Saturday 2 January 2021

Back To The Drawing Board, With A Couple Less Pencils

Whereas ahead of some recent games the focus was as much on the performance and evidence of progress as the actual result, I think this time around it was a case of win by any means or at least avoid defeat against an assumed rival for a promotion spot, with keeping a clean sheet high on the list of priorities. We were aware that Hull’s plans for the game had been disrupted by Covid-19, although to what extent was unclear, and that three defeats and a draw in their last four games – which had seen them fall back from being potential runaway leaders to third place - meant that their confidence might have taken a knock.

That was the preamble. What happened was another disappointment to say the least. With a square pegs and round holes approach we struggled in the first half to put together anything coherent, looking dangerous only from set pieces and having perhaps just one opportunity to score, when a knock-down was followed by a Bogle air-shot. At the same time we conceded the first goal again and might have let in more. We changed formation at the break and looked more coherent for a while, only to go down to 10 men on the hour, when it seems a rather petulant flick out by Pratley was interpreted as violent play. Going behind had made it an uphill struggle, going down to 10 made it a mountain to climb, and when we went 2-0 down around 15 minutes to go that became whatever the next stage of difficulty is. The remainder of the game was irrelevant.

The team showed only two changes from Plymouth, one of which was enforced, with Aneke’s suspension meaning a start for Bogle alongside Washington up front. The other switch was Williams dropping down to the bench for Morgan, which with Maddison also not starting pointed to a traditional 4-4-2 rather than a diamond, with Gunter, Pearce, Pratley and Matthews in front of Amos, Watson and Forster-Caskey in central midfield and Morgan and Maatsen in the wider berths.

The major incident in the opening period was an injury to Watson, looked like a hamstring, before 10 minutes were up. He was replaced by Gilbey. No change of formation but just a little more uncertainty perhaps over just who would do what, with already Matthews and Maatsen playing on their unfamiliar sides and Pratley continuing his enforced impression of a centre-back. Hull were pretty content to allow us to keep possession but adept at ensuring that nothing resulted from it, with too many wayward passes and insufficient movement to create space.

Hull’s attacks carried much more threat and it was no surprise that they took the lead before 20 minutes were up. For some reason there was a gaping hole where Gunter was supposed to be and a ball forward found their guy in space. Pratley went to him but when the cross was made it deflected to hit Amos and bounced out to another of theirs, who was left with a tap-in.

It could have been worse soon after as Hull executed a training ground free kick. A short square pass seemed odd but their guy curled in the cross and as our defenders were running out their guys were running in. A free header should have been converted by was directed straight at Amos. Up to then we had only a couple of Pearce headers to show for our efforts, but from another set-piece he this time nodded down, presenting Bogle with the opportunity to smash the ball into the net. His leg did swing but the foot connected with nothing. The commentators suggested a bobble. Perhaps.

Before the break Hull came close to a second as Pratley missed a through ball, only for their guy to blaze over. And we had some curious behaviour by the ref around yet another set piece, which saw him consult with players, talk to captains, then run over to the touchline for a conversation with the two managers. Heaven only knows what the problem was, or what was said. But the incident led to more confusion as first we appealed for a penalty as their keeper punched clear, only for Pratley to be flattened outside the box. It was all getting rather fractious and frustrating, not least as Hull insisted on kicking the ball away every time a decision went against them but the ref did nothing to stop it.

We needed to change things at the break and did. Bogle was replaced by Smyth but more important we switched to a back five, with Matthews and Maatsen moved back to their normal sides to form the wing-backs, Gunter, Pearce and Pratley as a central three. Add in a little more focus and determination and in the early exchanges in the second half we looked more coherent and in better control.

On the hour Williams came on for Morgan, getting the nod over Maddision to provide more of a forward threat behind the front two. We didn’t get the chance to find out if that would work as a few minutes later we were down to 10 men. Williams appeared to be fouled but the ref clearly felt he was looking for a decision and when he picked the ball up that decision was a free-kick for Hull. Harsh but so what? Until it seemed the linesman drew the ref’s attention to something that Pratley said or did. First impressions were some comment out of place, later it seems that their guy stopped and caused a collision, prompting Pratley to flick out a boot at him.

With hindsight that was really the game done then. We switched back to a back four, with Gunter and Pearce the central two. But what forward threat we had evaporated and before we could think about a final onslaught to get a point against the odds Hull scored again. A run across our defence looked offside but nothing was given. The guy’s cross was headed against the bar but the rebound was played to another who fired in.

All that remained to be decided was whether we would manage to keep 10 on the pitch as Pearce picked up a yellow for complaining when Hull kicked the ball away yet again, while Forster-Caskey saw yellow for a pull-back and then missed an attempted clearance and connected instead with a Hull player. Could easily have been interpreted as a second yellow.

Clearly there’s going to have to be some honest talking in the dressing room as we came up short again today. For Friday’s game we will get Aneke back but will presumably lose Watson and Pratley, while there will be considerable debate about formations, how to get the best out of the squad we have, and what changes to that squad might be coming now the transfer window is open. It isn’t rocket science to point out that since losing the services of Innis and Famewo we have struggled as a team and basically ship too many goals. This was a hard game to take any positives from, plenty for Bowyer and Jackson to be working on.

Player Ratings:

Amos – 7/10. Really had very little to do, unlucky with their first, no chance with their second.

Gunter – 6/10. I don’t know where he went to for their first goal but it was a big hole. Otherwise no problems whether at full-back or centre-back.

Pearce – 7/10. Wholehearted as usual and played pretty well.

Pratley – 5/10. Can’t be definitive about the sending off but he gave an inept ref a decision to make and going down to 10 cost us any chance of getting something from the game.

Matthews – 6/10. Please let this be the last game to have him starting on the left side. Not his fault, but everything looked laboured when he was that side – and for the brief spell as a wing-back on the right he looked far more comfortable and effective.

Watson – Can’t give a mark as he was injured before 10 minutes were up. Have to assume he’ll be missing for a few weeks and that is going to be a big loss.

Forster-Caskey – 7/10. Some erratic passing in the first half but generally one of our more effective performers, especially as he wasn’t asked to play in a wider role.

Morgan – 6/10. Not especially effective in the first half out wide or closer in for a while in the second, struggled to have an impact on the game.

Maatsen – 6/10. Three positions for him during the game, not an easy one to find space in.

Washington – 6/10. Some good movement and intelligent runs but ultimately didn’t cause their defence too many problems.

Bogle – 5/10. Poor half, missed our only decent chance of the game.


Gilbey – 6/10. Not a bad game but wasn’t able to create much.

Smyth – 5/10. Not easy for him as not long after his introduction we were down to 10 men.

Williams – 5/10. Much the same, we didn’t get the chance to find out if he could have turned the game.

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