No especially happy endings tonight and the run ends at five. There should have been – and would have been had it not been for two outrageous saves by their keeper. Elliot’s been very instrumental in our post-Brighton run, so we can’t complain too much about a goalkeeper earning his side a point. But we didn’t win, so we can. After the spate of games of late both the team and the crowd were somewhat subdued, especially with the second home game running having to attack the Covered End in the first half. It never helps. We played well enough in patches to have won and if we’d scored first could have won comfortably, against a very ordinary Bristol Rovers. But tonight we weren’t clinical enough when the chances came and committed the sin of falling behind. Some tired legs, along with tired fingers from all these bloody match reports. So let’s try to keep it short (by my standards).
With Dailly starting his suspension Fortune got the nod over Llera to replace him alongside Doherty, which he deserved after Saturday’s substitute appearance (although when Doherty was injured in the second half it raised the question whether Llera might be overtaken in the pecking order by our new Dutch loan signing Siep). And with Wagstaff available again but Anyinsah not, Reid dropped back to the bench, with Martin and Benson continuing up front.
We started very brightly, with Martin featuring in most of the moves and Racon and Semedo getting the sort of grip on midfield that they never really managed against Yeovil. Some decent interplay produced a couple of shots, but the early breakthrough didn’t come and the game settled down to a more patient pattern, with Bristol not causing any real problems (a bit of pace and trickery here and there but nothing else) and us trying to carve out openings. The quality of a lot of the approach play too often wasn’t matched by the end-result, however, especially as at the first sign of a decent position created everyone seemed to run away from the man with the ball and into the box rather than continue with what had been working well.
The first half was notable for one of the daftest bookings I’ve seen for a while. The ball had gone out for a throw but rebounded back onto the pitch and when their guy went to knock it back Fry ‘fouled’ him. I wasn’t aware you could be yellow carded for a foul when the ball isn’t in play. But what do I know about the rules except when the ref gets it wrong?
The decisive moment of the first half and perhaps the game came late on when it seemed for all the world we had scored as a cross was connected with, by Wagstaff I think. But their keeper instinctively thrust out a hand and turned it wide. It didn’t seem to matter too much at the time, but as the second half continued in much the same vein as the first and we were struggling to create clear-cut chances it started to, especially as they turned the game on its head by scoring. A corner was headed out but only to their guy, who invited the challenges and instead of shooting himself slipped the ball square to another. He had the time and space to measure his shot into the bottom corner.
Still plenty of time to turn things around, but the onus now was on upping the effort and doing things quicker. McCormack had already replaced Semedo, who seemed to have picked up a knock; Reid came on for Fry, with Jackson dropping back to full-back as on Saturday, then shortly after Sodje came on for Wagstaff, with Martin moving wide right. As in the previous game, Sodje in particular made a real difference in terms of making things happen, through his running and physical presence. But his evening was to prove the complete curate’s egg as he could, perhaps should, have had a hat-trick.
By now Bristol had something to hang on to and the crowd were getting a little restless. Groans started to accompany misplaced passes, especially when the ball started to go long. I don’t think there was any intention to do that, but when defenders have no easy available outlet you can’t always blame them. It’s incumbent on those in front of them to create the space. However, before things went sour we did get the equaliser. A low cross was driven in from the left and must have come off somebody as it went in. Reid was initially given the credit but the BBC site at least has given it to Benson – which would be good as it breaks his Valley duck.
Still about 15 minutes to go and time for the winner. A good cross from the right found Sodje in space and his header was to produce their keeper’s second superb save to deny him. But thereafter Sodje was to make a pig’s ear of the opportunities that came his way. He found himself goalside of the defender and seemingly with only the keeper to beat but seemed to be waiting for a repeat of Saturday’s pull back for a penalty and the defender took the ball off him. And late on he was in a great position inside the box but instead of shooting passed it to Martin, who had a tighter angle and shot wide. McCormack also had a shot well saved, but at the other end Bristol should have scored again, with their guy clean through only to shoot wide of the goal.
The BBC stats show us having had 12 attempts on target during the game (plus three off target) against three for them. That pretty much summed it up, but tonight we didn’t get the breaks that we have had in recent games and their keeper’s saves mean that, while disappointed, there’s no feeling of having been robbed. Might need some fresh legs for Saturday, though, as the number of games may be taking its toll.
Elliot: 7/10. The standard score for a game in which he did nothing wrong but had very little to do. No chance with the goal.
Francis: 8/10. I thought both full-backs were excellent tonight. Not every pass was accurate, nor every cross, but got forward in support well enough and solid defensively.
Fry: 7/10. Decent game and as with Saturday no reflection on his performance that he was substituted.
Doherty: 7/10. Much more solid game than on Saturday, although Bristol’s limited attacking ambitions probably helped the cause.
Fortune: 7/10. Slotted in for Dailly to good effect, may be benefiting from getting the match practise he needed.
Jackson: 6/10. Not among the goals tonight; no complaints over a reasonable display, but of course he doesn’t provide a genuine winger’s contribution when the opposition are sitting back.
Semedo: 7/10. Another consistent and effective contribution. Hope the knock isn’t serious.
Racon: 7/10. Excellent first half in particular, in defence and attack; didn’t come up with a decisive contribution but threatened to do so, especially when linking up with Martin.
Wagstaff: 6/10. Thought he should have been capable of more in exposing a rather pedestrian full-back, but nearly added to his goal tally.
Benson: 7/10. Without Anyinsah he’s having to bear the brunt of the target man’s job and he did it OK, but as on Saturday we needed a more physical presence up front in the latter stages as he and Martin were getting outmuscled. Hope he did score the goal to break the home duck.
Martin: 8/10. I’d give him man of the match for us tonight (reluctantly their keeper would get it overall); he was excellent in the first half especially, took the knocks that came his way, and almost nicked it at the death.
Subs: McCormack (7/10 – he looked better for me tonight than against Barnet in the cup; worked hard enough and one decent shot); Reid (6/10 – probably his cross for the goal, livened things up initially when he came on); Sodje (6/10 – I don’t know whether to give him an 8 for the impact he had or a 4 for his finishing; he started the first game of the season, scored, and hasn’t started one since; is he suffering from lack of match practise?)