Saturday 31 January 2015

Not Even A Scrappy Win

Let's perhaps start by trying just to summarise the game, then look at some of the points of note (for me). For any team that's not won in the league for not much short of three months, to be 1-0 up going into stoppage time and not seeing it out hurts (and the points we've not won/given up at home in the final minutes this season continue to mount). Get off the pitch with a scrappy victory and at least there's something to build on. We didn't manage that - indeed, we were only still level thanks to what has to go down as one of the best saves I've seen in years. Not winning means we go home with other things in our head, including what has to be a first: a manager/head coach in his first game in charge at The Valley listening to choruses of 'you don't know what you're doing'. There was no evidence today that he does, or if he does that the players are ready to listen.

The team contained no real surprises, the only change from the encouraging draw at Wolves being Wiggins returning for Fox. That meant Harriott and Vetokele continuing up front, Buyens and Veljkovic in central midfield, with Cousins and Gudmundsson occupying the wide berths. On the bench Watt was joined by newcomer LePoint.

It's hard to say which team was happier to be level at the break, with a certain symmetry to the play. They hit the post early on, as a cross from the left was diverted back towards goal only to come back off the woodwork. We hit the post, as one of the few moments of quality saw the ball played in and after a penalty appeal it broke to Gudmundsson, who put in a crafty effort to wrongfoot their keeper only for it - like theirs - to be an inch or so away from breaking the deadlock. There were other moments, including a Bikey-Amougou effort from a corner that we've seen work before. But by and large it was awful fare from two teams short on confidence and ambition.

For us, Cousins put in more of a shift than most, Gudmundsson still looked like he knows how to play the game, and Veljkovic was doing what he was brought in to do. Otherwise everyone was going through the motions. Defenders defended when necessary, midfielders passed the ball with no real intent, and the forwards ran around without much supply or support. I had the feeling through the half that if Rotherham had a real idea of how fragile we were if we went behind they might have shown more ambition themselves, but for whatever reason they didn't. The play was largely mundane, with both sides seeming to hope that something might be produced by somebody else: perhaps forgivable for the away side (but an opportunity missed) but for us you just wondered where the spark would come from.

Nothing changed after the break. Again there were occasional moments in a game in which the first goal was becoming increasingly important. They made a change - and after the hour we made one two, in response to the fans starting to call for Watt, on the grounds that things can only get better if he comes on. When he was brought on for Vetokele - who to be fair was having as little success as Harriott and everyone else - the crowd expressed their displeasure (and Igor seemed none too pleased either).

Watt does have something about him and he was instrumental in almost breaking the deadlock, turning inside on the edge of the box instead of shooting and opening up the space. His effort was blocked, with appeals for a penalty, as was the follow-up shot. Then, to maintain the equilibrium, they had a loud appeal for a penalty (from their players and fans) as the ball was played to the far post and diverted behind. I didn't see anything - and neither did the ref, which is all that matters.

That moment over, the game seemed to be headed for 0-0 as neither side seemed capable of breaking down the other, neither side dominated possession, and both teams seemed content to either nick it or play it out for the draw. They made two more changes, we brought on LePoint for Veljkovic, presumably to give more of an attacking impetus as the game entered the last 10 minutes.

And glory be, with the clock ticking down, we scored. It would be nice to say that we turned up the heat, put them under pressure, and got our reward. The truth is the goal came pretty much out of the blue, with a first effort from Gudmundsson blocked but Cousins following up to drive in the loose ball.

One up with less than 10 minutes to play and it really was a case of just playing it out, against opponents that after having hit the woodwork in the early minutes had given no indication of being likely to score. But not surprisingly the emphasis was on them to change things - and they did, having nothing to lose. Balls were played into our box rather quicker and to better effect. With a few minutes left on the clock one cross was met with a header down and for all the world it was a goal. Dmitrovic dived to his left and somehow turned it around for a corner. Again, on first sight it was one of the best saves I've seen for years.

Having had that escape, surely we see the game out. Gomez came on for Harriott, slotting in in front of the defence to help to seal things up, especially as LePoint was proving remarkably adept at giving the ball way. Four minutes of stoppage time were signalled (basically the six substitutions and the obligatory extra minute) and as we started the first another ball in was this time met by one of their guys who steered it into the bottom corner. The final couple of minutes were played out with them pleased to have got level and us unable to produce a final flurry. Even Bikey didn't bother to go up front.

The players trudged off The Valley pitch last time having lost to Brighton and that proved to be the last of Bob Peeters, once his birthday had passed. They were equally hangdog at the finish today. Overall it was a dire game between two poor teams. For them, probably a point gained in that they were behind going into stoppage time. If they'd lost, nobody to blame but themselves for their failure to realise how fragile we were. For us, no end to the poor run of form - and the disappointment of failing to build on the away point under a new head coach.

I watched Luzon during the first half in particular. He was very animated: shouting, waving his arms, calling for something. What was apparent (to me) was that nobody on the pitch seemed to be taking a blind bit of notice. After a while he sat down looking disgruntled with his arms folded. Things ain't right and we just have to wait and see who stays and who goes before the window closes. Whatever the line-up then, he'd better prove capable of galvanising them in a way that was not apparent today. Otherwise, standing now just six points above the final relegation spot, we are in real trouble.

No player ratings today, just (relatively) honourable mentions for Dmitrovic (for that wonderful save), Veljkovic (for doing what he is supposed to do to reasonable effect), Cousins (not just for the goal but for the effort shown, despite yet another player brought in to cover a position that is his best), and Gudmundsson (for continuing to do his stuff). For the others, let's see what the world looks like when the window closes, as after that it really is game on.


Anonymous said...

Can you really see anyone else coming in, or anyone who is worth having who is not from the network and not Belgian? Looking at the upcoming fixtures, and looking at the quality of the team, those in the bottom three seem rather close behind. The heady days of September and October seem an awfully long time ago.

Martin Cowan

Anonymous said...

The window is of no concern to us, anyone who might come in will have a Belgian connection and doubthful they will contribute much. I am sure some of the squad would like to jump ship if they could find a home.

For me this is it... the crucial block of time where the players respond or we drop into religation and can any of us see us producing a consistent team effort to survive.

Brian Cowan said...

89th min take off a "forward" Harriott, bring on a defender, Gomez. 91st minute, let in a goal. Are we going to manage to equal or better last season's 7 home wins?

Scoops said...

Only eight more draws this season and we equal most draws in a single season for one club. Nine and we write our names in the record books.

Burgundy Addick said...

Thanks for the comments guys. I think stoppage time at The Valley has cost us about nine points since early November, from both conceding and not taking golden chances to win. I guess the Gomez change at the death was to change the formation back, having taken off the defensive midfielder to bring on LePoint.

Just waiting to see what the world looks like come close of play Monday.