So, we’re halfway through the season (more or less) and Bonner’s had almost a year in charge. We assess how he’s done:
League Position: B
We’re just outside the playoff spots, and had the Southend game not been postponed we may well have been just outside the automatic places. Contrast this with us sitting in 18th when Bonner took over you have to say the improvement has been impressive. A superb start to the season has given way to a few sub-par performances recently, but we’re hoping this will prove to be a blip in a successful season.
Bonner moved quickly to clear out the dead wood in the squad and a disruptive element in the dressing room he wouldn’t tolerate. Transfers in have been impressive, with almost every one being an improvement on what we had already. Standouts include Jack Iredale, quietly becoming a key part of the team, Paul Mullin (signed permanently) who has been in the form of his life, Joe Ironside and Paul Digby, who looks to be the central midfield general we’ve lacked since Paul Wanless was here.
Tactically, he likes to stick to a 4-4-2 formation, even if it means playing players out of position. He has the enviable luxury of trying to fit a genuinely great player Wes Hoolahan into his system, which doesn’t always work out. Bonner’s got a small squad to play with, and he’s been unlucky with injuries in the key central midfield position this year, Liam O’Neil, Hiram Boateng and Paul Digby all suffering from long periods out.
Substitutions have normally been left late, although we note Bonner has started making them earlier of late. It’s worth remembering this is his first season of professional football management, so he’s still learning. He has faith in his players which is laudable, but sometimes it can be obvious when they’re not performing 100%. He’s hamstrung slightly in not having a lot of quality on the bench in certain positions, and it’s good to see him using young players like Leon Davies and Harry Darling.
We have to take our recent blip into account and this grade is provisional on the team putting that behind us in the new year. Some great performances and brilliant football have been combined with less sexy, but still hard-fought victories, as well as good performances against fancied teams. A few of the defeats have been despite decent performances, which is always going to happen, but a number of recent performances have been not up to the standards we set earlier in the season.
Off The Pitch: A+
One area we can’t fault Bonner in is his work off the pitch. He was really thrown in at the deep end when the Coronavirus pandemic hit, but Bonner was a great spokesperson for the club, keeping fans informed of how it was affecting the playing staff as well as getting behind the clubs ‘Here For U’s’ campaign to support vulnerable fans. Mark has also spoken out passionately against the few morons who thought it acceptable to boo the recent anti-racism gesture and spent time before Christmas phoning season ticket holders to thank them for their support. On top of all that, he’s a long term U’s fan, and spoke with UTAS about watching Roy McFarland’s great late-90’s side.
A solid base for Mark to build on in the second half of the season then. Considering where we were when Bonner took over in February, the club has come on leaps and bounds despite difficult circumstances outside of their control. Recent performances need addressing quickly as they haven’t been good enough, but we know there’s more to come from this team and we’re hopeful that Mark can be the man to lead us to them.