Tuesday, 26 October 2010
The League of Extraordinary Inconsistency
Just over a week ago, Macclesfield were 2-0 down at home to Oxford United and the referee had just blown for half time. About an hour later, they were celebrating a 3-2 win. Just over a week later, by contrast, the Silkmen were on the receiving end of a defeat – an abject one at that – in arguably the most winnable of their recent fixtures, away at Barnet.
Barnet had lost their last two matches, while Macc were playing well on the road. A lot of people point to Saturday’s result being indicative of the competitiveness of League Two – an argument often extended to lower league football, where there are no bankrolled behemoths and for some reason, spending big is just as likely to guarantee you a 10-point deduction as it is a promotion.
And ok, the football league, as a whole, is fairly competitive. ‘Anyone can beat anyone,’ so the old managerial mantra goes. Yes, it’s a more organic football experience, you don’t go for the aesthetic value of the matches and in general it’s a cheaper alternative to the Premier League (although some cash-strapped league clubs are catching up fast). Sometimes, the inconsistency on show is glorious. Sometimes though, it’s bloody annoying.
Macc and Barnet are what those in football league circles refer to as ‘perennial strugglers’. Often prefaced in the national newspapers or on the BBC with the word ‘lowly’, the badge is one we take a lot of pride in – punching above your weight for 14 years is no small achievement. But it also means that at the slightest hint of promise or good fortune, my expectations go through the roof.
Well, not through the roof, exactly, but when you beat Wycombe and Torquay away from home to secure four wins in eight, they certainly begin to stretch towards getting something off Barnet at Underhill. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t expecting an easy game. Barnet were up against it like we normally are. But I wasn’t expecting the struggle I saw against Oxford.
In the end, I didn’t even see that. Barnet might have played alright, but nothing more. We did have a couple of chances to get a point. The problem with having fewer resources at this level is that the players are generally not as well conditioned. Injuries are more common – knocks from matches can keep players out of the next weekend’s game. It’s very hard to play a settled side, and Macc’s team at the weekend did not enjoy its usual balance.
Consistency is the football league’s elusive grail. Playing an attractive brand of football only guarantees you some thumping home wins and likely getting kicked off the park when you go away. No doubt there are some wonderful footballers in League Two, but rarely do they thrive. For every skilful Danny Whitaker to make big-money moves from Macc there has been a hulking Jon Parkin, Ricky Lambert or Richie Barker – players who can certainly look after themselves.
The sides playing the best football in League Two (or League One for that matter) won’t necessarily be the ones that get promoted. The ones that can field a consistent side – particularly at the back – avoid injuries and enjoy a run of seven or eight games at a time will likely be the ones contesting the top six places in May.
Of course, I’m not giving up on Macc (after all, we’re still only four points from the playoffs). But I’ve seen the relative folly in trying to work out whether the comeback against Oxford or the toothless performance against Barnet is the norm. Because in fact, they both are.