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Mark Yates. An appreciation....
..by Harry211...24-12-09


When Mark Yates became the Harriers fourth manager of the 'noughties' on the 6th of January 2005 some fans didn't know what to expect.  A young and inexperienced manager who brought some coaching experience with him from Burnley.  He also brought an assistant and ex-Cheltenham player in Neil Howarth.

Mark Yates His first game brought some relief to the much troubled fans, some of whom hadn't recovered from the swift relegation from the Football League under Stuart Watkiss after a valiant 5 year stay.  Yates steadied the sinking ship that was Kidderminster Harriers FC who, under Watkiss, had failed to make any sort of impression on the Nationwide Conference that you would have expected from a club that just a few years previous were favourites to get into the play-offs and to get promoted to the Second Division.

One remarkable show of how Yates had already begun to steer the ship away from danger was a superb 2-0 win against Accrington who had already won the Conference at a canter at the end of the season.

Next to come during the close season was the clearing out of all the deadwood that Watkiss had brought in from the season before.  Many of the players such as Terry Fleming and Darryl Burgess were ageing and showing it in their performances and quite clearly weren't up to the job of getting us back into League 2.  In fact Yates had got rid of so many players over the pre-season of the 2006-2007 season that 12 changes were made in the sixteen man squad from the team that faced Accrington to the one that faced St Albans - newly promoted from the Conference South - on the opening day of the new season.

The new signing's included some big names in football such as Dean Sturridge, Jeff Kenna and Jamie McClen.  That day the Harriers failed to win with Sturridge missing a penalty and Kenna scoring a free kick and Kidderminster eventually lost the game 3-1.

In the league that season little happened for the club and perhaps the highlight was the loan of James Constable, a young striker formerly of Chippenham and then in Walsall's reserves.  Yates picked him out but on his debut against Stevenage he performed poorly.  However, in the next game he scored and from then on he progressed rapidly under Yates' managership into one of the league's most deadly strikers.

Mark Yates That season will not be remembered for the league though because Yates oversaw a superb FA Trophy cup run which saw him lead the Harriers out at the new Wembley stadium in the first competitive game there.  James Constable who by now had signed for around £20,000 from Walsall repaid his manager's earlier faith and slotted two great finishes into the Wembley goal to put us in a comfortable 2-0 lead against Stevenage Borough.  Perhaps due to Yates' tactics of the second half to try and defend the game, Harriers let in three goals and lost 3-2.

It wasn't all joy for Mark Yates that season, when, after the poor 2-0 loss against Exeter at home he appeared to head butt Lee Elam after the final whistle, which was conduct clearly unbecoming of the manager and totally out of order.  This was an example of how he was still a relatively inexperienced manager, whereas an older head might've kept his 'cool'.

The money from the Trophy cup run was used the following season with the acquisition of Justin Richards from Peterborough.  The main spine of the Harriers squad had been kept intact with tough centre back Mark Creighton and Russ Penn being a major part of the season and the team.

The Harriers started the season very brightly including a 4-0 win against Exeter, who included Lee Elam in the side, and a 3-0 win against York highlighting the danger that they posed upfront with the potent partnership of James Constable and Justin Richards with Iyseden Christie on the bench to provide backup.

Mark Yates However the good performances eventually dropped off and in the January of that year was the biggest shock to hit the club for the past few seasons.  The teams biggest players in James Constable, Scott Bevan and Stuart Whitehead left the club with the first two for fees to Shrewsbury.  Michael Blackwood and Justin Richards went out on loan to Oxford Utd.

Rumour had it that Blackwood and Constable had left the club due to a tiff on the training ground and once Yates had heard about it he had decided to sell the players implicated.  However, if these rumours weren't to be believed, the spine of the team had been ripped out from underneath Yates and the carpet pulled away sharply.

What happened next nobody expected.  Darryl Knights and Luke Jones came to the club to replace the outgoing centre back and striker and the team began to play with flair and bite.  Yates produced a master stroke with Knights playing behind a much rejuvenated Christie and an up and coming Matthew Barnes-Homer whose talent was becoming far more evident as the season progressed.  On a cold Winters night at home to Stafford Rangers the Harriers ran out 6-0 winners and fans became more hopeful of a good run the following season.  A 4-1 victory against Burton was another example of how the club was progressing.

The team was tweaked over the next season with the shock news that Iyseden Christie had left the club and his manager after telling Yates that he would sign a contract.  This proved to be the worst move of Christie's career as he has never progressed since as the move to Stevenage never worked out.

Mark Yates To replace him Justin Richards returned from Oxford and Yates began to rebuild and mould the squad once more.  Martin Brittain replaced the outgoing Simon Russell and he was another superb signing by Yates as his crosses nearly led the Worcestershire side to a play-off place.

Yates showed that he had matured over the years as a manager by swapping the tactics around against Stevenage with the Harriers 2-0 down.  Murphy got sent off for the visitors and Yates brought Brittain into play to set up 3/4 of the goals to bring Harriers back into the game and to win.

Sadly results against Forest Green and Altrincham cost the Harriers a play-off place ultimately falling down at the final gate against Kettering with a last minute 1-0 defeat at the same time that the only other side capable of beating us to it, Stevenage, had already lost minutes earlier at Mansfield.

The most pleasing thing to come from that season was the progression of the younger players.  Russ Penn had become an integral part of the season along with Barnes-Homer (sponsored by Harriers Online for all of his Harriers career) who scored twenty goals.  The signing's of goalkeeper Adam Bartlett and Brittain were superb and they were the catalyst for the teams final position.

Again, once the summer arrived, the budget was drastically slashed and Bartlett, Keith Lowe, Creighton, Richards, Andy Ferrell and Chris McPhee were told their contracts would not be renewed.  Stefan Moore, Luke Jones, Craig Armstrong, Sam Foley and Michael Carr also left reducing the club to just a handful of players over the summer.

Mark Yates Penn was sold for 50k to promoted Burton Albion and McPhee returned to the club thanks to the transfer fee.

This season wasn't much anticipated with any optimism by the fans with Mark Yates and Neil Howarth being the only part of any continuity between the squads.

The season itself began better than expected with Yates again confounding his critics by being in and around the play-off places for most of the time.  But then in November Matt Barnes-Homer was sold for a rumoured 75k to Luton Town the Harriers now lacked a goalscorer and the goals seemed to dry up.  Then, from down the M5 in Gloucestershire, news came of Martin Allen's departure from Cheltenham Town after being on 'Gardening leave' (the 21st century phrase for suspension) when he was accused of racism.  The alarm bells started ringing!!

After weeks of speculation that Yates and Howarth would be tempted to take the job at a club where they both spent many happy years and got Cheltenham promoted into League 1 they finally joined on the 21st of December 2009 bringing an end to the reign of Yates and Howarth at Kidderminster.  A reign that was a largely successful and fruitful one.

What will Mark Yates be remembered for?  In my opinion, the way they brought on so many young players.  Russ Penn was treading water on the subs bench when Yates arrived and he transformed him into one of the best midfielders to play for the club post-relegation.

Matt Barnes-Homer was brought in and was a lot of raw talent after playing in America and for Wycombe.  His goal in the 3-1 home win against Oxford was a clear example of how he had progressed under Mark Yates.

Other names not mentioned so far could include Martin Riley, Lee Baker, Keith Lowe, David McDermott and Brian Smikle that have gone on to become better players under the Yates tutelage.  Without this sort of talent for spotting potential and turning it into ability, the Harriers wouldn't have had the trophy run or the playoff push and it is for that, I believe, Yates will be remembered.

Thank you Mark Yates for all you have done for the Harriers and good luck with Cheltenham Town.

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