Sunday, 5 October 2014

Between a rock and a hard place

Well at least we scored a goal.
It wasn't exactly a thing of beauty, but when goals come along as often as I need a haircut, then you'll take it.
We didn't go on to win, but after a decent enough first-half display and a sterile one in the second-half, again we just have to be thankful for small mercies.
It was the first time this season we have dropped points after being in front - we lost 37 points like that last season remember, so there is a small mercy for you.
But after five without defeat, we have lurched and strained our way to six without a win, scoring two goals and letting in five.
A bright start to the season has polarised into an ordinary one, and the stats do speak for themselves - only bottom of the table Hartlepool have scored less goals than we have, and something needs to be done about it.
After the game, the manager said he is not panicking about the results or the lack of goals. That's fair enough I guess, but if it goes on for much longer then even he will have to be concerned about it.
He is right to say that we are making the chances. But they have to be taken. Sooner or later, patience has to run out. You have to say right, you've had enough chances. Time for someone else to get a go, or time to say right, we need to change the way we are playing.
But he has a dilemma. The 3-5-2 formation (or 3-4-3 as we played against AFCW) has made us solid at the back - but even that has slipped slightly of late as we have conceded one goal in each of our last five league games. Those clean sheets have suddenly become a little bit elusive.
We have won four games this season, and in only one of them, Bury away on the opening day, has the manager not had to change the system in order to bring about a result.
Most notably of course, he did it at Tranmere with Steve Elliott off at half-time and 3-5-2 became 4-3-1-2, but also against Accrington and Hartlepool at home, and he also did it in other games where we came out with a draw, Morecambe for instance, or to chase games in vain - Luton and Burton.
So yes, while the three at the back has been a success defensively, it is not a system where I can see us being really free-flowing and dominant against teams from an offensive point of view. We have done it in spells, but then been unable to prolong it for long periods of a game.
The manager is in a tricky position. He can't go to a flat back four as we would be too open. Plus, which centre-half (or two) get left out?
It would expose our full-backs Lee Vaughan and Craig Braham-Barrett to their weakness - one-on-one defending. In this system, their strengths are to the fore - getting the ball, going forward and then hopefully providing a decent cross or two - but even they were pretty elusive yesterday as our delivery from wide areas was largely poor and occasionally dreadful.
Both of them got into great positions and on the whole failed to deliver - although Vaughan did set the goal up helped by a goalkeeping nightmare.
Matt Taylor snapped it up - our first goal in the first half of a league game since Byron Harrison's against Accrington in the second game of the season, and we should have gone on from there.
But it was the usual problem. Chances created and chances not taken, and in the end we were made to pay for it.
John Marquis missed the best one after a decent move but hit it at the keeper, Harrison put a header over then Raffa de Vita had a good opening but hit a defender and not the net.
Harrison has come in for all the flak, but I thought he was better yesterday. Neal Ardley said after the game that he was a handful, and he did at least have a chance or two to score.
But one goal in 11 league games is simply not good enough, and that's the bottom line. He is in the team to provide goals and he isn't doing it.
Marquis has been brought in to do the same, and he doesn't have a league goal yet, while Terry Gornell's drought has now reached 348 days.
There is no easy solution but we cannot keep relying on loan players. We can't keep bringing in X player or Y player. We are paying these players decent wages and they need to start taking more responsibility.
You could see the lack of confidence around the box - not just from Harrison or Marquis but all over the side.
There is no doubting that the effort and commitment continues to be there - much more than last season - but a few times we got into a position 20 or so yards out but no one took the bull by the horns with a shot. It was always one more pass, moving the onus on to someone else and eventually losing the chance - just grow a pair... have a shot!
Decision-making was scrambled at times. We'd take that extra pass when it wasn't needed, or we'd not make the right pass when it was screaming out - an example of that was Terry Gornell shooting with Vaughan having half of the pitch to himself and screaming for it over to his right.
After being in front and wasting more chances, the goal we gave away was sloppy. A corner headed back to the taker, then no reaction to the second cross and a centre-half had time to take a touch and score.
That gave Wimbledon belief and they were the more likely in the second half - which overall was pretty turgid as we created nothing and they had two chances, both from the same bloke. Yes. Him.
Big Bayo has scored as many league goals against us in 15 games as our whole team has scored this season, and once again, as we do nearly every time we play against him, we looked scared stiff of him.
He is a clever player. Straight away, he latched himself on to Jack Deaman (who, considering the quality of strikers he was up against had a decent league debut) and he kept dropping deep to win little flick-ons and to try and link the play.
His task was made easier however by our total lack of physicality in midfield. Joe Hanks has been excellent this season but this was on off-day for him, and Matt Richards was also below par.
Both were brushed aside all too easily, not just by Bayo but by Dannie Bulman and Sammy Moore, and the ball retention and speed of passing was very poor.
Richards was the main culprit, being turned so easily by Bayo as he set off for the chance at the end which he thankfully put wide as we were waiting for the net to bulge and on another occasion finding himself as last man but dallying in possession with easy passing options available and nearly costing us a goal.
In normal circumstances, he or Hanks (or both) would have been hauled off, but with Jason Taylor, Asa Hall and now Paul Black all missing there were no alternatives available.
Taylor is thankfully back on Wednesday, and we have missed him, but Hall's 'four to six week' injury from Bury is looking like more of a three-month one. Apparently he is 10-12 days from even being back on the training ground - and that is before he has played a reserve game. Very frustrating for us, and no doubt him as well.
The difference between the halves was, at times, startling. The first-half tempo was good, as was the passing and moving, typified by the move for the Marquis chance which he missed as he linked well with Harrison, made a good run then should have scored.
In the second half there was no tempo and the movement was terrible. I saw a tweet after the game from one of our fans that described it as 'football with the handbrake on' and that summed it up pretty well.
The substitutes, Gornell and Zack Kotwica, were unable to make any impact after replacing Marquis and de Vita, who flitted in and out in the first half then disappeared in the second, and by the end of the game we looked like a side with four senior players out.
There were plusses - Trevor Carson continues to impress with handling, command of his area and distribution all excellent, Deaman's debut was promising with some excellent long passing setting up chances and he relished the battle with Akinfenwa and Tubbs. I think we have four centre-halves who are not the worst at this level.
Another plus was four Academy products in the 18 - Hanks in the starting line-up and Kotwica, James Bowen and Jamal Lawrence on the bench and that has to be a good thing.
Elsewhere, Harry Williams and Adam Powell scored for Evesham and Cinderford respectively while Bobbie Dale has had games at Bath but is now back and could go out again - Cirencester's manager Brian Hughes is looking for a loan striker but I'd rather see these guys given a go ahead of more loanees.
Just what do we have to lose? Williams is best in a 'number 10' role and has an eye for goal, while Dale has netted a few in the reserve games so far.
Could they do any worse than our misfiring front men? No. And at least they are our own players and we aren't using loans which could be here today, gone tomorrow and not give a monkeys about our club. Give them a go, I say.
At the end of August, we looked a confident side who were creating chances and playing with freedom. Now, at the start of October, a lot of that seems to have evaporated and we look tentative, nervous and short of confidence.
One loan player being recalled by his club cannot be used as the sole reason or excuse for that. Yes, Koby Arthur had a big impact, especially with his goals and energy, but he spent a lot of his time here on the bench, and we were still playing fluently in games without him on the pitch.
We need someone else to step up and take that mantle, and fast, or a promising start will continue to ebb away.