York City blog: Five reasons not to despair

Now is the time to keep the faith… Photograph: YorkMix
12 Dec 2015 @ 12.49 pm
| Opinion, Sport

The Minstermen’s last home hammering was the most depressed I have ever been at a football match, which for a York City fan is saying a lot.

As visiting Accrington Stanley slammed home a deserved fifth in the dying moments of a miserable league game, all we could do was offer a meek ripple of applause for the fine finish, too numb to care anymore about the result.

It is a feeling City supporters have been getting far too used to of late.

Afterwards, in the far less torturous surroundings of The Three Legged Mare, the weekly round of York City corpse-prodding had begun. The autumn of 2015, we agreed, will forever be remembered as one of the club’s grimmest periods.

And it only got worse when a last-minute defeat to Bristol Rovers sent York to the bottom of the Football League.

The season’s stats make for painful reading, but here goes:

  • nine straight defeats (creating a club record)
  • 44 goals conceded (11 of them in two matches)
  • and no win since early September.

In fact, victory has only been tasted twice in the league all season! Oh, and we’re out of all the cups. In that respect at least things are as normal.

New boss, same old story

Fantastically unpopular – Russ Wilcox. Photograph: York City FC / YouTube
Fantastically unpopular – Russ Wilcox. Photograph: York City FC / YouTube

During this autumn’s woeful run the fantastically unpopular Russ Wilcox finally had the stool kicked from beneath him, but the upturn in fortunes expected under new boss Jackie MacNamara has instead been a nightmare that looks set to continue unless something drastic is done, but what?

There are varying opinions as to why things have gone so horribly wrong this season and how things can be fixed. It is easy to blame Wilcox, and he should rightly shoulder much of the criticism, but I believe the root of the problem goes back further.

It is amazing to think that only last year City went on that magnificent run to reach the League Two play-offs. Nigel Worthington (then manager) had finally found the right ingredients for a successful, stylish team that had Bootham Crescent purring.

Only a narrow defeat to Fleetwood dashed those dreams of League One, but confidence was high for the new season. But when August came, City were strangely lifeless and lacking the same spark.

Still on his feet in this picture – Lindon Meikle in action for York City against against Northampton Town at Bootham Crescent. Photograph © Mattythewhite on Wikipedia
Still on his feet in this picture – Lindon Meikle in action for York City against against Northampton Town at Bootham Crescent. Photograph © Mattythewhite on Wikipedia

Worthington’s supposed strengthening of the team backfired horribly with the signings of duds such as Lindon Meikle, whose only contributions were repeatedly dribbling the ball off the pitch and falling over, and hapless keeper Jason Mooney, who annoyingly put in two solid performances against us recently.

The likes of Lanre Oyebanjo (a hero of the 2011/12 Double season) and astute loanees Nick Pope and Ben Davies were never properly replaced following their departures, leaving great gaps in the squad that saw City slip alarmingly down the table.

As autumn approached Worthington seemed to lose heart or, more likely, interest in the job he had started, thus leaving fans and the board bewildered when he (somewhat prematurely) jumped ship, leaving the club thrashing in the water in his wake.

Things have yet to recover from his transfer market bungling and the failure to properly strengthen the team following the highs of 2013/14.

Walked away… Nigel Worthington. Photograph: YorkMix
Walked away… Nigel Worthington. Photograph: YorkMix

Russ Wilcox never truly convinced anyone he was up to the job of replacing Worthington. His record-breaking achievement of 28 unbeaten games with previous club Scunthorpe was soon forgotten as City continued to flounder under his control, finishing 2014/15 in a safe but unremarkable 18th place.

The lethargy continued into this season and has affected reliable fans’ favourites such as captain Russell Penn and the now released Keith Lowe, both of whom have looked shadows of their former selves.

It is as if Wilcox somehow taught them how to be bad footballers, whilst seemingly draining them of their enthusiasm and fight for the game. Had he remained in his post any longer it is likely the whole squad would have been infected.

Underwhelming appointment

Club chairman Jason McGill, unveils Jackie McNamara and assistant manager Simon Donnelly (right) in November. Photograph: Mark Comer
Club chairman Jason McGill, unveils Jackie McNamara and assistant manager Simon Donnelly (right) in November. Photograph: Mark Comer

And so to Jackie McNamara. Was I then the only one to be slightly underwhelmed by his appointment? There were certainly far more exciting names on the applicants list, but in all honesty they were probably beyond our means.

City fans are still fairly ignorant of McNamara’s managerial achievements in Scotland, and his cause was not helped by recent criticisms from Dundee United manager Mixu Paatelainden, who has slammed the state of the struggling team he inherited from the Scot.

During the Accrington mauling, numerous voices could be heard lamenting the fact that the new City boss seems totally ignorant of English lower league football.

Dispensing with the likes of Keith Lowe (an unforgivable act) and the freezing out of experienced players such as John McCombe and Josh Carson backs up this argument, but it is the signing of a whole glut of youngsters on loan that is perhaps his most baffling and risky decision.

Unforgivable: giving the boot to Keith Lowe. Photograph © Mattythewhite on Wikipedia
Unforgivable: giving the boot to Keith Lowe. Photograph © Mattythewhite on Wikipedia

The Accrington match at Bootham Crescent resembled a pre-season fixture in terms of line up, with fans confronted with almost a completely new team, most of whom had only met less than 48 hours earlier.

These young lads certainly are talented – you have to be playing for the likes of Arsenal, Spurs and Middlesbrough – but on Saturday they were given a nerve-shredding introduction to the harsh world of League Two by a merciless and thoroughly dislikable visiting team.

Let us hope it was a character-building experience, but surely the addition of a wise, older head in the shape of McCombe or Winfield alongside O’Conner, Boyle, Kitching and Lussey will help to steady the currently calamitous back line.

A team bursting with loanees rarely prospers and often smacks of desperation, and JM must now consider how best to blend these players in with the ones he has inherited.

Five reasons not to despair

There is no point in hiding from the fact that the club is currently in crisis, but rather than despair, let’s consider the following:

1. City’s November fixture list was horrific. All of our opponents have been top-half teams and two of them (Plymouth and Portsmouth) are genuine title contenders. It was always going to be a tough month.

2. Injuries have not helped. Among those crocked were Penn, Summerfield and Winfield, while Coulson and Hyde are still struggling for match fitness. If they can all be nurtured back, and if JM can use them properly, then results and performances should improve.

3. Some of these young loanees are actually pretty good. And they will improve with time. In the early stages of Saturday’s match, winger Kenny McEvoy of Spurs excited with some heart-pumping runs down the right wing, and goal-scorer Bradley Fewster of Boro looks likely to forge a potent striking partnership with Vadaine Oliver.

They can now use the lack of a fixture this coming weekend to train together and learn one another’s strengths.

4. Like all new managers, Jackie McNamara needs time to settle in. Although 23rd place is not where any of us want City to be, remember that it is only December and there are ample opportunities to sort out this mess. The league table matters most in May.

5. Jonathan Greening. Until his sending-off at Portsmouth (cueing a 6-0 shellacking), the recently returned veteran had been keeping the fragile back four well protected in his defensive midfield position.

He is the wise old head that City have lacked so badly this season and his return from suspension can’t come soon enough. His experience could ultimately be the difference between survival and relegation.

Get behind the team

I am loathe to use the dirty R word, as we all know how ghastly the Conference was.

Having re-emerged from that chamber of horrors only three and a bit years ago, bruised, bleeding and vowing never to return, future trips to Barrow and Boreham Wood are simply unthinkable.

That is why we need to get behind the team and stop the moaning that has been creeping in.

Yes, it is hard to watch when events on the pitch are so horrendous, but fan negativity has already done its work this season by ousting the inept Wilcox.

It is too early to say whether McNamara’s gambles will pay off, but until then the best thing us fans can do is keep turning up in numbers every week and singing ourselves hoarse, like we did in the rain in Accrington and at Leyton Orient (perhaps the most enjoyable away day in years).

Surely the worst has now passed? Over to you, Jackie.