The clocks have now gone back, and so we welcome in November. Having been to every game so far this season, I felt it was an opportune time to give my views on the season thus far. Clearly it has been a disappointment. That really goes without saying but let me take you back to April 28th 2018 and an hour before kick-off against Dagenham and Redbridge, where there were very strong rumours of a disagreement between majority shareholder Amar Alkadhi and manager ‘Sir’ John Askey over the shirts that were to be worn for the celebratory game in front of 4,201 fans where the Vanarama National League Trophy was to be presented to The Silkmen after the game. As the close season began, further strong rumours emerged ‘Sir’ John would not be leading our glorious return to the Football League, and as the summer unfolded ‘Sir’ John moved on to Shrewsbury Town.
After further rumours aplenty, The Silkmen eventually brought in Mark Yates who appeared to have masterminded a dramatic escape from almost certain relegation for Solihull Moors from the National League. It was therefore probably as good an appointment as I could have expected in all honesty. I have to say I was disappointed with the pre-season games where the defeat at Altrincham really concerned me, as it appeared we couldn’t break down a side that won the Northern Premier League the previous season. Despite this, I was cautiously optimistic as we set off for the County Ground, Swindon for our first game since 2012 in The Football League. By half-time I was worried – we had looked out of our depth and were lucky to still be at 0-0, which was only thanks to returning keeper Rhys Taylor’s commanding first half performance. When Koby Arthur scored early in the second half and again after 55 minutes I thought perhaps we were finding our feet, but two injury time penalties for the home side meant an opening day defeat. We conceded goals in the last five minutes in the next three league games and by the end of August, and despite having progressed to the third round of the Carabao Cup (or League Cup to those of a certain vintage!), only Notts County were below us in the league.
Defeats to Crewe Alexandra, Stevenage, Lincoln City and Morecambe meant that we were now rock bottom and the fans were already starting to call for the manager’s head. A spirited draw against Forest Green Rovers, and a 3-3 point at high flying Newport County prolonged Mark Yates proverbial stay of execution from the managerial hot-spot, but a dreadful defensive howler ten minutes from time from one of his summer signings, ultimately led to a penalty for Notts County, and another home defeat! Chairman Mark Blower was thus compelled to call time on Mark Yates disastrous tenure. A couple of telling points about Mark Yates tenure was a Jamie Grimes interview early on where he was saying that he was just getting to full fitness (and that was three or four games in), when surely pre-season was there for getting to full fitness wasn’t it? However, Mark Yates’ biggest error IMHO was the dropping of Jared Hodgkiss early on and the complete omission of Keith Lowe from central defence for the first ten or so games. I am only a fan so don’t understand football like the professionals but surely a new manager gives the previous seasons Champions, and the Player of the Year to boot, the chance to show they can make it in the league above before bringing in replacements don’t they?
Step up fans favourite Danny Whitaker to work alongside another Silkmen legend in Neil Howarth. Injuries had meant the loss of Callum Evans, Danny Whitaker, Ryan Lloyd and Elliott Durrell so midfield looked a bit short, but with a squad of 25 we should have had enough to cover if we had recruited well! Mark Yates had indicated that we had a competitive budget so there wasn’t really an excuse for a lack of funds. At this time, I would suggest that the defence looks adequate; the midfield (since the loss of Evans to injury, and who was another Mark Yates didn’t play much) and club legend Whitaker to injury has looked inadequate against other League Two midfield’s and the strike force hasn’t looked like scoring enough goals. This could be because they aren’t adequate either, or perhaps it relates to our midfield not having created enough chances for them to shine!
A single goal defeat at Tranmere Rovers and a 2-1 win against Carlisle United were two decent performances from what is clearly a limited squad. Ben Stephens had come on as a substitute against Tranmere and Northampton Town and done really well, and Michael Rose impressed me in those two games as well. However, a truly woeful 5-0 home defeat against a resurgent Northampton illustrated our problems perfectly. Ben Stephens impressed again at Cambridge United last Saturday, but another late goal meant another defeat. As a consequence, after 16 games we have only 7 points with just one victory, and are five points from safety. The teams near the bottom are likely to pick up an average of around a point a game, and if we can get to 46 points, that might be enough to stay up which has been on more occasions than not recently! 39 more points from 30 games means winning at least 10 of our 30 remaining games, which will involve a monumental effort but our returning players may hopefully give us that momentum.
We need to start winning games so lets get behind the lads, so here is my take on the squad after a third of the season with marks out of 20 for each player.
RHYS TAYLOR: Rhys has performed admirably on a number of occasions, and shouldn’t have been dropped to fit in a Manchester United loanee as this does nothing for team morale! 14/20
KIERAN O’HARA: Kieran has not let anyone down with his performances. He is a good shot stopper and his distribution is good. IMHO Kieran looks suspect on crosses on occasions and the goalkeeper position is definitely NOT our problem! 13/20
JARED HODGKISS: Jared is always solid and dependable, and I couldn’t understand why he was dropped early on. IMHO he is our natural leader and captain whose vocal presence on the pitch regularly rallies the troops. 12/20
KEITH LOWE: Keith was arguably our best player last year, and in my view our best centre half this season. Whilst he has made mistakes he has been nothing less than adequate when played and always gives 100%. 11/20
JAMIE GRIMES: Jamie showed he has mental strength by not shirking away after some poor mistakes. Got better as the season has gone on but not a footballer, in the pure sense, more a no nonsense defender. 7/20
FIACRE KELLEHER: Fiacre looked more a footballer early on than Jamie Grimes, but confidence appears to have been affected after some poor mistakes (Notts County). Always gives 100 percent effort but distribution disappointing. 6/20
DAVID FITZPATRICK: Despite only making his league debut this season, ‘Fitz’ doesn’t look out of place in League Two. Had a spell where he wasn’t the assured defender of last season and maybe the captaincy burden wears too heavy on his shoulders! Despite this, Fitz would be in my team every week and will be playing league football next season. 14/20
MILES WELCH-HAYES: The kid looks to have talent but is VERY RAW! He has shown he can beat a player, but is not ready for a regular start. 9/20
JAMES PEARSON: James came in for Hodgkiss early on, presumably to give extra height and did okay to be fair! I am surprised he has not been tried in central defence or midfield since being dropped. His long throw seemed to be a Yates tactic. 11/20
MICHAEL ROSE: To start with disappointing but has been our most creative midfielder in the last few games. 10/20
DANNY WHITAKER: A massive loss with his knee injury. At almost 38 years young, Danny is still a competent League 2 player and practically carried the midfield on his own through some games. 14/20
CALLUM EVANS: Callum was criminally under-used by Mark Yates for ‘reasons known to Callum’ according to a Yates interview and was desperately unfortunate to injure his ankle when accidentally ‘taken out’ by his own player at Morecambe. Callum has been a big loss in recent weeks. 12/20
CALLUM MAYCOCK : The kid tries hard, but doesn’t seem to tackle much or create a lot. Occasionally Callum looks decent at stopping opposition via close marking and pushes opposition back. However in my opinion Callum is not good enough but that’s more of a recruitment issue rather than a criticism. 4/20
PETER VINCENTI: In the main Peter has been disappointing. I had high hopes that he would be the creator of our goals but it simply hasn’t happened yet. Showed great desire to get the winner against Carlisle. 8/20
BEN STEPHENS: Ben was unfortunately out injured early in the season, but substitute appearances against Tranmere and Carlisle showed the lad in a good light and was head and shoulders the best player at Cambridge! Hopefully Ben will be our inspiration, but it’s a lot to put on young shoulders for someone who was playing at Stratford Town last year! 14/20
KOBY ARTHUR: Koby has been in and out of the team, but has played enough decent football to show he can cut it at League 2 level. 11/20
TYRONE MARSH: Tyrone is a decent footballer but probably not a natural goalscorer despite always giving 100%. Some would say League 2 is a step too high, but I am always happy when he’s selected. 10/20
NATHAN BLISSETT: ‘Bliss’ is a good target man. Always works hard and often wins his headers but no league goals tells a story! 11/20
SCOTT WILSON: A natural goalscorer from close range but his shot from distance isn’t strong enough and again some would say League 2 is a step too high. 10/20
HARRY SMITH: For a big lad doesn’t win enough headers and I’m not sure whether he works best as a lone striker or in a two up front. Not sure whether the management know either. Personally I don’t see a lack of effort 9/20
MALACHI NAPA: If I was to predict anyone to play higher up the leagues it would be Malachi. He has real talent but disappears from games at times. Malachi is a young lad who can beat a man but not enough end product at the moment. 12/20
RYAN LLOYD: Please get fit ASAP Ryan!
ELLIOTT DURRELL: Will someone please tell us if he will be playing for us or not when he is fit? Rumours abound that there are contract issues!
JORDAN PONTICELLI: Jordan’s injury sums our season up. We could do with a fit Ponticelli who looked lively in the 35 minutes he played at Crewe!