Back the ginger two – you bet I do!

Back in November 2003 I made the trip to the Britannia Stadium to watch City’s away game with Stoke City. Coming just after Nicky Law had been sacked and with Bryan Robson about to be confirmed new manager, it was an interesting period. Arriving late at the ground, I missed the teams been announced and only noticed, five minutes in, that Dean Windass wasn’t on the pitch. No sooner had I uttered “Where’s Deano?” when I spotted him. Not sat among the substitutes, but three rows in front of me in the away end.

Assuming he was injured, it wasn’t until reading media reports of the 1-0 defeat that I discovered Windass has been dropped because it was felt he had “lost his focus” in the build up. Whether leaving out our best striker was a wise choice, though the public way he sulked among the away fans suggested it may have been, it was a brave decision by the caretaker manager. Who was in charge that day? Wayne Jacobs.

Back in the present day, Jacobs is assistant to Stuart McCall in a disappointing season which hasn’t gone to plan. Four defeats in six have punctured the growing optimism that the previous good form had generated. Saturday’s defeat at Stockport ruefully showed that, while inconsistency might be why we’re only in the bottom half of the table, we’re equally not good enough to be in the top seven. The pre-season hopes of promotion are not going to materialise and we’ll be playing League Two football next year.

It’s disappointing of course. We had such high expectations last summer and our new management team did nothing but encourage us further in believing this could be our year. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is a slight feeling on unrest amongst fans about whether Stuart and Wayne are good enough to move this club back up the leagues. There were mutterings of discontent as we filed out of Edgeley Park following one of the most disappointing performances of the season. All over the various City-related websites there are fans informing others of supposed managerial shortcomings.

Looking at the wider picture, there are many reasons why Stuart and Wayne have not been able to deliver the promotion challenge widely expected. Having been Assistant Manager at Sheffield United for three seasons and enjoying a 20+ year playing career before that, Stuart had never found the time to become too acquainted with League Two. He largely signed players based on recommendations last summer and too many have not proved good enough to take City forward. There are a handful of players who should be kept on for next season, but no one is in any doubt changes will be made.

Then there was the start to the season, or more specifically the dreadful run of form in early autumn. It left City lying in 21st place, or fourth bottom of the entire professional football pyramid, at the beginning of November. To be in such a poor position with a third of the season gone left City playing constant catch up. Thankfully we recovered and have had some decent runs of form. There may have been some careless defeats recently, but if City had been higher up the league with a better chance of promotion would as many have occurred?

The pressure on the team has also been a higher than it should because of chasing the rest. When City drew at Wrexham in January there was a hefty amount of criticism that wouldn’t have occurred had we not been so far from the play offs. Every point counted but there’s been too much to ground to make up.

Even in this age of message board culture, there are very few supporters stating they believe Stuart should now be sacked. Bizarrely, Jacobs is coming in for criticism from some fans, though reasonable arguments for why City’s failings are the Assistant Manager’s fault have yet to be aired. These people are calling for a more experienced assistant to be brought in. This is Jacobs’ third season as an assistant and the previous two at Halifax were certainly eventful, what level of experience are these people suggesting is acceptable? Perhaps we should bring back the ‘experienced’ Frank Barlow or Bobby Davidson?

One saying in football is the managers’ most important signing is his assistant and it’s surely about who Stuart feels most comfortable working with which matters. Let’s remember the efforts, and fee, the club put in to bring Jacobs back last summer. The episode at the Britannia Stadium four and a half years ago also showed Jakes is anything but a soft touch.

For how disappointed we supporters feel about the way this season has gone, we can be confident Stuart and Wayne feel just as horrible. In some ways the fact Stuart is a City legend counts against him when you hear fans criticise. Some claim that any other manager would have been sacked last November, untrue in my opinion, and that Stuart is receiving special treatment. I’ve heard the phrase “he might be a legend, but…” many times at recent games.

In many ways the summer can’t come soon enough now. One year on and a stronger and wiser Stuart will already have a good idea of who he needs to bring to Valley Parade next season. If rumours are to be believed at least one player has been signed (will be interesting to see if he lines up against us for his current club later this season) and no doubt other negotiations are in the pipeline. The likely disappearance to League One of MK Dons, Darlington and Peterborough will leave a more level playing field in terms of finances and, with the potential of playing in front of 20,000 crowds this season, Valley Parade will be an attractive proposition for any of Stuart’s targets.

And then, as Stuart honestly admits, is the time to judge him. Clearly some of us are losing their faith that he can succeed, but the majority still retain their backing of Stuart. Sure, a lot of this belief is due to the fact Stuart is a legend, but what’s wrong with that? Who will ever forget Stuart the player and what he did at this club? He was, and still is, a hero to us.

Not just because of his ability and commitment on the field, but the fact he cared so passionately for this club. I can’t think of another person I’d want to succeed as City manager more than him and, while the first season hasn’t worked out as we’d all hoped, he certainly warrants more time to get it right.

And get it right I believe he will. For the first time in years, City are on a steady financial footing and can afford to plan for the future with ambition. This club is no longer sinking and, wherever we finish this season, there’s a good chance it’ll be the lowest we’ll fall. We need to build up a club from this stability and scrapping the foundations at the first sign of difficulty is unlikely to be the answer. There’s every reason to remain optimistic in believing this management team will lead us to success.

It’s understandable we all feel hurt and disappointed right now, but we can be confident Stuart and Wayne can also see the current problems and have the ability to put things right next season. Who knows, in the short term they may even banish a few current players to join us in the stands. “Sorry, someone’s sitting there Omar.”

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