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The Start - So Far
By: David Wilkinson
THERE is obviously a lot of speculation about the start we have made to the season and, while statistics and points totals matter - eventually, I find it more interesting to look at the way the team is playing and the progress we have made over the last year.
Since Alan Buckley was last sacked, the team - and the Club as a whole - have declined season by season to the point where we had reached more or less rock bottom last season. Compare this with the time he was here when, in both spells as Manager, he achieved a season-on-season improvement from near the bottom of the fourth to an established Second Division (or First, whichever way you want to look at it) team.
The improvement last season - from a real danger of relegation to the Conference to an organised team that was playing well enough to start speculation of a play-off place - was a fantastic achievement. However, what was more impressive was that we had, at last, a team that entertained, was clearly playing to a strategy and that looked good. Contrast this with the last five or six years when there was no discernable organisation, we were clearly second best and unconvincing. Just reflect on the season Slade almost took us up. Anyone looking back at that season would be hard pressed to describe the team as looking like promotion chasers. One or two very good performances were outweighed by dismal games where our points tally was never justified by the quality of the football.
This season, right from the first friendly at Brigg the team looked different. They appeared to know each other, they seemed to know what was expected from them and were comfortable with the system - good passing, some movement at last and the nucleus, at least, of a half decent team. Not the finished item by any stretch of the imagination but a good start.
With only a few exceptions the team is steadily blending but, more importantly, nobody at the Club is making claims or assumptions that the building process is complete or anything other than just started. Spaces were created in the squad by some well justified departures at the end of last season and there have been some good new arrivals.
However, we cannot allow too long to go by before there is further squad strengthening.
In my view we need four or five additions to improve the team and to cover for the injuries that will, inevitably happen. Another defender will help and one or two new midfielders/utility players - and, most crucially, as everyone knows - a new striker. My own view is that Rankin simply isn't the player he was and both North and Taylor are too young. Perhaps their time will come but I don't think it will be this season. Gary Jones provides a target and further options but we need someone to provide bite and sharpness - but God alone only knows where Buckley will find one. But, when these improvements are made, it will mean that Buckley will be able to play in a formation he wants rather than, very often, one that is forced on him by the players he has available.
My point, however, is that the current points total does not reflect the performances we have seen on the pitch so far. The basis of a winning team is there, indeed many of them - Fenton, Newey, Bennet, Toner, Bolland, Boshall, Hunt would probably be a first choice for any team playing in this Division.
We have much to thank Alan Buckley for in getting the team into the sort of shape that hammered Huddersfield last week and should have beaten Burnley. I have also been impressed by his new attitude towards the media and to interviews - crisp, concise, common sense and the sort of "feet on the ground" realism that sets him apart from the gibberish we had from Lawrence and platitudes from Slade.
As the squad gradually fits into place we have every chance of a good top half finish this season and no reason why we should be far off the Play-Offs. That's how progress works at this level where clubs are not awash with money. Season by Season improvement and building a squad that is familiar with each other, playing a style they understand and are comfortable with. We have a lot to look forward to.
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