Being the wally I am, I just expected it all to be fixed.
Saturday’s home tie came off the back of a week’s worth of news that’d sent the fans bandy with anticipation. We had a new manager, new coach and some new players. This was clearly going to be our opening league win of the season. Only a fool would bet against it. I mean absolutely no disrespect to Carlisle when I say that. It’s just how football goes. You can’t explain it. No-one can. Not Mourinho, not Ferguson, not Professor Brian Cox, not nobody.
What a blatant disregard for football logic we continue to show, though. No team with the amount (and wage bill) of players we now have should be winless and second from bottom at this stage of the season. It defies all capabilities.
Robins need time to implement his methods, but I can’t pretend I’m not disappointed that we weren’t able to harness the momentum that the events of this week should have brought.
In our defence, nothing really went for us through the course of the game. There were plenty of moments when you’d have expected us to score. But if it wasn’t slight nicks off someone’s foot deviating it from our path to an open net, it was the bloody post or spin of the ball conspiring against us.
The referee came under a lot of fire as well for what was a showy performance at best. I was so far away from the penalty incident that I can’t claim to have much of a view on it. It seemed to me to be a sturdy block tackle, but there’s a lingering concern in my brain that I simply made that perspective of things up. Either that or the lack of spectacles on my face for the second game running had some bearing on my vision of things. I’m not too sure.
That said – Carlisle were a lively bunch of sods, who pressed relentlessly for the opening 45 minutes, and made it very difficult for us to fall into a concerted rhythm. We did not cope with this intensity very well at all, and there was a element of discomfort about our play throughout.
Mutterings of “it’s just one of those days” started to ripple around the stadium as the game wore on, and I couldn’t fully disagree with the sentiment as it certainly had that whiff about it.
We can’t simply hide behind the bad luck or performance of the referee as genuine excuses for the defeat, however. We still weren’t good enough (or close enough to an acceptable standard) to win the game, and certainly not near the ability and level of performance that should be expected of the team. You’re not going to bumble and luck you’re way to too much in this division; you have to earn it through your play and your performance levels.
The quality of passing throughout was atrocious. It was frightfully sloppy, and by the end of the match I was left with one overriding conclusion in my mind: the players simply don’t care about losing the ball.
Possession in a football match is everything. Without it you don’t create chances, assert any dominance over the opposition, and you certainly don’t score too many goals.
Nobody is expecting Barcelona-style possession from this group of players, or even a League One-ish imitation. Robins has already outlined his philosophy, and at no point did he mention Carl Baker being our very own Messi. What we do have to expect however is a level of care with the ball.
What struck me on Saturday was the regularity with which the players would lose possession. And we’re not even talking lost possession through an attempted through-ball, or even an annoying percentage hoof up the pitch. I’m talking about the sloppiness in doing the basics. The ten yard passes in to space, the passes when you’re under pressure – those sorts of passes that if you take the required care over, you make.
It makes you wonder whether it’s a symptom of playing for Coventry whereby the players simply don’t feel the correct sort of pressure or reprimand for doing it. I mean, why would you when everyone around you, including the team captain, is passing up possession in a cheap fashion every other time they have it? What’s there to stop you from doing the same?
Don’t misunderstand me; I’m not saying the players aren’t trying. I’m pretty sure players try the vast majority of the time. What I do wonder about is just how much they actually care, or worry about the consequence of their actions. How much does losing the ball really mean to them?
Let’s take an extreme example. If you lose the ball at a club like Arsenal, you look out of place, and your team-mates are not going to be pleased. It’s certainly going to make you value possession the next time. Maybe you’ll concentrate that little bit more. Or maybe you’ll actually look up and check that there is someone available to pass to before trying to play the ball. If you keep losing the ball, even through attempted crosses or tricky passes, you’re not going to last long on the pitch. It’s no good to them.
Do you get the same feeling about things at our place? I certainly don’t. I see players like Kevin Kilbane giving the ball away almost every single time he gets it, without exaggeration. It’s woefully regular. What sort of message does that give out when the captain of the club can do this, and still play every single minute of our season so far?
Saturday was the day of the blind pass. We have to cut this out. I’m all for ingenuity and invention, and trying the unexpected. But there is very clear line between this and downright sloppiness, with players slashing a token flick of the boot in the vague direction of their team-mate. We can’t afford for our players to continually hand over possession in such a lackadaisical fashion. I’m very worried that there’s a culture of acceptance already in this group, and it needs to stop before it gets any worse.
This is hopefully where Robins comes in. By all accounts, he’s supposed to be a strict disciplinarian. He needs to apply this discipline to all aspect of our performance.
The defeat on Saturday has proved one thing to me. Confidence is a real issue, but the enforcement of standards on the ball is an even bigger one.
It might seem to the players that none of the fans really care or expect much, due to the half-empty stadium or the fact that we applaud the minutest sign of good play as though it were Pele himself. But it just seems that way. It matters a lot.
We’re not unrealistic – these are League One footballers and they’re not going to be perfect. We can understand that for the most part. Mistakes are acceptable at this level.
Endlessly poor passing and sloppiness on the other hand – well, that just isn’t. It’s not at any professional level. All it’s good for is losing games, as has been demonstrated all too bloody clearly to us so far.
Mr Robins – our bar needs an almighty raise.