living as pie tasters for a local supermarket. (We had one like that who was so indecisive that by the time he had tasted enough pies to make his mind up there were none left to sell). When it finally dawns on him that, notwithstanding the additions to the squad, the pie taster mentality still prevails he will make some remark about them ‘playing for their futures’ and finally it will come to the point where he says that he won’t accept that relegation is inevitable until it is ‘confirmed mathematically’.

So, despite Colin Cooper’s standing in the game both as a footballer and a man I don’t mind admitting that back in August/September I was looking at the league table and paying very little heed to his words of comfort and thinking ‘here we go again, another manager whistling in the dark, we’re doomed’. However as stated above I have been somewhat reassured by the results obtained so far.
I’ve just reread that last sentence and have realised that I am reassured by being 14th in the table and 8 points from oblivion. What sort of life must I have been living?

There have now been enough matches played to let us take stock of the season and to make informed guesses at what is likely to come.

Well at this stage of the season what have been the highlights so far?

For me the number one highlight was the signing of Michael Duckworth. When I first saw him in a pre-season friendly I had no idea who he was or where he had come from but in common with those around me I was immediately impressed and wanted him to be signed up straightaway. However when I heard he was 21 years old and had come from Bradford PA then, being a long standing Hartlepool supporter I, in common with those around me started to look for the catch. The prevailing thought was ‘there must be something wrong with him otherwise we would never have got him’. (How’s that for a positive self image?).

Mind you, we have had plenty of experience over the years to more than justify that dismal outlook. Players arrived who showed so much promise only for us to find that they had come with an already existing injury that meant they were playing on borrowed time, or who had particular personal problems that meant them having to leave the club. We didn’t want to find something wrong with Michael but it seemed just too good to be true; the way he just slotted into the team as though he had played there for years and would continue to do so for years to come.

Not only was Michael Duckworth such a good find in himself, he also allowed Neil Austin to move to left back where he has played very well throughout the season so far and has made the doubters among us forget our disappointment when Evan Horwood was allowed to leave the club.

The continuing improvement of Christian Burgess and Jack Baldwin has been very encouraging along with that of a fast maturing Luke James. However the down side to the improvement of Christian Burgess is that the better he plays the more likely it is that he will be taken back to Middlesbrough sooner rather than later. James Poole has shown that he has talent above this division but I feel we haven’t yet found a way of getting him the chance to display it consistently. Brad Walker was a revelation when he first got into the team and looks to have a very bright future ahead of him. Andy Monkhouse has very largely confounded the doomsayers by turning in some first rate displays and retaining his combativeness. So much for the positives. It doesn’t do to dwell on the negatives, so I won’t.

Despite the talent at our disposal why are we still only fourteenth in the table? I suppose it is the old story of inconsistency. We have some excellent players but it is not realistic to expect them all to play at their maximum potential in every minute of every match. If they were doing that then they would pretty quickly be snapped up by teams in a higher division. So do we have enough at our disposal to let us be confident that we will be playing league football next season?

We have seen more than half the teams in the division and so we know that there isn’t an awful lot to be afraid of. Why then am I looking over my shoulder at the bottom teams in the division and counting the points difference? I am being constantly assured by one long standing supporter, with a not very good track record in the prediction business, that there are at least two teams in this division worse than us, but he always stops short of telling me which two teams they are. For once I sincerely hope that he turns out to be right. I’ll even be happy to put up with the inevitable gloating from him if he is.

My own view is that we will ‘get away with it’ this year and build a team to challenge at the top of the table for next season. I’m sure you will all sleep more soundly in your beds from now on having read that.