City grabbed a deserved point on the road this evening, and could perhaps have had all three but for a couple of great saves from the home side’s keeper.
As we edge closer to safety, every point is going to count and whilst there’s still plenty to do, I think we do have one eye on next season. If there’s anything this campaign has taught us, it’s that if we were more consistent, we’d be comfortably mid-table. Only two wins separate us and Cheltenham in 12th, which tells you a lot about this division. How many more point would we have had if we’d turned up for 75 minutes of most games, rather than 45. There’s one thing for certain; if we’d played as well for 75 minutes as we did for the final 35 this evening, we’d certainly have had two more on the board from tonight alone.
It is almost as if our entire season was summed up in the evening. I even refer to the team announcement, when we heard Liam Bridcutt was injured (standard) and it was more about who wasn’t playing (Brooke Norton-Cuffy) than who was. I said earlier in the season I’d love to hear a team announcement where the interest was about who was playing, but sadly that’s been a rare occurrence. Don’t forget, we also have our regular keeper out, our left-back, a right-back and a centre back, all of whom would have been in contention.
Of course, we were able to play Joe Walsh and Adam Jackson together, a partnership I dare suggest we’ve not seen on more than ten occasions over two seasons. On their day, when fit, they’re as good as any in the division, and yet here we are with five games left seeing them as the sole partnership for the final time. All I will say is thank the lord for Regan Poole, right?
I also commented how Bridcutt, Fiorini and McGrandles are our strongest midfield because the captain allows the other two free license to get forward. We didn’t have that tonight, and instead of playing the same attack as we did at the weekend, we once again paired Hopper and Marquis, with Maguire playing somewhere up there as well. I’m not sure where, 90-odd minutes later I’m not sure he does either.
The game started well enough, I thought we had a bit of control without being spectacular. The home side were certainly nothing special, they look a poorer outfit than the one we played at the start of the season. They have decent players, Camps and Garner two I quite like, but we were comfortable without being good ourselves. That’s a danger for us, and again it sums up our season. When we’re not having questions asked by a team coming onto us, we usually point the gun at ourselves and collapse. Without any serious chances, that’s exactly what we did.
It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what we do wrong. Mark Hone summed one aspect up nicely; Chris Maguire thinks he’s a playmaker and he isn’t. He does get on the ball and look to make things happen, but 41 league games in and his return isn’t as good as a 19-year-old kid from Man City who has been in and out of the side. To me, it looks like Maguire is trying to play the Jorge Grant role, but doing it with the panache of Russell Grant. Look, he’s not a bad footballer, but he slows our play down, he turns his back and prevent a fast transition. One of the things Jorge did do last season was enable fast transition, although it does rely on runs as well.
In the first half Lewis Fiorini was restricted going forward, and it meant a huge chasm opened between our midfield and attack. People are acting surprised that John Marquis and Tom Hopper were anonymous, as they’ve been getting a partnership together. News flash; they haven’t. I’ve praised them for working hard, for giving defences something to consider, but they don’t look like they’re linking up at all. They look like the same player trying to play one position. When it works (Sheff Weds) it looks good. When it doesn’t (Shrewsbury, tonight) we look really poor going forward.
As poor as we were, Fleetwood were no better, but we let them into the game. We made awful decisions on the ball, and when we needed to fight, it wasn’t there. The goal was what the home side deserved just because they kept going and we didn’t. Even then, it came from us really, a ball forward (get it forward, eh?) didn’t stick with Marquis, then Fiorini missed the chance to win the ball, then Mcgrandles got shrugged off like a common cold before Batty fired past Jordan Wright from a silly distance. Jordan won’t be happy with his attempt to save, but the shot should never have come in. someone on social media asked the question ‘who should have been picking Batty up’. The answer is Bridcutt.
That knocked us and between the goal and half-time we should have been 2-0 down. We just went to pieces, and only the pairing of Walsh and Jackson kept us in the game. Those two were relentless with their blocks and challenges, with Regan Poole and Jamie Robson not too shabby either. I felt quite angry at half-time; it felt like we’d already got on the plane for the summer, and with Morecambe winning, defeat would have made a mockery of those saying we were safe this weekend just gone.
When the half-time whistle blew I felt glad it was an away game, because there would have been a round of booing if it were at home. It wouldn’t have entirely warranted it; the back four had done well, McGrandles and Fiorini had put in a shift, but the other four players, Maguire, Hopper, Maquis and Scully looked like strangers who’d won a competition to get a game. There were a few factors; you can never doubt the application of Scully, but when he got the ball there were two around him instantly, and there was never an out. The other three I’ve already commented on and won’t look for a scapegoat.
I did have to laugh at Kev Oxby’s tweet at half-time; Whittaker’s fault. Given how much the on-loan Swansea man has been vilified, it did surprise me someone didn’t tweet ‘if he hadn’t been sent off’ or something. Ultimately, the half summed up our season. Playing far worse than a team that, on our day, we should be capable of beating.