Clearly we should have won that.
Post-match Pressley was keen to stress our dominance, and I think it’s worth recognising that was largely accurate. We did dominate – but there’s a strong difference between dominating, and looking threatening, and that distinction came to prominence in the second half on Saturday.
We started terrifically, sustained that quality for the majority of the opening forty-five, but a mad five minute period sabotaged what was shaping to be a winning performance. We’re running a brittle ship at the moment, and that five minute fall-apart served to dismantle the confidence we’d built up in all the play previous.
From my vantage point, there was a very definitive, unfortunate influence behind conceding those two goals, but it’s important to note that influence doesn’t always equate to culpability. This is one of those occasions.
Up to that point, Aaron Phillips was at Man of the Match standard, which for someone making his first league start of the season was great to see. He had a directness about his play, a refreshing picture of the match in front of him, and ruddy gigantic leap. Unfortunately it was his combative nature which led to the injury, and a gallant five minute one-armed attempt to carry on.
The injury was a huge distraction to him, and the team, and in hindsight you wish we’d been able to make the call as soon as it happened and switched things immediately. His desperation was evident for the second goal as he strained to reach the ball. In that manic period he had Jim O’Brien screaming at him to get a grip, Allsop losing his rag – and the team (and Crawley) all realising there was an issue there. That self-consciousness proved costly.
But in that situation what is the right thing to do? The physio obviously felt there wasn’t sufficient damage, and playing the way he was nobody wanted Phillips to go off. Phillips wanted to give it a go too.
But we live in a world of reflection, and I’m sure things would have been better if we’d taken the call to refresh the right back as soon as the issue arose.
So it was a strange situation where you can assign influence, but probably not blame. How can you criticise someone for attempting to fight on for the side? Can you blame your manager for wanting to give him a moment to test the waters? He wouldn’t be the first to do that.
Don’t get me wrong – you’d still expect better organisation, but that was the only moment during the game when we looked susceptible, and Jesus were we punished for it.
It’s frustrating because the performance prior to that was a huge improvement on Preston, and it’s doubly frustrating because you really shouldn’t allow single moments of misfortune to cost you so heavily. But much like Reda’s sending off the other week – we took it to heart and it proved the catalyst for a complete switch in attitude/belief.
Let’s look at the positives for a second though. The control over the match in the first half was strong. The goals we scored were due to our own endeavour, our high pressing, and great play. Simeon Jackson’s goal in particular showed much of what Pressley’s been preaching – with Aaron Phillips and McQuoid – who was having his best game for us until he faded in the second half – combining really nicely before the perfect through ball allowed Jackson to finish.
That play works, and it will continue to work time again with Jackson’s pace in the team – but the crucial ingredient is that speed of passing and movement that only comes with confidence.
My biggest concern about the team at the moment is just how swiftly they lose their belief in the system, in their capabilities, when things take a turn for the worse.
Crawley had no intention of actively pursuing the match on Saturday. We recognised that, but our attacking performance in the second half was lethargic and a clear drop in what we’d demonstrated in the first.
Managers will change formations, will switch players around, and will attempt a new style of play throughout the course of a match – but there’s no definitive formula behind these methods. It’s the myth of football management, that there’s some sort of science behind it. There isn’t – as legitimate as they are (managers are there to make the changes which will hopefully alter the performance), the vast majority of these will be finger in the wind, “let’s hope they provide the spark that we need” decisions. Even from the “best”.
Sure, they have to make them – and we all have our thoughts about which players and tactics work better – but changes will often be meaningless if the dynamic of the team performance as a whole has regressed into an anxious one. If John Fleck has lost his confidence, he won’t be the same player and won’t perform how you’d expect him to. That doesn’t help the players coming on.
I know that’s a very cynical look at things, as clearly there will be times when you bring on someone who is just so lively they raise the level of the entire team. But we’re still not entirely sure about the squad we have right now; do we have that one player on the bench who is good enough he is capable of entirely altering the tide of a match, on purpose?
We don’t have players like Franck Moussa, Carl Baker, or even Mark Marshall – players who were dynamic, creative, with previous form that we could expect a change when they were introduced.
Of our current bench, we do have the new guy Coulibaly who showed a great alertness to the match and willingness to get on the ball. He was still a bit shaky when he got around the area, where he seemed resistant to carry that directness into the danger zone. But there were signs that he could be one of those influential players, and I’d like to explore him a bit more in future games.
We need to be sure to utilise him in places where he’s most likely to cause damage using what seems to be his biggest asset – his physicality. I’d have him pegged in one of the Franck Moussa roles – bridging the gap between midfield and attack with his pace, or making himself available on either wings where he could offer some real danger on the counter.
Of course Saturday wasn’t a game that we should have even needed that spark, as we had it under so much control and threw it away inexplicably. But if we can’t get control of our confidence, and our understanding that things do go wrong in football matches – the only alternative is the hope factor of relying on the freshness of players who can breathe life into dwindling performances on the pitch when that happens.
When on form, there is definitely a capable team here. The biggest concern right now is the fragility, and just how far the team declines when things don’t go their way.