Who doesn’t love a 1-0 win?
After a pretty lacklustre couple of weeks yesterday saw a great return to relentless chance-creating. As the match played out the laissez-faire attitude to chance conversion was actually pissing me off, but when you reflect back, the relaxed finishing was really just a symptom of how easy it was for us to create.
We carved them open so many times the care to make the chance count didn’t seem quite as crucial because we knew that there were going to be more opportunies. I’m sure we weren’t being intentially sloppy with our finishing, but when you’re creating with such ease you can afford to attempt the low-probability curler round the keeper or the near-post drive.
At most points when heading towards goal we had multiple options to play in, but a large percentage of the chances were lost as the player each seemed hell-bent on getting the goal themselves, especially in the second half. How you interpret that is down to you, and it’s hard to deny that there was some ill-considered decision making in attacking areas, but I’d like to take the positive perspective. The players aren’t deferring responsibility and all want to be the one to score the goal. They’re not scared to take the chance which after years of buck-passing and fundamentally frit-shit players, is a far more refreshing mindset to observe.
Chesterfield struck me as a fairly standardised unit, with strong players in key central positions. Evatt in defence is clearly still a dominant figure, while number 5 Morsy certainly looked to have the quality to achieve for a bigger team, even if he did come across as an absolute dickhead.
The battle between Vincelot and him really highlighted what the Frenchman brings to our team. He’s resolute, sturdy, metronomic, focused, professional and absolutely riddled with League One nous. He knows what he’s doing in the middle of the park and gave Morsy a bit of a lesson. After a strong opening for the Chesterfield captain, Vincelot introduced himself to the battle and drew Morsy’s focus into a pantomime scrap, earning fouls and whipping up enough hoopla to place his opponent on a red card tight-rope. Job done.
Romain’s presence in the centre to deal with the gritty side of the game is now bringing the best out of the more creative tendencies of John Fleck. I’ve seen enough to believe that we’ve now got a genuine promotion quality balance of determination and flair in our midfield, with a freedom for Fleck that is allowing him to flourish as the trigger for many of our attacking moves.
Defensively we were as resolute as was needed, but in fairness were very rarely troubled. The porky Ebanks-Blake offered a vocal nuisance with his relentless referee-bating, but beyond the gobbiness and potential to influence decisions he was shown up as a player who is going to struggle to reclaim his past abilities. Réda was rock-steady and instructed his colleagues extremely well. I do feel Ricketts and Johnson remains our strongest central partnership, but the introduction of Martin to the middle and Ricketts at right-back has established a domineering set up right across the back four and on Saturday’s showing it’s potentially got some mileage.
It’s always going to be difficult for the players to generate the same attacking fluency that Maddison offers when he’s in the side, but what we lacked in cuteness and finesse at the vital times on Saturday, we made up for with sheer directness of running and laser-focus on heading towards goal.
Murphy continues to prove his ability as a ball carrier and grew as a threat as the game evolved and the space on the pitch for him to run into became increasingly inviting.
Most of the pre-match intrigue surrounded new loanee Ryan Kent. Tt was with good reason. I can’t quite recall a player with such an unrelenting desire to run with the ball. He strikes a diminutive figure on the pitch and is another example of a player who will need others around him to feed him rather than being expected to win the battles to capture it himself. He came very close to grabbing what would have been a deserved goal with a couple of nicely shaped shots, and a late effort wrongly chalked off near the end of the game.
The solitary goal doesn’t reflect the threat posed by our attack throughout the game, and in that respect you could be forgiven for being concerned about lack of clinical edge, especially when compared to what we saw last month. But prior to the game my worry was around how our attacking play has diminished since Maddison’s injury. What yesterday showed was that the potential to be blistering is still there, and with another three points on the board, so is the all-important habit of winning.
How the players did:
Burge – 7: Much better. You just know that some people have made their minds up on him already, but when you judge him on the performances in isolation he’s been very solid for the vast majority of games this season. He clearly wasn’t as maverick as he was at Burton, but doesn’t appear to have taken that restraint too far. He ventured off his line when needed and dealt with everything that came his way.
Stokes – 6: Wasn’t as marauding as he has been this season and still showed himself to be prone to moments of low quality, but he continues to work well at getting the ball to Murphy and is showing increasingly impressive positional awareness.
Johnson – 7: One of his strongest performances of the season I’d say. There’s no curbing his madness unfortunately – you’ve just got to accept that he’s like a dog after a stick and when he sees something he thinks is for him, he’s going to commit himself to it regardless of the circumstances and risk. Fortunately for us yesterday, nobody had any intention of getting in his way and he swept up the lot.
Martin – 6: At the back end of last season Martin was the bain of our lives as his contribution chiefly consisted of misjudged headers and smashed balls into the stands. He was far more composed yesterday and did what was expected of a player with his abilities – giving the ball to those around him who could distribute it.
Ricketts – 6: Another fairly quiet game out on the right-hand side for Ricketts. A few dodgy touches aside, he didn’t do anything too memorable, although he did offer some moments of directness on the occasions he was asked to support the attack.
Fleck – 8: He’s really starting to find his place. The key to John Fleck is affording him the time to craft and design attacks. For too long we’ve been burdening him with two roles – breaking up the play, and then breaking to initiate the attack himself. His focus now is to pick up the ball when those around him win it, then to stride on into the attacking third. Another dynamic and credible showing.
Vincelot – 8: Romain was in total control. The battle between him and Morsy was an intriguing one and at one point looked set to explode, but RV showed plenty of nous in riling the number 5 into enough daft tackles and place a red card on the ref’s radar. His encouragement of the youngsters around him was also noticeable and great to see.
Murphy – 8: Is becoming more explosive with each game. What he lacks in determination to seek the ball out himself, he more than makes up for when it’s given to him. I felt he was unlucky not to score with a stunning break and shot which started in our own half, but he grabbed an assist and once again proved to be our greatest threat on the counter.
O’Brien – 6: It was good to have him back. He’ll be the first to admit that he wasn’t quite on his game and made a flurry of daft decisions in the first-half, but his energy and enthusiasm to attack with vigour set a strong message for those around him, even if it wasn’t all coming off for him. Worked well with Kent on a couple of occasions and did all he could to get his teammates going.
Kent – 7: So very raw, and so very talented. Glided around the pitch like it was a training game, taking on players in such a care-free manner. You do get the sense that in his attempts to impress his focus was a little too much on himself rather than the team, but when you offer the threat he does you don’t really want to criticise that. Was very unfortunate to be flagged offside for his goal. It’s only going to get better for him.
Armstrong – 7: After a quiet couple of weeks, Arma once again showed his poaching qualities. His first half performance was his most impactful for a while and he’ll be disappointed not to have found the net after finding himself with the ball at his feet in the box far more than he’s been afforded in recent games. He made up for that in the second with an instinctive finish after buggering up the initial control. That goal is going to be a weight off his mind and I’d be very keen on whacking a few quid on him scoring next weekend.
Antoine-Fortune – 5: Came on for the nuisance value and he was a right menace, to absolute everyone including himself. Still seems well short of the requisite match sharpness and lacked some composure when heading towards goal, but showed that he’s a useful option.
Lameiras- N/A: Had very little time to impact the game but still managed to get on the ball and show off his beautiful poise and feel for a pass. Hard luck being dropped but it won’t do him any harm.