Have we really gone and done it again?
I’ve spent the last few years having countless conversations about how bereft of last minute jubilation we’ve been. There was always the occasional late equaliser – Jukey at Watford, Fox versus Swansea, Norwood against Cardiff – but our time in the Championship was always about clinging on or scraping back, rather than forcing the issue.
So it’s brilliant to know that the aim this year is to win games. On Saturday – we did that again.
Actually, if we’re being honest, it wasn’t entirely brilliant. There was actually a fair bit of frustration involved too, especially as we conceded so late on. But to walk away from the ground knowing we’d still managed to win the game left a warm feeling within my sky blue heart.
I don’t really want to overcomplicate the method of victory too much. We all know how it happened. At its core we were the better team, but weren’t particularly careful in attacking areas, and retreated too much later on as we decided to see the game out, rather than enhance our lead.
But I’m sure my friend Mr Robins (we’d be friends if he ever met me) doesn’t want to rest on his laurels either. Winning is the important thing, but you still need to feel as though you’re in control of the outcome. Good luck is great, and if you can see a pattern there this season – about bloody time. But we don’t want to rely on good luck too much this season – it’d be far better if we enforced our own results.
On Saturday we were a better team than Oldham, but we didn’t get a second goal after a struggle for the first, and then invited enough pressure to allow them to equalise from a set piece. They were a huge threat in the air with some utter beasts winning most of headers from corners and goal kicks. We could have done better from the equaliser, but the bigger concern through the game was our lack of reaction to their attacking flick-ons. Our defensive line became staggered far too often as they were dragged out challenging for high-risk balls, leaving us exposed to the run in-behind which wasn’t being tracked.
Don’t get me wrong, scoring the winner at the end was great, but it was a last chance saloon situation, and not one we want to continue to find ourselves in if we can help it. I’ll take the joy, but maybe a few minutes earlier. Is that greedy? Maybe, but let’s aim for perfection and see how close we can get.
We were fairly lax at times, which is a contrast to the clinical attacking team we became during the McGoldrick era. I can’t work out if it’s a complacency issue – we should be able to beat most of the teams we come up against – or a concentration one. Eitherway, the decision-making and final ball is not quite what it was back in November and December.
We’re also not seeing the obviously stand out performances we were used to back then. Of those who made it onto the pitch at the weekend, I’d say Adams, Bailey and Jennings were really the only ones to play to a level they can be happy with. That’s not to say there weren’t good contributions from the others, but it was very hit and miss.
So one more time (as I know it’s cheeky to pick fault at the moment); it’s great to win, but you can’t help but feel we got a little lucky having conceded so late. If we can address some of the issues that caused that grief in the final ten minutes, hopefully we’ll be able to do a better job of closing games out moving into the final stretch.
As for individuals, here’s what I thought:
Murphy – 5: I’ve grown to accept Murphy as a decent keeper at this level, and he had some good moments in the air, but he caused a few moments of panic trying to get to grips with this building-from-the-back style, and was bustled out of it for the equaliser. He’s been better.
Christie – 6: It’s become a given that we have a useful right back either in Clarke or Christie, so they’re pretty much interchangeable. Truth be told, Christie’s probably of more benefit to the team at the moment given the way he works with Baker, and he did a decent job of that again on Saturday. It was a fairly standard performance really, but a few moments of panic overcame him again in defence.
Wood- 6: The consistent partnership between him and Edge is one I’ve advocated, and something I think it’s worth persevering with to really develop our back line, but things have gone a little awry recently. They both got their positioning wrong at the weekend. Whether it was wholly Wood’s fault or not, he regularly failed to follow the run off the inevitable flick on, and was caught having to scramble back a few too many times for my liking. His right foot distribution is also hilariously wild.
Edjenguele – 5: While not drop-worthy, Edge is going through his most difficult patch of form so far at the club, and found himself bullied throughout Saturday’s game. He tried his best to trick the officials into thinking it was more than standard hurly burly, but eventually the ref started to let things go and he was caught committing to headers he was never going to win. Seems comfortable with the passing approach however, and was fairly solid in starting that off.
Adams – 7: His first game since signing and he seem to enjoy himself. He’s got great feet for a full-back, and showed his terrific burst of speed over ten yards on plenty of occasions. Very few mistakes in another promisingly effective game.
Baker – 6: I noted a lot of peoples’ disappointment with Baker, but it struck me as a typically “Baker“ performance. In most games, he’s erratic in his distribution, and Saturday was no different. He turned the left-back inside out a few times though and seemed to be a threat when he did get the ball, although he wasn’t quite as influential as usual.
Jennings – 7: For a 55 minute performance, I thought he was great. In fact, I went on record as saying I thought he was on for man of the match before he was removed. He covered ground relentlessly and was probably our most consistent in possession amongst a raft of ill-thought out passing. The substitution was a result of the need to accommodate Elliot up front. Robins could have stuck with Bailey and Jenno, but I guess he felt he didn’t need the defensive option quite as much as usual. Turns out that didn’t really help us, but you can understand the intentions.
Bailey – 8: It was a classy return to action for Bailey. There were some noticeable moments where he lost possession in good areas, but this was purely down to his creative mind and attempts at the less-obvious pass. He’s got the ability to make any pass he wants, so in his case I was impressed more by the invention, over the lost possession. He drove forward with the ball often, which is fast becoming an effective feature of his game – he’s deceptively stride-y once he gets motoring. The winner was a great example of a player with sound technique being able to trust his ability and strike through the ball. Too often that can land at the feet of someone who doesn’t commit to the shot or gets tense and scoops it off target. Not Bailey though – solid control; emphatic finish.
Fleck – 6: He’s coming in for some grief, which I think is harsh. There were two moments in the first half where he overestimated his own pace and strength, and drove himself into a cul-de-sac. As we know, making the same mistake twice is a heinous error in the eyes of most Cov fans, and that will be the only thing many are focusing on. However, his distribution was mainly solid, and he was still able to show a great feel for a pass when given the opportunity to pick one out. His biggest issue is how his physicality doesn’t match what his brain wants him to do. He sees gaps and he instinctively wants to run into them, but he’s not nippy or strong enough do that as an effective part of his game. Certainly not as bad as many are claiming, though.
McSheffrey – 6: It was a great ball for the goal, but it was about time. He, like Baker, was a threat because he received the ball in space. His crossing was again governed by his brain’s initial decision, and he rarely deviates from what he’s originally chosen to do. Sometimes you want him to settle himself down and pick out a pass, or not go for the first time cross – they almost always balloon miles out of play. Worthy of a place in the team though, as he worked nicely with Adams. He stayed on a little longer than he might have if it wasn’t for the change to 4-4-2 and the need to keep some genuine width, but justified that with the assist.
Clarke – 6: When Leon gets his first touch lay-offs right, they’re really effective. His problem on Saturday was that he was attempting to do everything first touch. It’s just how he plays, but if he can curb this a little bit, he’ll do a better job of bringing in those around him. He had quite a battle with their centre-halves, and didn’t really come out on top. But when he did work hard, he put them and the keeper under pressure, and his presence was enough of a diversion in the 94th minute for Moussa and Bailey to find a bit of space and create the equaliser.
Elliott – 7: Another great impact by him. The best part of his game is his control, and the ability to gain a picture of what is happening around him. For someone as small as he is, he was a great outlet to have and bought his team-mates time to make themselves available. The problem he faces is a reliance on Robins changing to 4-4-2 before he can get a start – it’s very unlikely he’ll jump ahead of Clarke as the sole striker.
Moussa – 6: Set up the goal with a moment of supreme calmness, and provided a useful outlet on the break. Will consider himself unlucky not to started the game, but did little wrong once he got back onto the pitch, and will probably step into the side ahead of Fleck thanks to the impact he was able to have.
Thomas – 6: Little time to do anything particularly good or bad. Broke up the play quite nicely though, but also panicked in possession a couple of times. Did almost set up a quick-fire 3rd with a driving run forward right at the death, which displayed solid control and surprisingly decent speed whilst running with the ball. Something to watch out for I reckon – he should definitely try it more.