Some days nothing goes right. When you look back on a match during which we’ve played 4-5-1, 4-4-2 and 3-4-3, when your most reliable defender makes a horrible ricket to gift a goal, and when you take off a centre-half and then concede two headed goals from corners, you know it’s been bad. But when you add in insufficient effort and commitment and lack of basic skills (control, passing and movement), plus the fact that aside from a deflected shot and a decent strike when the game was lost the only other near miss was another crazy deflection, you realise that luck wasn’t by a distance the most important factor. The only excuse for today was fatigue, being the third game in less than a week. But if players find extra energy for an irrelevant cup game against Spurs on Sunday I’m going to be furious. Today’s game was far more important and we blew it.
Parkinson did make changes, with Fry and Doherty dropping out (I don’t know if injuries were involved), meaning Jackson dropping back and Fortune coming in. We’d all thought that Benson would be unavailable, but presumably the club is appealing against his red card and he took his place on his own up front, despite the availability of Sodje and Abbott, who were both on the bench. McCormack came into a five-man midfield, along with Semedo and Racon, with Reid and Martin the wide men.
You can’t say the formation worked. While Martin and Reid threatened down the flanks in the first half, the system left McCormack as the spare man. That was a real case of square peg in a round hole. I felt sorry for him as he tried to move around to little effect, with no indication that the other two in the centre were able to link up with him. Despite this, the first 30 minutes were pretty even and weren’t too bad, even if as against Walsall at home we weren’t showing the sort of pace and movement to unravel a team looking to get men behind the ball. It was all too slow – and when we did get the movement right, with Racon threading a delightful pass to Martin, the linesman mistakenly gave it offside. We did take the lead, with Jackson getting into the box and despite Swindon appeals for handball got the shot in, only for a strong deflection to take it up and over the keeper into the net. The problem was the goal didn’t force Swindon to change their shape or approach and encouraged us to sit back a little. If we had held the lead to the break the game may have turned out differently, but after a couple of dangerous balls in from their left which might have been converted a third found their forward. His shot was well saved by Elliot but the rebound went straight to him and the scores were tied.
The second half began in similar fashion and we continued to struggle to make things happen, often because the necessary (and elementary) control of the ball and passing just wasn’t good enough for any level. Reid (who had been a little fortunate in the first half only to get a yellow for a bad challenge after he overran the ball) and Martin were becoming more peripheral and changes were necessary. McCormack went off for Abbott to revert to 4-4-2 and Wagstaff replaced Martin on the right side. However, before we had a chance to see how that might work we went behind. Dailly received the ball facing his own goal and with players bearing down seemed to realise he was in trouble. But it was one of those occasions when the head sends incomplete messages and instead of hoofing it anywhere he ended up miscuing and falling over, leaving their guy to take it on and score.
Parkinson’s response was to take of Fortune and bring on Sodje. It was a gamble, with still perhaps 20 minutes to play; and obviously it backfired. In the space of a few minutes two corners found us short of markers. The first was simply nodded home at the far post, the second headed back for their guy to score with his head. Game up, embarrassingly. With everything from us understandably by now going long, we did have the sight of Abbott swivelling well in the box to hit one home. But there was never a suggestion that this would be the springboard for a dramatic turnaround.
Enough people had left well before the end to spare the team heavy boos at the final whistle. But this time they were merited. I thought we were better against Brighton than the scoreline suggested and that losing to Walsall was worse. This one was worse than Walsall. Please don’t tell me that the dressing room is full of committed, happy players and that the team spirit is all that it needs to be when we are outbattled and outpassed by Swindon, as we had been in our previous two home games. There’s a lot of thinking and a lot of work to be done, maybe some home truths to be said about some players who today weren’t up to the task, if that is to challenge for promotion. To add to the misery, Parkinson chose an initial formation that didn’t work and went on to change things in a fashion that contributed to a very bad defeat.
I’ve been away for a delightful New Year jolly to Porto with my partner Suzanne. So any belated thoughts I might have on the takeover news will have to wait. Suffice to say that if there was a cheque involved Murray had better hope it cleared before the new guys watched today’s game.
Elliot: 7/10. No blame for him as the goals weren’t his fault. Just one thought that he seemed reluctant to come off his line for crosses in the first half and with a centre-half taken off might have decided to go for subsequent corners. Couldn’t have turned out any worse.
Francis: 6/10. Worrying that their dangerous crosses in the first half came from his side, but it did seem that their most effective players were down the left.
Jackson: 6/10. Notched his 12th of the season, assuming he’s credited with it. Quite remarkable, even allowing for the penalties. Felt today that Reid was often isolated but the blame for that has to be in midfield.
Dailly: 5/10. Has to be marked down for the mistake. They’ve been few and far between, so we just have to forget it. He was actually our best player when it came to bringing the ball out and trying to get things moving in front of him.
Fortune: 7/10. Actually thought that he and Dailly in the first half played well and contained their threat. Taking him off was just a gamble that cost us.
Martin: 6/10. A lot of good and nearly productive work in the first half, was involved in most of our good moments. But he faded. Why was he not used as the spare man in midfield when that role requires movement and speed of thought?
Semedo: 5/10. In a game where the opposition is content to retreat behind the ball when they lose possession his combative skills were seldom in evidence; that in turn tended to show up limitations when it comes to creating space and making telling runs/passes.
Racon: 4/10. Just an all-round poor game. With the extra body in midfield we should have dominated that area. We didn’t. We needed him to be lively and penetrative, but today he was ineffective.
McCormack: 4/10. His saving grace is that he was asked to play a role that he is clearly not suited to. Was redundant in the first half and substituted in the second.
Reid: 5/10. Became progressively less influential through the game. They marked him tightly and the inability of those alongside him to create space meant he usually found himself with too much to do.
Benson: 4/10. Just not suited to play as a lone front man as he has doesn’t have the necessary aerial ability, speed or strength. He’s a goalscorer.
Abbott – 6/10 (It couldn’t have turned out worse if he’d started alongside Benson and did take the goal well); Wagstaff – 4/10 (no impact at all); Sodje – 4/10 (can’t remember him touching the ball).