It’d be great after that to divert the attention and embarrassment by focusing on a stunning performance by our Conference North guests. At least in those circumstances you can rationalise a display somewhat, putting it down to experience and move on.
From Worcester’s perspective they will feel like they earned the win and were the better team, and in those respects they’re absolutely right. On a Ricoh pitch which is fast gaining the hallmarks of the monstrosity it’s primed to become, they were far more comfortable and prepared for the work that was required to succeed on it.
But it’d be remiss of us to ignore the key errors and questionable decision making that contributed to our demise. Worcester forced the issue throughout – hassling, pouncing and controlling – but we did ourselves no favours. The team will tell you that they took it seriously, but when you look at the major decisions which cost us, I doubt that. I really do.
Many decisions in football are split second, spur of the moment calls that are made and nobody really knows how they’re going to pan out. They happen, nothing comes of them and they’re forgotten.
There were a mix of big moments and big decisions yesterday. Some understandable, some slightly stranger, and some which were close to being barmy. These stood out:
- Lee Burge’s decision to kick out.
- Steven Pressley’s decision to sacrifice Frank Nouble.
- Reda Johnson’s decision to take the penalty.
It’s weird. Of all of these, as senseless as it was you could argue that Burge’s error was potentially most justified, but only because it was split-second and there was no really time to process it. He reacted to an injustice in a childish manner and is going to pay for his lack of self-discipline. He cost us.
I’d imagine it stemmed in part from the frustration of what was becoming quite a poor game for him. He was receiving a lot of the ball at his feet, and it wasn’t going well. You can’t excuse it though – it was such a needless thing to do, but it was so reactive, you can almost understand how in the heat of the moment it could happen to a young player.
That sending off led to the inevitable reshuffle, and it’s this decision which I’m struggling to comprehend. Hindsight is great, but in fairness most people in the stadium questioned this at the time. Removing Frank Nouble from the game when we lost Burge was baffling. The need for a threat and a presence up front increased when we went down to ten – it always does if you still hold ambitions of winning the game. With the poor pitch and the poor quality of play we’d shown to that point I can’t quite fathom reasoning which positions Simeon Jackson as a stronger candidate than Nouble in fulfilling the lone striker role.
Going down to ten men will almost certainly disrupt a team structure and preferred game plan, especially if that act also results in going a goal down. The loudest defence of Pressley’s choice so far is that Frank Nouble was “awful”. I cannot accept that – either as a fair representation of his impact to the point, or as a reason why he shouldn’t have remained on the pitch as we adjusted into a ten man strategy. Right now, Frank Nouble is probably our best, most threatening player. You need him on the pitch.
Aimlessly running around is all well and good, but the potential to create something when completely isolated is extremely valuable when you’re down in numbers. Jackson may have some legs, but I think we’re starting to see that he is not as quick as our earlier impression has us believe, and his ability to create chances for himself appears minimal. Nouble has displayed signs of dominance in all his performances to date; Nouble is perfectly capable of competing against any defender in most situations and can carry the ball long distances; Nouble can carve out of very little.
Taking off your best attacking player is hard to justify, but when it’s a straight choice between him and Simeon Jackson it becomes pretty illogical. You couldn’t help but chuckle when our later response was to bring on Marcus Tudgay and Josh McQuoid, with Frank looking on knowing that he was the player who could have done something. We needed him in that second half over anything Simeon Jackson or the other strikers had to offer. I’m disappointed Pressley wasn’t pushed harder on this decision in his post-match interview. Our chances of victory looked weaker for it.
Don’t get me wrong – much of football management is guesswork. There’s so much toss-of-a-coin management that goes on, and fans use the same logic to criticise most of the time. All you can really do is use the information at hand a make a choice that is most likely to succeed. I don’t think that information was used particularly wisely yesterday.
I’m happy for teams to take risks where it’s reasonable to do so. But surely these should be taken when the optimum options aren’t available? The decision to allow Reda Johnson to take our penalty was baffling, because there appeared to be better, less riskier choices available.
I know he has said that he felt he needed to stand up and take responsibility. That’s sweet, course it is. But it’s not your job to do that all the time, Reda.
We wouldn’t expect you to go in goal if you felt a keeper was lacking confidence. We wouldn’t expect you to take all the throw-ins and free-kicks if a few had gone awry. And we don’t expect you to take our penalties because you feel like it’s your moment to stand up and be counted.
This wasn’t the final penalty in the World Cup final. It was a first half penalty against Worcester City in front of a third-full Ricoh Arena – we didn’t need the dramatics of a captain stepping up. We needed strong, reliable and repeatable technique from one of our regular set piece takers. Bottle is great, but technique counts for a hell of a lot too. He may think what he did was for the good of the team, but it wasn’t. It was an unnecessary gamble at a time when we needed a goal to turn the tide of the game.
Who knows how it came about, but from my position it seemed as though he pulled rank, ousting the better qualified penalty takers from the situation. It’s tough to accept that as a decision based on sense and an assessment of the risks involved. Sure, if he was the only one who wanted to step up you could let him off, but if that was the case then it’s an extremely worrying, out-of-proportion reaction by our other players.
The double-blow of losing the keeper and conceding is always a harsh set-back for any team to recover from. That forms an element of an excuse for the defeat, but in the context of a game against part time opposition, it’s meaningless and not really one worth acknowledging. We played poorly for long periods and showed a lack of character and composure to manage the game in a way befitting of a team with our higher league standing. We struggled with the pitch, struggled when under predictable pressure, and struggled to use our brains at crucial moments.
As fans we only ever want the team to do well. But that won’t happen unless they recognise the standards expected of them. You can’t let players off a defeat like that without any criticism. Clearly there’s a line, and calling Jim O’Brien a wanker for making some mistakes isn’t going to help anyone. But a defeat to non-league team is unacceptable and this message needs to be loud and clear throughout the club. Playing for Coventry shouldn’t be the easy ride it has been in the past.
If you want a positive from the game, it once again came through James Maddison who gave another classy and competent display. He won the penalty, set up the goal, was hacked down ferociously throughout, but still maintained a control over his functions, putting to shame the jelly legs on show from the comparative veterans around him. If he wasn’t 17 we’d be pinning all our hopes on him right now. But his accelerated progression is a bonus; we can’t see it as the resolution.
There can only be one response now; victory on Wednesday. There’s a lot of doubt surrounding the team at the minute and the fans will need more than the occasional scraped victory to rebuild that trust. Performance levels have to raise to Peterborough levels again, and stay there. The standard yesterday simply wasn’t good enough. It’s clear the patience of fans is starting to get truly tested and there won’t be too many more chances to win us over before far stronger messages and demands about “change” are voiced.
Just look at the attendances just lately. It’s serious now. Only a concerted, immediate and sustained improvement on what we’ve seen so far will do.
We’re in League One after forty years in the top two tiers of English football. That’s not too much to ask, is it?