Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Dumped out by Dons

It all started so well...
So the Carling Cup adventure is over quickly once again as we lost to a decent MK Dons side.
Over the 90 minutes, I am not sure we deserved to lose 4-1, but we really only got going for a half-hour spell between the 10th and 40th minutes - and you don't win games playing well for half an hour.
In the opening 10 minutes, we seemed to be chasing shadows.
Mark Yates picked the same starting 11 from Saturday's defeat at Gillingham, but they were moving the ball around very nicely, cutting through us almost at will, and I was worried that we were on the way to a pasting.
Gleeson and Potter in central midfield seemed to have a lot of space and we were not closing them down sufficiently and they seemed to have licence to move the ball wide and cause us problems.
But gradually Marlon Pack and Luke Summerfield got to grips with them and we pushed higher up the pitch and started to put more pressure on - and got on top for the middle section of the half.
Summerfield will claim the goal - his shot hit Gary McKenzie and despite a valiant effort David Martin couldn't keep it out, and probably on balance we deserved to lead.
Jimmy Spencer could have scored a couple of times, once getting the ball caught under his feet and then having a shot saved by Martin, and the keeper tipped over Marlon Pack's shot.
But all that good work was undone after 40 minutes when Keith Lowe let Antonio Balanta get onto his right foot 20 yards out, and Scott Brown spilled the shot for Sam Baldock to tap in.
We were right behind it and it looked a routine shot for Browny to save - no deflection from our vantage point - and it is no good our players asking for offside. He should have caught it, end of.
That rocked us back on our heels and to be honest we never really recovered from it.
If we had managed to get to half-time at 1-0 up, things might have been different, but to be pegged back after having them on the back foot for a period of time was deflating.
Karl Robinson then sent his side out early after half-time, while we emerged late - and they were right on the money from our kick off as they went ahead after 27 seconds of the half.
Balanta got the ball on the left and the cross and finish from Jabo Ibehre (who I thought was impressive throughout and a real handful) was all to easy I'm afraid.
So we had gone from leading, and looking like increasing that lead, to trailing in the space of five and a half minutes either side of the break, and never recovered from it.
If that wasn't bad enough, we then let in two more in three minutes around the hour mark, and that killed the game totally.
The first came when Kaid Mohamed stopped, expecting a foul to be given - but the referee waved play on, the Dons broke and won a corner, from which Dean Lewington had an all-too-simple header to make it 3-1.
Then Ibehre attacked Danny Andrew and his cross was headed in by Balanta, returning the favour from goal number two.
All three goals were clinical, but scored a little too easily for my liking.
Russ Penn came on for Jeff Goulding and injected some fire into us, creating chances for himself and Kaid Mohamed by his sheer persistence.
Junior Smikle also came on, for Josh Low (again pretty anonymous) and could have had a goal but lifted his shot over the bar - and at least we created something towards the end, although the Dons had very much stepped off the gas.
It is understandable that we lost the game as the Dons have some quality players all over the pitch, but the manner of the goals we conceded was disappointing, especially as we got ourselves into a good position as half-time approached.

Player-by-player
Scott Brown - Horrendous error for equaliser. No chance with other three goals and also had communication breakdown with Keith Lowe early in the game which forced him to make a good save from Sam Baldock.
Keith Lowe - Allowed Balanta to get shooting chance which led to equaliser. Otherwise steady as ever. Some good moments coming forward with crosses which we didn't make most of.
Danny Andrew - Let cross into box for fourth goal a little too easily and struggled when Ibehre drifted on to his flank. Otherwise did OK, but again disappointing set-pieces. Picked up a booking.
Alan Bennett - Another solid game as I think Baldock is a handful. Some good interceptions and showing he will be a decent signing in time. But free headers for goals 3 and 4 a concern.
Steve Elliott - Did well I thought with Ibehre, but again free headers a concern as with Bennett above. Lack of pace exposed a couple of times.
Josh Low - Again anonymous until replaced midway through the half. One decent chance to cross wasted terribly. Place in side has to be under threat for Swindon.
Marlon Pack - Ran the game for 25 minutes in middle of first half. Unlucky when shot saved by Martin and showed quality touches. But largely anonymous after break as Dons swamped midfield.
Luke Summerfield - Claiming goal but it took huge deflection. Same with Pack - big influence in first half but not in second. Unsure if the two of them can play together in four-man midfield.
Kaid Mohamed - Direct and exciting at times, frustrating at others. Thought he had the beating of Adam Chicksen but not given ball enough. One great first half run nearly created a goal. Could have had two goals at the end - should definitely have scored one.
Jeff Goulding - Good link play including one great ball for Jimmy Spencer, but no real goal threat in their box. Two games now without a shot on goal.
Jimmy Spencer - As on Saturday, a willing runner and chaser of lost causes but cannot do it alone. Had two great chances, shame he could not take one as would be great boost for him. Sure he will be an asset when he beds in properly.
Subs
Russ Penn (for Goulding, 67 mins) - Made a big difference straight away. Got in  their faces and made chances for himself and Kaid in last 20 minutes. HAS to start on Saturday.
Junior Smikle (for Low, 67 mins) - Worked hard as usual but again with little end product. Sent a good chance over the bar - should have at least hit the target.
Darryl Duffy (for Spencer, 84 mins) - Short cameo from Darryl, but little time to make an impact on the game.

Managers' view

Mark Yates - "The scoreline was a little harsh but that's what happens when you play decent teams sometimes. We coped with a five minute period of pressure and then for 40 minutes we had them by the throat but we didn't score a couple of goals that we should have done."

Positives - The half-hour spell between the 10th and 40th minutes of the game was excellent. We played some good stuff and created some good chances. Jimmy Spencer's performance was another plus.
Negatives - Scott Brown's error for the equaliser, and Kaid Mohamed not playing to the whistle, which led to goals 1 and 3. They knocked the stuffing out of us. Slow start to second half - and we never got going again until we were 4-1 down.

Summary - A game we probably were expected to lose, but after causing them problems we shot ourselves in the foot with some preventable goals.
Brown has to look at himself for the equaliser and Yates must look more urgently at competition for him after that.
We have to work harder to stop players running at us, and also to stop crosses coming into our box, then runners being allowed free headers. It happens too often.
We have also to look at the balance of our midfield - can Pack and Summerfield play together? We HAVE to get Penn in the starting line-up on Saturday, while Low has to be in danger of the drop after two poor games where he has not had any influence.
Mohamed has genuine pace and worries players, so give him the ball more and stop him drifting inside - keep him out wide where he can cause problems.
I have concerns about where the goals will come from. Thomas was  a striker who could make goals for himself, now it seems we have three strikers who all rely on service - so the onus is on the midfielders and wide men to provide it - Duffy especially is a 'box' player who relies on scraps. No scraps, no goals.

Now for a big derby game with Swindon in front of what will be a decent crowd and a good atmosphere at WR on Saturday.
Both games so far have had decent spells and some positives, but have also shown up a few flaws and weaknesses with individual errors and maybe also some tactical decisions not working.
It promises to be an interesting game - and an important one as starting the season with three defeats would not be good.