Saturday, 21 September 2013

Bad Day All Round

Some matches you get something you don’t deserve, sometimes you don’t get the rub of the green. Today we got what we deserved. That’s not to say a very ordinary Millwall team were worthy winners. A fair-minded neutral might give them some credit for their defensive work, but no more. They adopted a ‘shoot on sight’ policy in the first half and eventually it paid off by means of a deflection. Having got their goal they were not surprisingly content to keep things very tight, but their second-half chances were almost the equal of ours and saw out the game with relative ease. More generally, their midfield play was more controlled, better organised and more purposeful than ours, with Bailey looking ponderous and limited but still having a better grasp on the play than our guys, by keeping things moving and providing an effective barrier in front of defence. That they rarely (if at all) rose above the mundane says a lot about the quality of our play.

I think it’s too simple just to conclude that we were poor. Breaking it down, up front Pigott was made to look like a raw recruit, in sharp comparison with the combative, astute and experienced Kermorgant, who we obviously missed badly. Church had a decent game and was for a long period the only bright spark, but didn’t take the one good chance we fashioned in the second half. At the back, we were seldom troubled and those involved, including Wood who was sacrificed to change the formation and especially Morrison, who ended the game up front, played well enough (although Hamer’s distribution alternated between the excellent and the horrible – and nearly costly).

For me, the real problem was the central midfield three, individually and collectively. Far too often the ball was given away cheaply, the passes that found their man were usually too slow and a little misplaced, and worst of all when a pass was made far too little was done to support the guy with the ball. Millwall were able to crowd the guy with the ball and win back possession far too often. Pritchard was the main culprit in that it was often him getting outmuscled by much bigger guys; but the fault was collective as nothing was done to get around the problem, to get closer to the man in possession and give him an out. We didn’t learn the lesson and it cost us, as Pritchard was crowded out and their guy’s harmless shot took the deflection for the goal. Stephens, Pritchard and Jackson need to work as a unit for the formation to work and today at least they singularly didn’t. Others may focus on the ineffective knocking around of the ball at the back, but in large part that arose because balls hoofed up to Pigott were getting us nowhere and those in midfield stood and watched instead of working to make space to enable us to move forward.

It all added up to a poor game between two struggling teams decided by a fluke, in front of what for a Charlton v Millwall game looked like a poor crowd. If that sounds to some like sour grapes, let me add that if we play to that standard for the rest of the season we will almost certainly be relegated. Today we fell short on quality; without quality we fell short on determination and drive.  

The main news on arrival was that Kermorgant was still out and that Sir Chris had given Pigott the nod to play up front with Church instead of Sordell – or any change of formation. With Solly and Cort still unavailable, and the Gower/Cousins midfield pairing seemingly remaining second choice, the rest of the team more or less picked itself.

The early exchanges were inconclusive, with both teams struggling to put together anything meaningful. Bailey’s last kick at The Valley had been a penalty miss and there was some amusement that his first in this game was a truly naff shot. We weren’t being threatened at the back (except for when Hamer almost managed to give the ball to their forward, once near the goal-line and once from a kick out) but weren’t posing them any problems either.

Our first-half attacking threat amounted to one decent moment, when a Wiggins cross seemed set to be converted at the far post only for a Millwall defender to get a touch to divert it behind for a corner. Otherwise there was a bit of trickery around the box from Pigott, a move involving Jackson, and that was it as far as I can remember. At the break their keeper hadn’t had to make a save. At the other end, aside from a couple of fairly routine saves from shots outside the box, Hamer was comfortable too – until the deflected shot, which gave him no chance.

The debate at the break was whether changes needed to be made then, or to give it 10 or 15 minutes more. We actually started the second half a bit brighter and Stephens had a decent half-chance on the edge of the box but couldn’t get over the ball to get the strike on target. But before long the game settled back into the previous pattern. The first change saw Stewart come on for Wood, in a switch to 4-4-2, with Pritchard moving wider to the right. Millwall also made a change and for a 10-minute period they had a couple of half-chances that might have made the game safe.

Stewart did look lively and threatening, but the quality of service to him and to the front two remained well below what is required. So on came Sordell for Pigott and Harriott for Pritchard, to give us two outright wingers and fresh legs up front. And we did, finally, manage to fashion a proper chance, from a move which was in stark contrast to the rest of the game. Good, slick interchange involving Sordell ended with Church being played in on the left side of the box. You could see the intent: curl it around the keeper into the net. But the shot was badly underhit and easily smothered. After we’d won possession in midfield Harriott had a run in space, but his attempted pass was also too weak and the moment went. Having spent most of the game unable to create decent openings, when they came we failed to take them.

At the death there was a shot from Stewart saved at the near post, but even with Morrison pushed forward (making it effectively a 3-4-3) we couldn’t win the aerial duel where it mattered, while perhaps not surprisingly there wasn’t a great deal of coordination. The team left the pitch to boos and a worrying afternoon contained no positives for me. We had to eat it last season and have to do it again, the difference being this time around we played worse against what looked like a poorer Millwall.

There’s no obvious answer, other than of course the return of Kermorgant and having Solly and Cort available too. I just hope the players take a long look at their performances today and come to the fairly obvious conclusion that they need to, and can, perform much better. If not, we are truly in the merde.

Player Ratings:

Hamer – 6-10. Nothing more than routine saves, no chance with the goal, but while I’m usually reluctant to dock a keeper a point for distribution at least twice today his decisions with the ball almost cost us.

Wilson – 6/10. The starting formation requires a lot from the wing-backs, but whereas Wiggins did get involved going forward he didn’t feature, except for strangely ducking under a cross I thought he was set up for. Much more involved as an attacking threat when we brought on the two wingers.


Wiggins – 7/10. Decent enough game, at the back and going forward. Often given the ball only to find nobody within 15 yards or more to lend support.

Wood – 7/10. No complaints, did his job before being taken off to change the formation.

Morrison – 8/10. In a poor game for me he stood out, being dominant at the back (albeit not influential when playing centre-forward).

Dervite – 7/10. As for Wood, no complaints. Involved in a fair amount of the inconsequential square passes at the back, but again that seemed to reflect the lack of alternatives.

Jackson – 5/10. Often the talisman and a player who has turned games around. Didn’t happen today. The poor mark is also a reflection of the inability of the central three to control the game.

Stephens – 5/10. The 3-5-2 set-up is designed not least to accommodate him, to allow him to be the playmaker. There were some excellent passes, but he was invisible for the first period of the game, played some shocking passes, and missed from a decent position. Quite simply has to play better to deserve a starting place.

Pritchard – 5/10. Outmuscled and often pounced on by them as an opportunity to win the ball back. Didn’t feature going forward either.

Pigott – 5/10. No getting away from it, he was in their pocket. Threatened a couple of times, and kept going, but also misplaced passes and basically won nothing in the air.

Church – 7/10. Would have been a higher mark if he hadn’t failed to make the most of our best chance with a weak finish. Otherwise he was one of the few guys out there today who looked as if he knew what he was doing.

Subs – Stewart (7/10: clearly made a difference and gave us an attacking threat that was largely absent before; would have been nice if he’d rounded it off with a goal at the end); Sordell (7/10 – my first sight of him and it was fair enough, involved in our one good move); Harriott (6/10 – added to the threat going forward but did mess up his one good opening). 


4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Incredibly generous marks.

Blackheath Addicted said...

Quite possibly. But I did think it wasn't fair to lump them all together. Range could have gone from 3 to 7 I guess but the differentials would have been the same.

Like most of us, just wanted to begin the process of eradicating the game from my thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Hi, despite Nicky Bailey's famous kick at the moon back in 2010 he has played at the Valley since for Middlesbrough last season. Mind you, he spent most of that day looking to see if the lost ball from the Swindon game was floating in the Thames. Good servant to the club though and could still do a job for us.

Blackheath Addicted said...

Indeed he did. One of the problems writing off the top of your head, especially after a miserable game.