2-0 up again! It is getting weird. This afternoon we did more than enough to see off a decent Chesterfield team, who deserve credit for coming and playing football, but once more delivered a period of angst when it was possible we would throw away points. We didn’t; I’m happy. At times we simply steamrollered them and a quick glance at the BBC statistics shows 14 attempts on target and 11 off target; that’s an attempt on goal every 2.7 minutes. Our only problem was that having achieved that 2-0 lead half time came and, with two tough away games coming up, we took our foot off the pedal. From what I’ve seen, when we do that we get a bit sloppy, vulnerable and sure enough we conceded, to threaten to let Chesterfield into a game that should have been beyond them. No team can play with full intensity for the entire game. Let’s just ensure that when it does drop we keep a clean sheet.
That is perhaps too negative an opening paragraph for a game that we won, deservedly. There were some excellent performances, not least from both full-backs, and we’re clear at the top of the league. Happy days. And even a column in the programme from chairman Michael Slater that I could not agree more with. It seems so good that before long I’m going to have to watch the DVD of last season that’s been sitting by the TV for over a week. Maybe after MK Dons on Tuesday night. There is a lot to like about the team and the way we are playing, not least the evident spirit (perhaps because the players have not been associated with the failures of the past five seasons). But we seek perfection, so don’t see them as grumbles, just warnings – which I’m sure Sir Chris doesn’t need to be told.
The team was entirely as expected and basically continues to pick itself, with Green still recovering and Alonso working his way back from injury. The early exchanges were even, with Chesterfield looking more capable than most, especially with the physical presence of Clarke up front. But quite promisingly they displayed an uncertainty at the back which promised rewards and after the first 10 minutes we took more of a grip on the game and embarked on a period of sustained pressure. This saw a series of corners and various free headers that might have been buried, before the pressure told. A low shot seemed to get various deflections, possibly a rebound from their keeper, before Hayes provided the decisive deflection. Chesterfield did have once decent chance in the first half, but the ball in came at waist height to Clarke and that’s not easy for him to deal with and he put it over the bar. At the other end Wright-Phillips robbed a defender and squared to Hayes, who failed to control it, but it mattered little as a free kick was squared to the inrushing Jackson who put us two up.
At the break it did have an air of job done and for a large part of the second half we played as if that was the prevailing view. The intensity, desire to win the ball back, and movement going forward just wasn’t there any more and Chesterfield took encouragement from that. It opened the game up to some decisions by the ref that threatened to turn things around. He got the first decision right – a cross which may have struck a hand but with no intent. No penalty and their manager seemingly sent to the stands for a futile protest. Then Wagstaff had the ball down the right and clearly felt he’d been fouled, only for nothing to be given. It went forward and as their guy checked back in the box his leg was taken for a stonewall penalty. That was dispatched and suddenly it was truly game on.
We had to raise our game and after a fashion we did. Chesterfield had an opportunity, with the crowd and the team more hesitant, but they didn’t take it as instead of pressing forward they seemed happy to be back in the game and we did respond. By upping our game when necessary the chances started to flow again. One advantage played by the ref saw a header come back off the bar and Wright-Phillips cut inside, only to hit the shot in the centre of the goal for a comfortable save. They also had one where the guy attempted a curler only to find the middle of the goal. We seemed to be doing enough to be just about in control, but at 2-1 you never know. The ref’s next decision came when Wagstaff seemed to be felled in the area, but when all and sundry thought he’d given the spot kick he instead flourished a yellow card for Scottie for diving. Of course, at the time I thought it was a penalty, but at least the ref was decisively and called it as he saw it.
In the event it didn’t matter as after four minutes of added time were announced we rounded things off with a splendid goal. Kermorgant had come on for Hayes (tellingly rather than Euell) and he and Wagstaff fashioned a move down the right, Scott put in the cross, and BWP stooped to bury the header. Angst over and a couple of minutes left to celebrate. Hughes came on for a quick cameo and at the final whistle any complaints were entirely relative. Big crowd, good win, now we have two tough away games to see whether we deserve to be where we are. I’d just prefer us to have the option of calling games done when we go 2-0 up; don’t the opposition realise it’s done?
Hamer: 8/10. Actually had very few saves to make, but did everything competently, took crosses well when required, and merits the mark for controlling a difficult back pass with consummate skill.
Solly: 8/10. Another excellent game. There were challenges against bigger guys which he didn’t have a prayer of winning, but was never exposed and quite frankly didn’t put a foot wrong.
Wiggins: 9/10. I made him my man of the match. Every challenge I saw he won, was effective going forward. Splendid stuff.
Morrison: 7/10. Seems it was his challenge for their penalty, which has to count against him, but otherwise absolutely no complaints. They managed two decent attempts on goal other than the penalty and that in itself means the defence did a fine job.
Taylor: 8/10. Much the same as for Morrison. Neither of them stand out, but centre-backs who do their job with efficiency and without mistakes make such a welcome change from what has gone before.
Jackson: 8/10. Gets the extra mark for the goal, which was taken with aplomb. Not outstanding otherwise, but quietly effective.
Stephens: 7/10. No complaints at all; he and Hollands seem to be forging a very effective partnership as the engine of the team. But when we go off the boil the spotlight inevitably focuses on central midfield as that’s the area that matters.
Hollands: 7/10. As with Stephens, good game and no complaints other than how we play when the intensity drops.
Wagstaff: 7/10. Could have been a five or an eight; his cross for the third goal was a peach that just invited the finish, he might have won a penalty. Equally, he convinced the ref that he was a diver and when he didn’t get a free kick for a challenge and lost the ball it led to their goal.
Hayes: 8/10. Had a better game than some around me seemed to think. Intelligent play and movement and when we play with pace and movement he’s involved in it. Took his goal well. But yes, there were times when his touch and pass didn’t work.
Wright-Phillips: 8/10. Passed when I’d have bet my house on him shooting, failed to bury the shot when he’d done all the hard work, but scored ... again. He gives us an edge that ensures that is priceless.