Losing to a Cheltenham side heading to the top of the table, with a performance that was (in my humble opinion) far from the worst we have seen at the Moss Rose, is not by itself a disaster. Yet in the context of a run of form that has seen just one league win since the end of October, the result has triggered a burst of discontent amongst some of the more critical fans on the messageboards.
Six points from a possible thirty-nine looks bad. Mainly because it is bad. Extremely bad. But while managers can often be accused of making or exaggerating excuses for their failings, the number of injuries inflicted upon the Silkmen over the past months has been simply incredible. Only four first team players have escaped injury or suspension at some point during this recent run – enough to test even the deepest squads in the division, let alone Macclesfield’s resources.
Fans are looking for something else to blame, to an extent understandable. Screaming and shouting at a twisted ankle or torn ligament (probably) won’t change its condition. It is easy to become bored/depressed by the never-ending weekly casualty lists, no matter how accurate. And when looking for a target, it’s usually the manager who bears the brunt of criticism.
The main criticism being levelled is at Gary Simpson’s perceived negative tactics – playing with a lone front-man in a 4-5-1 formation put forward as exhibit A. This formation does not necessarily have to be negative if the striker is properly supplied and supported by the midfield, but too often in recent weeks he has appeared far too isolated and long balls have left Macclesfield starved of possession for lengthy periods of games.
Ben Mills worked hard up front on Saturday, won the ball in the air and came close to opening his account, but there was certainly a case that he needs someone alongside him. Tomlinson or Donnelly would have been useful if they weren’t suffering thigh and calf-knack. Perhaps better supply from midfield – Chalmers could have helped out here except for his pesky hernia. Or at least an energetic midfielder behind to support him -Draper would be ideally suited if his foot wasn’t in plaster. Even some of those making it onto the pitch were far from 100%. Injuries might be boring but they are also impossible to ignore.
I am not saying that the injuries excuse every defeat or that Simmo has got everything right. I understand and share in the frustration that having once again been just outside the playoffs we have slumped so dramatically – the promise shown evaporating into another season of lower table mediocrity. We all are aware of the limitations of running on one of the league’s smallest budgets but having seen the start made to the season, the slide down the table is doubly hard to swallow.
We have to have faith that things can be turned around and it does not have to be blind faith – the evidence of the good quality football and results this squad can achieve was there to see before this miserable run began. I would add things can only improve on the injury front but I wouldn’t want to tempt fate.
The team have jetted off for a short training break in Tenerife this week, part reward for their cup exploits and part avoiding the disruption of the British elements. The entire squad, including the walking/limping wounded, have travelled and we can but hope the warmer climes aid their recovery ahead of potentially season-defining matches against the league’s bottom two. On recent form however, don’t be surprised if someone snaps an ankle in a sun-lounger.