Strange game, but there was no point before, during or after when I wouldn’t have taken a 1-0 win with open arms, especially after two defeats. The positive interpretation is that we matched and eventually overcame Notts County, and that the game is all about putting the ball in the net. But there are plenty of other sub-plots and questions raised that make this a satisfying win, but one that says little about how the rest of the season will go. Take it and move on, but sub-plots abound.
The referee was instrumental in much of how the game played out. As ever, you need to see it again to be sure, but I’d bet my house it was a stonewall penalty for us early in the match as their defender got nowhere near the ball in the box and bundled over the forward. A goal then and the edginess might have eased and the game different. And just to top and tail it, when we were wasting time at the death the linesman clearly signalled a corner for us, only to be overruled by the man with the whistle, with the goal kick leading to a last-gasp header in the box that if it had been either side of Elliot would have levelled up the scores. The ref had two other important decisions to make. First, he booked Hughes early in the game. That had the desired effect of forcing that unpleasant individual to subsequently temper his aggression, which limited his effectiveness. Second, he gave them a penalty, about which there’s no real argument. But Hughes was to crash it down the middle, against Elliot’s legs, and the moment proved not to be decisive (or rather decisive in our favour).
It seemed to me that Parkinson had decisions to make on the starting line-up and there were some surprises. I don’t know if Llera is injured, but with Dailly seemingly out for a while (why on earth did he stay on the pitch against Dagenham & Redbridge?) it was neither him nor Fortune that got the nod. Instead Fry linked up with Doherty, with Jackson returning at left-back. Parkinson stuck with McCormack and Semedo in central midfield and Abbott over Sodje alongside Benson up front, with Reid and Martin providing the width. So be it, but the first half exposed the limitations.
That the first period ended goalless was due to the ref’s decision on our penalty and the excellence of Elliot. We struggled, badly. There were flashes of invention from Reid and Martin, with one late cross almost producing a goal; but Abbott was causing no problems and Benson feeding off scraps, while in the centre of midfield we were being outmanoeuvred. Doherty and Fry were coping pretty well, although one hoof forward from their keeper saw the ball bounce over the first and then Hughes read the bounce better than the second, only to put it over the bar. Otherwise a superb tip around from Elliot kept it level. You have to say that in the first period we didn’t cause them enough problems and looked short of ideas, while struggling to keep them out.
To his credit Parkinson made a necessary change at the break. Racon came on for McCormack and there was a notable improvement, with a spell of early pressure. It didn’t amount to a great deal, however, with no material chances, and before too long it looked as though we would have to come from behind. Reid collected the ball outside our box, but with defenders moving forward inexplicably lost it and set in play a chain of events that saw their forward, well brought down. We got away with a yellow card for it, but were sitting back to accept the inevitable only for Elliot to pull off the save and Hughes powered it down the middle.
The game was at least evenly balanced now and more changes were made. Rather surprisingly the next was Benson departing for Anyinsah rather than Abbot departing. But that followed soon after, with Sodje coming on – with a head bandage that looked like he’d had the entire contents removed after last Saturday’s clash of heads. There’s no getting around it. Sodje made more things happen and with about five minutes left we broke the deadlock.
A throw down the line saw Sodje prevent the defender from intervening, Martin took it on and instead of swinging in a cross played a shorter ball inside for Anyinsah to run on to. He scored through the keeper’s legs. Cue County bringing on a certain Burgess, who looked not so much like a basketball player as a prop forward with the height of a basketball player. Not surprisingly the final minutes were played out with us looking to waste time and them hoofing it into the box. We coped well enough, except for another wild clearance from Reid, until the final seconds after the ref’s second serious gaff. Elliot saved well to preserve the points but from a free header the guy should have buried it.
So, three very welcome points after two defeats. What must worry Parkinson (and me) is that two of his summer signings – McCormack and Abbott – had to leave the scene; and with both change we looked better. We’ll take the win (indeed any win) but it still looks to me that decisions have to be made about how we intend to play, and which players represent our strongest starting XI. One thing that’s not in doubt is that Elliot earned us points today. Fry made a decent case for starting alongside Doherty while Dailly is not available, while Martin and Reid (with Wagstaff available too) remain the class acts and the source of our real strength. How we get the best out of them – in terms of both supplying them with the ball and finishing things off – remains unanswered. I think Benson had a decent game and was unlucky to go off, but with his replacement scoring the winner I’m hardly complaining. Just what the case is for Abbott over Sodje to start is another matter, unless Abbott can show us more or Sodje’s head bandage turns him into a mummy.
Elliot: 9/10. One moment in the second half saw him seem to lose the flight of a ball in and produced an awkward moment. Otherwise it would have been a 10. Penalty save, splendid save in the first half.
Francis: 7/10. Another decent and solid display. Might have given a bit more going forward, but no problems for now.
Jackson: 6/10. No complaints, but seemed a little hesitant on returning to the team and might have offered more going forward.
Doherty: 8/10. Solid and resolute, except for the one over the head that nearly let in Hughes. A lot came his way and he dealt with nearly all of it well.
Fry: 8/10. Impressive first display, especially in tandem with Doherty. More mobile and intelligent tackling. Just a shame about that ... one over their heads.
Reid: 6/10. One of the bright spots in the first half and had moments in the second. Only problem is they included giving the ball away for the penalty, which might easily have cost us the game, and another wild clearance.
McCormack: 5/10. It’s neither his problem, nor Semedo’s, that they don’t look like they can play together. Neither seems to know what to do alongside the other. They’d better get it worked out, because we are really perming two from three in the centre and suspensions and injuries are going to take their toll.
Semedo: 6/10. He had a not bad game, but the first-half failure was just as much down to him as McCormack. Seems much more comfortable with Racon, but that’s not the point.
Martin: 7/10. The guy can clearly play and I hope continues to improve with those around him. Gets an extra point for the pass to Anyinsah for the goal, which showed an awareness that too often was missing from others.
Abbott: 5/10. Just didn’t show enough, or cause them enough problems (I don’t give the opposition scores, but their No 12 was superb).
Benson: 6/10. Would have liked to see him given some time alongside Sodje. Still promising, just hope we don’t wait too long for the first goal.
Subs: Racon (7/10; made a difference in the second half, has to build on it and force his way into the starting XI); Anyinsah (8/10; what can you say when a guy you know nothing about comes off the bench and scores the winner?); Sodje (8/10; made more happen in his time on the pitch than had gone before, just hope the bandage isn’t permanent).