Simply put, Town were beaten by the better side – a team first to every second ball, a team better organised with a more effective gameplan, a team that fought for each other, despite not having a standout player. Tom Lockyer’s second half strike was, on paper at least, the difference between the two teams, but in truth James McKeown stopped the result from being far more one-sided. Bristol Rovers missed a controversial penalty and striker Taylor forced Town’s keeper into two very good saves. On the other hand, it took Town 80 minutes to even have a shot – the BBC claim we managed six over the 90 minutes but I think that’s generous. Mildenhall didn’t have to do anything whatsoever, he wasn’t troubled at all. Town were inept going forward, flat-footed without any kind of attacking verve. There was no movement, no flashes of genius and no imagination. It was a match crying out for Scott Neilson.
In April last year, after a home defeat to Halifax, I wrote: “Teams are able to nullify all our attacking prowess and dominate us because we set up to match others, not because we try and beat them…it’s all too predictable, not enough forward runners and no-one’s ever playing off the shoulder of the centre halves.” The concern for me is that a year on, those words are still relevant today. Christian Jolley, on paper, is a great signing. But he’s not match fit at all and he’s totally devoid of confidence. We’ve seen what he’s capable of – we all remember the Newport Play Off games two years ago – but is he currently any better than what we already have? Is it too much of a risk to bring in a player who can’t hit the ground running? Ross Hannah’s been devoid of confidence for two years and has seen a procession of players brought in ahead of him. Lenell John-Lewis’s goals have dried up. Ollie Palmer and Jon-Paul Pittman are injured. Hamish Watson can’t get a meaningful sniff. All of the above have played alongside Lenny at some point, but none have really nailed down a starting berth (although Palmer probably will when he regains fitness). We’ve seen the same problems with so many different personnel in attacking positions that you have to start asking the question ‘is the problem really the dozens and dozens of players we’ve brought in the last three years, or the tactics we employ on the pitch?’ Jennings, Cook, Elding, Hearn, Tounkara, Brodie…the list goes on. The names change, the problems persist.
Town have been poor at home far too often this season. Macclesfield, Lincoln, Kidderminster, Southport, Torquay, Dover, Nuneaton…yes we’ve done well to beat Barnet and Woking, but Town’s inconsistent home form will ultimately cost them this season. I don’t believe season ticket holders have had value for money this year – too many poor performances, too many lost points. On paper we’ve got the best squad we’ve ever had in non-league, but I fear the same result as the last three seasons. We seem to be making the same mistakes and lessons aren’t being learned. Over the last two years I’ve gone into Play Off campaigns with the hope of getting promoted and it fucking hurts when we fail. This time round there’s almost an inevitability about what’s going to happen.
Bristol Rovers will probably catch Barnet and go up as Champions. They’re a proper team, one that has a strict gameplan with a manager who sets his team up effectively to win games. If that happens, history says Barnet won’t go up in the Play Offs. But unless we start winning our home games and becoming more effective in the final third, neither will we.