The fact is this; had Carl Boyeson not been inept we’d have had a penalty within three minutes. He’s always been a menace and, oddly, took charge of the 4-1 defeat at home against Crewe a year or two back which some likened yesterday’s performance too. To be fair, he gave us a point last season by awarding a really soft penalty away at Grimsby.
After a bright start by the Imps he missed a blatant penalty yesterday.
Search for Boyeson on Twitter and you’ll find plenty of supporters angry at his inept showings. He’s been on the EFL list since 2002/03, but never elevated to the Premier League. You have to wonder why or, if you watched him yesterday, perhaps not. He’s missed a handball inside three minutes which might have changed the game for us.
Up until that point we had started brightly and I felt for the first fifteen or twenty minutes we were the better side. We stuck to the game plan, the tried and tested approach and it worked. Jonson Clarke-Harris, the one Rovers player everyone seemed to know, was kept largely quiet and although we didn’t create a lot, we were the better side.
Jack Payne’s run and shot drew a good save from Jaakkola, the Finald international, and I thought it was a sign of things to come. However, as the game drew on and our first plan didn’t work, there was no plan B. There was no change of direction, something we didn’t need against Accrington and Southend. The wingers didn’t swap sides, we just kept everything the same, like a grieving parent keeps their child’s bedroom if they go missing. Nothing was out of place.
Things changed for me after a heavy tackle on Harry Anderson. He spent some time on the ground, but after that, he didn’t look quite as sharp and the visitors easily broke down our play on the right. Aided by some bizarre decisions against us, the mood began to turn. Boos rang out on the hour mark, not for the players but the ref and that set a tense atmosphere. When a misplaced Harry Toffolo pass resulted in a looping Tom Nichols header being palmed away, I felt we needed half time.
The Gas edged their way in and by half time they’d had more efforts, long-range pops by Clarke and Upson as well as some frantic blocking to deny little and Clarke-Harris. We had lost our way and despite a good Walker effort being fired across goal and wide, I never felt we’d score. I didn’t think we’d concede though either and wondered about cashing out my bet at half time and lumping on 0-0.
With Carl Boyeson in charge, you just never know though.
We came out well in the second half even if Bozzy, my Man of the Match up until that point, came off for Bolger. We know we have a safe figure in Cian and he proved it with a good display, calm and competent. I say ‘calm’, but he did pick up a booking for pointing the rules out to Boyeson when Rovers sent an injured player off via the scenic route, not the fastest route.
For the first fifteen minutes or so we went back into the ascendency, doing what we do best. Harry Anderson’s wicked cross almost found Walker and Payne in the middle and we got a handful of corners in a quick flurry. Our delivery from those set pieces was poor though; we were crying out for Jorge Grant by the time the umpteenth one went long and high.
Frustration began to set in but the game remained end to end. Leahy’s free kick led to a Clarke effort, Eardley’s free kick led to a goal kick. Carl Boyeson’s whistle then led to a penalty and the game turned.
It wasn’t a penalty. I won’t go on about it, but you’ve got a ref who stopped the game in open play for a player to retrieve his boot, gave decisions based on his fourth official’s signals and booked a player for pointing out the rules of the game. If we didn’t have a game-changer in red and white, Bristol Rovers had one in green.
If you get a chance, watch it. Nichols bursts into the area, jumps at Eardley, falls over and the ref gives a penalty. Awful, awful decision. They score and we went to pieces.
Chasing the game last week, we went to a 4-4-2 to make changes. This week, because the rhetoric is ‘keep things the same’, we made the same subs that everyone expected. Walker, arguably the best player on the park after Bozzy went off, came off for Akinde. O’Connor came on for Connolly. Nothing to see here, no change to the norm.
After that Rovers were excellent; they did exactly what a team who are 1-0 up away from home should do. They brought on some pace in Tyler Smith, sat ten feet deeper at all times and managed the game in the way we’ve seen a hundred times from our own players. We did get another chance, perhaps one, but it was inconsequential. To say we shrank away when they scored wouldn’t be entirely true; this was as much about their performance as ours, but we didn’t have the change to make.
If anything, they could have won 2-0 through Smith, who looked really lively. We never looked like equalising and by the time the final whistle blew, I’d already written the opening paragraph and headline of my FLW match report; I’d had it written on 85 minutes.
We lost. we weren’t good enough to win and perhaps mentally we have carried the baggage of the last week into this match. That doesn’t mask the fact we would have drawn 0-0, maybe won 1-0, had the two crucial decisions gone our way, but you know you can’t rely on officials at this level to get things right. I think he was perhaps only the second truly poor ref I’ve seen this season, far and away the worst as well.
We weren’t woeful. We weren’t appalling. We were lost. Lost in a week of bad news, big blows and concern. Lost in the confusion and anger left behind by the Huddersfield move. We tried to fight, but when we lost our way we didn’t get the bit of luck we needed to get back on track. Had we got the early penalty I believe confidence would have seen us win that game two or three nil. Instead, when we needed change, we got continuity in the subs and game plan.
Sadly, I see little for us in the Rochdale game. This ship, a magnificent League One vessel built on hard work and marginal gains, has lost its captain. Whatever anyone says, a temporary replacement is not sufficient in this division and until we have a new man at the helm, with direction and purpose, we’re going to be left treading water.
When that happens in League One, you find yourself going backwards, especially if a little tug boat in green decides to help pull you off course.