By Tony Leighton
Mark McGhee is suffering the worst injury crisis of his 21-year managerial career, but that did not stop the Bristol Rovers boss from ripping into his team after a 4-0 defeat at Port Vale had left them just one point above the npower League 2 relegation zone.
On a Tuesday evening that saw Vale celebrating a Tom Pope hat-trick that took his season's goal tally to 20, McGhee's misery was compounded by his central defender Tom Parkes suffering a suspected broken ankle.
That just added to a toll of injuries that at one point meant the Pirates had a whole team's worth of players sidelined. But McGhee refused to look for excuses as he assessed what was his side's fifth defeat in six matches.
"We think Tom Parkes has got a fracture," reported the manager. "We pray it's not, but we're fearing the worst, which is absolutely unbelievable - the run of serious injuries we've had this year is catastrophic.
"But I'd rather start with the performance than with Tom Parkes, because you're not going to hide and look for the sympathy vote. At the end of the day we had too many people who let us down, who didn't play well enough or contribute enough.
"We played with too few players who were flat out and that was hugely disappointing. We didn't keep the ball up front, we [defensively] allowed them to get behind us too easily; mostly it just wasn't good enough."
One of the few positives for the manager was the debut performance of teenage substitute Alfie Santos, the latest product of the club's youth system.
"Young Santos did really well considering the circumstances he came in," said McGhee.
"We brought him up here with us because we were short of bodies, but he hasn't disappointed. He's a young lad who's been playing really well for the youth team and the boy's deserved his opportunity."
Though the continuing fitness issues of McGhee's squad are beginning to ease - notwithstanding Parkes' injury - Santos will more than likely be called on again as the manager looks for a turnaround in results.
"I would say this is probably the worst run of serious injuries I've experienced as a manager," said the 55-year-old former Reading, Leicester City, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Millwall, Brighton and Hove Albion, Motherwell and Aberdeen boss.
"But I'm still convinced," he added, "that as a group we're better than 4-0 away from home. This is a set-back, but we've got more to come. Eventually we have to start doing it, but I still think that there's improvement to come."
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