The story of Saturday is thus: we were 2-0 up and still didn’t win. Sodding hell fire.
I know, I know. I shouldn’t be too harsh on them because in general it feels a little easier to accept when we’d have “taken a draw at the start”. But I’ve never been hugely keen on that sentiment, so I couldn’t help but leave the ground feeling particularly surly about the result.
It should be clear by now that I like to aim high most of the time, on account of my inherent desire for this football club to get a bloody move on. Sometimes that will come across as unrealistic to many fans, but that doesn’t mean I’m so blinkered that I expect us to win every game. True, Arsenal last month left me a bit cross, but that was because I thought we embarrassed ourselves. Not because I had any delusions of us pulling Arsene’s pants down.
I can’t really subscribe to the view that if you’d have been OK with a point before a match, that you should always be just as happy with that point after you’ve thrown away a two goal league with 15 minutes to go.
In my eyes, every football match has its own dynamic, and my happiness with the final result mostly relates to how things pan out across the 90 minutes, and whether we got the best we could have out of the situation.
Even when we played Manchester Utd back in 2007, I reckon I’d have been royally pissed off if we’d not won the game. Not because I thought we were the type of team who should be going to Old Trafford and beating one of the best teams in the world. It’s mainly because we spanked them for the most part, and went 2-0 up by playing well. The opportunity for victory presented itself through good play and organisation, and a victory ensued because we continued that for the entire 90 minutes. That’s fair, isn’t it?
I also struggle with the idea that over the course of a season, an away draw at Swindon looks pretty decent, so we should he pleased with it by default. I’m sure it does on paper, because we saw that they’re actually a good team. But unfortunately, we’ve already had a raft of draws and losses which don’t look quite as good. There’s no even-ing out to be had this season; all we’ve got is a whole load of making up to do.
Realistically, over the course of a campaign, we’re already in a position where we need “unexpected” results just to make up for the opening two months. This isn’t a prediction league, and you don’t get extra credit for gaining points against better teams, than you do for losing points against teams you should really be beating.
I’m not being hyper-critical of the draw. I was just disappointed, and still am, because we were 2-0 up in a match, and when you take a lead like that away from home, you really need to see it out.
That said, taking my Coventry cap off for a second, I appreciate why some would call the draw a fair result.
Let’s look at the positives. We were great in the opening forty-five. Really, really great. A delightful flow to our attacking game, and while we road our luck in the defensive third, there’s no denying that we looked more threatening going forward than we have done in any other league game this season.
David McGoldrick’s first half display was sublime, as the two goals would imply. His footwork looks very similar to Marlon King’s – his reliable first touch especially – and he’s also very difficult to dispossess, even in the tight areas. He’s clearly brimming with confidence at the moment and as a side-note, it’s not going to be long before another one of those long-rangers pings into the corner.
Strangely, what caught my eye more than anything else about the opening goal was the apparent influence Robins had over it from the sides. Prior to the ball being whipped in by Fleck, Robins was very noticeably out giving instructions about where he wanted him to put it.
Without hesitation, Fleck turned around and dropped it in the direction Robins had been pointing, where the potent McGoldrick was waiting to angle in a nippy header.
I loved it. Watching our new boss take charge of situations and calling the shots in a very deliberate manner is what I’ve been hoping for. Cue inappropriate delirium with the posh chap next to me, with whom I’d struck up an immediate rapport (mainly because he’d eaten an unlikely pre-game apple and seemed sweet).
The second goal was far scrappier, but just as clinical, as we punished some sloppiness in the Swindon back line to force the ball home. OK, it wasn’t struck particularly cleanly by McGoldrick, but it also wasn’t sliced wide or spooned over as is often the case. He kept it low, and made sure that it had a chance of finding the net.
For all the positives as an attacking unity, we never looked entirely assured in defence. However, with Murphy making a couple of saves, and the spin of the ball coming to a rescue a few times, things appeared to be conspiring in our favour as we entered the break.
Swindon picked up in the second half. Cheeky Paolo clearly laid into them during the interval (although I’m not entirely sure how this would differ to the non-stop bollocking he appears to be delivering from the sides). There’s no denying that they upped their game and caused us a whole load of grief with the unrelenting nature of their drive to get goals.
But we can only really analyse what we saw from us; whether we played to our full potential, and whether we performed all our tasks as well as possible.
Unfortunately, it felt as though we fell back into ourselves in the second half, and invited the pressure through a general sloppiness in possession – an annoyingly stark contrast from the ability and interplay we’d shown in the first.
We allowed Swindon in behind our defensive line on countless occasions, leading to plenty of scary moments long before they actually did score. Jordan Clark found himself stuck in a frustrating middle-ground between neither committing to any sort of a tackle, yet not backing off and at least holding his position. Instead, he’d commit to the point of losing his position, then slash a token gesture of a tackle which was easily evaded.
A lot has also been made of the influence that the loss of Wood and Fleck had on the result, and while I can see how that could’ve disrupted the consistency of shape, I thought the goals coming after this was more a coincidence than anything for significant.
We were hanging on for dear life long before Wood was subbed – him leaving the pitch merely punctuated the inevitable. Maybe there’s something to be said for his organisational skills and leadership which could have prevented certain incidents, but it was only really Joe Murphy, offside flags and poor finishing which had prevented Swindon being level before his exit. The opportunities flowed for the entire 45 minutes whether he was on the pitch or not.
Poor John Fleck had his most influential game for the team prior to being conked on the head by the Swindon right back (whose name I forget). However, again, as unfortunate as him leaving the pitch was, I’m not sure I’d noticed much of a contribution from him in the second half, aside from a hypothetical one. Obviously Hussey coming on in his place offered nothing additional, but I don’t think it contributed any more to the way the game eventually fell away from our grasp.
One player who it would be remiss of me to ignore is Carl Baker. The lack of care in possession led him to putting in a performance of Kevin Kilbane proportions, and it’s ironic (and wholly frustrating) that our two captains this season have both been capable of such despicable quality when on the ball.
We have an issue with the notoriously inconsistent Carl Baker as leader, because taking off your captain is a bold statement at any level, and one that most managers are keen to avoid. We have to remember that before this year, there was rarely a game when he’d play the entire 90 minutes, so this new found responsibility is new in to him. The last thing we need at this stage of our revival is to feel obliged to keep a player on the pitch if they’re not contributing adequately. I will never knock his work rate, but I want to see more leadership from a footballing perspective; setting an example by valuing possession and responsible decision-making.
Those are my key points. In short – it was Bury all over again. Not only in scoreline, but also in how the performance levels away. The first half we showed ourselves as having the quality to be one of the best teams in the league, as we cruised into a dominant lead. Second half – we could have gone one of two ways; asserted ourselves and went for number three, or retreat into a conservative mindset, and pray that it was going to be our day. Unfortunately we fell all too comfortably into the second category, with no conviction in our ability to see the game out.
On the bright side, the stats say that we’re five games unbeaten now, and have another point on the board. There is a niggling concern about the damaging effect losing a 2-0 lead can have on any team, but the start was so good, I have no concerns with them being able to replicate that level again.
The performances are still hit-and-miss, but seem to be improving with each match. With McGoldrick scoring for fun, and a level of attacking ability starting to show through in longer patches, I’m starting to feel confident that the team will go from strength to strength.
What I’m still a little nervous about is the fragility of the mentality, and how long it’s going to take them to fully believe in what might still be possible this year. Swindon showed how potent their momentum and belief is in their second half performance, so the message from Robins has to be this: in the first half, we showed that we could be better.
As far as I’m concerned, that is the aim this year. To finally settle down and put this long period of gloom behind us, and start to believe in the possibility that this club can actually achieve something.