After last weeks postponement away to Oldham – Which I was 5 minutes away from on a tram – it has given the squad a chance to have a break and recharge before the start of the Christmas fixtures. Within the next two weeks we face arguably some of the form teams in the league, with Gillingham first tomorrow, then Walsall on boxing day, another trip to Southend a couple of days after and finally a trip to Barnsley on the 2nd of January. This time of year is always considered an important time of the year, if you manage a run of wins you can easily fly up the league standings, throwing yourself into the mix going into the new year.
I guess if you said at the start of pre-season we would be 8th, 3 points off 6th place Wigan with a game in hand and in the area final of the JPT we would all have agreed to that. Having seen 18 players depart from last seasons squad I’m sure our manager would’ve taken the offer too. I guess winning at Shrewsbury got us all carried away and we was quickly brought back down to earth, losing all four of our first home games of the season. I think the vital change, which will please Harris most is making our ground a fortress once again, with teams no longer turning up and beating us on a regular basis. Any successful side has to take the majority of points at home, it was the same story under McGhee’s side as it was with Jackett’s promotion winning side. However we’ve also had some memorable away days along the way with the biggest of the lot winning at Brammel Lane thanks to an Aiden O’Brien double.
Enough of the reminiscing, we can save that for the end of the season when we win the play-off final on penalties. Our recent form has been a bit up and down, only collecting 3 points out of a possible 9 against Fleetwood, Bury and Burton. We also managed to suffer defeat to League Two Wycombe in the second round of the FA Cup, however seemed to have got our momentum back with our last game, a great win at Southend in the JPT. I feel if we had to put the indifferent form down to anything, it would be due to having the much questioned smaller squad. Having suffered injuries and suspensions, we’ve found it difficult to patch the side up for the type of games against Burton, with Webster missing out due to collecting his fifth yellow. Playing Saturday and then Tuesday for the few weeks we did cost us, and perhaps a slightly bigger squad would’ve coped with the situation.
Going into the season I think all of us were worried at the prospect of Byron Webster lining up in defence, Harris made a point in pre-season that Webster wanted to come back and prove his worth. Unfortunately for Webster, he couldn’t have got off to a poorer start with Jon Akinde ripping the defender to shreds against Barnet in the League Cup. But in recent weeks himself and Beevers have managed to form a partnership that seems to cope with anything thrown their way. Away to Burton, not because of Sid Nelson we struggled with the Burton front line, the movement was great and as normal in these situations Nelson couldn’t form the understanding right away with Beevers. I think in the two games he played against Burton and Wycombe Nelson done his job well, but the lack of understanding in defence which you get from a partnership cost us, the two games made me appreciate Beevers and Webster at the back together more than ever.
When you picture your ideal central defenders you want the two to compliment each other, being left and right footed helps for the balance in the side, but you also look for other attributes such as one taller and another much quicker. However, both Beevers and Webster are very similar players, both tall and neither quicker than the other. Perhaps the level we are at we can get away with playing both, but in the Championship against talented players we would be punished due to a lack of pace in the backline. Both have done very well together, and have helped settled the side despite losing Craig for the rest of the season, both also chip in with goals from set plays and contribute to the goals tally.
So for the Southend game Harris reverted to the pairing of Beevers and Webster, rightly so and they both had solid games and kept a clean sheet against a side known for their fast attacking forwards With this in mind, barring injury we probably won’t see Nelson in the side for the next few games, like I mentioned I don’t think he was bad in any of the games, but what can you do when it’s clear how much better Webster and Beevers look as a pair. With Craig probably out for the rest of the season, Nelson is the only backup option we have and will get chances for the rest of the season when injury or suspension strikes, however I feel us not providing regular football will hinder Nelson’s progress. We all saw last season in the last few games what Nelson is about, and he clearly has the potential to be with us for a long time, but for a central defender at his age he needs games on a regular basis. Whether that means a loan spell to a League Two, or even Conference side I think it should be explored as an option. We of course would need to bring cover in first, so the chances of this happen are slim, but Nelson does need game time to develop.
Looking at tomorrow and the run of fixtures at this festive time of year, the minimum should be winning your home games, and then you never know, hopefully a win at either Southend or Barnsley, maybe, even a win at both?