What is there to say? Were we poor? Undoubtedly. Were Coventry good? Not really, although they had a plan and weren’t the abject no-hopers that came to town at the end of last season. Were we unlucky? A little, although if you make your own luck you have to say we didn’t do enough to earn the tag. Did the players deserve to leave the pitch to a chorus of ‘you’re not fit to wear the shirt’? Not really, but if the supporters can’t call for the manager’s head any more someone has to take the rap; and after the sixth consecutive home game without a win and 12 overall there’s a lot of frustration to go around. Empty spaces on the terraces on a quiet, cold evening accompanied by a nervous, timid display. Are we in a full-blown crisis? Without doubt.
Let’s deal with the game first. Weaver and Cranie were passed fit; Semedo dropped to the bench and Holland returned to play alongside Bailey; and Gray too took a place among the subs, with McLeod leapfrogging both Todorov and Dickson to start alongside Burton. Otherwise it was as you were, with the defence and wide players unchanged.
We probably shaded the first half an hour without really threatening. Gillespie was working well and Bailey and Holland were at least matching their opposite numbers. Burton was allowed the time and space for a shot, a couple of decent crosses went in, and Hudson met a corner well to bring a save out of their keeper. Not bad, but not much of a return. At the other end Coventry started slowly but became more threatening as the half wore on. McEveley slipped while backtracking and seemed to damage his shoulder (if it was dislocated allowing him to play on until Semedo had warmed up was at the least rash). After Semedo came on their player, Simpson, seemed to get more joy from getting wide and running into space (as well as winning challenges in the air by leading with the elbow). A dangerous cross to the near post well met by Hudson, then the ball in the net but ruled out for offside (although in days gone by it would have been given for their guy being played onside).
I began to think that at least the relative improvement under Parkinson of going in at half time at home on level terms was going to continue. But a whipped cross from their left and Simpson ploughed through a static defence to get on the end of it. Just another game in which sooner or later the opposition created a chance – in this case by one player reading a good ball in and showing the determination to make something happen – and took it while we tried to play steadily and hope that something would pay off. But with Burton and McLeod far too static and shackled the percentages were never really being made to work in our favour. We didn’t make enough happen to say we were truly unlucky at the interval – although perhaps it would all have been different if the referee had seen fit to award an appropriate amount of injury time. Two minutes after at least two breaks of longer than that for injuries and then the substitution. Clutching at straws? Well clearly, but what else is there to clutch at?
The second half seemed to be meandering along in a similar fashion when McLeod managed to move onto the ball and get goalside of his marker in the area. There was contact and, while the penalty was soft, it looked like the correct decision. Having given the penalty the only question was why their defender, who was undoubtedly the last man, stayed on the pitch. That decision too changed the game. Burton delivered an unstoppable penalty and suddenly it was game on, with a chance for the crowd to get involved and lift the team.
It doesn’t need saying that the one thing you can’t do in that situation is give the lead back straight away. A silly challenge and a free kick, taken many yards ahead of where the actual offence took place. And this time it was an unstoppable free kick that flew in off the far post, giving Weaver no chance. Cue return to frustration and despondency.
There was a double substitution, with Todorov coming on for Burton and Gillespie, who was injured on the touchline, replaced by Gray (just why it wasn’t Sam to keep the shape I don’t know), with McLeod moving wide. As in previous games Todorov’s introduction seemed to lead to more things happening. But the game was getting stretched and we were just as likely to concede, leaving players forward, as score again. And it was the final 15 minutes that were the most depressing.
Basically, lacking shape and bereft of ideas, and with players tiring, the mistakes came thick and fast. Misplaced passes, poor control, being outplayed by an average team. It all seemed to weigh on the players, whose mood seemed to be summed up by a challenge by Cranie which smacked of ‘I don’t care if you send me off’. If the game had gone on another 10 minutes things would only have got worse. There was nothing more on the bench, nothing more in reserve, and we were being beaten by Coventry.
There will be time enough for reasoned comment over the next few days – although the best thing we can all do is forget about football until Monday and leave it to the players and management to sort it out. It’s what they’re paid for. There are some things that we might usefully change, in particular dropping the very tentative approach adopted under Parkinson. With McEveley looking likely to be out for a while Moutaouakil may return (although whether he wants to is another matter) and I’d also bring back Youga. We’ve bolstered height and strength in defence in return for attacking possibilities and we’re still conceding goals – and not scoring, or creating many chances. Oh, and that notion that the new guy might prove to be lucky. Forget it.
Weaver: 7/10. No chance with either goal. A little tentative on some crosses but that’s nothing new.
Cranie: 5/10. That tackle late on suggested to me either he was very tired or was past caring (or both). Seldom got forward.
McEveley: 6/10. Not on long enough for a proper rating.
Semedo: 5/10. Disappointing. Seemed tentative and was getting caught out by Coventry’s tactics, found it increasingly difficult as the game wore on to make passes.
Hudson: 6/10. Can’t say he had a bad game, with one superb interception in the first half. But he is the captain and there was insufficient sign of him providing leadership as things were going wrong.
Fortune: 6/10. Didn’t see him do much wrong, just another game where we concede goals.
Bouazza: 2/10. I said previously that given the lack of contribution to the team from him I’ll rate him on whether he scores. He didn’t and his contribution was unchanged. He is clearly capable of a lot more but if he doesn’t produce it for us what is the point of playing him?
Gillespie: 6/10. I thought he had a reasonable first half, although his crossing from good positions too often provided an easy catch for their keeper.
Holland: 7/10. Decent first half, tried to up his contribution as things went wrong, tired towards the end and made mistakes. No shortage of effort but is it enough?
Bailey: 5/10. OK first half, with some good tackles, but too often he looks up with the ball and doesn’t see or feel what to do, hesitates, and is caught in possession. In part its the fault of those in front of him and their lack of movement. But it’s also about awareness.
Burton: 5/10. Good penalty but nothing much else.
McLeod: 6/10. Won the penalty but nothing much else. Deserves some praise for not hiding when things were not working.
Todorov: 7/10. I’m not sure what he needs to do to start a game. He continues to look by some distance our best forward. Maybe he’s still not up to 90 minutes.
Gray: 5/10. Not effective after coming on.