You know the tale. Look strong, fail to take advantage, get punished… still find a way to salvage something. This season’s wild ride continues.
It was hard to walk out of Saturday’s game without a tinge of disappointment. I know that sounds mad, but I’m going to circle round, so bear with me and all will become clear.
Ordinarily a last minute goal to snatch anything is the pinnacle of football-related euphoria. There’s little to match the feeling. And we’ve fortunately had way too many of those moments this season, always leaving me hoarse from defiant obscenities leaving my gob as I ride the out-of-body lunacy that comes with it.
But my reaction to goals are also fuelled by one important bit of context: what result did I feel we need, or more specifically, did I want? It’s a mad one, but engrained in me is a need to win, pretty much most of the time. I don’t so much care about what’s realistic, or being seen to be chasing a lost cause (or even being wrong), so I went into the game at the weekend mega keen for 3 points. Knowing full-well that I still want us to finish as high as we can and secretly prolong the play-off dream as long as possible. There’s no winding down for the summer in the Allison household. No sir. I crave wins, especially wins that would take us 3 points behind the team in 6th with a game in hand.
So when the late goal came at the weekend, annoyingly it felt slightly different for me. I lost all sense of control when Tavares equalised the other week against Preston, so it was striking how different my innate reaction was on Saturday. It was awesome to score, and yet even at 99 minutes and sane heads realising that a draw was overwhelmingly the best and only thing we were going to achieve, I found myself scouring the penalty area for some ball-grabbing urgency from one of our players. Daft, right?
I guess I take it as a subliminal indication of our players’ goals and beliefs. Lovely Mark has spoken in fairly strong terms about getting more wins, which I have really enjoyed, but I couldn’t help feel disappointment that nobody fancied making the famous Simeon Jackson statement and grabbing the ball from the net. 99 minutes and you’re still looking to win the match? Ooh baby. That would look so tough.
So yeah, I kind of ruined the moment for myself with that instinct. Nice one, Neil. And I’m annoyingly aware that it was illogical to feel that way. Especially when you look back and accept that a draw was an incredibly fair result.
We’ve been here before
The game was different, but the pattern was the same. We know how to trouble teams, and on those days when our players click and connect, we do so with relative ease.
O’Hare, Vik and Godden looked like a unit that had enjoyed a jolly good rest. They were mobile, tenacious, and dragged the Blackburn defence all over. Of course, as is often the case, the final detail was lacking. O’Hare specifically was having a fairly low standard game with the ball (59% passing accuracy in the first half say the stat bods), while still somehow seeming to be playing very well. It’s quite a skill and one that he’s demonstrated a lot this season. Does his waywardness with the ball wind me up? Yes. But do I think we’re a better team when he’s not around? No, of course not. We need him. I have such fanciful visions of what we could do if he started to relax a little more around the box, rather than the counterintuitive blend of overexcitement and tenseness that’s his current hallmark. Oh, would we score some goals with that version of him.
But like I say, those three were playing well. Sometimes being a threat is all you need to create chances and gaps in the opposition defence, and when we’re in the lively mood we were on Saturday, we’re able to conjured up those moments regularly.
Making things right
The picture of the match could have been very different however. Godden going down while clean through certainly looked clear-cut at the time, and definitely enraged Mark, but when you look back it’s hard to see the definite moment of contact. That’s not to say it didn’t happen though – we’re always fooled by optical illusions at the football (just ask everyone who sits in the corner of the stadium and still calls for offside whenever they see a gap between players). Given the reaction from Godden, and how we know he would have always fancied the shot, there’s a strong likelihood his ankle was clipped. Even if mildly. It may not have been in the box either, but if Dabo’s red card the other week was anything to reference in this scenario, it almost certainly would have been a sending off.
In the short term, it didn’t impact us too much as we righted that wrong almost immediately through a neatly-worked own-goal (if there is such a thing).
Godden, still fuming, harnessed that fury in a non-Rooney way with a delicately-angled pass to send O’Hare through, whose low-probability attempt at a nutmeg still caused enough interference to tangle up Pickering’s legs and swipe the ball past the dislikable Kaminski (more on that later).
It was a deserved lead. Not that Mark could enjoy it, mind. He was still raging at the ref about what’d happened previously. This wasn’t helped a few minutes after when Mr Bankes spent 78 seconds tucking his shirt in. It wasn’t even a top-grade military tuck that he was attempting. That I could just about fathom. Nope – he was just showing off.
The first half was very much the better side of Cov, with arguably our most threatening attacking line-up working nicely for us. Dabo and Maatsen appeared fresh on the wings, while Jamie Allen was having a great time in midfield, barely putting a foot wrong. Post-new-contract Gus Hamer continued to impress. His recent standards are worryingly high, so it seems likely there will be significant interest in him over the summer.
All was well at half-time, but the lingering concern about not capitalising more on the performance remained.
Tony did a thing
We were right to be worried. Tony went full Tony and introduced Dack and Brereton-Diaz for the second-half in an attempt to liven up Blackburn’s own threat. It proved to be a very shrewd move against a City defence that has been notoriously shaky against the taller variety of player this season. Now had two to deal with in Gallagher and Brereton-Diaz, while also managing Dack as well. It was bold, and we bowed to that shift instantaneously.
Tentative defending allowed Nyambe an easy ride in the box, and Michael Rose was particularly tame and lax in his management of the situation as the ball entered his zone. Dack was alert, he was not, and the momentum shifted immediately in that moment as they brought the game level.
From then onwards, we were in a different kind of fight. Blackburn have some very good players, and had most of them on the pitch in the second half – all riding a resurgence in belief which has been lacking recently (under Tony’s predictably wavering end-of-season management).
My desire to win the game was still there, but the frustration that we’d let another team off-the-hook for an entire forty-five minutes was definitely bubbling. Ultimately, we’re likely to finish a few places short of the play-offs, but pound-for-pound I believe we’re a very capable and meaningful team in this league. But it seems that through a mix of missed opportunities and a squad that’s been mentally and physically overwhelmed in the last couple of months, we’ve not had the fortitude to fully act upon the quality we possess. And when against big clubs with big squads and big experience in this league – we’ve been caught out a few too many times.
Blackburn came close to being the latest club to punish us, stealing a goal in the 82nd minute via some loose set-piece defending. Sometimes players lose their markers – it happens. It’s a 50-50 and somebody has to be stronger. It’s trickier to rationalise when marking doesn’t take place and a tall player strolls in to head home a potential winner. It was a really sloppy moment, and looked like it would be the fatal one.
Then came some questionable gameplay from our feisty opposition. In what had already been a scrappy and often ugly match, the final minutes left Blackburn pursuing a fairly low-budget approach to seeing out a game. There’s time-wasting, and then there’s what Blackburn did. Three instances of cramp and multiple instances of players finding a way to ground without being touched – needless to say, people were cross.
I couldn’t quite understand their method though. They were a good side, they had the advantage and could have played the game away through more assertive means if they wanted to. I presume the pressure was too much and they instead resorted to some pretty cheap tactics.
Not to say that they waited until they were ahead to apply these tricks. I said recently that I don’t mind diving as much as others. I want to expand on that. I don’t mind diving when you’ve been fouled. If a player clips your leg, you’re entitled to go down. There’s a discussion on how theatrical is too theatrical, but if you’re impeded – you have to go down to ensure the ref acts on it. That’s just how it works if you want to get what you deserve.
Diving when you haven’t even been touched is pretty shit.
Our friend Kaminski had shown us how this was done earlier in the match in order to avoid being caught out of his net, and again later on in an attempt to get Gyokeres booked for a block that the Swede had actually backed out of.
So amidst the bubbling fury the crowd was feeling towards the ref, the opposition (and a hint towards Mark because people couldn’t understand his lack of sub action) it wasn’t surprising when then stadium fully erupted on 99 minutes as we yet again found an inexplicably late winner.
If you’ve read the post-match stuff, Tony’s not at all pleased that 100 minutes were showing on the clock by the end of the game, but when you watch it back and note the sheer volume of stoppages, you can be clear that an excessive amount of extra football was not played.
The goal itself was well-created. Our current go-to salvager Tavares received the ball out wide and drove well to the line, showing great restraint to cut back and lay off to Dabo. Dabo’s resulting cross was impressive – in a position where he regularly mishits – and gave Gyokeres one final wrestling match to win. He did so superbly. Powering by Nyambe and aiming a header into the net for hard-earned point, in what was an intriguing, frantic, and misbalanced game.
And yes, he ran off to the corner to do his witty celebration while I screeched at somebody – anybody – to grab the ball. It’s at these moments when your natural instincts and desires seem to come out and that was mine.
Unfortunately for many of you, I’m still clinging to the idea that we might keep this season vaguely interesting for a few more games yet. But with back-to-back away games against two of the better (and in-form) teams in the league now to come, it’s going to take something quite spectacular to bring home points from this run of fixtures.
But you know what, here’s hoping we’re still fighting for places. We’re a tenacious bunch and we always finish seasons strongly under Mark. With seven games left, I’m all for extending some mathematical interest for just a little longer.
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