JON MCCARTHY admits Chester may have to adopt a more defensive set-up if his side are to stop the rot.
The Blues, who were just two places off the play-offs in mid-December, have lost six of their subsequent eight matches to see their top-five hopes evaporate, with Saturday’s 2-1 defeat against Gateshead the latest in a string of disappointing defensive performances.
Chester have shipped 18 goals in those last eight games, a far cry from their run of eight consecutive clean sheets earlier in the campaign, and boss McCarthy accepts his side may have to curb their attacking intentions in the coming weeks.
“We had a look at how we could improve, as we could’ve settled for 10th place, no problem. We’ve set up to try and win these games and to score more goals, and we have scored more, but we’ve conceded a similar amount which doesn’t convert what we’re doing into results,” the 46-year-old said.
“Maybe we have to go back on that and recognise we’re not quite at that level yet. But I make no apologies for trying to find a route into the top eight and that’s all we’ve been doing.
“We have to go back and make sure we get ourselves safe first of all, and then I’ll learn and try to find a different way.
“I’ve never really believed in the play-off aspirations, I’ve not mentioned them, so it’s all about the next game.
“I spoke to the players in the week, let’s not drift away. Can we win three or four games in a row? That’s important for us, that’s the next stage of our development and we’ll keep trying to achieve that.
“If we’d beat Gateshead we’d have drawn level on points with them and we’re back in that top 10, and it’s a different story. Dagenham the same, we were minutes away from picking up three points to keep us up there.
“There’s a political spin there from me, yes we’ve lost three in a row but we’ve been in all three of those games and if we’d won one of them, we’d still be in touch.”
The Blues looked set to halt their recent slump when Blaine Hudson handed them a 31st minute lead against Neil Aspin’s side, but the Blues were on the back foot for the lion’s share of the second-half as goals from Danny Johnson and Jordan Burrow turned the televised clash in the visitors’ favour.
“They got a grip on the game, there’s a lot of experience and quality in there and it’s a hard lesson for us to take,” McCarthy continued.
“We lacked the bit of spark that has to happen with our team, that youthfulness with our team that has to happen. That brightness can generate and lift the crowd and that didn’t materialise with us.
“It’s frustrating as we got the goal, people will forget about that first 25 minutes when we looked like the best team. There’s ifs, coulds and shoulds, we should’ve been 2-0 ahead and that completely changes things.
“But we’ve done that a lot recently at Dover and Dagenham, all I can look back on is that we’re disappointed as we’ve hit three strong teams in this run and we’ve got nothing. There were signs that we could’ve taken a reasonable return of points.
“I need to change those margins. There’s no massive wide gaps, there’s no shortage of work rate and what we’re doing is great, but there’s still some differences.
“I don't like to criticise my players in front of the group. You’ll have your opinions, it’s something I’ll watch back. Individually my players know what I want from them and any mistakes they’ve made, we’ll talk about that one-on-one with me. As a group we focus on what we’ve done well and I think that’s the best way.
“If I find there’s things we should’ve done better, I’ll tell them and that’s my next port of call. When I look back on their performances and it hasn't been good enough, that’s when someone else gets a chance. That’s not a threat, and the players understand it and they’ve all been through it.”
McCarthy touched upon building for next season and revealed the club are already in talks with several first-team players about extending their deals at Chester, before switching his attentions to next weekend’s trip to Maidstone United, which will be played on the hosts’ artificial surface.
“We’re already talking to the players, it’s in hand,” he added.
“We’re keen to keep this group of players together and hopefully we’ll have some good news on that front.
“Maidstone throws up a different challenge. I’ve downloaded some evidence and I’ll see if there’s a different way to win on the surface, does it affect our style of play?
“I don’t think it’s too significant and I don’t think we need to change a lot. We wouldn’t be where we were if we weren’t doing things right.
“A lot of it will be based on selection and I’ll need to decide who makes it into that team.”