I’ve had to take extra time to consider what I write before I start today. I came away from last night’s encounter feeling positive and down at the same time, but later managed to indulge a few people who felt less than happy at what they’d seen.
My anger was tempted out of me when I was accused of being a club stooge, ‘towing the club line’ and not seeing the negatives. That got my goat and it’s what has led me to take a while to think about my article this morning. Yes, I look for positives and I felt that there were plenty last night (as did a lot of people). Is everyone who felt we’d put on a decent show guilty of being a club stooge?
‘Wake me up when it’s over’ was my headline from Friday, was that the official line? No. In recent weeks I’ve had a player’s Dad contact me about some criticism I gave his son, politely and accepting that it will happen. Is that me being up the club’s jacksie? No. It riles me that when I offer a genuine opinion and someone thinks it’s clever to immediately make accusations, as if my opinion isn’t something that is valuable unless I’m picking fault.
As you can tell, I’ve taken it quite personally and perhaps I shouldn’t. I’m not a serial blocker on Twitter (not of our own fans anyway) but one or two of my Twitter followers are beginning to wear a little thin. I’ll accept things weren’t perfect last night, we lost and that speaks volumes, but there are some who have been waiting for this so they can start jumping all over it.
Anyway, I suppose I should move on to the game. I don’t really have the heart to if I’m being entirely honest because I do have positives to discuss and I know they’ll be shot down by a vocal minority. Whenever there are stats that show we’re heading in the right direction you get the ‘only one stat that counts’ argument. If you talk about good performances you get the argument ‘we still lost’, It’s all a little tiring at times and I know I vowed to stay off social media, but when it’s buzzing on your bedside table as you try to get some bedtime reading in, it’s hard to stay out of it.
There were a couple of big calls pre-match; John Akinde getting the nod up front and Callum Connolly coming in at the back. The vitriol towards Connolly pre-match was pretty disgusting from some, again something I’m not surprised at, but he was the obvious choice. As I said in my article on the defence, Aaron Lewis is the favourite of the fans to get a run of matches, but Connolly is clearly a centre half rather than a central midfielder. I suspect on last night’s showing Connolly will continue in that role until Bolger is back and rightly so; he wasn’t far off being my Man of the Match.
Big John is still struggling in my opinion though. I wasn’t a Big John basher last season but I suspect the higher level of defender is highlighting the bits of his game he’s not quite as strong at. I felt our build-up play was nice last night, I felt in places we could have scored a couple, but if we’re going 4-4-2 at this level, which we did, then you have to have a ‘2’ who are both lively, energetic and playing off each other. At times, John didn’t gamble and that led to us looking far more like a 4-4-1 with a static target man somewhere between midfield and attack. If we needed that, we’d go back in for Matt Rhead.
Spoiler: we don’t.
The problem Michael Appleton has is he’s inherited someone else’s squad, a group of players picked with another approach in mind. Our previous manager would never have gone 4-4-2 at this level and whilst it worked to a degree last night (proving me wrong) we didn’t have the lively front pairing we need at this level. Look at Luton, they employed two up top last season and made a success of it because they had two strikers both looking to get amongst the goals. If we had Walker paired with another Walker, we would have won last night’s game.
I know, for all those looking for a moan, we didn’t have that and we didn’t win the game but this is the harsh fact; until January nothing can be done about it. Nada. Zilch.
I felt Danny’s squad was tailored well for Danny’s style of play, but a new manager needs different tools to impress his ideas on the team. That’s why I said one man’s strong squad is another man’s weak squad and I stand by that, 100%. I’m not simply changing my tune either; we were a striker short but playing a 4-2-3-1 we could get away with it. Playing a more attacking formation exposes the issues we have.
What it is easy to forget is the step up in level as well. Last night we were playing away at a side with a budget six times our own and we created enough chances to win the game. I’d be worried if we didn’t create any chances, which was pretty much the state of play on Friday. I’d be worried if we were adrift at the bottom, or if we had the record we have now without the upheaval and changes we’ve endured. Right now, I’m not worried. I don’t think we’ll go up, not at all. I’m also wondering if 10th or 11th might be ambitious but I firmly believe finishing higher than 15th is within our grasp.
Look, me analysing last night’s match is probably a little academic because plenty of people watched on iFollow and have their opinions. For what it’s worth I thought Portsmouth were there for the taking and it’s a shame we weren’t more clinical. Callum Connolly, as well as he played, should have made it 1-0 in the first half; his header was poor when he had time to take it down and have a proper shot. Maybe it’s confidence, maybe not but at least we found space in the box to exploit.