CambsIron reflects on a shambolic afternoon as the Iron are thumped 5-0 by Cambridge and asks, ‘Where exactly do we go from here?’
Having grown up watching Iron in the 1990’s and supporting the club closely ever since, I reflect upon that time, in the context of the club’s history, and conclude that I have been spoilt in terms of the players I have seen pull on the claret and blue shirt and the clubs achievements.
But, like all supporters I do recall low periods, poor players and poor managers; for me such times now add to the flavour of supporting the club. However, I cannot recall a predicament as challenging and, quite frankly, as sad as the one currently facing the club.
After a 5-0 mauling at home to Cambridge United, in the midst of a global pandemic, the question on most fans lips is, ‘Where exactly do we go from here?’.
For most fans’ money, Neil Cox inherited a bloated, imbalanced, inexperienced squad lacking Football League quality in key positions. The situation, from the outside, looks grave. The matchday squad is devoid of confidence, character, leadership and fight (from the majority); and those that don’t make the matchday squad, some 10+ players, are likely bored and frustrated. You have to wonder how the manager can turn the situation around on the training pitch, especially now the transfer window has closed. Coaxing a trio of experienced players back to fitness and signing experienced free agents, to bloat the squad further, may be the last dice left to roll.
The appointment of a new management team excited fans and glossed over the dubious summer transfer policy. But recruiting an inexperienced squad and pairing it with a manager in his first Football League manager’s job was always going to be high-risk strategy from the club. It’s hard not to have a level of sympathy for Neil Cox and Mark Lillis, but, they knowingly took on the challenge of taking forward the newly assembled squad and working within the club’s current structure. There is no settled formation, style of play or starting X1. From week to week, supporters read the team sheet attempting to work out which square peg fits in which round hole. In a recent interview the Chairman stated that he had ‘lost count’ of how many mangers had come and gone during his tenure, accordingly, in normal circumstances fans would now expect a P45 for the manager on Monday morning. Indeed, in normal circumstances, most fans would probably agree.
But these aren’t normal circumstances, the strategy to ‘go with youth’, recruit players and appoint a club captain without a manager was implemented by the club hierarchy. Dismissing Neil Cox, after six League games, would be a further acceptance of failure by the club and to some extent scapegoat the failings of the club’s summer recruitment strategy. From a supporters’ perspective, despite the woeful performances on pitch, the appetite for another sacking and new manager may be low, with some supporters instead assigning blame to the club hierarchy.
The downward plight of the club in the past 24 months has been dramatic and despite the best intentions of the club ownership the decision-making and strategies pursued in this period simply have not been good enough. Supporters are willing to accept logical decisions that result in mediocre football, the odd dubious signing or two and some poor performances, but the current circumstances and performances induce a sense of confusion, panic and ultimately sadness.
In respect of the question, “Where exactly do we go from here?” There is no obvious short-term solution. Inevitably, the playing staff need to focus their efforts on the training pitch and treatment room; and seek out those players that actually want to show desire and play for the club. Off the pitch the current recruitment strategy (weighted too heavily towards youth) and approach to transfers is in the need of further urgent change.
On a personal level and in contrast to the expectations of many supporters, before a ball was kicked this season, I would’ve gladly accepted a 22nd place finish, scoring goals, a League double over Grimsby Town and the club surviving the COVID-19 crisis, however, be in no doubt, these ambitions are in serious jeopardy. If the club is victorious over the financial restrictions COVID-19 have placed upon it, we may still be beaten by performances on the pitch if things do not improve.
Let’s hope 0-5 at home to Cambridge was rock bottom and my hopes for the season become a reality. We are only 6 games in after all.
Up the Iron!