Saturday 13 December 2014

Points Dropped For Sure

We went home after the Millwall game thinking we might not have deserved a win but had the chance at the death to take all the points, after the Ipswich game thinking we didn't deserve to lose but had, and today we left knowing that this was a case of points dropped. Not that simple for sure. Blackpool took the lead in the first half and the way we were playing another goal for them and it would have been very difficult. But not long into the second half we were 2-1 up and the game was there for the taking. Sure, we didn't actually win because Bikey-Amougou blazed the stoppage time open goal over the bar; for me the bigger question was why we failed to go on and win the game well from a position of strength, against very limited opposition. We made no chances of note in that period and ended up dropping the points that should have been in the bag.

The line-up reflected injuries and the late departure of Coquelin. It was a sort of 4-5-1/4-3-3 with in front of Pope Gomez coming in at right-back, Fox on the left either side of Ben Haim and Bikey, Buyens returning with Solly and Cousins either side of him (and swapping over from time to time), Gudmundsson sort of in the hole, and Vetokele and Harriott up front. The emphasis seemed to be on fluidity but also filling holes with what we have. The notable absentees from the starting X1 were Tucudean, Bulot, Ahearne-Grant/Pigott and Wilson, all of whom were on the bench. Given the unavailability of Jackson, Wiggins, Moussa and now Coquelin, it wasn't far off all available starting or on the bench.

The opening exchanges were mundane, the only features for me being how well Gomez slotted in, the fact that Buyens was head and shoulders above anyone else on the pitch, and how well Solly and Cousins tried to do the jobs asked of them. Blackpool offered nothing of note (one shot parried well enough by Pope and a couple of free kicks from possibly dangerous positions not exploited), but quite frankly neither did we. After 20 minutes I think we had a tame shot. Now even if the game goes on for 100 minutes that's 20% of the match. Sure it takes time for a new formation to settle into a game, but we seemed too comfortable to pass the ball with no serious intent - and sometimes poorly (Bikey's first pass going out and then somehow he escaped getting a yellow after ploughing through their guy from behind). There wasn't the space to get Gudmundsson really involved in his position (and a free kick from him on the edge of the box was too close for him to get it over the wall and under the bar), to get Harriott in behind them, or to get Igor on the end of anything.

A poor start was then compounded by conceding a poor goal. A corner saw Pope come for it only to flick it on rather than get a decisive clearance in. Their guy at the far post headed it back and either it went straight in or was converted from near range, I don't really remember or care. If Blackpool had been a better side they could have gone on to press home the advantage. Instead they competed but no more, while we tried to work our way back into it.

Indeed, with one of our best moves we did draw level. For once the ball was moved with more purpose down the left, which stretched their defence, and when the cross came in Vetokele seemed to be getting on the end of it only to be up-ended by a defender's challenge which came nowhere near to getting the ball. A reasonably clear penalty. Buyens stepped up and there's an air about him that left you in little doubt that he would score, which he did by putting it in the corner of the left side.

The remainder of the half passed without real incident (at least none that I remember) and at the break it seemed a case of, OK we should have the weapons to go on and win this, can't see Blackpool really troubling a good defence, let's go out and do it.

We were to find ourselves in front only 10 minutes into the second half. A ball squared from the right found Cousins advancing towards goal. He looked left and right for a possible pass but wasn't closed down and when nothing was on tried his luck. It was a sweet strike that found the bottom corner of the net, although there had to be a question over their keeper getting beaten from that range from a shot that, while well-placed, wasn't struck with that much venom. It was a decent goal, but really one out of the blue, not the outcome of any sustained pressure.

So be it. We're now ahead but with plenty of the game to go, against a team that had already made two substitutions and which had given no indication of being able to really hurt us. Surely a case for upping the tempo and killing off the game. That we failed to do. We continued in the same fashion, probing but not stretching them. A couple of shots went just wide of the post, but I don't recall their keeper being called into serious action.

With 20 minutes or so left Tucudean replaced Harriott. I made a point of watching him, as it's still unclear whether he's the player who so impressed against Derby or the one who missed the chance against Millwall. I wasn't impressed today. When a forward comes on to provide fresh legs and a different threat with enough of the game to go and the outcome still in the balance, you expect (or at least I do) to see someone who wants to prove why he should be starting. Instead he drifted and gave, as far as I could see, no great desire to get the ball or do much with it when it came his way. Harsh possibly, but this was a change made to go on and win the game and that didn't happen.

We were nevertheless still feeling pretty confident of seeing the game out and moving on, with Blackpool not exactly going for broke and Ben Haim and Bikey seemingly in control. But with the clock close to going into stoppage time they won a free kick. The ball was floated to the far post and for some reason our defenders were AWOL. Pope came out to claim it but was beaten to the ball badly and their guy might have picked up an injury but the ball was in the net.

Four minutes of stoppage time to do something about it. Even then we should have done. Bikey was up front by now and after a corner the ball dropped to him around the penalty spot with nobody making a challenge. He had all the time he wanted, perhaps too much time as he seemed to get distracted by prostrate bodies between him and the goal and ended up shooting over the bar. I'll never slate a centre-back for missing a good chance, but this was as good as they come and for the second time in three home games we'd failed to convert the chance at the death to win the game (of course in the third we conceded in stoppage time).

We know Blackpool have had a revival of late and that we are missing key players. But the way the game panned out no question it was two points dropped, points that would have been more than useful with a string of tough (on paper) coming up. The impact is compounded by the fact that the previous two home games had also seen us fail to win/draw games we could/should have done. That raises the question whether we have the devil, the drive and desire, to go out and beat teams convincingly. I saw no real signs today that the players were actually enjoying themselves. Undoubtedly they competed, no shortage of effort, perhaps not enough of a winning mentality.

Player Ratings:

Pope - 5/10. Culpable for both goals, both a failure to come off his line to decisive effect.

Gomez - 7/10. Not perfect but slotted in well after a long period of absence.

Fox - 6/10. Distribution often fell down but did get forward and can't recall any bad errors in defence.

Ben Haim - 7/10. Decent game but where did he - and the rest of the defence - go for their second?

Bikey-Amougou - 6/10. Did most of his stuff well enough, but it was a bad miss and we conceded two goals.

Solly - 7/10. Obviously a different role for him today, born I assume out of necessity, but took it on well enough.

Buyens - 7/10. Dominant in the first half, perhaps less so in the second when we needed to go on and put the game to bed.

Cousins - 7/10. Good goal, decent effort through the game.

Gudmundsson - 6/10. Good touches but not a decisive contribution from someone capable of that.

Harriott - 6/10. Couldn't get in behind them today, couple of shots just wide.

Vetokele - 6/10. They dealt with him quite well but may well have scored from the cross which produced the penalty.

Subs - Tucudean (5/10: has to do more to justify a start or coming off the bench). 

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