They say luck evens itself out over the course of a season and going into today’s game I felt we’d not had much.
Luck, along with hard work, has seen us get on the right side of a win today, but it was by no means comprehensive. However. I am not one to look on the dark side of things. What I do want to do, before I go any further, is mention I believe FGR were denied a stonewall penalty for handball in the second half. These things even out though, right?
Anyway, jumping straight in, the game started at a frenetic pace. Predictably we set up to combat their style of play with a packed central midfield and John Akinde up top on his own. The formation would rely an awful lot on Akinde getting on the end of long balls and the others getting around him. Without any shame we went much longer today than we have been doing because we know that Forest Green usually struggle to deal with it.
In the first few minutes I thought we might run riot, their keeper looked as nervous as any I’ve seen this season and their centre halves seem unsettled by Akinde. I’ve waited four paragraphs, but with him scoring the opener I’ll mention Big John now; he was excellent today. He clearly frightened the hell out of their defence and he was full of running, chasing the balls he needed to. The goal came from a long punt up field on which he gambled and won.
We saw the ‘real’ John Akinde today, lively, able to create a chance or two and strong as week old cheese. When his goal went in I just felt huge relief for him and I think many in the ground felt the same. I hope that it sparks a good run for him now, but I don’t think he’ll do what Matt Green did last season and bang in eight or nine in as many games because we’re employing him in a marginally different capacity.
In fairness to Forest Green, they didn’t let that upset them and they stuck to their task. They were excellent today, they move the ball around stylishly and with purpose and pace. I can usually pick out one or two players I like from an opponent, but with them it was far more. Joseph Mills was outstanding on the flank, Carl Winchester controlled the midfield, Theo Archibald was a constant threat and whenever they came forward it was with purpose and vigour. It didn’t take long for them to get level either.
I haven’t had the benefit of a replay so I may be wrong, but I think James Wilson got caught out by a neat ball behind and from there they queued up for a finish. Reece Brown got it, another player who impressed me. I know regular readers of my blog might be surprised to hear me praising FGR but I will always give praise where it is due.
The first 20 minutes or so were incredibly entertaining with two sides approaching the game differently but both getting chances. Harry looked bullish and committed and although he faded, there was a steely determination in him. We had opportunities, not least the smart free kick routine which Bruno might have done better with. It baffles me how we worked it because I watched, looking for the runner and nobody seemed interested, then Bruno sprang up from nowhere. His work rate is phenomenal and he never runs out of energy although on that occasion, the end product was lacking.
Sky Sports have described the game as an ‘even contest’, but I can’t agree with that at all. Yes, we had chances but as the half progressed I believed only one team would score again and they were playing in the Hi-Viz shirts. Our best threats came from Bruno and Harry Toffolo combining on the left flank, or when Lee Frecklington got around Big John.
The last 15 minutes of the second half were nerve-wracking to say the least, they were in the ascendency with a ball hitting the bar and shots flying over. They enjoyed possession, seemingly unchallenged until the edge of the 18-yard at times, plus as the half wore on they were first to the second balls too. We began to get sloppy, one slip from Michael O’Connor had me swearing loudly, not ideal in the directors box with Bob Dorrian behind me, Liam Scully in front of me and the FGR contingent not far away. Mind you, I imagine Bob felt like dropping an ‘F’ bomb too.
The half time whistle brought respite from their increasing dominance and perhaps came just at the right time. We’d lost our way a little after a great opening twenty, but the truth is whenever the visitors went forward they looked dangerous. Speaking of dangerous, Reece Brown might be a cracking player but his challenge on Jason Shackell was not nice at all, going in at groin level. I would imagine a still photograph might have seen him banned for three games.
Having said that I didn’t think the referee was having a bad game, he let things flow and although I didn’t agree with all of his decisions, he was right in the main. The early penalty shout for Harry Anderson was a foul, but it was also outside the area.
Next page – the second half