Genuinely, going into yesterday’s game, I wondered when we were going to score a goal again.
I’m not negative; I hope you know that by now, I am someone who genuinely does say it as I see it, without the blinkers of a half-empty glass or the shadows of the past hanging over us. When we’re poor, I’ll say we were poor. When we’re good, I’ll say we were good. When it’s indifferent, I look for a bit of both. Whilst we have the utter thrill of yesterday’s actual real goals, we were once again given a stark reminder of where our squad is, and this time the issues were not upfront. I’ve been waiting to write that sentence for weeks now!
I’m not a pessimist, not by a long shot, but even seeing the team yesterday made me fearful. In my eyes, we have two full-backs who are relatively unchallenged, Poole and Robson, and neither were in their positions. Ted Bishop has suffered from niggly injuries and a lack of settled position this season, and he popped up at right-back. Cohen Bramall, he like one of those players on FIFA you buy early until you can afford good players, because he’s so quick you know he’s got a chance of doing something for you, but he isn’t actually as good as he could be. I don’t think I’m being unfair there.
I guess having Bridcutt back was a big plus, obviously, as the midfield had a settled feel Bridcutt and McGrandles are almost certainly our favoured pairing, with Fiorini underwhelming, but showing promise. Maybe, if Poole plays right back, Bishop makes up the trio, who knows? Bridcutt also protected a makeshift defensive partnership of Poole and Montsma, very much not the pairing we’d like. I’ve lost track of how many different partnerships we’ve had this season, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re not knocking on the door of ten (I’ve checked, it’s eight, and Poole is Montsma’s seventh different partner). For me, that is a recipe for disaster, especially when you’re known for conceding goals. It certainly didn’t help my pessimism ahead of the game.
Up front; we’ll, does it really matter? I’m a fan of Chris Maguire, I think Draper is going to be huge for us and on the other wing, Adelakun hasn’t been bad the last couple of games (forget Carlisle). I’m not filled with confidence though; the last time one of our front three scored a League goal from open play for City, it was the opener against Wigan. Before that, Anthony Scully at Burton. That’s two goals from our front three in open play since we beat Cambridge 5-1. Even the most die-hard optimists must find that hard to see, whatever yesterday’s result.
That said, whilst football is a results business (and don’t some like to tell you that), it is also a process-driven sport in which doing the right things can lead you to failure for no reason of your own. I maintain we’re doing the right things. I don’t have a problem with playing backwards and short (unless it’s a free-kick 30-yards from goal and the big lads come up). I don’t mind us holding on to possession so we can find our way forward at our own pace. I think we play decent stuff, I’ve said it for weeks and I won’t change now. Our problem, as I’ve written before, is we can’t score and we gift goals.
Conor McGrandles epitomised this more than anyone in a few short minutes yesterday. Before I get accused of scapegoating, I’m not; I see something, I comment on it, but I’m always willing to be glass-half-full or glass-half-empty. I’ve noticed as a writer, when your team goes through a bad patch, people are so quick to call you out. I guess it’s a reflection of where we’ve been that in almost six years of doing the site, the worst it has ever been, is now. On nine minutes, he hits a belting effort from range that beats everyone and is denied only by the crossbar. We’d started on the front foot, looked hungry and dangerous and yet a superb effort misses by an inch. That’s the difference; an inch lower, City go 1-0 up and confidence flows. I know this, because we scored later, but more on that.
Eight minutes later, Bramall plays a ball to McGrandles in from of the 18-yard box, and his forward pass finds Draper, albeit briefly. Draper is quickly dispossessed, and McGrandles can’t win the ball back. Alfie May is then left to run at goal and if you watch, Poole is then caught in two minds. He can’t come to May, as he has a runner over his shoulder, and the attack-minded Bishop has already pushed on looking for the attack. Result? Nobody goes to Alfie May, and we go 1-0 down. At the time, I was angry at McGrandles for losing the ball, but actually, I don’t think it was a bad goal from an individual point of view. I think the makeshift nature of our defence contributed to it, and let’s face it, at least McGrandles played the ball forward, into feet, in an attacking manner. You can stomach losing possession on the halfway line in the manner Freddie did, I guess you’d hope we had a bit more about us when it came back. Still, when you’re on your knees, they’re the breaks. You get.
From there, Cheltenham came alive, like they’d just had those big rounded pads thrust on their chest you see in Casualty. They jolted up from the canvass, Hulk Hogan style, and started swaggering around the Whaddon Road pitch, shaking and screaming. When I say that, they were all grunt and no punch, but with a 1-0 lead against a Lincoln City side who didn’t score a league goal In January, they didn’t need to be. One moment did make me smile though. It was during a spell where they got two cheap free kicks on the edge of the area; both were played short. One was blasted into a player by Alfie May, the other from 30-yards out, brought a sideways pass before being lofted into the area. It felt like danger, but when you’re the team attacking, fans don’t see that. If we’d done it at the Bank, even 1-0 up, I’d have heard the usual cries of ‘forward’ from around me (I daren’t say behind now as I know many of the people behind me!). I’ve said this word many times, and here it is again; it’s all about perspective.
By the time half time rumbled around, City hadn’t really troubled. Fiorini had been almost anonymous but when he had got on the ball, his touches led to chances. It was his crossfield pass that set Adelakun off for our only other decent chance, with the winger sliding the ball across Scott Flinders goal. It was him involved in the short corner routine which saw an eventual shot (from him) draw some radio warnings from air traffic control. It was Fiorini involved on the stroke of half time as Maguire had a half chance blocked on the edge of the area. We looked a bit like a fish out of water, occasionally thrashing around to get back in, but otherwise relatively helpless in preventing our eventual demise. Groundhog Day, right?