Wednesday 22 February 2012

Firing blanks at home - again

Coming off the back of a 5-0 cruise against a (let’s face facts) poor Dagenham side, all the indications were that a Pancake Day battering might be in store for AFC Wimbledon.
All the ingredients seemed to be there – confidence was bound to be high, and the start of a run of three home games was a chance to really get ourselves into the promotion mix.
On the flip side, the Dagenham result and Jack Butland’s return served to create a positive buzz around a disappointingly sparsely-populated Theatre of Shattered Dreams.
But it all fell a bit flat, and we were unable to whisk up much in the way of clear-cut chances and were almost left with egg on our faces.
It was an opportunity missed – Wimbledon is another of those sides we should be beating if we want to cement ourselves in the increasingly-competitive top three.
With Shrewsbury and Southend losing, it was a real chance for us, and we never looked like taking it.
To be honest, it was a surprise and a bit of disappointment when Mark’s post-match interview started with the words ‘I’m pleased, I thought we played well’.
Hmm. Sorry, but I can’t agree with that. Or his feeling that it was ‘a good point’, as I don’t feel it was. It was two dropped.
It wasn’t that the players couldn’t give a toss – far from it, the effort seemed to be there but, once again, you have to give credit to Wimbledon for their set-up which once again served to nullify our more creative players.
They were resilient, and deserved their point while we didn’t show enough nous to break them down or exploit their system.
Right from the off, our tempo was too slow, and but for a five-minute burst at the start of the second half we never mounted any concerted pressure or managed to get a head of steam up.
So, have we become too predictable at home?
Two defeats and a draw in a row at HQ, all without scoring a goal and not really looking like doing so, may suggest that has become the case. It is not promotion form.
Here are some stats...
At home, we have scored 19 goals in 16 games this season - only five teams (Burton, Aldershot, Macclesfield, Plymouth and Hereford) have scored less home goals.
Contrast that with away games - we have scored 31 goals in 16 games, and only Southend, with 34, have scored more.
This was the sixth blank at home after Hereford, Crewe, Shrewsbury, Bristol Rovers and Torquay.
Contrast that with away games - we failed to score at Gillingham and Aldershot, two of our first three away games. Since then, we have scored in every away game.
We have let in nine goals at home - only Shrewsbury and Swindon have let in less, and they have played two home games less than us.
Mark Yates said after Saturday that the shackles had come off. Last night, they looked like they were firmly back on again.
The player I felt most sorry for was Jeff Goulding. He has been much-maligned in the past but I could not fault his efforts last night.
He chased forlorn balls, won more than his fair share of headers and grappled with the Dons’ two centre-backs, all to no avail.
I suggest a change of after-shave Jeff – as no-one in a ruby shirt seemed to want to get within 20 yards of you.
The problem was summed up perfectly in the first half when Luke Garbutt took a throw to him on the near post, he flicked it on and there was no-one in the box in support, allowing Seb Brown an easy take.
It happened a few times where he went into the channel, or won the flick-on and it was an easy sweep up for the unchallenged Dons centre-halves.
He needed help – and so, the time may have come now for a change of system on Saturday against Burton, whose manager Paul Peschisolido will have left last night without too much to worry him.
Darryl Duffy has been at his best with a man alongside him to feed off. Jeff needed that support man last night, and as we have to set the tone at home, I think we need that change.
Jeff, Darryl and Jimmy Spencer have 25 goals between them – a good return – but we still, I believe and so do many others I have spoken to, need another alternative up top – a bustler, a Steve Brooker or Kayode type, raw pace and power, to be the battering ram that defences do not relish.
We can play two up, and keep the midfield three intact, but one of the ‘wide’ men would have to be sacrificed.
On last night’s evidence that would be Josh Low, who, after returning to good effect on Saturday, returned to his malaise of being unable to string two good games together.
I have no complaint with him being chosen for last night, as after a 5-0 win it is hard to change a winning side, unless you have an England under-21 international waiting in the wings.
Kaid Mohamed was equally anonymous in the second half but had our best (and, let’s face it only) real chance after 88 minutes when he shot across the face of goal.
He has been more effective away from home, scoring 7 of his 9 goals on our travels, and it could be worth trying a 3-5-2 formation with Sido and Luke providing the ‘wing-back’ option, with Benno and Steve Elliott joined by Keith Lowe.
Just a thought -  and we clearly need a new approach at home in the next two games, which become more important after last night’s other results and with Crawley’s games in hand and run of  next three games (v Southend, Shrewsbury and Torquay).
More concerning in my eyes about last night was that Wimbledon did not park the bus as other sides have started to do.
In fact, at times they had three men up, and stretched us wide while flooding the midfield and keeping Marlon, Russ and Luke Summerfield more committed to defensive work than getting on the offensive.
Only when the full-backs got forward or one of Russ or Summers made a run wide did we look remotely dangerous, and that was happening all too little.
It should have happened more often as the Dons’ narrow midfield looked to serve up opportunity for Sido and Luke Garbutt to get some space out wide
No-one seemed to want to get a grip on the game, take it by the scruff of the neck and say ‘I’m going to make something happen.’
The one time it did came just before half-time when Kaid got the ball and ran through, opting to shoot when Josh and Russ had made runs either side of him.
Of course, there were groans – why did he shoot and not pass, someone said to me after the game, and maybe he should have. But at least he had a go and tried to make something happen, and should be lauded for it.
On to the substitutions – and I agree with those who felt Yatesy left it a bit late to change it, and it was right to go 4-4-2.
But I would have left Jeff on for the reasons outlined above, and put Darryl up with him.
But the change which has provoked most debate was the Keith Lowe for Russ Penn change, and that’s not because it meant Junior Smikle didn’t get on.
If I had a pound for everyone who asked me either in person or on Twitter what Jermaine McGlashan has done wrong, I would be quite well off. Nothing, I suggest.
‘Why have we spent all this money on him and left him on the bench for two games’ was the usual question. Pass.
I was surprised when we didn’t see him – Jermaine for Josh Low and Darryl for Summers are the first two changes I would have made if we were to go 4-4-2, and I would have done it after an hour, rather than waited that extra 10 minutes.
If anything, we looked worse, and even more shapeless after those changes that we had for the first 80 minutes, and all in all we were maybe a bit fortunate that, for their endeavour, the Dons were toothless up front.
It is good to see young Mr Butland  back – but very harsh on Scott Brown who kept four clean sheets in 11 games since Jack left.
But I’m afraid, when you get the chance to bring back an England under-21 international who could end the season at Euro 2012 or in a Great Britain kit at the London Olympics, you don’t say no.
Last night, with two crosses and one late take to deal with, Jack could have stayed in Birmingham and still kept a clean sheet, such was the paucity of attacking threat.
Benno and Steve take some credit for that in the way they dealt with Jack Midson, Jason Euell and Christian Jolley, then Byron Harrison late on, as they switched roles, dropping deep and moving wide to keep them on their toes.
So the blessing was that we took a point from the game, but with Burton and Northampton coming up, we need to find that recipe to turn it into three.
We are still second in the league, but Swindon, having gone top with games in hand, and Crawley with their games in hand, despite Tyrone Barnett’s strangely-timed departure following hot on the heels of Matt Tubbs’ sale, still appear in the box seat.
So is it narrowing down to us, Shrewsbury, Southend and Torquay aiming for one place? Maybe, so winning games like last night comes more into focus.
Would Swindon, Shrewsbury, Crawley, Southend or Torquay have dropped two points in a similar game? I doubt it, and therein lies the rub.
We cannot afford to ‘settle for a point’ any more if we don’t want to let these great foundations we have built over the past few months subside into rubble.
We have to capitalise, make these games count, and in so doing put pressure on the sides around us to win those games in hand.
If that means taking a few more risks, then we have to do it. It’s all about points on the board at this stage and we need to be dealing in threes, especially on home soil starting with the next two Saturdays.
Player by player
Jack Butland – Even less to do than Scott Brown had at Dagenham or in the second half against Torquay. Could have gone and stood with the Wymans.
Sido Jombati – Tried to get forward and was effective when he did. Also defended solidly, if somewhat unorthodox on occasions...
Luke Garbutt – A few dodgy moments but also looked to get forward and set-piece delivery good.
Alan Bennett – Commanding against Midson and Euell and rarely beaten in the air or on the ground.
Steve Elliott – Good to see him come through a full game. Won most of his headers and makes us look more solid.
Russ Penn – Pegged back well by Dons’ system and unable to make his usual supporting runs, but usual commitment.
Luke Summerfield – Poorest of the midfield three for me. Also struggled to come to grips with the flooded midfield and was on back foot for most of game.
Marlon Pack – Tried to spread play as much as he could but also hamstrung by Dons’ effective pressing game.
Kaid Mohamed – A few sparks but was largely anonymous after the break, although he had our best chance to win the game late on.
Josh Low – Frustrating beyond belief. At this stage we need battlers and scrappers, and for all his quality on the ball, he doesn’t do that off the ball.
Jeff Goulding – Sympathy for him as he was left so isolated. Chased hard, won headers but efforts went unsupported.
Darryl Duffy (for Josh Low 72) – No clear-cut chances to get a sight of goal and found it tough against the uncompromising centre-halves.
Jimmy Spencer (for Jeff Goulding 72) – Quite a lively cameo. Nearly won it at the end with a header and his dummy set up Kaid’s chance.
Keith Lowe (for Russ Penn 81) – Strange choice of substitution. Slotted in at right back as Sido was pushed forward. Had a half-chance but shot over from a corner.

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