The question before the game was which team would show up, the one that didn’t perform against Millwall or the one that did against Forest. In the event it proved to be something between the two. The effort and commitment were there, but the quality seldom was. As an attacking force our threat diminished the longer the game went on and we ended the match looking pretty much what we are: a patched-up side missing key players, trying to make it to an international break with something to show from the game. That we emerged with a point, and our first clean sheet of the season, was due to the excellence of the defence – but also the fact that the petulant Ince, having been handed the chance of the game at the death by terrible indecision on the part of Wilson, put it wide.
The team was unchanged from Tuesday, with Church overcoming his knock and Pritchard returning to take a place on the bench. And the opening 20 minutes were to prove our brightest spell of the game. We were in the ascendency, largely controlling midfield, and the passing and movement, while not perhaps having the good tempo of Tuesday night, kept us ticking over without being especially threatening. Gower provided the anchor in midfield, with Stephens and Cousins keeping possession well, while Wiggins was keeping Ince under control and Morrison and Wood ensuring that Fuller wasn’t able to break free.
An early free kick just outside the box after a clumsy challenge saw Stephens strike it well enough but without enough dip to get it below the bar, and a few minutes later he hit one over from outside the box. But if we’d won the first 20 minutes on points Blackpool came more into it after that and, with Ince and Fuller, you had the fear that they had the players more likely to break the deadlock. Hamer seemed a little traumatised by Reid’s goal for Forest as shots that were going wide or over the bar saw him scrambling after them, but when it mattered he was there, diving low to his left to save well from a header.
That, to the best of my recollection, was about it for the first half, bar a decent ball in or two from Wiggins (and to be fair some indifferent ones). At the break the question was which team, or player, would take the game by the scruff of the neck.
It didn’t prove to be us. Increasingly Church and Sordell were frustrated by poor service and their inability to provide any material challenge in the air to their centre-backs, and Harriott was unable to make or exploit space in the hole behind them. The one decent effort we had was a rasping shot from Cousins which was touched around the post, but in the main balls were played forward more in hope than expectation. Wood did bring a decent tip over from their keeper but was in any case penalised for a push. And Sordell did manage to lay claim to the worst penalty appeal of the season, ensuring that he’d just managed to get into the box before falling over. I think I’m as partisan as they come, but it didn’t occur to me to howl for a decision in our favour.
At the other end Blackpool increasingly relied on the long throw to provide something that might fall for them in the box. That threat was handled well by Hamer and those in front of him. Changes were made by both sides, to no real effect. If anything our substitutions made us more disjointed. Surprisingly (for me) Gower was taken off, with Pritchard coming on. We lost an important element of control in midfield with his departure and really added little. Stewart replaced Church, who seemed to be fading and feeling the knock from Tuesday, and late on Pigott came on for Sordell.
By the end our chances of nicking one and taking the three points were diminishing and I suspect we’d all have settled for the draw. That we were nearly denied that was down to a moment of madness. There were enough players around for there not to be a threat but Wilson seemed caught in at least three minds and ended up heading the ball into the path of Ince. He should have scored, but perhaps there is some justice. He’d been lucky to just get a yellow for a nasty, petulant kick out after his inability to control the ball had lost possession, while his first-half performance had suggested he is preparing himself for the Premiership as the rule was ‘there was contact, I’m entitled to fall on my face’. He missed and that was that.
The positives? The clean sheet, another encouraging showing from Cousins, and the highly impressive performance from my man of the match, Wood (with Morrison not far behind). The negatives? Further evidence that Harriott isn’t a guy to play in the hole (his main asset is pace and that just doesn’t get utilised), and the fact that our front two failed to carve out anything, even though they were working on scraps. The stats do sometimes speak for themselves. On Tuesday we had 22 attempts on goal; today we had eight, two on target. I suspect one of those was one that barely reached their keeper and you can’t exactly complain about a 0-0 if you create that little.
Rest up for a couple of weeks and let’s get going after the break. Personally I’ll depart to Lyon for a break (and the chance to check on the progress of my adopted French team, Lyon Duchere).
Hamer – 8/10. Seemed nervous in the first half, but made the save when called on and instrumental in ensuring that their string of long throws into the box didn’t result in goals.
Wilson – 5/10. Sorry, but it was a bad mistake at the death which very nearly resulted in a defeat.
Wiggins – 7/10. That Ince produced next to nothing has to reflect well on his performance. Not quite the effectiveness going forward we saw on Tuesday night, but perhaps he had Ince in mind.
Morrison – 8/10. Another sterling showing. Fuller was seen off and they didn’t have a decent chance until gifted one.
Wood – 8/10. My man of the match, after a very good showing on Tuesday night. He’s come back in to a back four, done a resolute job in two games, and so far not put a foot wrong.
Stephens – 7/10. For me more effective when Gower was on the pitch than when required to control the centre after his departure. Good first half but faded in the second.
Gower – 7/10. Nothing dramatic, but I don’t know why he was substituted (especially as that didn’t seem to be a change in formation). Without him we were winning far less of the challenges.
Cousins – 7/10. Another good showing (tempted to make it an 8). What impresses me is both his ability to retain possession and to make a simple but productive pass.
Harriott – 6/10. Really feel he’s been asked to perform in a position which isn’t for him, at least not yet. His control and ability to pick a pass aren’t especially strong and in the hole his pace gets neutralised. I hope – when all are back fit – that he gets the opportunity as an outright winger.
Church – 6/10. Below par performance, perhaps the result of his knock on Tuesday night. Not equipped to be a target man for balls forward and today unable to create much.
Sordell – 6/10. The service was poor and too often was jumping aimlessly for balls he had no chance of winning. Both he and Church quite clearly need the return of Kermorgant.
Subs – Prichard (6/10 – struggled to make an impact when he came on); Stewart (6/10 – much the same); Pigott (much the same).