All the thoughts about the start of a new era, the desire to play attacking football, and long-term visions and goals at least for me disappeared today. We needed to win, nothing less, hopefully beautifully but ugly would be perfectly acceptable too, to go into our two-week break, before the potentially key game away at Doncaster, having done what we can to put the pressure on others. That meant I really didn’t care whether that meant adopting a defensive approach to the game or going all-out attack, the result was all.
We didn’t get the result we wanted, although we ended up getting one we didn’t deserve, which isn’t overlooking the fact that their equaliser was obviously a howler (and their first was pretty bad). Having been the better side in the first half, despite having to make a formation change early in the game due to Washington’s injury, we contrived to make further adjustments, both in formation and then with substitutions, which progressively removed our attacking threat and left us disjointed. Yes, Wimbledon deserve credit for their second half performance; yes, tiredness may have played a part; but I don’t think I’ve been more angry this season as we threw away two badly needed points.
In the event Adkins (and we assume he was either picking the team or giving Jackson’s choices a seal of approval) opted for the same starting X1 and subs bench as Tuesday night. So it would be 4-4-2, Pearce and Famewo in central defence, flanked by Gunter and Maatsen, Forster-Caskey and Shinnie in central midfield, with Morgan and Millar out wide, and Stockley and Washington continuing up front.
Wimbledon started the brighter of the two sides, and after a couple of minutes Washington chased a ball out and seemed to pull a hamstring. He initially managed to continue but was soon on the deck and, although able to walk off, his afternoon was over. It was initially surprising that instead of either Aneke or Schwartz coming on, to keep a front two, Jaiyesimi got the nod. He took up his position wide right, with Millar on the other flank, Forster-Caskey and Shinnie together and Morgan moving to play in the hole, behind Stockley on his own up front.
That change worked, as through the first half we were the better team, decent in possession, created chances, and scored two goals. Our first, on 10 minutes, did have an element of good fortune. Amos hit the ball out and seemed to rather scuff it, but it fell nicely to Morgan, in a position that he wouldn’t have been in were it not for the formation change. He controlled it and played it wide left to Millar, who took on the full-back and crossed from the by-line, and the ball found its way into the net. My first reaction was an own goal, but it seems somehow Stockley managed to twist his body to make the decisive connection. Lucky beginning but after that good play all round.
We didn’t lead for long as defensive frailties reared their ugly head. Millar lost the ball but as Wimbledon played the ball forward to Pigott both Famewo and Pearce converged on him but neither got the ball, which was moved on to their guy, who cut back inside Gunter and hit the shot across Amos and into the far corner. Both centre-backs taken out of the play going for the same ball. Has happened before and it cost us again today.
Nevertheless, after 20 minutes we were back in front. Again it came from down the left, with Millar once more teasing their full-back and squaring it to find Jaiyesimi in space. He took a touch then struck it cleanly into the net.
For the rest of the second half we were on top without extending the lead. Shots came in, from Millar, Morgan and Shinnie. But for some reason we did seem to change the formation again, with Millar seeming to move alongside Stockley, Morgan moving wider right, Shinnie on the left, and Jaiyesimi playing in the hole. Just why Millar – who had laid on our two goals and clearly had the beating of their guy – was moved is a mystery to me. Might have been a case of trying something a little different for a while, but the only person who welcomed the change was their full-back.
At the break it felt like a bad game not to win, but with the suspicion that we would probably need to score again to win. After all, Wimbledon weren’t going to give up tamely if just one behind in the final stages of the game.
As at the start of the game Wimbledon were brighter at the start of the second period, but we seemed to have weathered that. Indeed, Shinnie came close to extending the lead with a lovely piece of skill to create the space for a shot which went just wide. We did nevertheless seem a little unsure whether to be pressing for a third or trying to keep the game tight. In any event the game changed, for the worse, after 65 minutes. We’d tried playing out from Amos early in the second half and nearly came a cropper. This time it was played square to Famewo, who tapped it back towards Amos and ended up gifting it to their guy to put it into an empty net from close range. It was a horrible mistake, also one that seemed to unsettle Famewo for the rest of the game (should take a leaf out of Nabby Sarr’s book, these things happen, get on with it).
Now we had to win the game again. Plenty of time left to do that. On 67 minutes it was time for Chuks, the problem being how to accommodate him. Millar was the one to give way, which removed a major attacking threat. By now Wimbledon had their tails up and were starting to create real opportunities. A ball into Pigott saw him take it a little wide but still take the short from a narrow angle, which rebounded off the post.
On 77 minutes we made a double-substitution. Pratley and Schwartz were introduced, with substitute Jaiyesimi withdrawn along with Morgan. This meant Aneke dropping deeper. Now I cannot for the life of me understand why you bring on a guy like Chuks to play as a second forward and just 10 minutes later tell him to drop into midfield to accommodate a different second forward. You might argue that it was a way to get all three forwards on the pitch (and as Aneke was to hit the post at the death that is a fair argument), but it left Aneke like a fish out of water (and looking out of sorts as he picked up another yellow) and us with no wide players, having pulled them apart when we played with two.
Shortly after Wimbledon had a shot blocked but then drew a foul on the edge of our area, inside the D. Pigott curled it over the wall and down, but Amos diving to his right dived well to make the save and keep us level. We were hanging on, although into three minutes of stoppage time and Aneke almost won the game – and break Wimbledon hearts – as he took the ball on in the box and shot hard only to hit the near post.
On the balance of play you might argue that a draw was a fair result, with us the better side in the first half and Wimbledon in the second. Wimbledon would point to the fact that having levelled they were by far the more likely to win the game; we would highlight that both their goals were defensive mistakes. The bottom line is that through unenforced formation changes we became less effective as the game went on. We had the beating of them, only to stop doing what had put us in that position. I’m left scratching my head exactly why and angry over what it led to, two points thrown away. Sure Famewo will take some flack for the error, but that doesn’t tell the real story.
Amos – 7/10. One excellent save, good takes for crosses, not really his fault for their second but was obviously involved.
Gunter – 7/10. Decent game I thought, might have been tighter on their guy for their first goal but otherwise sound, even if he must have been confused just who was playing in front of him.
Pearce – 6/10. Lots of good stuff, but suspect for their first goal he was again chasing a ball that wasn’t his – and didn’t get there.
Famewo – 5/10. The poor mark isn’t really for the mistake, it’s for the reaction to it. Yes, you just cost us a goal; it happens, move on. Instead he seemed unsettled for the rest of the game, and did have his hands full with Pigott.
Maatsen – 6/10. Not a bad game, stuck to the task.
Morgan – 7/10. Looked effective when moved early in the game to play in the hole, shifted wide right, substituted.
Forster-Caskey – 7/10. Kept things ticking over in a bright first half, less effective in the second as we changed shape.
Shinnie – 7/10. Another who played his part in the first half and faded in the second as we lost control of the game.
Millar – 7/10. Someone, one day, will explain to me why a guy who sets up two goals and has his opposite number on toast is asked to change position and ends up getting substituted.
Stockley – 7/10. Gets an extra mark for the goal, I’ve still no idea how he scored. Otherwise worked hard but found it tough going.
Washington – No mark, only on the pitch for a few minutes.
Jaiyesimi – 7/10. Played well when played in his usual position, found space well in the box and took his chance calmly. Was later moved around and substituted.
Aneke – 7/10. Not his fault he was asked to play in midfield having come on as a second forward. Almost won the game at the death.
Pratley – 7/10. No complaints, came on and did a job.
Schwartz – 5/10. Came on and didn’t do a job.