WHEN Alan White rejoined Boston United back in August, York Street breathed a collective sigh of relief.
His arrival not only brought an experienced head who knew the Blue Square Bet North well, but also a quick fix for a side that was shipping goals.
Yes, the defender was the wrong side of 35.
But that fire in the belly will never be put out. The snarling, barking attack dog in the back lines will never be tamed.
When the veteran defender opted to leave the club to make the closer-to-home switch to Harrogate just before Christmas, York Street knew his presence would be missed.
But how much has not been evident until now.
Since White - who was making the thrice-weekly commute from Darlington – switched to Harrogate for economical and practical reasons, the Boston defence has been, at best, shaky.
Those five matches have seen United claim just five points.
Those five matches have seen United concede 10 goals.
Granted, one of those matches, a 2-1 defeat, was at Guiseley, and few will leave Nethermoor with anything other than a good drubbing this season.
But the past four games have been against Eastwood, twice, Blyth Spartans and Bishop’s Stortford.
These three teams make up (or did before they started being gifted points) three-quarters of the bottom four. From these fixtures, United should have been picking up at least eight points.
Want more statistics?
Well, with White in the heart of defence, Boston have played (in all competitions) 16 matches and conceded 13 times.
Without White, they have played 15 matches, conceding 25 times.
With White, Boston have won eight, drawn three and lost five.
Without White, Boston have won five, drawn four and lost six.
Basically, with the former Player of the Year (he won the award while representing the club in League Two) in their side, Boston have played half their games but shipped just one third of their conceded goals.
White has also played in all six matches in which the Pilgrims have kept clean sheets this season.
He didn’t appear in, arguably, the most humiliating matches of the campaign – the 2-0 FA Cup defeat to Kidsgrove Athletic and the the 6-1 drubbing at Altrincham.
But White wasn’t under contract.
His agreement with his bosses (an amicable decision) was on a week-to-week basis.
So when Harrogate, smarting from the loss of Ian Ross to United, put in their seven-day approach, nothing could be done.
Lee Canoville and Jason Lee didn’t want to lose their player and former teammate.
But they could do nothing to stop the move, which seemed a highly-sensible one from the player’s point of view, and nor should they be blamed for the loss of White, who had the final say in his future.
Plus the managers still had a wealth of defensive options to pick from.
Canoville himself, although injured last night, is versatile enough to play anywhere across the back four.
Another old head, whose limbs are defying the ageing process is Kevin Austin.
Experienced – check. Good enough – check. Vocal – not to the extent of White.
Captain Gareth Jelleyman is the club’s Mr Dependable.
He will never, ever, let the side down. He will give his all on the left side, both in defence and attack.
Tom Ward is the young pretender at centre back.
Promoted from the reserves in the summer, he raised a few eyebrows, none more so than that pre-season clash against Lincoln City when, not for want of trying, nothing went right for him.
But with match experience under his belt, and a few wiser heads around him, Ward has stepped up dramatically.
If he continues to improve at the pace he has done so far, there will come a stage when the club will struggle to retain his services.
A regular at right back of late is Jordan Fairclough.
Without a doubt, like Ward, he is far better a player than he was in the summer.
He offers options going forward, but an occasional rush of blood to the head can leave him, and the side, exposed.
Fairclough is the ideal candidate for when the club is on the attack or chasing a game, but in an all-hands-to-the-pump defensive battle, you sometimes wonder why the managers don’t take a punt on Nathan Stainfield.
A utility defender, Stainfield marked his debut with a winning goal against Hinckley.
He then made five starts for the club before being loaned out to Hucknall, and recalled after the departure of White.
But since his return, Stainfield, who looked solid enough in a struggling back four, has been called upon to do nothing more than sit and observe from the stands or the bench.
The final defender on the club’s books is Liam Parker, but injury has seen him ruled out since August, and showing little signs of returning any time soon.
When fit, those players mentioned above can be chopped and changed to create a formidable defence.
The problem is that, with so many of the above, it’s difficult to figure out their best position.
Discovering who is a square or a round peg is just not that easy.
But what none of the club’s defenders have that Alan White does is that anger.
Yes, Messrs Austin, Canoville, Fairclough, Jelleyman, Stainfield and Ward all have a visibly firm desire to win.
But none of them approach football like Alan White does – like a man who’s just come face-to-face with the bloke who burgled his house, and ran his dog over making his escape.
He plays like a ball of rage. No matter who you are, if you’re in the opposition’s shirt, he hates you.
His unshaven face, wild locks and tattooed forearms, combined with his physical presence, intimidates opponents.
He’s already won half his battles before the ball is lumped in his direction.
And that’s why his departure is Boston’s loss and Harrogate’s gain.