There is nothing worse (in a football context) than with 10 minutes left to be expecting a rather ugly but perfectly satisfactory win – and to lose. The afternoon, the day, the weekend didn’t turn out as planned – and now the aching muscles from the snow and ice-clearing on Wednesday hurt twice as much. It wasn’t a game to talk about who deserved to win, who played best. Neither side would win plaudits for the football. We were winning for most of the second half and that set the pattern. They had to take chances and brought on subs to bolster their attack, so when they equalised all the momentum was with them. We could have finished it off before then with a second and didn’t; they went on to score a winner and it’s done. Suzanne isn’t happy and neither am I. Three points down the drain and we’re not going to win every game in 2013.
The team was unchanged, with Sir Chris keeping to 4-5-1 at home after three wins on the trot. No complaints from me, except that if you play five in midfield at home you would expect to dominate possession. On a difficult surface (yes, if you’d seen it – and fallen over on it – on Wednesday you’d have been impressed with the end-result) we didn’t manage that, with Wednesday, as was the case a year ago, bigger and stronger than us, putting the onus on outpassing them. That didn’t really happen, especially in a first-half that is best described as ordinary.
Us and them spent 45 minutes testing each other out to little effect, with most of the ‘football’ best overlooked. We contrived to miss a chance apiece. One ball to the far post was nodded back, apparently by Taylor, to I believe Morrison who had all the goal to aim at. Instead the header hit the underside of the bar and was cleared. At the other end, Hamer went for a cross and under a challenge dropped it. The ref didn’t give a free kick and their guy for some reason put the ball wide. We laughed, we sang, but it did sum up the game, which at that stage had all the hallmarks of a 0-0.
That really was it for the first period. Wagstaff was making a nuisance of himself, Stephens was pulling the strings. But Jackson and Pritchard were virtually absent as an attacking threat, nothing was coming down the right from Wilson and Solly, and Kermorgant had no support. The only real comfort was that Morrison and Taylor were dealing well enough with everything coming their way.
At the break things really could only get better – and with one flowing move they did. Wilson got the ball going forward and waited for Solly to get into the right position. He picked out Pritchard at the far post and he knocked it back for the inrushing Jackson to finish. Simple, effective, and players who hadn’t featured for much of the first half had just contrived to put us ahead.
The period which followed seemed to have decided the game. We had opportunities to add to the lead, with Wagstaff cutting in and hitting the post and Stephens not managing to control and keep down a couple of efforts from outside the box. At the other end their guy down the left caused problems and curled a couple just wide, while bringing out a save from Hamer. But as the game went on it became increasingly apparent that, having failed to get a second we were content to sit on the lead, while they, with nothing to lose, brought on Lita and Madine to bolster their attack.
The clock ran down, but not fast enough. And with about 10 minutes left they drew level. It was a nothing sort of ball into a crowded box, but Hamer didn’t come for it and one of their guys headed it up and over him into the net. That was bad enough, but the changes they made meant they couldn’t easily sit on the lead and continued to go forward. We made no changes, even though all the momentum was with them and paid the price. Their guy on the right went on a mazy run and the resulting shot from Lita took a horrible deflection to leave Hamer wrong-footed. Going into five minutes of stoppage time the changes were made, with Fuller, Wright-Phillips and Green coming on for Wilson, Evina and Stephens. But the hail-Mary didn’t work and we lost.
It was a game we should have won, having taken the lead. And it was one in which we failed to turn around once they’d equalised, even though the opportunity to make changes then was apparent. As we lost, it couldn’t have turned out any worse. It is a game of small margins and if we had notched the second, instead of the ball coming back off the post, we would have gone home happy. The reality is that on the day two at best average looking teams we left with no points. Right or wrong doesn’t come into it. We competed, worked hard, but didn’t show the wit to beat a more physical team who made changes when they had nothing to lose.
Hamer – 5/10. One decent save, but dropped one high ball in the first half which could/should have resulted in a goal and didn’t come for the ball in for their equaliser.
Solly – 7/10. No real complaints, was instrumental in our goal and did the defensive work.
Evina – 7/10. Overall thought he had a good game. The problem wasn’t really the defence.
Morrison – 7/10. For the most part was outstanding, heading away numerous balls in. But he did (I think) miss a sitter in the first half and they went on to score with an average ball into the box.
Taylor – 7/10. As with Morrison. We were under a good deal of pressure through the game and until the last 10 minutes the defence was holding up well.
Wilson – 5/10. Also involved in our goal, but overall seemed rather subdued as the midfield didn’t take the game to them.
Jackson – 6/10. Gets an extra point for the goal, but otherwise ineffective as along with Pritchard, both playing a bit ahead of Stephens, the support going forward wasn’t there.
Pritchard – 5/10. Not a good game if you take away the excellent knock-back for the goal. You want him to exploit the space, but that didn’t happen.
Stephens – 7/10. Was the one player throughout who tried to control the game, just a pity that unlike last weekend the shots went over the bar.
Wagstaff – 7/10. Was involved throughout and made a nuisance of himself, almost notched what would have been a goal to seal a win.
Kermorgant – 7/10. About as tireless a showing as a lone striker as you could wish for.
Subs – Oh come on, I don’t think that two of them touched the ball (Green did for a couple of late, desperate free kicks).