Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Serving up a win

Sorry Benno - it was great to see you back at Whaddon, but we needed the win.
It didn't matter to me how it happened, the most important thing was to get the three points.
As it turned out, we played well for about an hour, before our Achilles heel of conceding poor goals made the last third of the game very jittery, but we got there.
Over the past few weeks, the run of frustrating, contrasting draws seemed to lead to a lot of faith in the team's promotion chances ebbing away bit by bit amongst many supporters.
Anything but a win here could have made that drip-drip effect into a torrent, and - with other sides having a lot of games in hand - it might have spelt the death knell for top three chances.
However, such is the ridiculously inconsistent nature of the division that the win was combined with some slip-ups for many of the teams around us, and we now find ourselves back to within a point of third place, and seven points clear of eighth.
This game was even more important as we have still got to play all of the other teams in the top seven, along with Bradford, who I am not ruling out, so this was one of the few games against 'lower' clubs.
After the game at Fleetwood, I mused about possible changes, and whether Mark Yates would go for a second striker. I wanted him to keep the same side, and he did.
But as I walked on to the gantry before the game, a fan stopped me and asked "why are we playing one striker at home." I argued that this team had played well on Tuesday, and looked much more dangerous than in recent weeks, but he wasn't having it... and it is a debate which is sure to rumble on and on.
We needed the early goal, and got it - Billy Jones finding his range and Steve Elliott's unmarked head from about six yards for a goal.
After that, we settled down and started to dominate passing and territory, but never really threatened Neil Sullivan's goal.
Once again, as he had been on Tuesday, Sam Deering was at the heart of it, buzzing around, finding space and looking to be the link between Paul Benson and the midfield.
Given the insurance of Jason Taylor behind him, Marlon Pack was finding his range, with one exquisite half-volley pass a particular highlight.
Taylor, Russ Penn and Darren Carter were also prominent, and it seemed that we were looking comfortable - but still not finding that real threat on goal.
Such is the dilemma of the one-up-front-or-two conundrum. Benson was working hard as usual, but not getting much change out of the defenders, or many real sights of goal.
Most of our chances were coming from midfielders, or defenders getting on the end of set-pieces. While we won the game this time, against 'better' opposition you feel we need to find a solution.
The threat from Wimbledon in the first half was negligible. I expected more from Gary Alexander, but Elliott and Michael Hector did a good job to keep him quiet.
Jack Midson was, for some reason, playing out wide, and although Jesse Darko started brightly, I thought he faded pretty quickly, while Luke Moore was not in the game much.
Most of my first-half frustration was on the referee - he should have booked Harry Pell for clattering Deering, and gave Sammy Moore about three warnings, while Penn was also lucky to escape a yellow.
But he kept his cards in his pocket - then after the break for about 15 minutes, decided to book everything that moved - most ridiculously of all Carter, for colliding with Pim Balkestein, and none of the yellows were as bad - in my view - as Pell's challenge on Deering.
It is this inconsistency which maddens supporters, and I haven't even started on the penalty we should have had when Penn was tripped.
The priority for me after the break was a second goal - and it took 11 minutes to arrive, after a great ball from Hector (a long ball...) to Penn. He burrowed sideways along the 18-yard line before finding Carter, who produced a superb finish. It also kept him on the pitch as Yatesy had Kaid Mohamed ready to replace him.
That should have been that, but come on, you didn't expect it to be that easy did you?
Credit to Neil Ardley for his substitutions, but I was left wondering why Kevin Saint-Luce (in particular) and Brennan Dickenson hadn't started the game.
Dickenson scored with his first touch after Deering allowed Chris Hussey to get possession too easily and he burst forward. His cross was allowed to find the incoming Dickenson, and to be fair to him it was an excellent finish.
Not surprisingly, they had their tails up, and we faced a battle, with Saint-Luce giving Jones problems, and but for a horrendous miss from the usually lethal Midson we could have lost two points.
But this time, the fortune went with us, and, but for some better passing and decisions on the counter-attack, we could have had a third.
Two such examples saw Taylor guilty when he and Mohamed broke away, but the pass was poor, then Deering shot from an impossible angle with Byron Harrison waiting for a tap-in.
A couple of crosses went begging with no one in the box, and a bit more thought is needed from some players in those positions. Such openings cannot be squandered against the likes of Rotherham, Gillingham and Northampton in the coming weeks.
It was nervy stuff, and it should not have been, but we held out and got the win, Alan Bennett got the ovation he deserved from the fans, and now we go on to Chesterfield tonight.
Five games at home, no wins and no goals is hardly the best omen, but another win tonight and we really will have something to play for in the coming games.
Paul Cook's Accrington and Chesterfield teams have had a bit of an Indian sign over us, but these sorts of records have to be forgotten about and broken.
From now on in, it's all about the wins, and another one tonight would be priceless.