The End of the Line, part two: Reviewing January 2021
Welcome to part two of the TSBW review of January’s action. Well, we left part one with Jim Gannon’s sacking. The devastating news has taken a while to sink in, since then we have seen more arguments, debates and accusations than an episode of Question Time, but more on Jim Gannon, Simon Rusk and the future later on.
Just 48 hours later, while the dust was still settling and with the debates in full swing the team had to return to some kind of normality (if one can perceive any kind of ‘normal’ these days) with a game against Boreham Wood at EP.
Dave Conlon, in temporary charge of the first team, named Ash Palmer and Macauley Southam-Hales in the starting line up but dropped the rapidly improving Ryan Croasdale, as County set up with a back three.
Boreham Wood, impressive in their double dismantling of County last season, went on to make the play offs and rightly deserved to be named among the favourites to repeat the feat this season. County, with all the turmoil of the previous two days, faced a difficult task on a terrible playing surface; although it must be pointed out, 'terrible' because of the incessant rain, frost and snow over the past few weeks, rather than any lack of care and attention paid by the EP groundstaff.
The lack of enthusiasm from fans on social media was apparent, this was coupled with the continued surreal atmosphere of no crowd inside EP and the lack of a Ghost in the home dugout, so it's no surprise County struggled to find their drive and killer instinct which was so apparent just four days earlier against Dagenham. However, they were given a huge pick me up after just six minutes, as John Rooney curled a wonderful free kick up, over and into the far corner of the visitor’s goal. County toiled and showed a lot of endeavour on a bad pitch, but it was Boreham Wood who seemed more threatening and a sprawling, point-blank save from Ben Hinchliffe kept County’s lead intact. The visitors finally got the goal their efforts deserved close to the hour when Hinchcliffe was beaten by a fierce drive on his near post.
A mentally weary County side pressed for the winner, as did Boreham Wood but a point apiece was a fair reflection on the afternoon’s game. The visitors showed they are arguably the most well-organised and physically adept side to face County this season, whereas County, subdued for much of the game, will probably have welcomed the chance to take a breath and relax given the unrest of the previous few days.
The announcement came late on Wednesday evening, with the podcast interrupting their schedule to discuss the news. Joining Rusk as assistant managers would be Mark McGhee and Dave Conlon. While McGhee has the experience of managing senior players at the higher levels of the game, it will be interesting to see just how he copes in an assistant’s role. Arguably the most important news is that Conlon is staying and this will hopefully give some continuity and knowledge of the EP set up to the fledgeling management partnership. The hope is that Rusk seamlessly continues the job which Gannon started, or questions will most definitely be asked of the board, and with reasonable justification.
Rusk’s appointment drew much consternation from large swathes of the EP faithful, he isn’t someone with the pedigree of a more well-known manager and a step into the unknown is always much more worrying. On the plus side he does have the experience of playing football at this level, he has a wealth of coaching experience in a Premier League set up (and no doubt the contacts to go with that), plus he has reportedly been highly-thought of by some higher up the FA’s food chain.
He appears to be very much a perfect fit for the year-old County board, Director of Football and owner and in keeping with the modern, professional, sleek and outfit we have strived to become. The string of enthusiastic smiles greeting the County faithful via YouTube on Wednesday evening suggests the hierarchy’s plan to eventually appoint someone of the calibre of Rusk has been implemented with a minimum of hassle. The worst-case scenario, and one which County fans have been most vocal about, is should Rusk fail to fulfil the board’s desires, the club will be back at square one again. All when we had a very capable and dedicated man leading the charge back to the Football League.
As far as picking up the pieces has been concerned, County fans can rightly bemoan the lightning-fast nature of Gannon’s departure, coupled with a perceived lack of sentiment shown to one of our most successful managers. Many have questioned exactly what the board want from a manager if the footballing values of Gannon are seemingly not good enough for them. The silence, thus far, has been staggeringly deafening.
We can also point to a damage of the trust, built between fans and the board on the back of a summer of healthy PR and redevelopments. If they can make such a monumental decision, one which could alter the direction of County’s history, with an apparent vague, corporate hollowness. What else are they capable of? The board called themselves ‘custodians’ in the June 2020 promotional video, however, what has become obvious from the sacking of Jim Gannon is that they’re anything but. The fact that the club is a business first and football club second is now startlingly real.
|Photo: South Manchester News|
Alas, though, County as a club, including the fans, have to look forward rather than back. This is a new County now, in reality, it has been for just over a year and now we’ve been through the delicate and for some, traumatic, experience of Jim Gannon leaving the club for probably the final time, it’s time to focus on our renewed push for promotion with Rusk at the helm…
...So long as the season finishes, of course. The government announced on Wednesday 27th January that the Winter Survival Package will be distributed in the form of loans for National League and National League North/South clubs. The ramifications for the league and clubs has still to be decided, although the possibility of grants being issued to clubs instead is increasingly unlikely due to the strict criteria set out.
The next day the League announced they would be inviting clubs to advise on how they would prefer the season to continue, as with the previous week’s discussions it appears there is a lot of mixed feeling, as a result, a separate vote for step one (National League) and step two (National League North/South) will take place as there is an apparent divide of opinion between carrying on the season in step one and suspending it pending further funding information being provided in the divisions below.
As fans, we can only sit and wait and we’ve become remarkably astute at that particular skill over the past 11 months.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that actually playing football matches has become a poor second to the stresses and gripes of funding, frozen pitches, new managers, rumours and lies, but we still have a mammoth run of fixtures to embark on between now and the last week of May, starting with Woking, away.
We woke on Saturday to find the game in doubt and looking at the pitch after half an hour of the game we can see why, but it survived two inspections and the game went ahead.
To say County were dominant, confident and clinical, would be an understatement. The ease with which they passed their way through and around the hosts bordered on the ridiculous at times. It hasn't always been the case this season but on Saturday we had the end product to match the attacking intent.
Ryan Croasdale regained his place in the starting line up and he alongside Kitching, Connor Jennings, Rooney and Maynard were the standout performers in County’s finest performance of the season.
Again, County demonstrated the aggressive, confident start to a game that they’re almost becoming synonymous with; when they play at such a tempo they’re very difficult to stop.
Jennings tapped County into a third-minute lead and Rooney rifled home from the edge of the area following excellent work from Kitching and Jennings on the left. It was no more than they deserved, although Reid should have both added to the scoreline and slid Rooney in for his second of the game before half time, Southam-Hales smashed a rebound in first half injury time to hand The Hatters a very comfortable lead. Woking didn’t make for good opponents, they struggled to cope with County’s attacking tidal wave and by the time they did in the second half, the game was well and truly over.
How much of this outstanding first half was down to the ‘new manager effect’, the poor opposition or the simple collective ability of the County side is debatable. A fair argument would suggest it was a combination, however, we all know County are very capable of this kind of performance and it is this aggressiveness and flowing football we have seen more consistently since the new year, it is quietly becoming an impressive hallmark of this side.
The second half was a much more subdued encounter as the heavy pitch and the home side’s improved performance meant we saw the other side of County; the organised and stout display of a side protecting a lead. The only downside was the host’s goal following some panicky County defending. Some things never change, and it’s something which is no doubt not lost on Rusk as he gets to know his new team. Woking were much improved in the second half, true, but County made it easy for them to create chances at times. The game was capped off with Alex Reid's fine strike into the bottom corner after he connected with a Jennings’ through ball. All this meant Rusk, McGhee and Conlon got off to the perfect start with a big game against fellow challengers Sutton United, at EP in a few days time.
As far as the odd-looking league table is concerned, County are up to third with games in hand after going six games unbeaten since the Hartlepool United disaster. With no cup distractions from here on in and, fingers crossed, the worst of the winter weather behind us, the focus is now 100% on Rusk settling in and the team keeping the consistency going. The patchy home form needs to improve quickly and with three consecutive home games on the horizon, nine points is a high expectation, but certainly not out of reach.