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Fantasy Football
Duff Signings No.7/Fanzine Football
The Slump of '96
For Whom The Trapdoor Beckons


Chester’s slump in form during the second half of last season was dramatic to say the least. At the turn of the year they had reached the top of the table. True, this was largely because their win at Exeter was the only Third Division match able to go ahead on an otherwise snowbound last Saturday of 1995. But Chester’s position at the half way stage ought to have been enough to secure promotion or at least a play off position. As we know they didn’t manage either. A table compiled of results since January 1996 show that Chester’s form was decidedly mediocre.

The attached table shows that Chester would have been fifteenth if the season had started in January and only two last gasp wins against Northampton and Mansfield prevented their position being even worse. Although City only lost once at home they drew more matches than they won – if they could have transformed just one of their six home draws into a win they would have made the play offs. In contrast, Hereford’s transformation in fortune based on a mean defence and the striking form of Steve White would have made them league leaders.

So where did it all go wrong? As with most things there is no simple solution. A bad run of form tends to snowball just as winning breeds confidence. Chester could justifiably point to their injury list as a mitigating factor. Roger Preece, out since the first match of the season, never played again. His strong tackling was sorely missed in a midfield that at times appeared lightweight. In that department Eddie Bishop although now part time was also missing for much of the second half of the season. David Flitcroft was the third midfielder to be out for much of the season with a long term injury. His robust challenges and confident surges with the ball were also a missing dimension. Although City’s midfield contained it’s most skilful players, Priest, Fisher and Richardson often just did not gel together. Why I can’t say. It was also disappointing to see Shelton, fit enough to sit on the bench, not start more games after Christmas. His influence in midfield is golden despite the advancing years and the increasing occurrences of tackles well past their sell by date.

Poor Iain Jenkins recovered after bad injury at Tottenham only to crash his car just as he was about to break into the first team again. He only got back towards the end of the season. Arguably he was missed less as Ross Davidson was signed from Sheffield Utd and fitted in well as a positively aggressive full back. Up front though Cyrille Regis’ long term lay off after Christmas made Chester much less threatening in attack. Not only was he scoring goals, his ability to hold the ball up and so be the pivot of City’s forward movements was crucial to their success in the first half of the season. Whilst Big John Murphy did his best to fill Cyrille’s boots, scoring some timely goals, it would be invidious to compare them.

Against the excuse of injuries it has to be said that every team must expect them. The difference between success and failure is often the willingness or ability to strengthen the playing squad at the right time. During the successful campaign of 1993-4 it was the goal scoring of on-loan Graham Lancashire that helped tip the balance in our favour. No such sign of either a ball winning midfielder or a lively striker was forthcoming, presumably because of lack of money.

This leaves the way open for the conspiracy theory – a well known phenomenon with smaller clubs. This states that, for various reasons – players fear they would be out of their depth in a higher league; directors fear they would have to pay higher wages or lose players to richer clubs – these deep psychological fears subtly influence form. There were a few give away signs of this to believers in conspiracy at the Deva. When City were clear at the top of the league the chairman talked in vague terms about a five year plan and getting promotion in the next two or three seasons; the manager talked about being happy if they finished tenth at the end of the season. Whilst these would both be quite reasonable ambitions at the beginning of the season, they seemed rather unambitious coming as they did with City in pole position. Few believed at the end of the dismal 1994-5 campaign Chester would have bounced back so well. Perhaps it even took the management by surprise.

In a funny kind of way I think most Chester supporters realised that another quick promotion back to the Second Division could have proved disastrous – once again the squad would have had to be strengthened considerably or another relegation would have threatened and the club badge really would have had to be replaced by a yo-yo. As far as the management is concerned I am sure that they wish the two halves of the season could have been reversed. Then fans would have been happy and contented with the logical progression made up the table, just missing out on a play off place. Trouble is, these things can’t often be planned in a logical and orderly fashion, you have to make the most of what you have.


ISSUE 22 Fantasy Football
Duff Signings No.7/Fanzine Football
The Slump of '96
For Whom The Trapdoor Beckons
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