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
Please report offensive, libellous or inappropriate posts by using the links provided.
You need to login in order to post your comments
Blogs 31 bloggers
Letters from Wiltshire #35 by wessex_exile
As many were predicting, time finally ran out for Steve Ball mid-week, after the U’s lost 2-1 at home to Exeter City. Although a considerable improvement in score-line compared to the 6-1 thrashing they handed out at St James Park earlier in the season, apart from the first 10-15 minutes and very brief glimpses throughout the remainder of the game, it was a poor performance, leaving Robbie Cowling with no choice. After a brief interlude, Robbie named Wayne Brown as our new Interim Head Coach (that’s caretaker as far as I’m concerned), and after an even briefer interlude, Robbie and Wayne in a joint statement put to rest any lingering concerns about Wayne’s attitude to race. If Wayne can show the same sort of leadership on the training ground and in the dressing room as he used to show for the U’s on the pitch, I am certain he’s going to do very well in the job.
Letters from Wiltshire #34 by wessex_exile
I won’t dwell on Robbie’s latest message to the supporters – we’ve all read it, and we’ve all probably drawn our own conclusions about what it doesn’t say as much as what it does. To me, bottom line, I suspect the clock is now ticking for Steve Ball (at least), turn around this terrible form pretty damn quick, or start clearing out your locker. Regardless of personal opinions on any of the individuals concerned, I would like to think none of us actually wants to see people made redundant in the current climate. But, these are difficult times that require tough decisions. If Steve Ball is up to the job and can turn this around, I’ll be more than happy to support him. If he’s not, he has to go before irreparable harm is done…and we all know what that will look like, we’ve been there before…
Letters from Wiltshire #33 by wessex_exile
Today we face a trip to Crawley, not usually a venue that bears fruit for the U’s it has to be said. In nine visits we’ve only won once in the league, and once in the League Cup. Of course, we’ll all remember that League Cup victory, indeed many of us were probably there to see us progress through to 5th round and the dream fixture against Manchester United at Old Trafford. All of our goal-scorers that night, Luke’s Norris and Gambin, and Cohen Bramall (okay, technically an O.G.), are no longer with us, so let’s hope at the very least that recent departee and subsequent returnee Frank Nouble can bag another like his late equaliser against Mansfield. Steve Ball commented during the week about how tight the league is at the moment, and he’s right that a couple of back to back victories would see us move significantly up the table away from danger – but we’ve got to win them first Steve – something we’ve failed to do since our 1-0 victory at Scunthorpe on December 8th.
Letters from Wiltshire #32 by wessex_exile
Fifty years ago yesterday, Colchester United of the 4th Division pulled off the greatest cup giant-killing ever, beating 1st Division Leeds United 3-2 at Layer Road. Watched by 16,000, and the Match of the Day cameras, Dick Graham’s U’s, a rag-tag band of mostly aging journeymen, defied the odds to defeat arguably the greatest club side in Europe at the time. “The greatest cup giant-killing ever” is a bold claim, and over the years various football magazines and websites have run their own polls of which was the greatest. Whilst that day at Layer Rd always features, as the years have gone by other feats fresher in the memory have been put forward as a candidate – we probably all remember Ronnie Radford’s screamer against Newcastle, Sutton’s exploits, or even Bradford City quite recently at Stamford Bridge – but these pale into insignificance when you pause to reflect on the Don Revie side that we beat that day. Sprake, Cooper, Charlton, Hunter, Lorimer, Giles etc – all full internationals, all household names – the only one missing was Billy Bremner, and that was because he was injured. By comparison, all we had to offer was Ray Crawford – at his peak arguably on a par with some in the Leeds side, but that peak had been ten years earlier playing for Ipswich and England. Eleven heroes didn’t just try and hold out against Leeds United, they took the game to their illustrious opponents with such tenacity, grit and no small amount of flair, and before we knew it, the U’s were 3-0 in the lead. As legs tired, Leeds got back into the game with goals from Hunter and Giles, but we held firm – typified at the death by Graham Smith pulling off an impossible save to ensure the U’s achieved the greatest cup giant-killing ever!
Letters from Wiltshire #31 by wessex_exile
And so the dust settles on another transfer window closing, and despite (my) expectations that the possibility of incoming business was going to be remote, we have instead seen a veritable flurry of activity, with no less than three coming in. Big Frank Nouble, making a very welcome return on loan from Plymouth Argyle, of course needs no introduction. Neither really does feisty Brendan Sarpong-Wiredu, here on loan last season, and this time signed full-time from Charlton Athletic for an undisclosed fee. Actually paying hard cash for someone did come as a surprise, presumably offset by the sale of Cohen Bramall to Lincoln for a similarly undisclosed fee. However, the fact that the Addicks have insisted on not only a sell-on clause, but a rarely used buy-back clause too, suggests (a) Wiredu’s signing fee probably wasn’t too high, and (b) Charlton are protecting those finances with these clauses. The last one, which would have been a complete surprise for me were it not for a contact leaking me the news earlier yesterday, is left-back Josh Doherty on loan from Crawley. Josh was only announced once outgoing left-back Bramall was confirmed, and presumably his loan is directly related to part-time fashion model, TV and radio celeb and former left-back Mark Wright signing for Crawley on a non-contract game-by-game basis in December. We have also released seven from the academy, Ollie Kensdale, Miquel Scarlett, Sammie McLeod, Michael Fernandes, Ollie Sims, Danny Collinge and Matt Weaire, and I’m sure we all wish them the best for the future.
[ Vote here ]