It’s funny how a headline can already tell you what you are going to read, isn’t it?
It’s clear, from the three simple words at the top of this piece, that whilst disappointed with the result, I’m able to look on the bright side of yesterday’s game. Sadly, I’m avoiding a lot of social media after games these days for my own sanity; I get drawn in by negative hyperbole far too easy. It happened yesterday on the way back to the car with my Dad; it’s the closest we’ve come to properly falling out in about ten years because his views and mine we so far apart. I still think saying we were ‘shit’ is miles away from the actual analysis, and even podcast co-host Jake joined us full of (shock horror) negativity, saying how poor we were.
Were we poor? Really? We had a poor spell after our goal, but I think we had enough chances to have the game put to bed long before Conor Wickham (a player I slated in pre-season and therefore was always going to score) levelled. I genuinely find the overreaction saddening after such a positive start, and for a while last night, I began to wonder if all of this, the site, everything was really for me. It just reminded me of games like the one we drew 1-1 with Oldham back in 2018/19, or 0-0 with Morecambe back in 2017/18, where I just found myself sitting in a chair wondering how opinions can be so polarising and divisive. It wouldn’t be bad if we had been on a trajectory other than up, but that’s been pretty much it, and yet there have been games where doomsayers have been out in force. However, that’s their prerogative, and because of social media, we all get to see both sides of the coin. It’s just sad when I come away from a game, and it’s not my own opinions that vex me but the opinions of people I otherwise wouldn’t see.
In fact, as we walked up Sincil Drain last night, I had to cross the road. Three fans behind me were going in on Jamie Robson as if he’d been utterly appalling; the same Jamie Robson given Man of the Match by Sofa Score and the Football League Paper. Apparently, he’s got nothing going forward, but he delivered as many crosses (8) into the box as all our other starting XI (not Grrick) combined. Combined. What is it about his performance that people looked at and thought rubbish? Because in the first 30 minutes or so, he kept checking back inside, playing square balls? There was an absence of width in that period that let us down; Ted Bishop is a central midfielder, not a winger, which meant now overlap for Robson; what’s he meant to do? He’s not an ambling Brooke Norton-Cuffy style full-back, but in my opinion, he had a strong game yesterday, and the numbers prove that. Still, I know you won’t change your mind when you read that if you thought he was poor, just like the guy we fell out with against Rotherham away in 2019, who said Harry Toffolo wouldn’t ever make a left back because he didn’t block crosses.
I’ve got a little ahead of myself, but the second I looked at my screen, the thoughts from my journey home all returned to me. Elements of yesterday’s game were not great; the opening 30-odd minutes were certainly far less entertaining than most. Both teams tried to pass the ball about, but neither really got anywhere, and I can’t think of a single moment of note at all. Referee Declan Bourne had a few little decisions to make, but I thought he did okay. I felt a bit sorry for Ben Toner; he was getting some right abuse from behind me, but apparently, there was a late change in officials, so news of his incompetence probably didn’t reach him sat at home in Yate or wherever referees come from.
I felt the choice of starting XI was a little odd; we had two players who would tuck in rather than give us width in Scully and Bishop. I’d been convinced that Vernam or Garrick might start, giving us a natural wide outlet, but the choices do make sense when you think about it. Forest Green play with three central defenders, so we needed to occupy two of them as much as possible. With a tight three up top, it draws their outside centre backs away, giving Tom Hopper one-on-one headers rather than being crowded out. The idea, I guess, would then be for the two full backs to occupy their wing backs, creating space across the field. It worked in as much as we cancelled them out and vice versa, but it led to a pretty sticky game where neither side ever got going. Up until the half hour mark, things were looking pretty poor from both side’s perspectives, and then it all changed. Why? Because we were forced into a change.
Tashan Oakley-Boothe, who hadn’t set the world alight all afternoon, went down twice in the space of a couple of minutes, seemingly injured. He wasn’t; he’s the third Imp to get an illness in as many weeks (House and Scully the other two), but according to manager Mark Kennedy, he hadn’t been made aware. The on-loan Stoke man came off but wasn’t replaced like for like. Instead, Garrick came on out wide, Bishop moved into the middle and City came alive.
If you watch the highlights back, we could have scored three in the period before half time, and it’s easy to forget that. I’ve already seen a ‘where are the goals coming from’ post this morning online, despite my vow to stay off social media; are people forgetting the good things we did on purpose? Is there such a desperate need to be either brilliant or rubbish that the middle ground gets glossed over? Garrick had three chances, one I thought was almost as good as Scully’s last week. It was a great move, Sorensen feeding Robson, who slid a ball in behind for Scully. His cross was inch perfect, but Garrick couldn’t hit it clearly, and it didn’t appear on the highlights. There was a defender in close proximity, but I’ve not seen that mentioned anywhere this morning. Why? Because it doesn’t fit the narrative of a below-par Scully, or an attacking-inept Robson. Probably.
That was four minutes after Garrick came on, and by the time he’d played ten, he could have had two more. He made the second himself; after Hopper had pressed their centre back, Garrick pressed their six high up the field, winning the ball and then going for glory. In truth, he might have been better finding an unmarked Scully wide left, but he went for goal and saw his effort blocked. Before the half was out Ted Bishop, who I thought was strong all afternoon, won a ball in the middle of the park and found Sanders, who threaded a neat pass through to Garrick again. His effort drew a save from their keeper, and I genuinely think had we another five minutes to play, we’d have scored at that moment. The visitors definitely needed half time, whereas we’d found a flow that looked likely to bring a goal. Sadly, it only brought
Ben Toner’s Declan Bourne’s whistle.