Over the past four days, Town fans have experienced a microcosm of our season as Ben Garner’s side took us to the highest of highs on Saturday with an impressive 2-1 away victory sealed with a 96th-minute penalty, to an inconsistent, messy showing in Devon a few days later.
It would be unfair to blame anyone for the lack of squad depth as the club has had to work under restrictions, this season injuries are costing us again, as, after the game on Saturday, the manager ruled out the talented centre back Brandon Cooper for the rest of the campaign, and full-back Joe Tomlinson will also face a spell on the side-lines.
These key players join Louie Barry, Jordan Lyden, and Ben Gladwin on the treatment table, all five of these players would’ve been in the eighteen-man squad, and Harry McKirdy will also be missing this weekend as he serves the last game in his two-match ban.
On Tuesday night, the manager explained in his post-match interview that he reverted to the 5-3-2 formation we used at the start of the season due to injuries in the squad, and apart from a short spell at the start of the first half, we never looked comfortable back in this system.
Some could see why he played the 5-3-2 system as he felt the players available suited that formation, but this tactical inconsistency hindered the players, we should have stuck with the 4-3-3 that served us well and played to the strengths of players who have shined over the past month, like Josh Davison, Ricky Agular, and Louis Reed.
Davison looked lost upfront alone throughout the entire game and needed more support, despite the manager’s reasons for the change of shape, both Jayden Mitchell-Lawson and Jonny Williams could’ve played the roles vacated by Louie Barry and Harry McKirdy, With Reed, Aguiar, and Ryan East in the middle of the park.
It’ll be interesting to see how the manager lines up this Saturday, will he continue with Tuesday nights failed 5-3-2? Or revert to 4-3-3. Hopefully, Jack Payne will be in contention to start this weekend, meaning he can easily play one of the roles alongside Davison if the manager doesn’t fancy Mitchell-Lawson or Williams for that role.
But despite looking toothless offensively throughout the game at St. James Park it was at the back where the problems were laid bare for all to see.
After both recently returning from injury, Mathieu Baudry and Dion Conroy came straight back into the starting eleven, sadly neither had an evening to remember as they struggled throughout alongside Jake O’Brien.
Since the end of last year, Conroy’s form hasn’t been what we’re used to from the club captain, and this had led to many fans turning on the former Chelsea man, and it’s hard to disagree when you look at the evidence.
But this sort of negativity can sometimes reach the pitch and affect players, piling on more pressure, with groans or shouts from the crowd.
I’ll admit I’m the first to shout and moan when players are having an off day, as frustrations boil over, if Conroy starts this Saturday, he needs to be welcomed positively by the Town faithful and encouraged, as to whether we like it or not, he’ll play a role moving forwards this season.
This weekend the Town faithful will see the return of John Sheridan as he brings his relegation-threatened Oldham Athletic side to the County Ground.
I don’t want to go over old ground with Sheridan’s time at Town as last season should never be spoken of again by anyone, with the 57-year-old playing a huge role in the worst season ever witnessed at SN1.
It was also an awful time for the Latics manager as he experienced the loss of his parents when in Wiltshire, surely this Saturday must be the most unwanted reunion ever in football history.
But with Tuesday night’s result and it being incredibly tight at the top of League Two, nothing but three points will be acceptable at 5:00 pm on Saturday if Town wants to be in serious contention for promotion this season.