So, was this an embarrassing home defeat to the Championship’s bottom team or an enjoyable game of football between two well-matched teams that ended up going against us? Well, both of course, depending on your level of expectation. Whether wisdom comes with age, whether its the after-effect of yesterday’s excesses, or whether it’s just the time of man I actually enjoyed the game, even when we were 2-0 down. I came away from the Hull match fuming as we had created little and looked like a bad team. I came away from this one thinking we were unlucky to lose, should have scored more than one, and were denied a penalty, but without any illusions that we deserved to win.
The problem this time was not a lack of creativity. We made enough chances to have won three games. Rather we lost because we allowed Colchester to score twice and only converted one of at least a dozen good opportunities. A better team would not have allowed either to happen – and if it’s coming down to a lack of quality in both boxes that’s like being a struggling team in the Premiership. We know all about that.
Colchester weren’t the worst team to come to The Valley. They defended in depth, they had good movement, and they had two forwards who expected to have to work hard with little support, with the space to work the flanks. Yes, Lisbie did look effective. And give them something to defend and it’s a different game. If we had gone in front we probably would have run out easy winners. But that’s not what happened. That’s not what’s happened too many times this season.
How did the game go? Well, 4-5-1 with Zhi in the hole and Sam and Thomas out wide. First 10 minutes or so were uneventful, but we looked very static. Everyone has their position, with a lack of fluidity. You wondered why at home we needed to have Holland and Semedo working together in front of the defence. There was a warning as Colchester ran through us once, but surely that wouldn’t happen again. Then Bougherra overran the ball coming out of defence and lost possession. The ball was moved into the box and as Lisbie (I think) was about to shoot McCarthy bundled him over. I still cannot work out why it wasn’t a red card and felt relief that, although 1-0 down, we still had 11 on the pitch.
A couple of half-chances later we allowed Colchester to cross to the far post and a ball knocked back found Lisbie with his back to goal. He was always at his best when he had no clear idea where the goal is, so it was no surprise that he put one over his shoulder into the top corner. Cue loud boos from the morons, but all that had really happened was that we had been caught out by a bad mistake and had given away a penalty and then a half-chance in the box had been taken.
We continued to create chances, with Thomas featuring strongly, but seemed intent on shooting into the stands, with Pardew making an understandable switch to 4-4-2 by bringing on Varney. McCarthy was unlucky to be taken off to accommodate the change, but being on a yellow card it was sensible. If he has thrown a hissie fit, going straight down the tunnel. he is out of order. It was a realistic tactical change, with Bougherra moving to the centre and Semedo switching to right-back. And the change paid dividends before the break as Sam delayed a cross to good effect, picking out an unmarked Varney. There was just time left for us to have the ball in the net again, but I had seen the linesman’s flag go up and didn’t even enjoy the celebrations before they were cut short.
A goal back before the break at least subdued the boos. And there was no realistic prospect of the score being unchanged at the end. Surely it was only a matter of time before we got the equaliser and then the winner. It happened against Sheff Wed, why not now? But we seemed to lack the intensity that had led to the first goal and the clock ticked down. We should have had a penalty as Sam was shoved in the back before the defender got to the ball, but the linesman in front of us wanted to remain anonymous. Just another official bottling a big decision. And from the same move the ball flashed across the goal for Iwelumo to just fail to convert. It looked like a key minute and so it proved.
Colchester had a few moments in the second half, but were not surprisingly content to run down the clock, with the ref happy to warn them (repeatedly) for time-wasting but doing nothing about it. And the game was summed up in the last two minutes. A cross to the far post found Zhi with a free header a few yards out, only for the ball to glance across his face with his eyes shut. Then Ambrose, who had come on for Powell as the last throw of the dice (after Yassin had replaced Semedo), only had to chip the ball into the net with their keeper stranded but managed to miss. Two great chances and both unconverted.
Reflections on the game? Good luck to Colchester. On another day they would have lost, but they deserved a draw. We didn’t lack effort or commitment, just quality in preventing chances and in taking them. Of course we’re missing Reid (and Todorov) but today was about finishing. And we were found wanting. More serious reflections on what we do in the January window will have to wait – as my glass of wine is empty and my typing finger tired.
Weaver: 7/10. No chance with the goals.
Bougherra: 4/10. His mistake led to their first goal. Moved into the centre and played well enough after that, but we have two right backs in Yassin and Sankofa. The experiment of Bougherra at right-back should now be over.
Fortune: 6/10. Didn’t stand out positively or negatively, although there was a collective responsibility for the defence for their second.
McCarthy: 6/10. Lucky not to be red-carded, unfortunate to be substituted. I still hope his return will be a big turning point.
Powell: 7/10. Got forward well, good game. Just miss the win celebrations.
Semedo: 7/10. I still think he has a role in central defence for us. Started alongside Holland and was moved to right-back, then substituted to allow more attacking threat from Yassin. Did nothing wrong throughout the game, but where do we play him now that Holland is back?
Holland: 7/10. Does what it says on the label. What he really needs is more movement from those around him.
Zhi: 5/10. An enigma. Had little chance to play in the hole today as we were soon 2-0 down and we changed formation. More restrained role thereafter. Finds himself in great positions but seldom gets the pass, often fails to deliver the right pass when on the break – and missed a great chance at the death.
Thomas: 7/10. Looked dangerous, saw a lot of the ball. Only criticism was the failure to convert all of this into chances/goals.
Sam: 7/10. His cross for our goal, foul on him should have given us a penalty. Criticism was he was too often too difficult to find. When he had the ball he looked dangerous.
Iwelumo: 5/10. For the first time this season I thought he played poorly. He was contained quite easily by their central defenders and had a frustrating afternoon. We badly needed a plan B without Big Chris, who has fought manfully for us so far through injury. Today it just didn’t work.
Varney: Scored but struggled in the second half to find space. Needs to learn from Todorov how to go deep and to link play rather than just waiting for an Iwelumo flick. Still looks best on the flanks and outside the box.
Yassin: Got forward well. Looked a little sluggish but that’s not surprising given lack of games. Let’s make him our right-back and get on with it.
Ambrose: Just time to miss a great chance.
It’s too soon to write off this season and to just build for next (although the case for doing this is strengthening). We’re not that much short of a team capable of getting promoted. But to go up we have to improve. Whether that can come from the current squad and finding better combinations, with Reid returning, or whether it can be done from some new signings I can’t say as I don’t write the cheques or pick the team. We clearly need something. And Pards, Chris Dickson has to have a chance to make an impression. Another month without a game and it may have gone. Maybe it’s gone already. Maybe it’s the time of man, but we've got to get ourselves back to the garden …