Sunday 10 February 2013

Dagenham discontent

Anyone who knows me or how reads these ramblings on a regular basis, knows I am a positive person when CTFC is concerned.
I try to look on the bright side, glass half full and all that, but after yesterday's display at Dagenham, I am struggling a bit.
I refrained from writing this on Saturday night in the hope that a night's sleep might put a different gloss on matters. It hasn't.
The performance was limp, toothless and hugely deflating. There was no craft or guile for much of the game, and it was a display sadly lacking in application, structure and at times, undoubtedly worst of all, desire.
Dagenham simply wanted it more. There were too many 50-50s and lost causes which were lost.
I had a pre-match debate with some fans about what team we might put out. Darren Carter might come in, we though - but who do you drop?
What about the full-backs - which two of Keith Lowe, Billy Jones and Sido Jombati would get the nod?
Sido was the odd man out, with the rest of the team kept the same, and one look at the stodgy pitch and dank conditions suggested that the retention of the Mitchell Brothers in central midfield was the right decision.
Dagenham is the sort of place that promotion contenders go and win. We did it this time last year, sweeping them aside 5-0 (I know their keeper was sent off, but we were dominant anyway) but at no stage did a repeat look likely.
You looked at the 11 which started and the bench, and thought, on paper, that we would have more than enough to go and win the game.
I would argue that the players on our bench would be first choices in most other League Two sides - definitely Dagenham's - yet the performance was woeful from start to finish.
We had one shot on target, and that came in the first 10 minutes. Paul Benson never looked like scoring against his old club, as he was served a diet of diagonal balls and hopeful punts which he and Shaun Harrad were never going to make anything out of.
I am struggling to work out what the game plan was. It seemed to be to try to play diagonal balls over the midfield into the channels. If that is what it was, it failed.
Our wide men were totally ineffective in the first half. Kaid Mohamed had one decent run which yielded a corner. That was one more than Jermaine McGlashan.
It is difficult to criticise the front two. You can't make a silk purse from a sow's ear - and battling for high balls against two big centre-halves is not their game at all. It was pretty clueless stuff.
Jason Taylor and Russ Penn didn't get to see much of the ball on the floor, as it was going over their heads most of time - and Dagenham were adopting much the same tactic. It wasn't pretty stuff.
We seemed to have gone from one extreme to the other.
Supporters have said in the past that we have been guilty of overplaying - pass, pass, pass, trying to walk the ball in - this was the total opposite, looking to be very direct and get the ball forward as quickly as we could. Yates needs to find a happy medium.
At the back, we have stiffened up and are not the same soft touch on the road as we were before Christmas,  and in the first half Michael Hector and Steve Elliott were comfortable, bar one missed Hector header which forced Scott Brown to save well from Ben Strevens.
It was not a surprise to see Mark Yates make two early changes in the second half. It had been abject, and practically any of the outfield 10 could have got the hook.
McGlashan and Harrad were the fall guys, with Byron Harrison and Carter coming on, which meant a switch to the diamond, Mo going central, Carter and Penn either side and Taylor at the bottom.
But it didn't have time to settle as we conceded six minutes after the changes.
Hector has shown his composure several times, bringing the ball out to good effect in recent games, but on this occasion it didn't work.
He passed to Taylor, who (and this is something I didn't think I would be writing) was all to easily shrugged off the ball by Abu Ogogo, he drove on, squared the ball to Sam Williams, who had too much time to find Luke Howell for the finish. All too easy.
It could have been worse. Elliott made a hash of what should have been an easy clearance, and when Matt Saunders ran on to it, Elliott brought him down. Stonewall was my immediate thought from the view I had.
However, watching the Football League Show, it seemed that Elliott took his leg away before Saunders went over.
But Brown made a fantastic save from Williams' spot-kick, and followed it up with a couple of other good stops, so we were fortunate to still be in the game.
The third change saw Marlon Pack come on for Russ Penn.
A slightly controversial decision maybe with Pack's future still up in the air - but with his introduction, it was no coincidence that we finally started to pass the ball, and for the first time all afternoon we seemed to have any sort of threat of breaking Dagenham down.
I felt Harrison did well, he tried to hold the ball up and was moving across the line trying to stretch the centre-halves, but it was all too late, and we still failed to test Chris Lewington at all.
There was a frantic last minute or so when Browny went up front and won a header in the Dagenham box, and a ball flashed across the box which Hector could not turn in.
But an equaliser would have been undeserved, and the supporters who made the trip and made excellent noise all game deserved better. Much better.
Statistics can be manipulated to suit your purpose, so I will throw a few out there.
That was our first defeat since New Year's Day, ending a run of five games without defeat.
We have won one game in seven, and two wins in 10. We have scored four goals in seven games.
In those seven games we have conceded five goals.
We have not won away from home since November 8, at Northampton.
So while we have tightened up at the back, we have still not found the solution to being more threatening in the final third of the pitch, and to get the best out of Benson and Harrad.
To do that, we need creativity in our midfield, and Taylor and Penn together won't provide that (even less so if they are watching balls fly over their heads...).
It is a big dilemma for Mark Yates. We need to play two up front to have a goal threat. We need width in the side to get the crosses and service to that front two. We need both steel and creativity in the middle of the park to give them service and protect the back four.
We look better with three in midfield, yet we can't play that with two up front, without leaving ourselves open.
Three in midfield and two up front means we can't play two wide men - which (in theory) would cut the service to the front two.
The only way we can do that is to play three at the back and wing-backs in a 3-5-2 - but Yatesy has never done that and it would be a bit of a radical move to start playing it now.
I know he has not played as well as last season, but Pack showed on Saturday that he is our most creative player. I hope for all parties that the confusion is settled quickly and we know what is happening one way or the other.
After his cameo, I must admit I would not be terribly disappointed if we kept Marlon for the rest of the season - in 11 minutes on the pitch, he was our best outfield player. He was the only player all game who seemed capable of passing to another blue and black shirt. A damning indictment on the rest.
Overall, this was nowhere near the performance of a promotion contender, and once again you are left wondering how we are still right in the mix.
It is because no other team outside the top two has been on any consistent run of form.
We sit fifth, a point off third, yet three points off ninth. A clutch of teams are chasing what is probably now one automatic place - and of the top nine, we are in the worst run of form over the past eight games.
Seven of the top eight sit in the top nine of the form table, with Wycombe and Bristol Rovers also on a decent run. We are 15th. - link here
Slump, blip, whatever you want to call it, Yatesy needs to sort it quickly, and our players need to roll their sleeves up and show some backbone.
The board have invested heavily in the personnel Yatesy wanted for the last 18 games, and now the pressure is on him to find the right formula to get us back on track, and fast.
It takes time to bed in new players, but we haven't got time. Displays like this one add more credence to the argument that we have changed too much too quickly and the radical January changes were not needed.
We won't know the answer to that properly until the end of April, but  next we go on to Southend, hardly the sort of place you want to go to after such a poor, toothless display like this one.
I still shudder at last season's 4-0 defeat, and not just because of the tackle that got Sido sent off, and it wasn't Jack Butland's finest hour.
I won't be travelling to Roots Hall with much confidence I'm afraid. I would have taken four points from these two away games, now we desperately need three from this one.
However, over the past two seasons, our record against the teams around us has not been very good at all, especially away from home.
It needs to change, and fast.

I don't usually do player ratings, but have done some for this game...

Brown - two good saves and excellent pen save - 7
Lowe - Solid enough. Don't agree he was troubled all game by Elito, thought Medy was poor but had one run and cross. -6
Elliott - Gave the pen away, otherwise adequate display - 6
Hector - Won most headers, but missed one to allow Strevens a chance, and his poor pass led to the goal - 5
Jones - Had hands full with Saunders. Three good bits of defending in first half - 6
McGlashan - Anonymous. Never in the game - 4
Penn and Taylor - Spent most of the time watching the ball go over their heads. Surprisingly out battled in midfield - 5 each
Mohamed - Seems to be the scapegoat, but he wasn't the worst IMO. One good run, and then moved more central - 5
Benson and Harrad - No service, but did they hand on heart do the best they could? Not sure. - 5 each

Harrison - Thought he offered a bit more than Harrad, a bit more movement and mobility - 6
Carter - Took a knock and didn't really get involved too much - 5
Pack - Our best outfield player after being on the pitch 11 minutes. Only player to pass the ball all game - 7

Ref - No excuse for our display, but he wasn't great.

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