Is anyone ever negative about their club’s chances in a season preview? Other than me, I mean. All I see everywhere amongst League Two fans is relentless optimism. With some clubs, I can’t even see why. It just brings back reminders of the Hereford fans last year, thinking they were going to be comfortably avoiding relegation as opposed to what that stupid Torquay fan said.
I suppose it must be the same across all divisions, or even all sports – pre-season, teams and their loyal fans will always talk up their chances, before cold, hard reality kicks in soon after. But it still surprises me you don’t see more pessimistic fans at this time of year – surely it can’t all be sweetness and light at every club. It’s a bit of a pain too, because fans of a club are usually best-qualified to judge their team – journalists who cover divisions in broad sweeps often miss the finer details, and can also lack the balls to definitively say a team is going to struggle (see the Sky Sports League Two preview of this week). The problem is a lot of fans are blinded by optimism too.
Me? I’m talking down our chances because I don’t think we’ve got a very good squad. Even though a lot of people are saying we’re going to do well, I don’t buy it – usually when that happens, we don’t do well. It seems to me a lot of observers are thinking “well they’ve lost a couple of key players but they’ll be fine really”. Yes, some clubs can get over the loss of key players quickly, but it depends on who the key players are. We were able to get over the loss of Branston and Zebroski last season because Zebs was tempremental and we had 2 good centre-backs augmented by the excellent Saah. At the moment, the replacement (or lack of) for O’Kane doesn’t look especially convincing. We’ve regressed, and other teams have progressed, so surely we will slip backwards, unless Ling has several cheap loanees up his sleeve. You can read more of this negativity in my latest WAGU entry.
Despite all of this, tonight’s 4-0 defeat to Leicester City in the League Cup (and it is the League Cup) should immediately be disregarded, because it means absolutely nothing. For one, we had several players out – Macklin, Stevens and Halpin are out injured, while Bodin is away on international duty. The other thing is Leicester are a Championship side with a load of talented players managed by a talented manager – they will undoubtedly be promotion contenders this season, a year later than many (including myself) expected. There’s no disgrace losing to them, even by such a heavy margin. If you remember, we were beaten 4-1 by a second string Southampton side in the First Round last year – we had competed well but when they brought on their better players towards the end, we had no answer.
The reports I’ve read don’t make good reading. It seems lack pace, control of possession, creativity, defensive solidity, goalkeeping presence; just about everything really. I’m not really surprised, not only because we were playing a much more talented side but because we were playing a defensive-minded team from the start, with a midfield trio of Easton, Lathrope and Mansell, 2 holding mids and a box-to-box. Added to that, Morris was playing wide, and he’s not a traditional winger. Neither is Jarvis. It’s not rocket science – it’s no surprise I’m reading that Howe was isolated: 5 midfielders, a huge gap and then a striker. This was an occasional issue at times last year, especially when being shut down in midfield by better teams, but this was still a rarity.
But it’s nothing worth panicking about until we’re talking about the same problems against teams at our level. Ling can talk this one down with bluster – I’ve got no problem with that, because he’ll probably be right. If the same starts happening against Fleetwood, Cheltenham and beyond, then we can start getting a little concerned. Until then, there’s little point deviating from your predictions. Mine are a bit negative, but I’m not going to make them even more negative on the basis of tonight. There’s plenty of time for players to return, changes in tactics to be made, players to be brought in. It’s too early for that – the season finishes in May, not September.
Having said all this, Fleetwood are definitely favourites on Saturday.