Two games two defeats. Both games thrown away after going into half time in front. Six goals conceded. Two penalties missed (in open play) including one at York that could well have soared over the Minster and into another county. Our winning streak of nine penalty wins, a cherished reminder of our cup exploits, over. A shaky-looking defence, a keeper out of form, an incomplete squad.
The doom mongers have had plenty to feed on over the past week, and to be fair, there is plenty to feed on. When you re-read that opening paragraph it looks pretty bleak. We are second bottom of the league, out of the League Cup, and we are scratching around for players to fill positions currently occupied by players that are at best, out of form amd at worst, not good enough to make the starting line-up.
So why, dear reader, is ‘so what’ any kind of response to the current situation. I’ve not overdosed on happy pills and I’m not the Iraqi Minister for Information. Here is why:
1. There are 45 games left to play
Paul Hayward from the Telegraph made a good point last week when he tweeted: ‘It's an incurable human habit to read too much into a team's first game of the season. We all do it’.
He is correct and in fact I’d extend that to the ‘first few games of the season’. There are always anomalies in the first few games of the season. It could be an unfancied, newly promoted team storming to the top of the league or it could be the favourites scratching around in the bottom three. Things take time to settle and over time the natural balance is pretty much restored. I cannot see West Ham finishing above Arsenal and, even though they’ve hacked and changed their side over summer, Swindon should once again compete well in League One after making the playoffs last season.
New players need to settle. New drills and tactics need to bed in. Players adjust at different speeds to the reality of proper competitive football. In the first 45 minutes at Swindon and York, all looked good. This suggests we’re part way there.
We’re most definitely not all the way there but with 135 points still up for grabs, I’m remaining optimistic. 180 minutes (plus extra time and penalties) doth not a season make.
2. We’re out of the Capital One Cup
We all love a cup run. We’ve been pretty damn good at it of late too. Of course it would be magical to experience another, but I’m not worried about one of three potential cup distractions vanishing early for this season. The Johnstone Paint Trophy is another competition I’d happily see us exit, allowing us to focus on the league – our real ambition this year.
The Tuesday-Saturday-Tuesday fixture pile-up towards the end of last season, caused by the FA Cup run, definitely had an effect on the freshness of the players, and subsequently, our league form. Losing stinks and I would never celebrate it, but in the longer-term exiting the cup may well be a blessing.
3. The squad is still incomplete
The fact we are still scratching around for players around is irritating. The season has started and we’re still looking to bring in key players who will need to bed in before getting up to speed. That is far from ideal but it seems to be the norm. You only have to look at the BBC’s transfer ticker to see we’re far from alone in making signings after the season has kicked off. In addition, Simon Parker’s account of the Chris Kirkland situation was illuminating. It showed that clubs are scratching around for players and that players are scratching around for clubs (and deals) too.
From outside, our transfer policy as at times looked a bit shoddy and slow. It probably needs sharpening up, but there are factors (agents, personal and family matters, legal issues, and financial dealings to name a few) that are hard to control and sometimes might be impossible to.
4. We’re stronger than last year
I don’t care what people say, the squad is stronger than at this point last year. Yes, there are two Andrew Davies and Jordan Pickford-sized holes that need filling urgently, but the holes occupied by lesser players last season have been filled-in by improvements. To name a few; Davies, Morris, McMahon, Marshall and Anderson vs Dolan, Halliday, Kennedy, McLean and McBurnie – I know which set of players I’d rather have. On top of that – see point four again – we’re not done yet.
5. We're fickle, us football fans
We are supporters of a football club. By definition that makes many of us knee-kerk, extreme, impassioned, gobby and opinionated. A loss to Shrewsbury on Saturday will mark the end of time as we know it for many, and a win will signal that we’re going up buoyed by the support of the best fans in the land.
Many reactions to even the smallest nuances are blinkered, impulsive and fuelled by passion. They are brilliant to watch and read but very often they are wild-eyed and a bit bonkers (both the positive and the negative). I’m as guilty as anyone in this regard at times – I’m a supporter after all - #sowhat. If we’re still in the bottom three eight games in, for example, I’ll be rubbishing everything that I have written above and calling myself a prat.
Yes, the current situation is far from ideal, but there’s enough to be positive about still. One league game in, an incomplete squad, and things still settling. The slow start should not have us drowning in misery.
Corporal Jones from Dad’s Army was a bit of a silly old buffoon but he had a lot going for him. He was brave, he was a fine butcher, and when he shouted ‘Don’t Panic!’ - he had a point. Particularly after two games and just one of them in the League.