So, just what is a reality check? Arriving back from two weeks of frying in Portugal to gentle rain in Blackheath, or failing to beat Oldham? The former was predictable, the latter disappointing after the start to the season we apparently have had, if the text messages are to be believed. I’m feeling my way back into this, like many other things, so there’s no long, insightful assessment of the game today, at least not from me. Just fleeting impressions from someone who has seen nothing so far but who was delighted by the two wins to date and not surprisingly disappointed not to see the run continue, especially against a team which looked so poor at the end of last season.
Over the 90 minutes we can have no complaints about the result; about the referee and his assistants maybe (especially for me a ‘referee’s assistant who did absolutely nothing to help point out the frequent fouling of the Oldham defenders). But they won’t be the worst we will see this season. Rather a failure to produce a decent chance through the second half, at home, was telling. It was a game we expected to win but had no right to, and could just as easily have lost, despite their being reduced to 10 men for the closing stages (in something of a fiasco as their player, who could have had no complaints about his second yellow, seemed to kick the ball into our dugout and sparked a rather silly melee).
The details first. Oldham dominated possession and especially controlled the midfield for much of the first half, with two lively forwards who caused us problems. They hit the post with Elliot beaten but we looked as though we had more about us if we could get the ball wide to Reid and Wagstaff and play at pace. Somewhat against the run of play we took the lead. A decent ball in found Abbott being manhandled but able to knock it back to an onrushing Wagstaff who did well to keep it under the bar. That should have been the cue to go on and win the game, but we were being outfought in midfield as Racon, quite frankly, had a mare. The game passed him by and he was unable to do anything to get into it, instead reduced to complaints to the ref over the tackling. It left us short of possession and sometimes overrun, despite the best efforts of the wide men. And although it came late on there were no real complaints about the equaliser. A corner for them saw one of a few training ground moves that seemed to surprise us (coaching staff please advice) and the ball in was only half-cleared to the edge of the box and the shot that followed left Elliot with no chance.
The disappointment was really the second half. We did put the ball in the net with one of those that you get away with sometimes, but with no real complaints about the ref giving the foul against Reid for a shove to enable him to get to the ball. After that, well not a lot. Abbott was manhandled, but was unable to disturb their central defence, while the mobile and intelligent runs of Martin – who impressed me – were either not picked up or smothered out. The game drifted and we were unable to put Oldham under sustained pressure. They had one of those moments of two or three efforts on goal smothered at the last minute, but seemed generally content to run out the game, especially when reduced to 10.
Changes were needed, but the bench doesn’t inspire confidence without Semedo and Dailly. Racon had to be taken off and Sodje needed to come on, but ideally that would have involved taking Abbott off for Akpo and a replacement in midfield. Instead Parkinson didn’t seem ready to trust Stavrinou and Sodje came on for Racon, with Martin dropping back. It didn’t work out to the extent that we continued to fail to fashion a decent opportunity.
No player ratings from me as I’m still feeling my way back into it, just impressions. The plus points for me were Jackson and especially Francis. They both looked solid and won the challenges that mattered. Reid and Wagstaff as the wide men were threatening. Martin looked lively but not yet on the same wavelength as those around him. Less positive, Racon was decidedly poor (I hope just a bad day at the office), Abbott looks limited but did contribute for the goal, while Llera had some dire moments, especially when caught out by a ball over his shoulder. It came across as though without Dailly we didn’t really trust our defence and without Semedo our midfield wasn’t competitive enough, while Abbott up front didn’t cause them enough problems – and the bench didn’t contain enough to strengthen areas. We didn’t overall look a better team than Oldham, but I’d have taken two wins and a draw to start the campaign, for a team still finding its way. So far, so good. Just not the day we hoped for, especially with these things called clouds in the sky.