Harper On The Brink?
As most of you will know, I support Hampton & Richmond Borough. Even if you didn’t know, I would say that it’s pretty obvious if you look through the archives on this site! This weekend, Sunday 30th December to be precise, the club’s board issued the following statement on the official website regarding the club’s recent poor form and the future of manager Mark Harper:
“The Board understand and agree with our supporters’ current frustration and disappointment at our recent form culminating in the Boxing Day defeat at home to Carshalton Athletic. As a Board we set our expectations high at the start of the season and these have not altered.
Whilst we still support Mark Harper and the players and believe that they can turn the current slump round we expect to see an immediate improvement over the next three league games as they are crucial for the club in achieving our aims this season and Mark has been informed of our expectations of both him and the squad .We are constantly monitoring performances and results and will make whatever decisions we believe are in the best interest of the club in order to fulfill our ambitions for the season.
We would ask all our supporters to make the short trip to Kingsmeadow on the 1st January to get behind the team and management for this crucial game against our local rivals.“
Pretty interesting reading, I’m sure you’ll agree. To the casual observer, it might come as a bit of a shock that the manager would be under pressure just yet; after all, the team are only two points off the playoffs, and ten off the leaders. However, there has been an alarming slump in form, and in more than just results; the performances to go with those results have been below average at best, and downright awful at times. After a sensational start to the season which saw the team go nine matches unbeaten before succumbing to their first league defeat, the wheels have spectacularly fallen off the promotion wagon. That first defeat came at Wealdstone, when The Beavers threw away a two goal lead to lose 3-2, and sparked a dismal run of seven defeats in nine league games.
The home form in particular has been seriously depressing. The Beveree faithful have not seen a home win in the league since October 13th, and that was a scrappy 1-0 victory against Whitehawk courtesy of an 85th minute Charlie Moone goal. Four successive home defeats have followed, and the team have plummeted from top spot to ninth in the Ryman Premier Division table. In fact, Borough have not won a single home match in any competition by more than a one goal margin. While you can argue that you only get three points for a win regardless of the score, the fact that we seem to struggle to break teams down while not keeping things tight at the back is worrying. It almost seems as if the team is set up at home as if they are the away team; try and soak up pressure while looking to break. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work when the opposition are also doing the same thing.
The goals of Charlie Moone have papered over a lot of cracks this season. He has netted seventeen times already this season in all competitions, but quite often they’ve been a wonder strike or a goal from very little. He is not the tallest striker on the planet either, yet the tactic repeatedly seems to be to hit a long ball and hope that he will win a header against a much bigger centre back. And while we are on the subject of tactics, Harper’s substitutions are sometimes a little, well, strange. A few weeks ago, Borough were trailing 1-2 at home to Margate, and Harper took off striker Joel Ledgister and replaced him with Malvin Kamara, a right back! There were two strikers on the bench at the time! And a lot of the time, he waits until the last ten minutes of a game before making his first change. Hardly enough time for a player to make an impact, and probably puts added pressure on that player to do so.
I’ve thought for a while that the squad is unbalanced. There is only one goalkeeper on the books, which is understandable at this level. Paying a reserve to sit on the bench with very little chance of them playing does not make good business sense. However, there are no wingers in the squad; instead Ledgister and Mo Harkin tend to be used as makeshift widemen, and often on the “wrong” side for their stronger foot. There are plenty of central midfielders at the club, but only two spots in the team, and most of them are idenikits of each other. Upfront, there are four strikers, yet two of them – JJ Bates and Mo Bettamer – very rarely get any game time despite looking decent when they do get on the pitch.
Harper recently gave an interview in which he said that some players were “in the last chance saloon”, which is harsh in the extreme considering that he very rarely changes his starting lineup, and doesn’t give his substitutes much time to influence a game or his opinion. Shortly after, he also said that he might do a “two in, two out” deal, but as yet nothing has materialised on that front either. It is things like this, together with poor results and performances that have alienated a sizeable portion of the fans. The crowds are well down too; last Boxing Day there were just short of 700 fans to see the match with Staines Town. This year, just 269 turned up for the match with Carshalton Athletic. Yes, last season was a local derby, and yes we have been relegated since then, but that is a huge downturn in attendance.
Since taking charge at the start of last season, he has overseen sixty league games, with a win percentage of just 30% (thanks to @RavitAnand from Football Exclusives for that statistic). All of this has led to the inevitable doubts as to whether the team are still playing for the manager. This statement from the board is the perfect opportunity to see whether the players are onside or not. I sincerely hope that the performances and results improve, and that Mr Harper saves his job, but the writing could well be on the wall.