Sincil Bank under the lights, a new manager and a fresh approach and the expectation that comes with playing a side below us in the league. Last night had all the ingredients of another classic, but when it arrived it was less than underwhelming.
On paper, it was a great game for us. Shrewsbury are in a similar position and with home advantage, we should have gone out and grabbed a decent result. Our injury situation is easing, Michael Appleton’s ideas are coming through and few people thought we’d do anything other than win ahead of kick-off. In fact, the only voice I heard say we’d draw the game was my own, on the podcast.
That’s not me being a smart-arse, but the signs were there. As I pointed out, they play a 3-5-2 but it changes to a 5-3-2 when they’re under pressure. It meant they got plenty of men behind the ball when we had possession and, more importantly, they closed off the channel between the centre back and full back. It makes sense, you essentially have a defender in the middle, one either side in the channel and then a full back on the flank. It was flagged before the game that if we were going to get anything from the game we’d have to be creative through the centre.
We tried in the first half, I heard a lot of criticism at half time about it not being good enough, but few people actually put any context or reason on matches. They’re Shrewsbury, we beat Sunderland, we should beat them. The layman, or experts in the stand, rarely look at setup, personnel or approach. It was the same last year when Northampton, Carlisle, Exeter, Stevenage, Cambridge and Macclesfield came to the Bank; they came for a point and all got what they wanted because they flooded their defensive third and hoped to hit us on the break.
That was the tactics our visitors employed last night. Our team remained unchanged bar Ellis dropping out of the side for Joe Morrell; that wasn’t a shock despite how well Ellis played against Posh. Joe Morrell is a quality footballer who I boldly predict will play Championship football next season, one way or another. Ellis will have to ride the punches and keep focused but having seen his development over the last few years and his excellent attitude, he’ll do just that.
Harry Anderson is obviously very much out of favour now, but the previous manager used to tell me Harry was lost when playing against a 3-5-2, because the space he likes to get into is compacted. Bruno and Jorge Grant are technically better, they beat players with flair and skill as opposed to that raw power Harry has. They were more suited to last night’s game, although I wouldn’t like to suggest that was the reason Harry didn’t play; he’s clearly got some work to do to convince the manager he’s due a run in the side.
I thought we started well in the first ten minutes or so. You could see from the off they’d come for a draw, but we probed in the right areas and Bruno had a decent effort on nine minutes which flashed over. It looked to hint at things to come but it was probably the closest we came all evening. Shrewsbury offered very little going forward, but those three at the back were keeping things nice and tight. Aaron Pierre impressed me in particular,, he’s a big unit but mobile too.
Without threatening too much we were in control, but it was far from exciting. I heard Michael Appleton describe it as a game played between the boxes and for 30 minutes it was perhaps better described as a game played by us between the boxes. They were happy for us to go from side to side, down the flank and back again. I’d stop short of saying it was a training exercise, but it certainly smelled strong of last season’s home struggles. They shut up shop and we waited for it to open instead of ram-raiding and taking what we wanted.
Our concentration slipped for the first time just past the half-hour mark. Joe Morrell, who had been good up to that point, slipped on the edge of the area and Cummings fed in Okenabirhie whose effort was poor. It was a let-off though, we’d been looking to play out all the time and eventually, it was going to get us.
I like teams that play football, there’s no doubt about that and the style we’re trying to purvey right now is nice when there’s space, but last night it looked aimless. That’s why my Dad was already using words like ‘woeful’ before the break because the penetration wasn’t there. Of course, the home fan sees this as a failing of his side, not a success of the visitor. Me, I think it was a bit of both. Too often we didn’t seem to want to overlap the full back and passes often saw players in the final third, only to go back again after being closed out. The stats on passing are not on Wyscout yet but, when they are, I dare say we played more backwards and sideways passes than other weeks.
That slip dented our confidence and the visitors grew into the game. They began to come at us, a situation that should have seen space in behind. The key to a successful 3-5-2 is good wing backs and although Donald Love didn’t endear himself to our supporters, both him and Ryan Giles had decent games. Giles really impressed me, he was a threat at both ends of the field and had Bruno tied up at the back.
By the time half time came, a couple of supporters around me seemingly had to be woken up to go for their loo break. I’d seen more than enough to confidently predict neither side would score all evening and stuck a tenner on the 0-0 draw, hoping to be proven wrong when the sides emerged for the second period.