Short term pain, long term gain

Ben Garner vs AFC Wimbledon

It’s a turbulent time at The Gas. Having reached the dizzy heights of third in the league earlier in the season, a string of poor results have seen us drop to, as it stands, 13th. Unsurprisingly, supporters are concerned by this, with negative and angry reactions pouring in via social media. However, I am calling for patience during this time, a time in which I believe the club is going through a lot of changes that will benefit us in the long term, but will perhaps see the immediate future become a little rocky.

Garner was not the right man at the right time

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

FIVE GAMES BEFORE GARNER: W4, D1
FIVE GAMES UNDER GARNER: L4, D1
League One fixtures only.

I’d be lying if I said that Ben Garner was my first-choice for the job. I thought that given the circumstances, it was time for a charismatic character that could rally the fans together – a certain Ian Holloway fitted the mould. And truth be told I still wonder how we’d have done with him in charge, having seen him take over at Grimsby Town since. But just because Garner wasn’t my first-choice, or the way I’d have steered the ship, doesn’t mean I can’t see the reasons that the club came to the decision. And in fact, I’ve come to agree with them.

To take over a side in such an unsustainable position is a real challenge. It was always going to be tricky as a new manager to come in and replicate that form, because it was so unusual in the first place. But factor in the shock wave caused by our former manager deciding to bail on his team, for a team near the bottom of the division below, and the job becomes a poisoned chalice.

Could another manager have done better with this squad? Maybe. But for how long?

They say that results are all that matters in football, but this season has proven to me that that is just not the case. I witnessed a divided fan base, and a suffering atmosphere. Performances, regardless of results, failed to inspire a group of supporters that have always been known to back their club passionately.

Graham Coughlan may have seen us into a healthy league position, but our team was being dominated week-after-week, and fans including myself were shocked that we continued to pick up the points that we did. I understand how strange a concept this is, and it’s a hard one to explain, but our results were not sustainable. The wheels were always going to fall off.

Add to this the injuries, the size of our squad, the festive fixtures build-up – it’s no surprise that our form has dipped.

Graham Coughlan, who left Bristol Rovers for League Two.

A sustainable approach

So it was important that we looked to the future. We can’t get by being the club that relies on one strikers goals, world-class saves from their goalkeeper, and luck. We needed a solution in which we can live within our financial means, whilst becoming competitive at League One level and beyond.

It is at this point that the appointment of Ben Garner starts to make sense. He has held a number of impressive coaching roles, in which he has overseen the development of many players that have gone on to achieve greater things. Players that have gone on to be worth a lot of money. At a club like ours, where finances are simply not going to match those around us, we have to be looking at the strategy to not only provide the funding, but to ensure we get the most bang for our buck.

Developing and coaching players is the way we do this. By bringing players through the youth academy, and by signing younger players from other clubs and helping them to reach their potential, we will finally find a way to be consistently competitive among those with more financial backing.

Patience..

But what that won’t provide is success in the short term. This approach will take time. An entire philosophy will need to be instilled at the club, from top to bottom, and Garner will need time with the players to make this happen. It was never going to happen overnight. And with Garner being granted extended leave due to unfortunate personal circumstances, progress will likely be stifled for some time.

We have to give the club a chance to shift it’s focus dramatically, into a more sustainable approach. I truly believe it is the best thing for the future of the club, both on and off the pitch. As supporters we have been pleading for years to see our club become a more professional outfit, and I have seen enough to suggest this is well underway. It’s time to bring this new-found professionalism onto the pitch. And over time, I believe we will see the progress we are all so desperate for – but we will need to be patient.

Ben Garner gives instruction to his team at The Memorial Stadium.