BROWNE ON THE BALL: Back pains still niggle, so it’s time to sort out the defence

Adam Murray, with Pilgrims chairman David Newton and vice-chairman Neil Kempster.
Adam Murray, with Pilgrims chairman David Newton and vice-chairman Neil Kempster.

I must admit it was interesting listening to new Boston United manager Adam Murray talking about toughening his side up following his unveiling.

Because the Pilgrims’ problem is plain and simple - they can’t stop conceding goals.

That issue has been as worrying as ever in recent weeks, the team leaking 19 in their last four games to be precise. To put that into context, it took this team two months and 12 competitive matches - from July’s 1-0 county cup defeat to Spalding United through to September’s 3-2 sucess against Alfreton - to ship as many.

But although the rate in which Boston have been picking the ball out of their net has been exaggerated in recent weeks, the issue has been there all season.

A quick glance at the current league table tells its own horror story. With 20 league games played United have conceded 44 times.

You don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes on a particularly clever day to realise that letting in an average of 2.2 goals per game is not title-winning form. But the fact that only the bottom three and the bonkers goal-frenzy which is Alfreton Town have conceded more offers its own conclusions.

Following the recent 9-2 drilling at AFC Fylde, Gregg Smith charitably suggested that defence begins from the front and every member of the team should be accountable.

He has a point, but going forward the squad is far from shabby. The 29 league goals they have netted so far is just one fewer than joint-second Chorley.

The Pilgrims have bagged a total of 33 times from their 24 competitive matches this campaign - just five fewer than last season’s squad, which finished fifth in the National League North - at the same milestone.

But it’s when you compare the goals conceded from the first 24 games of the past two seasons that the problem really does jump out at you.

United’s defence have let in a grand total of 52 goals compared to 38 at the same point last season (although remarkably both teams are dead level on four clean sheets).

The reasons for Boston’s problems at the back are more complex than just pointing a finger and saying ‘you’re rubbish’.

Having Nat Brown available for just six matches so far this term has been hugely important, and you can argue that Herve Pepe-Ngoma’s campaign being over after nine appearances has also had its consequences.

Joe Maguire joined to play alongside Brown and gain experience, all the while the back two being protected by the German ball-winner, but the three never once started a match together.

Instead, Maguire spent last Tuesday night at Witton attempting to shield a back four made up of Ben Gordon and three loanees.

It would be cheap and wrong to say those loanees - Ben Clappison, Joe Robinson and Josh Robinson - know they’ll be heading back to their parent clubs, aren’t playing for their futures and don’t need to care. But it’s fair to point out they lack first-team experience and can hardly be expected to work as a fully functioning backline seeing as that match at Witton was the first and only time they’ve all started in defence together.

It does, however, raise a question as to why two different managers have opted to throw loanees (and one of them wingers and a striker) into the back four ahead of defenders under contract.

Using three goalkeepers also just adds to the lack of necessary understanding a stoic defence needs.

The good news is that this squad know how to score goals. But until the defence gets a little less generous, they can’t be expected to outscore the opposition regularly.