Dear Roker Report,
Travelling back on the 6.30pm Kings Cross train on Sunday after watching yet another Wembley loss, I listened in my gloom and despondency to a conversation/argument about our poor team/players which lasted over three hours before in the end I had to finally butt in and put in what I believe is the main reason why we will remain in League One.
The reason in two words is Jack Ross.
The role of any manager is to manage, to get the maximum level of effort, skill and productivity out of the workforce under his control. Ross was given the opportunity to utilise the largest transfer budget in the division, a blank canvas to provide a squad of players and staff to produce a end product of promotion to the Championship.
The fact that he ultimately failed in that task is in his own words ‘his fault’, a fact which I 100% agree with. Over the course of 61 games this season he has failed to adapt and adjust to the obvious failings not only in the teams he selects but to the tactics he asks his teams to adopt.
To have dropped points or lose matches in 14 games this season having been in winning positions is totally unacceptable. The changes in team formation, the use of substitutions which sometimes baffle the mind and the continuous selection of players who are clearly incapable beggars belief. Is it any wonder that the team over the course of the season have looked tactically unsure and unsound.
In my opinion it is absolutely essential we gain promotion this coming season or I can only see a downward spiral which may be unrecoverable. In order to do this I honestly believe we need to replace Ross as soon as possible and replace him with someone with the knowledge of this level and the expertise to attain the goal of automatic promotion at the first attempt.
Ross has had his opportunity, been given more than enough resources to do the job and failed, we cannot afford to allow that to happen again this coming season. Let’s give someone more capable the opportunity and the blank canvas of pre-season to give us the loyal fans something to look forward to.
Ed’s Note [Gav]: Whilst I don’t necessarily agree with you, I completely understand your viewpoint and can’t argue with it. I’d like to see him given my time but I can see why people want rid. He failed in his mission to get us promoted. I think fans could take that failure had they seen a team pushing themselves as far as they could possibly go, but with automatic promotion in our hands we threw it away, and then just didn’t turn up in the Play-Off Final.
So, quite rightly there are people who suspect he’s not up to the job. I think he’ll get time again to reshuffle his pack in the summer but if we don’t start in the manner befitting of a team going for the league title he’ll not last for very long.
Dear Roker Report,
Congratulations to Charlton, who in all fairness, were deserved winners in this season’s League 1 play-off final, and good luck to them in The Championship next season.
But re the crestfallen losers, what can one really say? Football, as with life itself, can be cruel and unfair at times, and to say that to lose to such a late goal was heartbreaking, would be a bit of an understatement. Who says that “lightning doesn’t strike twice”, “1998 the sequel” may be an apt description, what with Charlton having got the better of us again at Wembley. And certainly a case of “third time unlucky” in terms of play-off finals, though I guess you could possibly have put money on the “SAFC Wembley jinx” striking again, what with no win there now in six attempts, since that momentous day way back in 1973!
So the season ended as it started, with a fixture v Charlton, only this time, our opponents managed to reverse the 1-2 defeat they suffered at The Stadium Of Light way back in August 2018. And of course, it was yet ANOTHER case of us failing to defend a potential winning lead (fortuitous as it was), in fact, if I had a £ for every time I’ve known this to happen, I reckon I’d be quite a rich man right now!
So I guess its now time to reflect and analyse just where we went wrong/how we came up short re our ultimate objective of immediate promotion back to The Championship. And TBH, I don’t think we really did enough to have won our “winner takes all” clash v Charlton, for apart from the comical/flukey own-goal which put us ahead, we never really created anything of note when it came to goalscoring chances. While both Charlton’s goals, even if the winner was harsh, tended to highlight a rather fundamental flaw in our side, i.e. a “soft-centred” defence. After all, any successful team relies on a solid foundation at the back, and if you can’t defend effectively, what chance have you got of promotion or any sort of success? In a nutshell, Charlton just seemed more determined/more up for the it, and I guess in the end, we could have no complaints really.
Maybe it was the case that we finally “ran out of steam”, having endured such a demanding season. In which case, was promotion at the first attempt possibly a bridge too far? I guess there will now be massive inquest in the close season on the part of both club and fans alike as to why we’ve failed this season, but the fact is that our latest Wembley/play-off failure is now history, “its no use crying over spilt milk, so its important that we now re-group to face the fresh challenge that next season will bring. It’s a bit embarrassing that a club of our size/stature will now spend at least two consecutive season’s in England’s third tier, and next season will by no means be a “stroll in the park”, for asides from ourselves, the likes of Portsmouth, Doncaster and one or two others who narrowly missed on the prize of promotion, will be keen to make amends for this season’s disappointments. Not to mention the trio of clubs relegated from The Championship, namely Bolton, Ipswich and Rotherham, who are sure to have their eyes set on an immediate return “upstairs”. Thus, its important that we learn from the lessons and ultimate disappointment of 2018-19, which will hopefully help to galvanise us for a more sustained and dare I say it, successful promotion bid in 2019-20.
Which is why, at the risk of reiterating, that we must keep Jack Ross, for continuity at managerial level is a vital component at any club. Sure, our manager has made mistakes last season (but which manager hasn’t?), but I’m sure he’ll now be wiser for the experience of his first-ever season in England, which has been something of a “learning curve” for him, and will have a better idea of what is required next time round. Particularly as he’ll have a full summer/close season in which to assess his squad etc., and make the necessary adjustments/reinforcements. For I think its obvious that our squad is a bit unbalanced, and in need of refreshing/an overhaul, maybe a good mixture of youth and experience could be whats needed, but whatever, I’m sure that Jack Ross will have an idea of what he needs, and providing he’s backed financially, I’m also quite confident that we’ll be in good shape when the new season commences next August.
So in conclusion, while it was a savage blow to lose the way we did v Charlton, its worth remembering that out of adversity can come better fortune, as we saw back in 1998, when after our previous play-off defeat to The Londoners, we went on to win the (old) First Division title in some style. I’m not suggesting that we’d win League 1 in a similar manner in 2019-20 (would be nice though), but positivity can pay off, so its vital that we now look to the future, hopefully wiser for the experience of the last nine months or so. Roll on then the release of the League 1 fixtures on 20th June, also the start of the new League season on 3rd August. Who knows, the latter may be the start of an exciting and ultimately successful journey.
Ed’s Note [Gav]: I hope you’re right. The squad needs to be rebuilt and I’m not sure there’ll be the same level of investment, so our recruitment has to be spot on and perhaps slightly different to the way we went about it last time, i.e. signing players like Will Grigg who cost a bit more but are a known quantity. There may be a bigger reliance on youth and players from the lower leagues as we look to get out of the third tier on a smaller budget - a tough ask, but still a better position than pretty much every other team we’ll be competing with.
Dear Roker Report,
Now that the dust has sort of settled and it time to reflect on the season.
Yes it’s disappointment of not going up but when you look to see where we have been past few years and to the preseason where we didn’t have enough players for 11v11 on the training pitch.
Yes, Jack Ross has made mistakes but hopefully we’ll learn and improve next season.
To me sacking the manager doesn’t work as that’s what got us into the mess before hand.
We need to back Jack Ross and the players. I’m sure there’ll be investment in squad, as this season 61 Games took it out of the squad. Players need to reflect and refresh specially Grigg - next season we should see a fully fit Grigg banging in goals.
The top two should be the aim come May next year. Keep the faith.
Ed’s Note [Gav]: I love the optimism David... hopefully after a few weeks of reflection I’ll be the same. We need to be motivated as a club towards winning the league. No excuses, we have to do it next year.