Cracks appearing for Worksop Town after talent drain but they’re still in the NCEL Premier title dog fight

Worksop Town v Liversedge on Wednesday 28th October 2015 at Sandy Lane. Conor Higginson in action for Worksop.
Worksop Town v Liversedge on Wednesday 28th October 2015 at Sandy Lane. Conor Higginson in action for Worksop.

Mark Shaw and Worksop Town have become victims of their own recruiting success.

When they dropped down to the NCEL, they somehow managed to retain a number of players who were better suited to the National League North.

Jon Stewart, Luke Shiels, Tom Burgin, Alex Pursehouse and Jake Scott should all have been playing at a higher level, earning more money - and now they are.

Initially, it looked like Shaw had pulled enough rabbits out of his hat to make up for the talent drain.

Jon Kennedy still looks like a good replacement for Stewart, Jamie Hadfield, Julian Lawrence and Ross Henshaw have the potential to be a dominant centre-half trio and James Cottingham, when he’s on form, does a good job down the right.

The departure of Scott, however, has left a huge hole.

And as big games have come and gone without a result in Worksop’s favour, cracks have appeared.

There’s a lack of leadership and the collective loss of quality players is now showing at times when Worksop need big game experience.

Shiels was an outstanding defender who would be playing Conference football were it not for a serious knee injury.

Is he replaceable? He was the best centre-half the club have had in eight years, so it’s no slight on the current crop of defenders to suggest you can’t replace him like-for-like without spending the kind of money Worksop can now only dream of.

Burgin played in an Evo-Stik Premier play-off semi-final and barked orders to all and sundry.

Without him, this is a very quiet Worksop Town team.

Pursehouse wasn’t always spectacular, but he was always reliable and his consistency is missed.

When Scott left to join all the other ex-Tigers at Bradford Park Avenue, I suggested he too could be replaced.

Thus far, I’ve been proved wrong.

His willingness to get on the ball, ability to put in a bone crunching tackle to completely swing the momentum of a game, desire to challenge in the air and on the ground for every ball – Worksop are missing these qualities so badly.

He wasn’t the loudest captain in non-league, but he led by example.

At tough times in recent games, no one has put their hand up and said: “Give me the ball, I’ll get us going again.”

Scott did that, and since his departure no Worksop Town players have grabbed a game by the scruff of the neck.

In the early stages of the season it seemed the loss of so many good players was not going to cost Tigers too much, they were winning without playing brilliantly.

Then came the quality sides, the Tadcasters, Cleethorpes and Handsworths of the NCEL world.

They pressed Tigers, put them under pressure, and the lack of leadership and quality was laid bare.

Poor decisions, an inability to deal with a press and a real nervousness when defending set-pieces crept in.

I think most people would look at this team and see the need for steel in midfield, flair and another goalscorer.

Conor Sellars might have been able to provide the flair, but the management didn’t feel he was giving enough to warrant a starting place, and now he’s gone.

Shaw’s post-game criticism might have brought about Sellars’ departure, but when you have supporters cheering ironically when the midfielder is brought on and constantly demanding answers when he isn’t in the starting 11, without the knowledge that he doesn’t train, it’s no surprise the manager eventually vented.

Tom Elliott, only in his second full season of senior football, hasn’t been showing his full capabilities.

Ever since he was hacked down with the crudest of tackles against Maltby, the young midfielder hasn’t been the same.

Could you blame him, a player who is on the radar of Football League clubs, for worrying about a career ending tackle?

Can we expect him to provide all the answers to Worksop’s woes, at such a tender age, with so little experience to draw upon?

And his transfer request almost takes him out of the equation entirely.

Conor Higginson isn’t starting games, but when he has played obviously hasn’t impressed the management sufficiently.

So if the answers don’t lie within the squad, they lie elsewhere – and if we’re honest, they probably cost far too much for a fan-funded club with a budget that must be adhered to.

Tigers have got to live within their means and hope that Shaw can produce another rabbit from the hat.

Patience is needed.

Yet for all this apparent doom and gloom, take a look at the table.

Second in the league, by two points, with a game in hand.

Win that game in hand, and Worksop Town will sit top of the table with a better record than both Tadcaster and Handsworth Parramore.

Despite all the departures, despite the poor run of form, they’re still fantastically placed with so much of the season still to go.

It’s a dog fight for this season’s title, and Worksop may be wounded but they’re still in the fight.