Having just moaned about the failure in the past four league games to score in the first half, you can hardly complain about anything – team selection, tactics, attitude etc – when this time around we reach the break 3-0 up and are playing against 10 men. And indeed, I have no complaints, even if I did have to get up at sparrow’s fart with a sore head from the previous night’s excesses in a Lyon buchon to make it to the game. After the flight back, dash across, and a few glasses I didn’t want a nailbiter. And this turned out to be as relaxed a game as you could want. The final 40 minutes were totally irrelevant, once their keeper had gifted us a fourth.
It would be tempting to conclude that after a defeat and doubts about team selection we went out and took the game by the scruff of the neck from the start. But that wouldn’t be the truth. Truth is, after an even first 10 minutes Carlisle gave us the game by conceding two quite soft goals. That they went on to concede a third, then had a player sent off (quite rightly), before the break meant that I went home perfectly content. But I don’t think today told us anything about the challenges that lie ahead. We should take the credit for winning very, very comfortably. And I’ve no complaints that we didn’t go on to score more. There’s another game coming up on Tuesday night and if Carlisle needed convincing that it wasn’t going to be their day not converting a soft penalty just about drove the message home.
In the event Sir Chris stuck to the Kermorgant and Green option over Hayes and Wagstaff. Solly was reinstated at right-back, as was to be expected, and the only change was that Hughes came in for Stephens, who was it seems away on family duties. With Stephens not available, the choice was perhaps more straightforward. Nevertheless, there was some pressure to show that the changed set-up could work from the start. And the first 10 minutes were inconclusive. The play was even, but perhaps ominously we had two decent chances, with Green putting in a decent shot and then Wright-Phillips played in only to be a bit slow off the starting blocks – perhaps thinking he was offside – and the defender getting back.
The breakthrough when it came was simple – and pointed to defensive frailties that were to make the game a non-contest. Wiggins and Jackson played a one-two down the left and the former’s cross found Kermorgant effectively unmarked. He did the decent thing and headed it into the net. Ten minutes later Hamer picked out BWP with a long clearance, but the defender had it covered, until he weakly headed back in the direction of their keeper and poacher that he is BWP nipped in to convert from a narrow angle. After 20 minutes, without being especially convincing, we were 2-0 up. Suddenly the world seemed back to rights. There were a few tricky moments, mostly coming from them down their left, but as the break approached you thought one more goal and it’s all over.
Wiggins again did the business. He took the ball down the left and instead of crossing kept going before squaring it. A couple of efforts were blocked before the ball fell to Kermorgant, who fairly hammered it into the roof of the net. If that wasn’t enough, their guy – who had already been booked for his second foul on Green – was caught out by Wright-Phillips and responded with a kick/trip that earned a second yellow. If that wasn’t enough, shortly into the second half Hollands intercepted a pass just inside their half. As he advanced you thought he’d lay it off, but instead kept going and hit a shot that ... went through their keeper’s legs. 4-0 and the game was truly up. Their embarrassed keeper’s next contribution was to lay out his own defender when taking a cross.
Carlisle kept playing and not surprisingly we eased off, but there was never any suggestion that they could get back into the game. Not even when the linesman had a bad moment and gave one of those penalties for the ball stricking a hand as the cross is made, when there’s no intent at all. Poor decision, but it really didn’t matter as Hamer dived to his right to save the spot kick. That the referee – denied the get-out of a linesman’s flag – failed to give us a penalty when a ball crossed in was virtually caught by their defender didn’t matter at all. The final 40 minutes or so were played out as something of a training ground exercise. Wagstaff came on for Green, then Euell for Hollands, and finally Hayes for Wright-Phillips. Other chances came and went, but when the sign went up for three added minutes – despite five substitutions and a few lengthy injuries – the feeling was it might have well have been one. There was a glass with my name on it and a takeaway still to come.
The way the game turned out could be interpreted as us responding well to our first league defeat. In truth, we just didn’t find out as Carlisle’s defensive failties meant the game was if not handed to us made very easy. There’s no criticism implied, you can only beat what’s in front of you – and we had the weapons to do that. So let’s worry about Wycombe and others to come tomorrow and be happy bunnies tonight.
Hamer – 8/10. Has to get an extra mark for a penalty save; otherwise everything through the afternoon was routine.
Solly – 6/10. Was given some troublesome moments by their guy down their left, and may have been a little uncertain having been dropped for a game, even if this was tactical. But nothing to worry about.
Wiggins – 8/10. On actual performance he should be man-of-the-match; laid on two of our first three goals and otherwise, apart from being ridiculously penalised for an inadvertent handball, once more didn’t put a foot wrong. Evina must be tearing his hair out.
Morrison – 7/10. He and Taylor, restored as the central defensive partnership, made no mistakes and handled all that was thrown at them. That it didn’t amount to much is not their fault.
Taylor – 7/10. As for Morrison.
Jackson – 7/10. Effective without being demonstrative, instrumental in the first goal, and threatened to score.
Hollands – 7/10. Can’t really give him the extra point for his goal, splendid as it was. This wasn’t a game that ended up testing us.
Hughes – 8/10. Perhaps a generous mark, but he’s my man-of-the-match. At the start of the season you’d have thought he’d be behind Pritchard, Alonso and perhaps even Bover. But he came in and did a calmly effective job. Just what you want from a guy waiting for the chance.
Green – 7/10. Not explosive, but after what seemed to have been a poor display against Stevenage he did the basics well, which meant getting in good crosses.
Kermorgant – 8/10. The guy scored two goals. Barely featured in the second half, but the game was over by then.
Wright-Phillips – 7/10. Scored a goal he had no right to; otherwise a bit lacklustre but again, today we didn’t need him to be firing on all cylinders.
Subs – Wagstaff (6-10 – had the opportunity to make a real nuisance of himself against a side already beaten; didn’t really take it, but again the game was already over); Euell (7/10 – came on to play in central midfield and played the ball around well enough); Hayes (6/10 – no real chance to impress as all around him were playing at 50%).