I spent my Boxing Day afternoon at Mickleover Sports, the first time I’d covered an Ilkeston away game in a while.
It was a very strange afternoon. From the second Sports took an early lead, it was hard to see that the outcome would be anything other than a home win and that proved emphatically to be the case.
With the scoreline being 5-0 at half-time and having just seen the young Robins collapse with barely a whimper, I was left wondering just how much worse things could get in the overall scheme of things.
The game ended 7-0, of course, but one look at the league table and then at Ilkeston’s squad reveals a pretty worrying scenario.
As things stand, and depending on just what reinforcements may or may not be brought in, the current Robins team have to end a run of 13 games without a win (in all competitions) and then do enough to climb out of the relegation zone and stay out of it. They’re not scoring many goals at the moment either.
For all the talent the current squad undoubtedly has on an individual level, there simply isn’t enough about them as a team to keep them up.
So, what happens now? Owner Nigel Harrop seemed keen for me to give him a call on Tuesday for an on the record chat about things as there are things he wants to get out in the open which, one assumes, will cast a better light on not only his heavily-castigated self but also on the club’s overall situation. For reasons unclear at this stage he hasn’t been contactable. I’m hoping to still get a piece written in due course.
Quite simply, answers are needed now as to just how he plans to get Ilkeston out of this mess. Many will care little at this stage about why the club’s in this mess in the first place or whose fault it is, the important thing now is putting things right.
As I understand it, the first instalment of the Che Adams transfer money is finally in the bank (I’m not sure how much may or may not still be to come) and that will no doubt have helped clear a few outstanding debts, whatever form they may have taken.
However, if, as has been intimated to me in the past, very little of that income or any other cash Ilkeston get is to go into the first team setup, things will surely only get worse.
Keeping the academy afloat and thriving is of course important but not at the expense of the first team’s welfare - that should never be the case at any club.
Attracting players might be difficult given what’s been going on so that’s the first problem. The quality of said players might depend what kind of cash is being thrown at the cause, but some inspired loan deals could come in handy - just look at what Sheffield United’s Connor Hall did to Ilkeston on Monday.
Fans welcome seeing bright prospects come through to help the team and then make them a few quid further down the line, but if the club gets relegated or shows no signs of progress then those same fans won’t bother going anymore, which is already happening at the NMG.
I don’t think for a second that this is how the hierarchy planned it - the aim has always been to get promotion and with it attract a better quality of player both for the academy and the first team, but Ilkeston are miles from that at the moment.
Manager Paul Holland is, in the circumstances, doing an admirable job, and I hope he doesn’t become something of a scapegoat in all of this by being ousted from his role. It’s one thing if he fails to get results with a competitive side, but it’s quite another if, in his own words, he’s putting ‘boys in to do a man’s job’.
It’s hard to fault the players too much either. They have set some decent standards in some games and those certainly weren’t met at Mickleover where they crumbled far too easily, but morale can’t be that great at the moment and there are simply too many youngsters in there. Even a Premier League side’s under-19 squad would probably struggle to get promotion from the NPL, let alone the team Ilkeston are having to put out.
Next Monday sees a very strong Matlock side come to the NMG and I can’t help but fear what might happen if Ilkeston don’t apply themselves. A home game in front of what hopefully will be a decent crowd should help lift the Robins players and I don’t foresee another hammering like at Mickleover, but they’ll have to really go some to get anything out of the game, in my opinion, and for that matter to save this rapidly declining season.