Tuesday, 27 November 2012

The Best Team Always Wins

I’m a simple soul, easily made happy. I’ll take playing badly and winning over anything other than playing well and winning. Every day of the week. And we all know we didn’t play well. For much of the first half and much of the second, Peterborough were more fluid, cohesive and created the better openings, while we played like a team of strangers, which is not surprising as the front two and the central midfield pairing will never before have started a game together. In our defence, they didn’t score when on top, we went ahead with something completely out of the blue, but once we did they showed why they are struggling as their response to going behind was poor. They looked like a team used to losing and our second – which crowned the return of Kermorgant – gave a result that was no reflection of the game but left me, that simple soul, happy enough.

Team selection was again surprising. We are all delighted that Yan is back, but a starting place was asking a lot after his time out – and tough on Hulse who after scoring dropped to the bench. With Seaborne available again Kerkar moved forward and that meant Stephens taking a rest, with Jackson moving inside to partner Frimpong. He did (in my view) have a subdued game on Saturday, but the downside was yet another change. Perhaps Sir Chris was looking at weaknesses in their side and opted for more of a long ball approach; perhaps the absence of movement and lack of understanding between players resulted in balls hit forward when no other option was available, with Kerkar and Pritchard having moments but not really influencing the game from the wide positions.

The game began brightly enough as Kermorgant announced his return with a shot on the turn that brought out a decent save, while what has to be said was Kerkar’s one material contribution to the game was a delightful ball along the line which resulted in a cross that Jackson headed wide. But as on Saturday we were also uncertain at the back early on, with Hamer failing to deal with a couple of balls into the box and uncertainty in midfield leading to a number of set pieces which with more accuracy Peterborough could have scored from. After the early flurries from both teams, the game deteriorated as we struggled to make anything happen and they failed to turn promising moments into anything tangible. For the neutral, it was not pretty stuff.

I can’t remember incidents of note in the latter stages of the first half, except for Morrison taking a yellow for the team after we were left exposed again (does that mean a suspension for Millwall?). Fuller was having a frustrating time as the ref failed to decide in his favour on a number of challenges, Kermorgant looked understandably rusty, nothing was coming down the flanks, while Frimpong and Jackson were being outpassed and outrun.

The second half seemed to be shaping up much as the first. Early on Kermorgant was nearly played in but couldn’t find the space in the box for the shot, then Pritchard got on the end of a cross only for his effort to hit the outside of the post. This flurry over, Peterborough took control of the game and had the period when they could well have won the game. They passed and moved better than us and especially ran straight through our midfield. They had a corner and we lazily left two against one, which led to a shot which bounced back off the post. A few minutes later we were caught in the same fashion. Hamer pulled off one very good and a few other routine saves. The game was more than slipping away from us as they came to realise it was there for the taking. If they’d scored then, it probably would have been curtains.

Something had to change and Frimpong, who had been far less assured than on Saturday, departed, with Green coming on and Pritchard moving inside. But that change didn’t explain what happened next. Fuller’s frustration seemed to be steadily mounting (and the crowd weren’t far behind, taking it out on a ref who was booed off at the break having done nothing wrong that I saw), so he decided to score. There was really nothing much on, but from a distance out he simply hit a beauty of a shot into the roof of the net, giving their keeper no chance. There’s a part in a Flashman novel where he describes fluking a hat-trick in a cricket match and then feigning injury to make sure nothing could detract from the glory. I don’t say that Fuller’s shot was a fluke (it wasn’t, it was superb), or that the knock he took in taking it was feigning injury (it wasn’t), but it was like showing what you can do and then retiring to the applause. He went off to be replaced by Hulse.

Peterborough must have been exasperated, but instead of responding positively their heads dropped. They may complain about the outcome of the game, but would be better of looking at why. We didn’t really play any better, but rounded things off with a goal that – as on Saturday – showed how simple it can be when you do things well. The ball was worked out to Green, he took it on and sent in a delightful cross. Both Hulse and Kermorgant closed in on it and for an instant it looked as though the former would divert it wide of the latter and we’d blown it. Instead it held up and Yan was able to slide the ball in.

That just left time for Kermorgant to take his own round of applause, with Jonsson coming on for the final few minutes, and for Peterborough to stew in their own juices until the ref put them out of their misery. I thought before Saturday that four points from the two home games would be a satisfactory return; just how we fashioned that combination from a game we should have won and one we could well have lost is just another footnote in a season.

Player Ratings:

Hamer – 6/10. One good save, but the early problems with balls into the box can’t be overlooked, especially after seeing the highlights from Saturday.

Solly – 8/10. No complaints at all, good game and no adverse reaction to the penalty on Saturday.

Seaborne – 7/10. First time I’ve seen him, decent enough game in defence but not a lot worked down the left side for us going forward after one or two moments in the first half.

Morrison – 8/10. I thought he was excellent in holding together a defence that was put under a lot of pressure by the failings of those in front of them.

Cort – 7/10. One bad error in the first half, but otherwise fine in clearing and blocking what came his way.

Pritchard – 6/10. Some moments wide right but not enough, almost scored with a good header, then switched inside to reasonable effect.

Jackson – 5/10. They went through our midfield far too easily and when we were in possession the passing and movement were inadequate. Hope it’s more a case of unfamiliar partners.

Frimpong – 6/10. No coordination with those around him and seemed less influential than on Saturday. Perhaps tonight’s problems were more about combinations than individuals.

Kerkar – 4/10. I’ve been a fan of his to date and think there’s a good deal more to come. But to say he was anonymous in the second half is something of an understatement. Truly disappointing game.

Fuller – 7/10. Would have been much less as tonight it wasn’t working for him as the ref just didn’t buy the complaining. But what can you say about that shot? In one flash it turned a game that was more than going against us.

Kermorgant – 8/10. In rational terms, the mark is generous as he and Fuller showed no signs of a partnership made in heaven, he struggled to get into the game especially in the first half, and looked rusty. But as the game progressed the intelligence of his work (the way he looks around him before challenging for a ball to see what sort of contribution is best) came through, and he scored. If the programme is correct and his family were there to watch him, he has to get the man of the match. We can be rational next time.

Subs – Green (7/10: as on Saturday showed others again how to cross the ball; and this time it was converted); Hulse (7/10 – very unlucky to be dropped/rested after scoring and the effort when he came on was to be applauded); Jonsson (ah come on, he was only on the pitch for a couple of minutes).

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