One issue we’ve had recently is coming out after half time and immediately shooting ourselves in the foot. Rotherham got their winner in that period, MK Dons scored but it was disallowed in the same time frame and Accrington got a penalty around the same time. Those five minutes are like the witching hour for us, they’re almost as dangerous as injury time, Having looked back, it did seem a soft penalty and the Shackell-haters might be a bit harsh in blaming him 100%. Sure, he’s involved, but a softer penalty you will not see. I suspect the taker felt that too, so he matched a soft decision with a weak kick which Josh saved. I guess our keeper must listen to the podcast because after Portsmouth I asked if anyone could remember a side missing a penalty against us. Well, there you go.
After that knock, we looked energised and at times almost fluid under the conditions. John Coleman felt we played ‘some lovely stuff’ in spells and those who can look beyond the result will see that we did. I know it is tough right now, but there are positives that suggest we’re going in the right direction. Scully, Grant, Bridcutt, Edun and Aaron Lewis all impressed. Lewis replaced Harry Anderson who looked off the pace again and he made an instant impression. He came on, got a shot away that forced a save and then nodded home a goal after the sort of defensive error we would make. I felt we showed character to come back from 1-1 and conceding a penalty to go 2-1 up. Again, I felt like we’d win it.
It was end to end, conditions affecting quality a little, but the glimpses of both side’s passing intentions were evident. Jake Hesketh was putting a decent shift in, he kept swapping with Scully which made both difficult to mark. Don’t get me wrong, Hesketh wasn’t outstanding, but he did almost create a third for Aaron Lewis with a cutback. We had a shot lashed over too, but for every break of ours, they had the same. I did feel Tom Hopper drifted out of the game in the second period but with just over 20 minutes left I still believed.
Their second was a great strike, but it’s not the first long-range goal we’ve conceded this season, is it? Sides know to drive from range and they might get lucky and we see it week in, week out. I like Josh as a shot-stopper and there was little he could do about that effort, but why was their lad not closed down quicker? Not calling anyone out here, only shouting what I see, and I see a defender with ‘5’ on his back, backing off as their boy takes all the time he needs to ready himself for a strike. Maybe one of the midfielders should have been closer to him as well. Maybe.
Still, we showed a desire to win the game and you do have to respect that. We’re a team low on confidence still gelling and we continued to believe we’d get a goal. We actually scored from a corner as well, imagine my surprise. I was delighted for Shackell to get it, I suppose I like to see players bouncing back and if it had proven to be the winner we might all have gone a bit easier on him after the game. Sadly, just two minutes later, we shot ourselves in the foot. Again. Imagine my surprise.
I think it is a preventable goal but remember, I’m watching it back this morning in a warm office time and again. It’s easy to call players out for what they did in the driving rain, isn’t it? For the record I felt the dink pass through that led to the first shot could have been cut out, Josh made a good save but I suspect got his angles wrong and might have stepped back towards his goal quicker, which would have given the shooter less to aim at when he did get the chance away to make it 3-3. You’d also like to see a block tackle, a desperate lunge to stop the ball (but not take the man) when the ball is rolled back. Collectively, it wasn’t a nice goal to concede and I imagine watching it back, Michael Appleton will be upset with what he has seen.
Ellis Chapman came on and almost bagged his first goal for the club with an effort just wide, Bozzy came on and signalled a return to action that cannot come soon enough. Tom Hopper’s injury meant ten minutes of stoppage time and you know what stoppage time means for us; goals against. I could see us conceding, but I could see us scoring as well. Typically, I was only half right.
That final goal is horrible to watch back. If we’re apportioning blame, Neal Eardley has got his angles wrong and is showing too much of Josh’s near post to the scorer, but then Josh isn’t across far enough to protect his near post. Let’s give the keeper some credit though, he shouldn’t be facing a shot at his near post from there; you expect the defender to push the lad out wide. That said, Neal was exposed as well, where were the desperate midfielders looking to get back to support? Maybe that is me being harsh, but I’m not one for scapegoating if I can help it and, from a team point of view, it is yet another weak goal.
That was that. Three times we showed character to take the lead, twice bouncing back from the sucker punch of conceding and yet four times we folded like a hotel bedsheet at the other end. Fair play to Accrington, for a side down in the dumps like we are, they have plenty about them, but we just lack confidence right now. I can’t say we lack character, we don’t, but we don’t have it all over the pitch.
Michael Appleton came in for some stick after the game, but he can’t kick the ball himself. The boss is an easy target but in terms of how we approached the game, attacked the opposition and in terms of goals scored, we did enough to win the game. Sadly, mad moments at the back and a lack of quality from players you expect more from end up costing us the game. The criticism is the young players don’t have what it takes, but like MA I see that not being the case. One or two senior players (not just the one) have not been good of late, whilst the young players (Scully, Edun, Lewis) either proved their worth yesterday or have done so over a couple of matches.
I went on Love Sport radio later on in the evening; we were meant to be at the cinema but sadly my back has been giving me problems again. Anyway, in the midst of six episodes of ‘The Stranger’ on Netflix (recommended), I had to speak to them about our form. Their assumption was the season was set to peter out now, we weren’t going down and we weren’t going up. I pulled the presenter up on that; we’re still in danger of going down. It’s not an imminent danger, it’s not the sort of danger that is looming large over the club, but it’s the sort of danger that creeps up on you slowly and stealthily, without warning. 2010/11 served as a warning to me to never be complacent and that’s the rhetoric I think we have to be pulling out now.
The way we can combat it though is not to boo at games, not to abuse players so they have to ignore it on the pitch as Tayo explained, but to support the club and believe we can get the points we need. To be posting about being worried for next season is nonsense, we have no idea what will happen in the summer or who will be at the club. We’ve had some poor outings, granted, but yesterday was not poor in the strictest sense. We weren’t great at the back but we showed we have got exciting young players, we can score goals and I still believe, without complacency, that we will still up.
We just need a win. Now, without a win in six, we face Gillingham without a defeat in 13 and boasting John Akinde up top. What a game it would be to finally get those points we need on the board and press forward to ensure the season does peter out into nothing, which is exactly what we all want to see.