Steve Eyre's time at Spotland
Tuesday, 20th Dec 2011 11:12 by Col
We look back at Steve Eyre's six months in charge at Spotland.
So Steve, where did it all go wrong? I think there was a real lack of understanding of League One football and Steve Eyre's experiences of football, and that ended up being his downfall. What might have worked when dealing with some of the best talented youngsters in the country doesn't automatically translate to League One football, and unfortunately for all parties involved, that gulf proved to be too much.
Tactically, we were all over the place. Obviously, it differed from what we'd had for all of last season, and I made a point early on in the season that it took us at least ten games under Keith Hill to get used to playing the 4-3-3 / 4-5-1 formation which arguably cost us silverware in our preparations for League One, so perhaps it wasn't a surprise that our players weren't immediately comfortable with the way they were now being asked to play.
But there was never any stability with the style of play. Formations were chopped and changed at the drop of a hat, and there were matches where we were being asked to play four or five different formations all in the same game. It was no surprise that so many of the players didn't know their own individual roles, or were allowed to build up that sixth sense of knowing where team mates were likely to be. That might have been possible with players being prepared to play at the pinnacle of world football, but with the greatest of respect to our own squad, that level of football is a million miles from the cut and thrust of League One football.
There were always a great deal of sympathy for the manager, and I don't think anyone believed he'd been given an easy job, He'd stepped into the biggest shoes this club has ever known, and whilst on the day of his appointment we looked to have a settled side, by the opening week of the season, it had become a side that had been ripped apart with the Summer sales of O'Grady, Done and Wiseman. It was the departure of O'Grady which was our biggest blow, but it had become apparent from very early on that O'Grady's future was likely to be elsewhere and the failure to have a replacement lined up has had such a dramatic effect on our season.
And it was times like this where the inexperience of the manager showed. We were suddenly asking a man to rebuild a side despite having no experience in player recruitment in his life. And despite murmurings to the contrary, the board had made funds available but we missed out on the likes of Shefki Kuqi who opted to join Oldham and Jon Parkin who was after a five figure salary. Replacements were sought but we found ourselves backed into signing the likes of Matthew Barnes-Homer who may or may not still be at the club. Answers on a postcard.......
Eyre's rebuilding often looked desperate, and by the loan window closed in the penultimate week in November, Eyre had brought twenty signings into the club yet we found ourselves no stronger than we had been in the Summer. Indeed, amongst those signings we had a minimum of two unable to make the matchday squad due to restrictions on loan players, whilst players such as Marc Twaddle look like a ghost employee and Joe Thompson hasn't been seen since Barnsley made an approach.
But ultimately, and it's been quoted by both Eyre and Dunphy, results are what has cost us. Results have most definitely been unacceptable this season, and the worrying thing has been that more often than not, the results that we have picked up have been more than the performances have deserved. It's not been as if anyone could claim that we were the victims of bad luck, and Saturday's game against Yeovil was only the second league game of the season where you could justifiably say that we out played the opposition despite what post-match proclamations might otherwise suggest.
With just four wins to our name all season, we were asking for something nigh on impossible if this was to be turned round, and it was uncertain just where our next win was going to come from. Even our solitary victory in the past thirteen games was a game that could have gone either way. And all this done on what has been the biggest wage budget in the club's history. Whilst not expecting miracles, Dale fans were perfectly entitled to expect more than what we had got.
There are five games that sum up our season so perfectly to me:
Wrexham 3 Dale 2
Of course, you should never read too much into pre-season games, and its not as if we didn't have poor pre-season results under Hillcroft. But despite us fielding a side that was to differ greatly from Steve Eyre's eventual starting eleven at Sheffield Wednesday, there was something drastically not right about this game. The players looked far from comfortable with what they were being asked to do, and the style of play looked so alien to them, it was if we had no gameplan at all. Wrexham cut through us at will, and whilst a five minute spell before half time made the scoreline look comfortable. We also had the first signs of ill discipline and petulance on the pitch, with Grimes kicking out an opponent three times without sanction. This was a proper horror show, and the walk back to the car after the game was one of the most silent I've ever known as the fears for 2011-12 became apparent. The threat of relegation should not be so strong in July.
Stevenage 4 Dale 2
The fixture computer had not been kind to us. Opening games against Sheffield Wednesday and Huddersfield were never going to give us the sort of gimmie that sides like to start the season with, and we found ourselves heading to Stevenage with just two points from our opening four games. As David Lloyd might say, they bloody murdered us. What was so frustrating was that the difference between the two sides was the hard work and team spirit that our hosts possessed, rather than the actual abilities of the two teams. This was never more evident than when after we grabbed a lifeline by equalising, they went straight up the other end and regained the lead, and a horrific end to the first half when our heads were clearly on the half time cuppa, and our hosts scored the most predictable goal of the season. To be outplayed so comprehensively by what was man for man an inferior team was very worrying.
Bury 2 Dale 4
This was the one game where everything clicked. And whilst it was a fantastic day and performance, it highlights the underachievement that has blighted our season. We were rampant with three goals in the opening twenty minutes. It wasn't even one of those games like the 7-2 at Stockport where everything we touched went in. We could have two or three more goals, and if you watch the replays, I'm convinced once chance was over the line. Was this a tactical masterclass by Eyre? Did the players rise to this occasion whilst unable to do so for the bread and butter games (bring back memories of the cup run under Paul Simpson)? Or were Bury just a big steaming pile of poo on the day that Dog and Duck Under 12's could have hammered? We'll never know, but this should have been the benchmark that we stuck to for the remainder of the season. Formations changed on a whim, and it became months before we tried to replicate that formation and selection.
Dale 1 Chesterfield 1
In a relegation battle, you try and look for teams that are worse than yourselves. Chesterfield were one such side - a side so poor, that they had to sign Neal Trotman to try and sort out their defence. Fans were quite understandably looking upon this fixture as one in which if we couldn't win this one, then who were capable of beating in this division? Come matchday, and there was a massive gulf between the teams, and not for the first time this season, Dale stole a point from a side that had battered us all game. It was no exaggeration that Chesterfield could and should have had five or six goals in this game. A late Jonah equaliser saved our blushes only for us to regain them with post match comments that "a draw was a fair result". Not in the real world.
Sheffield United 3 Dale 0
Of course, we'd be being greedy and having proper delusions of grandeur if we looked upon this game as being a must win. But for me this symbolises so much of what was served up during Steve Eyre's time in charge. We started the game well, and inside the first forty minutes, we had spells where we were certainly on top. However if truth be told, that dominant spell brought a couple of half chances and nothing more than that. Five minutes before half time, and the game was up. In the spell before half time, they could have had three, and by the final whistle, the scoreline of 3-0 flattered us despite the Blades taking their foot off the gas with thirty minutes to go.
Of course, there were other highpoints such as the win at QPR - our only ever away win at a top flight club, and players such as JLAA and Nicky Adams have certainly looked to have upped their game under Eyre's management, but at the end of the day, we were on a downward spiral and Chris Dunphy was perfectly right to make the decision that he did on Monday morning to relieve Eyre of his duties. Relegation is something that we need to avoid, and whilst relegation may still come our way, at least we'll be able to argue that we didn't go down without a fight.
As for Steve Eyre, well he can only have benefitted from his time at Dale and come out all the better for it. I'd be surprised if we ever saw him back in League Football management, but the experience will add to his coaching in the future. All reports suggest that Eyre is one of the nicest blokes you could ever wish to meet, and everyone seemed to recognise that he was trying his best to make a go at managing a League One team - a fact demonstrated by the overwhelming support that has been given on matchdays. But he leaves Spotland after six months - the second shortest spell of management in the club's history.
But his future now lies elsewhere, and quite rightly the focus is now on Dale and making sure that we appoint the right man to give ourselves a fighting chance of survival in League One. The next appointment is one that could be the most crucial in the history of the club (no pressure Chris!), and everyone will have their own opinion as to who that replacement should be. But there will be a massive need for that replacement to hit the ground running with games running out.
Photo: Action Images
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