“I can’t wait to see the Stacey West put a positive spin on that”. Sadly, you’ll be waiting a while.
There were no positives to come out of yesterday’s complete and utter debacle. It’s that simple. Normally, I do try to find positives in results that haven’t gone our way; I appreciate when we’ve been the better side when we’ve created meaningful chances and tested an opponent, and lost. The simple fact is yesterday, we didn’t, at all. Ok, John Marquis missed a sitter apparently (I didn’t know, I decided to head for a toilet break when that happened, so I didn’t miss my half time respite from the awful game), but you couldn’t say we deserved to get anything.
I’m tempted not to go through the game, blow by blow as I usually do, because it would feel like having to write about my beloved Shih Tzu Charlie being mauled by another dog after watching it happen. It’s not something I wish to see the first time, let alone the second. I’m going to write something though, because that’s what my Patreons pay me for, it’s what the lurker who block me on social media and then call me out where I can’t see it expect. People wonder if I’m going to find light in the dark, but for 90 minutes yesterday, there was just dark.
Firstly, to people who say there’s no plan B, there is; yesterday it was two up top and it failed. I just felt in the first half we had a complete imbalance after the back four; I don’t actually know who was playing where. I get we had Scully on the left, I understand McGrandles was holding, but what was the crack with Maguire, Marquis, Hopper and Bishop? Was one of them supposed to be on the right, or were we playing a lopsided 4-4-2 where three of the four in midfield were playing centrally, with one winger? I confess, I’d had three pints, but it didn’t impair my vision enough to completely block out our right winger; we just didn’t seem to have one. Norton-Cuffy, probably one of two players to come out of yesterday with any credit, had nothing but a wall of blue shirts ahead of him.
We even conspired to hand a poor Gillingham team their best chances. Make no mistake, they’re awful, just less so than us. At least when Wycombe came and pumped it to a big man with sharp elbows, we matched it. Gillingham did it worse than Wycombe, and we coped with it far, far worse. Their chances in the first half both came from mistakes from us, passing short, losing the ball and then failing to win it back. Gillingham, through no fault of their own, could have been 2-0 up inside 15 minutes.
I could feel the frustrations of supporters around me less than quarter of an hour in, and although I don’t share them all, I know why it happened. I don’t mind passing back to go forward, I can see how Gillingham came to put ten men behind the ball and just pump it long, I get that. The sad thing is when we did get on the ball, we didn’t do anything meaningful. The runs players made were down blind alleys, the width you really need for a 4-4-2 (or whatever variation of tactic we played) didn’t happen. We had poor decision making, poor execution and (not for the first time) a lack of fight from some players.
If I wanted to find any positives, I would say that our centre backs didn’t do too badly against Vadaine Oliver, but then neither did the defenders we had in the National League when Oliver was part of the relegated York City team. Aside from that, we huffed and puffed, but instead of blowing the house down, we got out of breath, sat down and just ran out of ideas. On 20 minutes. I genuinely heard a comment from behind me after that opening period that went ‘I’d take 0-0 now’ – against a side that conceded seven against Oxford a few weeks ago. The even sadder thing than someone saying that, was that I agreed with them.
I am sounding really negative today, and I know that. I hoped the fog of an evening on the ale, a late taxi home and a decent night’s sleep might make me feel a bit better than I did as we walked into Gwynnes after the game, but it hasn’t. Even beating my mates Matt and Dave at pool, retiring unbeaten, didn’t lighten my mood. I had a great day, in spite of the football, but as last night wore off and it dawned on me I’d have to talk about yesterday’s game, a malaise set it.
I’ve basically padded the 25 minutes to half time with a thinly-veiled boast about my pool prowess, but that’s only because I couldn’t find a single positive thing to say. Given that I was drinking, I nipped out for a half time smoke, and opinion was pretty much the same. There was a lot of people criticising Michael, more on the players and just a general anger at our apparent absence of urgency. For the first time in weeks, I’ve seen the same thing you all did. I couldn’t defend the first half, but as we know, we never player consistent halves, so my hope was we’d improve in the second.
We did, briefly. Maybe the first ten minutes or so I thought we landed a punch or two, not enough to bloody the nose of Gillingham players, not like an Oliver elbow, but enough to give a few positive fans something to cling to. I remember a corner or two, a shot that their keeper barely managed to hold, but that was it. In my opinion, their keeper looked shaky, but we’ll never know, because aside from a long-range striker from Maguire, we didn’t get anything on target of note.
The problem these days is you know we’re going to concede, the fans know we’re going to concede, and therefore when we haven’t got a goal or two before 60 minutes, a defeat is almost inevitable. I know any Gills fans reading this will go on about me being salty or whatever, but they really didn’t have to try that hard for the goal, did they? Ball into the box, poor defending and it’s 1-0. Sure, we had a player go down, but there’s no foul, just one player (Oliver) wanting the ball more than the others (those in red and white stripes). Cue their fans celebrating, and us staring down the barrel of yet another home defeat.
After that, there was never any indication we’d get back into the game, nothing at all. Sure, we got the ball forward a couple of times, Morgan Whittaker (booed when he came on; disgusting behaviour) shanked one over, Max Sanders fired wide, but that was about it. Potshots and half chances will not break down a revitalised team defending a 1-0 lead; we know this because less than two weeks ago, we had the same thing. I could almost have likened this to the Doncaster game, but that was one we should have won, that we dominated in terms of possession and created chances to win. This game, we deserved nothing at all. Nada.
The second goal was the trigger point for me. I left, and before any starts about ‘why are you leaving early’, the simple fact is if that dog I referred to earlier was mauling Charlie, and I couldn’t intervene, I wouldn’t want to stay until the bitter end. I don’t usually walk out before the injury time board goes up, but once they went 2-0 up I just couldn’t watch it anymore, and that’s my right. I support the club, I’ll renew my season ticket no matter what happens, but when we’re 2-0 down against one of the poorest teams to come to Sincil Bank this season, I’m not going to wait and clap the team off, nor do I wish to boo. By the way, anyone booing yesterday upon the final whistle, will get no condemnation from me. Of all the performances I’ve seen this season, that one warranted boos.
Part of me could handle yesterday better than Doncaster or Cambridge, because when we’ve played well (or alright) and lost, it stings. Yesterday, as I descended the steps for an evening of blotting out the game, I had a sense of justification. We got what we deserved, no injustice, no need for me to try to fight the team’s corner and pick up on positives. I can almost accept us getting beat and playing badly over playing well and not getting our rewards. I don’t have to argue with anyone, I don’t have to come here and try to change minds with a balanced report. I genuinely feel everything I’ve written here is justified and an assessment of what I saw, from start to finish.
I denounced the use of words such as shambles in recent weeks, but of all the performances this season, that one was as close to a shambles as any.
Where do we go from here? That depends entirely on a handful of talented players failing to live up to their billing. It depends on us facing teams who need to beat us, who think the best way to do so is to come at us all guns blazing, because they’re the teams we can pick up points against. However, there is no denying we’re in a relegation battle, and we’re seemingly ill-equipped at the minute for such a fight. We have good players, but they don’t look good, and that’s a real worry. For a moment, we picked up after New Year and I really felt we were looking up, rather than down. On yesterday’s evidence, it’s zero steps forward, two steps back each week and I confess, I’m beginning to get more than a little concerned.
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