I’m not entirely sure how to start this one! By far the worst of the recent run of defeat, now four in a row, has left Gary Johnson on the brink and sent his side further away from the pre-season target of the playoffs. I started out on yesterday’s preview by urging the Cobblers fans to get behind the team no matter what their views on the management team and to an extent it sounds like the majority did just that.
But the result left a range of emotions inside them – anger, despair, dejection, I can go on. Personally I’m just feeling sad that another false dawn appears to be passing us by. I was guilty of predicting a playoff spot myself in the summer thanks to a seemingly productive summer but we again find ourselves in a battle at the wrong end of the table.
The question on everyone’s minds this morning is, ultimately, the manager though.
I’ve been trying really hard to defend Johnson over the last few games but even now my Team Positive outlook is being severely tested. Four defeats in a row is one thing but losing without any sense of organisation or spirit is another. Johnson appears to have lost a dressing room that he arguably struggled to get a hold of in the first place and when you lose at home to a fellow struggler then you know you’re in trouble.
This had all the makings of the end of a road with last season’s defeat to Burton at Sixfields signalling the end of Ian Sampson’s tenure and the same team seeing off Stuart Gray 18 months earlier. Both of those games involved a shocking start to the game and last night is comparable to both of those. Whether it will mean the end of Johnson remains to be seen.
Hereford took the lead after a rare mistake from veteran Andy Holt who gave the ball away. Tom Barkhuizan’s shot was then parried by Sam Walker and Nathan Elder pounced to net his second goal in two games. There were signs of a quick recovery as home debutant Saido Berahino tested David Cornell but by the time twenty minutes were up we were further behind.
Steven Leslie lined up a free kick in a dangerous position but his strike didn’t look like having enough to beat Walker until a huge deflection took it past the Cobblers keeper. When it rains, it pours and both literally and figuratively it was pouring down at Sixfields.
There needed to be a quick response but it took until well after the break for Berahino to finally halve the deficit from substitute Chris Arthur’s cross. But again the signs of recovery would be blown away as soon as the claret faithful took their seats. Harry Pell made it 3-1 with a good header following a Hereford break and it was effectively game over.
Whether it’s game over for Johnson is the question that’s sparked the debates through the night and this morning though. I’ve backed him and said that he needs time, nothing would come of it etc but with the side again slipping in the wrong direction it might be time to finally have a rethink.
The problem lies not only in the monetary side of things though but the question of who could possibly come in that’s got any higher credentials? Johnson was THE man to get back in March, the one who we thought was above our level and a huge coup for a club like us. We can lie no blame at the chairman for his appointment, we were all excited and talking things up once again with some even thinking that a playoff spot could be achieved in the final two or three months of last season.
What’s happened since has been close to catastrophic with occasional performances such as the Wimbledon win with ten men giving us glimpses of potential in this squad. It’s been enough to leave me questioning my views and while I won’t every advocate screaming obscenities at the man in charge of my football club I sadly think it may just be time to arrange something along the lines of ‘mutual consent.’
It’s a sad situation to be in but necessity rules that it’s time to change things. What follows needs to be a dropping in expectations for everyone, especially us supporters. If we can convince ourselves that we’re not the shoe in promotion candidates that some think we are then perhaps we might be more positive about each and every game after all!
A few things:
– As an outsider I can’t see where you’re going by keeping hold of GJ. Dare I fall into the classic lower leagues trap, because size is no indicator or justification of success, but you as a club should really be doing better than this. It’s not like it’s just one bad run – you very nearly got relegated last year under him, and you’re in pretty much the same position now, despite having brought in some decent players over the summer. He is/was a good manager, as demonstrated by his past record (I remember playing his Yeovil team the year we got promoted to League One – a very good side), but equally some of his more recent jobs haven’t gone well, so I have my doubts about his capabilities. But then you’ve more first hand experience of the team playing than I have, so you’re probably in a better position to judge whether or not he’s doing the best job possible for your club – we’ve had people invading one of the Torquay forums saying how terrible Ling was for them and that he’s doing the same to us, so I appreciate that I’m not ideally placed to make an accurate judgement. But my gut feeling isn’t good, if I’m honest.
– We (Torquay) were in a bad run too but we have now got ourselves out of it, and there are legitimate reasons why we weren’t expecting to do particularly well – while we do have a core of whingers who expect us to suddenly return to the glory days of the 70s, and others who seem to just dislike Ling for no legitimate reason, I should imagine most reasonable fans are realistic enough to understand that we are likely to struggle on gates of less than 2,500, and wouldn’t mind mid-table mediocrity for a while. But a club of your size (there I go again, falling into that trap, giving the whingers ammunition) has less justification for struggling, especially year on year. I know you’ve been down the bottom of the league in the not-too-distant past, but in the year 2011, you should be mid-table at worst really. You’re not the only ones – Bradford are struggling even more although there’s not much in it, Rovers are slipping and sliding under Buckle, and of course there’s Argyle with their own issues. But again, that’s no excuse. You should not be in a relegation battle and staring into the Conference abyss, not least for the second year in a row. But obviously that doesn’t just have to be the manager’s fault.
– Having said all this, League Two is very close this year, and I’m pretty sure a good run would take you or anyone else at the bottom of the league into play-off contention and mid-table safety. Even after 1 solitary win last night, I feel a lot more comfortable about Torquay, as we’ve moved up from 18th to 15th. Anything from 16th/17th down isn’t really safe, excepting a massive points difference (which isn’t there right now), but above that is relatively OK for now, so suddenly we have a decent buffer, and the new bottom 6 all lost last night too so we’ve got an extra 3 points over them. So it’s not irretrievable. Whether that’s an argument against getting rid of GJ to give him chance to retrieve it himself, or getting someone else in to initiate a push, is a different matter.
– Finally, providing your finances are in order, the Conference isn’t all that bad. But I suppose it’s easy for me to say given that I support quite a small club by League Two standards…
I’d like to think that Torquay and Northampton have had a good relationship over the years (although I was at that last day of the season encounter a few years ago when you beat us to get promoted and thereby denied us a play-off spot…), so no schadenfreude here – I save that for Exeter, Argyle, and Rovers and Mr Buckle.
Hi James, thanks for your comments, very welcome indeed and it at least lets me know someone is reading!
I think some of our supporters have this thing where they think we should be promotion candidates automatically and that raises the standard automatically for any manager. Ian Sampson was sacked last season for being in mid-table and ‘suffering’ a run of six straight draws followed by a defeat so it’s tough for anyone coming in. We had massive hopes for Johnson but unfortunately he’s not delivering at all.
I would love to see him turn it around and get us back on track but motivation is appearing to be lacking and body language from the players isn’t good.
I would personally have taken a mid-table season this season just to shrug off the demons of last season but expectations were playoffs at least from most others, meaning pressure was on from the start.
Agreed with your comments on our relationship, I think we’ve always had a soft spot for Torquay for that day back in 2000 when you applauded our fans while we invaded your pitch despite your missing out on the playoffs so I hope you do turn your season around as well!