Do Yeovil have one more miracle in them? Opposition profile
Friday, 14th Mar 2014 01:25 by Clive Whittingham
Prior to Tuesday’s defeat against Ipswich a five match unbeaten run had given Yeovil a fighting chance of surviving against the odds. Can Gary Johnson continue to work his magic?
Yeovil Junction train station is a bit of an odd place. Given that it’s neither in Yeovil, nor much of a junction, it would appear ripe for an aggressive action under the 1968 trade descriptions act and when we visited back in September a sign on the wall of the adjacent railway museum – which seemed to house a meagre collection of one clapped out old diesel from the 1980s being used for parts for the local farm machinery – advertised only a “train day” in a fortnight’s time. Presumably in case you were turning up at a railway museum expecting a bridge night, or a dogging session, or a cricket match or something.
The odd train that does leave there trundles along for a while, making prolonged stops in dark fields because there’s only a single track up ahead and another train has called shotgun, and then when it gets to Salisbury it divides in half. Imagine how thrilled the 2,000 QPR fans who journeyed down to Huish Park in September were when they found out that little detail about the train splitting on the way home. Already standing four to a toilet, with the young and the restless mounting the luggage racks, there were at least seven promising not to cause any bother while climbing into the driver’s cab thereafter.
In certain parts of the world the reaction would have been one of anger – people tearing the place apart, shifting the rubble around as an expression of their own frustration. In England the football fans merely squashed together still further, breathing in deeply and holding it through to Waterloo because oxygen is overrated anyway, and still found the odd square inch of space to snort their coke, swig their beer and sing their Kevin Gallen song. Then, of course, when they got home, and came down, and sobered up, they sat themselves down and wrote a very strongly worded letter to Southern Trains along a general theme of “have you always been this fucking stupid or were you thrown down a flight of steps as a child?”
The reply, published on our message board at the time, was unusually honest for a railway company. Extra carriages for an away support at Yeovil Town had never been required before. Splitting the train in half on the way back from Yeovil on a Saturday night had never been an issue before. The work experience boy charged with replying to the disgruntled hooped hoards reported a conversation with a senior manager who had informed him that “Yeovil Town are quite new to the Championship.”
It was like that all day. Upon arrival in the morning the Rangers fans were greeted by every taxi in the county of Somerset, block parked in the station yard, each driver holding up a sign with a name you sort of recognised on it. “It’s been a bloody nightmare every week,” said our optimistic driver, who looked like he’d auditioned for Ray Von in Phoenix Nights but not got the part.
The pub we went to, advertised online as “Yeovil’s Premier Sports Bar”, presumably against competition as stiff as Celtic have for the Scottish Premier League title these days, was so shocked and enthused by the sight of a dozen Londoners walking in clutching debit cards that the landlord scurried off to the kitchen and prepared a pie and pea lunch for all in attendance despite nobody asking for pie and peas and no pie and peas being advertised on either a chalkboard or menu. “Come back again next year,” he said. Next year? I’m thinking of moving there permanently.
And at Yeovil’s’ small, functional stadium, looking like the work of an autistic child with a Meccano set, we all gathered behind the goal on a proper terrace and, at one point, had a conversation with Yeovil’s hairy left back Luke Ayling who leant on the goal post, swigged from his water bottle, and then turned to the QPR fans behind the goal and said “it’s alright down here isn’t it?”. Yes it is Luke, yes it bloody is.
One of the finest football books ever written – quite by accident it seems, given the author’s chronic lack of football knowledge and brash arrogance throughout – is Joe McGinniss’ 1999 work The Miracle of Castel di Sangro. The plot was a village team from high in the Apennine Mountains, slap bang in the middle of Italy, had somehow scraped into the second tier of the nation’s football ladder – Serie B – thanks to the maverick management of foul mouthed veteran Osvaldo Jaconi. An old style dictator, Jaconi had inexplicably substituted his regular, senior, goalkeeper in the last minute of extra time in the final of the Serie C1 play off final so that a previously untried rookie could go in goal for the penalty shoot out. Three saves later, Castel Di Sangro were welcoming Genoa and Torino to their ramshackle stadium with a 7,000 capacity.
The book is a fabulous read as McGinniss, a political writer mostly, befriends the players and the club lurches from one farce to the next. At one point an attempt to dye the pitch green to disguise what a poor state it’s in floods the stadium and results in home games being played 70 miles away at a neutral venue. On another occasion the chairman stages a fake exhibition match to unveil a new African signing from Leicester City who, it quickly becomes apparent, is an actor who has never played the sport before. Two players are killed in a car accident and – spoiler alert – the final game of the season at Bari is fixed. The whole thing is worth it for McGinniss, whose prior experience of “soccer” stretches little further than the 1994 World Cup in the US, going to Jaconi’s apartment with a suggestion for a new formation and system scribbled on a scrap of paper, and then objecting to the Italian’s rudeness when he is forcibly ejected back out onto the street.
Joe McGinniss died this week incidentally, aged 71. Read that book, if you do nothing else for the next few weeks.
And while the farce is nowhere near as deep, the elevation of Yeovil Town – a Southern League side until 20 years ago and a non-league side for all of their history bar the last decade – is equally as remarkable. Yeovil is not a town, nor a club, set up for Championship football but here they are, and it is, making a bloody good fist of it, and smiling all the way through. Castel Di Sangro survived that first season in Serie B, and Yeovil now have every chance of doing the same. Seemingly dead and buried a month ago a five match unbeaten run, prior to a disappointing midweek defeat against Ipswich, has propelled them back into contention and they have winnable home games left to play.
Charlton are one of two sides currently below them in the league and although both the Addicks and the Glovers lost 1-0 to QPR in the first half of the season the difference in attitude was stark. Yeovil showed no fear, attacking Rangers throughout, and were desperately unlucky not to win the game, never mind draw it. Charlton looked afraid, and settled for staying in shape and hoping for a 0-0. QPR have fallen off the rails again since, and Charlton won the return game 1-0, but Chris Powell’s sacking as the club accelerates towards being a Standard Liege feeder seems to have sealed their fate. Yeovil just have to find two more to finish below them now.
If they manage it then no doubt other, lazier, clubs will start sniffing around manager Gary Johnson all over again. He left Yeovil previously, having escorted them out of non-league and established them in the professional game, and subsequently got Bristol City to a Championship play-off final, but he failed at Northampton and Peterborough and returned to rebuild a reputation. He just seems to fit here. Getting Yeovil to the cusp of safety while selling last season’s top scorer Paddy Madden to Scunthorpe, and the club’s outstanding player Ed Upson – an Ipswich academy graduate – to Millwall is almost as staggering as winning promotion in the first place.
They have Bolton, Barnsley, Bournemouth, Huddersfield and Middlesbrough to play at home, as well as a trip to Charlton and another to Blackpool. Some of their away games are tough – QPR (stop laughing at the back), Leicester, Wigan – but they stand a puncher’s chance and whenever Johnson has been at the helm, they’ve rarely needed any more than that to spring a major surprise.
Two of our best contributors to the Opposition Profile column so far this season, Kurtis West and Tom Cuff, both kindly agreed to give up more of their time this week and help out again for the return fixture. Thanks to both of them for that, and check out what they said back in September by http://www.fansnetwork.co.uk/football/queensparkrangers/news/32873/the-continued here.
Assess Yeovil's season so far for us - the struggle can't have been unexpected?
Tom: We were expected to struggle of course but I think it is fair to say we have managed to compete in almost every game. A lack of experience, I believe, has cost us dearly - being able to hold on to leads and grind out results away etc. We have dropped 24 points this season from wining positions,- that just shows how we can compete with other teams in this division. It has been a massive test, but with our budget being an average one in League Two it just shows how much the club have overachieved and how well they are doing to still be in with a shout of staying up three quarters of the way through the season.
Kurtis: The season so far has been brilliant for us. As you say the struggle was expected but if you look at our budget and playing squad you can see how hugely we have overachieved. A lot of people would have had us down as dead and buried by now but still we are just two points away from safety as I write this and that's with a game in hand. I think that, although this season doesn't look brilliant for people looking in, for me and the other fans it has been truly amazin, going to places like Reading, Bolton and Derby has been fantastic and no one would of said that we would be playing some of these English giants in the league ten years ago. Our rise has been nothing short of a miracle and I think staying up this season would top the lot of our achievements in the last 15 years.
Do you think you'll stay up? What's in your favour and what's going against you?
Kurtis: Do I think we will stay up? Honestly, about a month ago, I thought we were gone - too many 1-0 defeats and a lack of fire power was costing us hugely. However now on a five game unbeaten run (before Ipswich Game), I really do think we can do it. Of course it is going to be very, very, very tough for us but it was always going to be wasn't it? The squad now have the confidence and we look very solid at the back which means we normally only have to score one if we want to win. Of course we do let in goals but, by far, not as many as I thought we would. Our fixture list is going for us at the moment, of course any home games are vital at this part of the season and we still have teams like Barnsley, Huddersfield and Bournemouth at home. In fact are final run in seems to look very good at the moment. Barnsley, Charlton and Blackpool in back to back games will probably define our season but I won't mind picking up points before that. One thing that doesn't look brilliant for us is back to back away games against yourselves, Wigan and Leicester, but as long as we can avoid being the whipping boys in those matches, I am confident we can do it. So my answer as it stands, is yes, we will do it.
Tom: If you had asked me four or five games ago I would have been less confident that I am now. We were really struggling to pick points up and after not coming out of the relegation zone since September morale was very low. However… We then went five unbeaten with three draws and two wins and suddenly confidence was in the air and it was looking a lot better. We then had a very poor showing on Tuesday night at home to Ipswich, A 1-0 loss and a real lack of passion shown I'm afraid. I believe we can stay up but it will go right to the end. We still have to play Barnsley at home which is a massive game as well as Charlton away. Yes, we can stay up, but every game from now on must be treated as a cup final.
Is Gary Johnson retaining the support of the fans and the board? Will he stay regardless of the outcome? How do you rate his performance this season?
Tom: Very interesting question. I think the answer to this will vary quite dramatically between different sets of fans. I personally think Johnson has done absolute wonders with Yeovil and has achieved the impossible. This really is our Premier League and if we manage to stay up it will be an equally as big if not bigger achievement then promotion last year. However, I do feel the way he has managed certain situations this year and his decisions both with players and tactics have been disappointing. I’m still feeling slightly bitter about the whole 'Paddy Madden' situation - glancing at the question below I will hold fire for a second on that. He is still maintaining the support of the fans regardless as I think every supporter has to appreciate how much of a task he has on his hands. He certainly has the backing off the board, if Johnson were to leave they would struggle to attract someone of his quality with our financial budget.
Kurtis I think it really is impossible for Gary to do anything wrong in our parts, However, probably for the first time ever, some of the fans felt Gary was making poor tactical decisions and costing us games at the start of the season, also the sales of play-off hero's Paddy Madden and Ed Upson didn't exactly go down brilliantly but remarkably the decision to sell the players has seemed to work well. Ed Upson was the bigger loss in my eyes but we have definitely brought in enough quality to replace him. In terms of the board, they have backed Gary hugely, they have huge amounts of trust in him and give him the funds he needs to really bring in the quality needed to stay up. In my opinion, this season, he has been absolutely phenomenal, he may have received some stick from me but looking back on it, every decision he has made has worked out fantastically. He won't be sacked if we go down this season, no doubt about it. I don't think you could find a manager in the world who could do what he has with this team. I actually think if we stay up it will be very hard to keep hold of him - surely if he keeps the smallest ever team in the Championship up, then he is bound to attract interest from other teams. It would be a great shame to lose him but these things happen in football.
What happened with Paddy Madden? Star of last season's team but barely got a look in this year and now at Scunthorpe.
Tom: As I mentioned...still feeling slightly bitter about the Madden situation so here is my potentially biased view…
I feel the way Johnson managed the situation was very poor and unprofessional. Madden was given 45 minutes in our first home game against Milwall and then subbed off. From then on he made a few sub appearances here and there. Johnson publically criticised Madden for not jumping up to Championship standard. We struggled for goals and have done all season and I perfectly accept that, however Johnson was playing players up front instead of Madden who in my opinion were either wingers, or not proven goal scorers. We had a player at the club in Madden, who was League 1 top goal scorer the previous season. I understand you do not know what goes on behind closed doors however you do not lose the talent that Madden showed in the previous year over night. Madden this season, for unknown reasons, seemed very low on confidence. I strongly believe if Johnson had given him a run of games Madden would of found his shooting boots and hit form as he showed last season. That has gone now and we have to move on. I’m pleased that Madden has moved onto to a club chasing promotion in League 2 and has recently found the net again.
Kurtis: The sale of Paddy Madden is one I get asked about a lot - people find it weird that we sell our best player last season so cheaply, but more ask why he never really got a look in this season. To answer your question, I have don't know the precise details about why he left but it definitely involved a falling out with Gary Johnson. Some people say he asked for an improved contract which Paddy strongly denies and to be honest I can't see that being the case either. I don't think we'll ever really find out why he fell out with GJ but if I'm honest, we now just have to move on from Paddy. We love him for what he did for our club last season but these things happen and I wish him the best at Scunthorpe.
How has former QPR loanee Ishmael Miller done for you guys?
Kurtis: Ishmael has been a revelation for us really. Ever since joining in late November, days after the announcement of Paddy Madden being transfer listed, he has added something we never had before. He is a big strong lad who gets himself about which we have never really had before. He scored on his debut against Watford in a 3-0 win and since then has never really looked back. We lost him for a spell at the end of December up until the last week in January as Forest wanted to get Ishmael off their books permanently which obviously didn't work out. He has come back and ever since done pretty well, scoring two goals last Saturday against Sheffield Wednesday. One criticism fans have of him, is his sometimes lazy attitude which makes him a target for fans but as long as he scores goals and keeps us up, we won't mind.
Tom: Ishmael seems to be doing the job that we need - causing a hassle to defenders and being able to hold the ball as well as finding the net. Seven goals in 13 games is the sort of form we desperately needed this year. He isn't the sort of player who will keep running until the last minute, he can seem lazy' and uninterested, but then he will get up, pick the ball up, take on two defenders and pop one in the top corner. It’s that unpredictability that is keeping him in the team. If we do manage to stay up, Miller would have played a big part in it for us.
Who have been the stand out performers this year, and where are the weak links in the team?
Tom: We signed Shane Duffy on loan from Everton earlier on this season who is a centre back and he has been an absolute rock - he most defiantly will go places. Duffy and Byron Webster at the centre of our defence have been a real force and they really do play very well together. The weak links for you on Saturday will be our fullbacks and being able to get in and behind them. I do rate both Ayling (RB) and Jamie McAllister (LB) but they can be vulnerable and if played against quick wingers will get caught.
Kurtis: Our main stand out performers have to be our central defender partnership of Byron Webster and Shane Duffy. Shane came in from Everton on loan in September has played in every game since barring the trip to Huddersfield. Both have forged a solid partnership together and have been such a big reason for why we are still in for a shout at this stage. Both big, bulky players who aren't afraid to put anything on the line to defend the ball from hitting the net - definitely our strongest area of the team. I think a little weakness we have is at left back with Jamie McAllister who sometimes can get very out done by quicker wingers and has a tendency to go down injured a lot and has come off in several games this season. We may lack an experienced squad with only McAllister, James Hayter and Ishmael really having decent experience of this league, but the youth have definitely done well for us with former Arsenal youngster Luke Ayling doing very well at right back and most recently Duane Holmes and Tom Lawerence on loan from Huddersfield and Manchester United.
Links >>> http://www.ytfc.net/>Official website >>> http://www.yeovilexpress.co.uk/>Yeovil Express local newspaper >>> http://www.fansnetwork.co.uk/football/queensparkrangers/news/32763/lfw-travel-gu Travel Guide >>> http://www.tgr2.co.uk/>The Green Room forum >>> http://www.ciderspace.co.uk/>Ciderspace, main fan site and forum >>> http://www.yeovil.vitalfootball.co.uk/forum/category-view.asp>Vital Yeovil
Tweet @loftforwords, @tomcuff, @WestyYTFC
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