As January has now flicked over into February, we are effectively a month into the reign of Ady Pennock, so I thought I would have a look at how his first few weeks have gone.
Due to a free week immediately after his appointment and then a home postponement we have only played three games in the past four weeks, taking two points from fixtures versus Oldham, Sheffield United and Shrewsbury.
Not the greatest return, granted – especially as two of them teams were in and around us near the bottom of the table – but for me there have been a few positives in terms of results and performances.
Upon his arrival Pennock was refreshingly honest and forthright in front of the press.
He stated that he wanted to see us play with more natural width, and he has stuck to that promise.
Both Scott Wagstaff and Elliot List have started each of his three fixtures in charge, and it is refreshing to see players playing in their correct positions.
This can only be a benefit to us in the longer term, and although the result wasn’t the one we wanted at Oldham, we have to remember that this was the first time Pennock would have seen his players in a match situation.
He would certainly have learned more about his squad in those 90 minutes than in the ten previous days on the training ground.
After that one nil reverse he spoke about us lacking ‘men‘ and that he would – despite giving everybody a chance – look at bringing in reinforcements if required.
Clearly a response was what he wanted, and he got one in brilliant fashion the following Saturday at Brammall Lane, where despite being under the cosh for long periods – understandable at top of the league – his side dug in and even had the nerve to lead 2-1 on their way to earning a very creditable away draw.
Both Stuart Nelson and Josh Wright took the plaudits afterwards – Nels for making numerous top class saves and Wright for scoring both goals – but it was a real team effort, acknowledged by Ady immediately afterwards.
He spoke of the players running ‘further than they had all season‘ – perhaps a thinly veiled dig at the previous regime – and that this should be, and you felt would be, the norm rather than a bonus.
So after the disappointment of his first game in charge, did this point indicate better things to come?
Of course the performance was not flawless – far from it – but not many teams will leave Brammall Lane with points, and Ady himself said he is sure they will gain promotion come May.
Clearly this result had to be backed up, and back to back home games were the perfect opportunity, but as we all know the AFC Wimbledon game was called off due to a frozen pitch.
So to Shrewsbury at home instead, a chance for Ady to collect his first three points in what he said would be ‘an emotional‘ time walking out in front of the MEMS Priestfield fans for the first time as gaffer.
A solid first half saw us lead at the interval, but sadly we could not hold on during the second period, the away side shading things and deserving their point.
Ady stated afterwards that although he was disappointed that we couldn’t see things through and win the game, he was pleased that we had dug in to make sure we didn’t lose it, saying it was a game we would have lost ‘four weeks ago‘.
This point for me was spot on, because four weeks previously (bar two days) we had been put under the cosh versus Oxford during what proved to be Justin Edinburgh’s final game in charge, and we couldn’t find a way to avoid defeat.
So as much as we were surely all frustrated with not being able to claim maximum points, it was a small step in the right direction.
What we have to remember is that – despite all three displays being by no means perfect – although we would have liked more points on the board than the two we have collected, Ady is having to work with a squad that he has inherited.
With him and his coaching staff wanting to change the system entirely and get their own ideas across it is going to take a while.
Some players may buy into it more than others, so he is still learning about them himself all the while trying to put his own stamp on things as quickly as possible.
And I believe he is getting there, slowly but surely.
Having watched the Shrewsbury game live it was great to see us play with a clear system – something which we seemed to have gone away from during the final few weeks of Edinburgh’s reign – both with and without the ball.
Setting us up in a 4-4-1-1 formation, everyone seemed to know their role and their duties within that role, and it was good to see in this game – as well as away to Sheffield United – that he was willing to drop the so called stars, the so called big names such as Paul Konchesky and Jay Emmanuel Thomas.
As I have already stated, the performance was not perfect, but in terms of effort and commitment I could not fault anybody.
Yes, we once again could not see out a game after taking the lead, but that unfortunately comes about from a season of inconsistency and not winning enough, which in turn means diminished confidence.
Stuart Nelson probably again had to make more saves than Pennock thinks is ideal – especially at home – but for large periods of the game we were very decent, so there is cause for optimism.
But what about off the pitch, and that January transfer window?
Ady stated early in his reign that a centre back was a priority, so to see us not get one in is massively frustrating.
However, I am sure Ady is just as frustrated as the fans, and I am also sure the failure to land one was in no way down to a lack of effort.
He has however added four players to the ranks.
Giant goalkeeper Tomas Holy has arrived to challenge Stuart Nelson and Tom Hadler – who has reportedly recently had surgery – and this can be no bad thing in terms of competition.
With a two and half year deal given to the former Sparta Prague stopper it could be that Ady is thinking longer term and that he will compete with Hadler for the number one spot when Nels eventually departs or retires.
Josh Parker is another unknown, and although his record in English football may leave a lot to be desired in some people’s eyes I am sure Ady and his team have done their due diligence on him before offering him a contract, so let’s hope he can add something to us either from out wide or as a striker.
The final two arrivals are both on loan from Bournemouth, and one is a familiar face in front man Joe Quigley who sadly had his earlier loan spell cut short by injury.
Fingers crossed he is fully recovered from that now and can show us sooner rather than later what we have been missing.
If he is to do that then perhaps fellow loanee Harry Cornick can provide the ammunition.
The young winger was reportedly enjoying a fruitful spell at Leyton Orient before injury, so let’s hope he can carry on from where he left off at the back end of 2016.
On top of these players coming into the club, we also have both Bradley Garmston and Lee Martin approaching full fitness, and the added competition will mean that no individual can rest on their laurels.
Regardless of what your thoughts are on Ady, his coaches, his results to date and his signings are, we have to get behind him in the remaining months of the campaign.
Yes this season has not gone as we all had wished, but despite things being far from perfect – they haven’t been for a long one before Ady arrived if we are honest – we have to keep getting behind everyone and help try and push ourselves as high up that table as possible.
Pennock has already spoken about getting the MEMS Priestfield ‘rocking and rolling‘ again, and we can play a big part in that.
Yes the players have to give us something to cheer about too, as I am sure they are aware, but we have to start somewhere.
With four homes coming in up in what could be a pivotal month in February, right now is as good a time as any.
UP THE GILLS!!
NB: If you are reading this thank you, it is your choice and not something I expect.