Saturday 30 March 2013

From Awful To Sublime Victory

From the ridiculous to the sublime doesn’t seem enough. It was really a case of from the totally bloody awful to blessed victory via some rare luck at home - but also some character that sometimes creates that luck. Given the implications of a defeat, it seemed like the season in a game. And we emerged with three points. Sometimes you don’t ask about the whys and wherefores, just bask in it. We have been a bit dry at The Valley and for once the breaks went our way at home. But we also displayed the character you need to make your own luck as a dire start to the game was progressively turned around, pivoting on the goal that got us back into the contest.

The team was surprising. Hamer returned in goal, which was fair enough after Button had failed to really take his chance, but with Cort still unavailable it seemed that Taylor succumbed to something late on as Dervite partnered Morrison in central defence. And Hughes came in to partner Jackson in central midfield, with Pritchard moving wide right and loanee Gower on the bench. Haynes lost his place up front, with Fuller partnering Kermorgant. It meant beginning a game with new pairings in central defence and midfield, with two players with little match-time between them – and whatever the reasons we began the game like a bunch of strangers.

In truth, it was the worst first five minutes we could have envisaged. Instead of coming out of the traps all guns blazing, we meekly rolled over. Bolton carved out three more than decent chances, with one blazed over, one not taken, but the third resulting in a goal. Dervite for some reason decided to give their guy a few yards space and a fairly simple ball played in saw him turn and shoot unchallenged, giving Hamer no chance. In these minutes we barely touched the ball and were left watching a team that looked stronger, faster, more confident, and more technically adept. It wasn’t so much boys against men as an awful mismatch. With the crowd also subdued, to say that we feared the worst is an understatement. Having missed out on the euromillions lottery, I felt tempted to get back out to the betting booth to see what might be salvaged from the afternoon.

As the game seemed to settle a little, we went two down. No pressure on the ball in midfield but no obvious danger as their guy pulled the trigger. From the East Stand it looked like a poor one for Hamer to let in, although fellow Addicks in the North Stand were more sympathetic. Fact was, a not especially sharp shot from some way out found its way into the net.

So, after 20 minutes we’d created nothing, looked lethargic and disjointed, and had conceded two goals against a side looking more than capable of more. At this point putting money on Bolton to win seemed a waste of time as the odds would not have been attractive. But what do I know? I don’t know whether Bolton relaxed, but for us it was about getting some sort of toe-hold in the game. And crucially we did get back into it before it went away from us completely. For that, the credit goes primarily to Jackson. He played a couple of one-twos around the edge of the box and then finished with aplomb. It was a moment than you couldn’t have predicted, but hauled us back into a contest that seemed to be beyond us, especially as it suggested a fragility in their defence if pressure could be applied.

At least we were back in it. The remainder of the half saw some good flashes from Harriott, one moment from Fuller, but most tellingly less threat from them as the defence pulled itself together and we were at least competing in midfield. The other side of the coin was nothing happening up front, with Kermorgant subdued and Fuller seemingly playing in flashes. What seemed insignificant at the time was that Ricketts picked up a rather harsh yellow card for them. The break came with us at least in the game but still behind and up against a decent team with dangerous forwards,

It still looked like a tough ask, largely as you’d have put money on Bolton scoring again. But this time the breaks did go our way; and Fuller was instrumental in making them happen. He made the most of being pulled down with his back to goal and the ref pulled out a second yellow for Ricketts (I think). The second yellow was fair enough, but if I was a Bolton fan I’d feel a bit aggrieved at being down to 10. Who cares? The free kick was in a very similar position to the one against Millwall. That time Kermorgant missed by inches. This time his effort was closer, coming back off the post. Merde, but the ball broke to Dervite and he put it into the net.

Suddenly we were level, against 10 men, with the game there to be won. Bolton were, to say the least, rattled, and Fuller made it count. He cut into the box and was flattened. The only surprise was that Kermorgant grabbed the ball instead of Jackson, but glory be the outcome was positive as Yann hit it firmly into the bottom corner. An hour gone and now we were winning, against 10 men.

Now, control the game, see it out, preferably score another to put it to bed. None of those things really happened, but while there were a few iffy moments we did manage to prevent any clear chances for Bolton in the remainder of the game, especially as Knight seemed reluctant to go forward for set pieces. Gower came on for Hughes, who had acquitted himself well after a rusty start, and then it was Wilson and Haynes for Harriott and Fuller. With the maximum substitutions and a break for a change of officials, the sign showing seven minutes of stoppage time was not exactly welcome. But all that the extra time brought was another red for them, as one of their subs managed to pick up another yellow. The final whistle followed and we’d won a game that few would have predicted after 20 minutes.

What to make of it? Was it just character that pulled us around? The contribution of Jackson at the low point of the game was crucial, while Fuller, after an indifferent first half, made vital contributions to our equaliser and winner. I just can’t get away from those small margins again. Against Millwall the free kick missed by inches; today it came back off the post and ended up in an equaliser. I can’t make sense of it but am very happy. Suzanne agreed before the game that if we won I could drink the St Joseph. So let’s bask in the pleasure, look at the statistics that suggest we are as likely to win at home if we go 0-2 down as not, and breathe a little easier when looking at the table. And just enjoy the wine.

Player Ratings:

Hamer – 6/10. Have to see it again, but from where I sat it looked a bad mistake for their second. You just can’t get beaten at your near post from there. But was assured after that.

Solly – 7/10. Generally sound and one wonderful moment in the second half when he won a ball going forward he had no right to, only to be hauled back.

Wiggins – 7/10. Still seems to be finding his way back when it comes to getting forward, but effective in defence.

Morrison – 7/10. Take away the first 20 minutes and it would have been a much better score, but Ngog was a real handful.

Dervite – 6/10. I’d blame him for their first as seemed well off the pace and gave their guy all the time he needed. But like others improved after the start and was in a good spot for the equaliser.

Harriott – 7/10. Caused them problems, just didn’t seem to always make the right choices when it came to taking them on or laying it off, while the shooting was a bit wayward.

Jackson – 9/10. His goal, which he made out of nothing, hauled us back into a game that was almost lost before it had begun. A captain’s performance.

Hughes – 7/10. It was a big ask for him to start and the rustiness did show. But he stuck at it and as we improved so did he.

Pritchard – 7/10. Influential and hard-working but not decisive as his work and choices in the final third didn’t come off.

Kermorgant – 7/10. Strangely subdued in the first half when nothing was working up front, but took two set pieces that produced goals and almost scored at the far post with a splendid header.

Fuller – 8/10. The first-half mark would have been much lower, but he was there when it mattered and fashioned their first sending off and then won the penalty.

Sunday 24 March 2013

Let The Final Mini-Season Begin

Well, at least now it’s closer to the next game than the last one, so after a week of moping we can start to look forward. Unfortunately of course it is a home game, so if the past is any guide we may have to wait for the following Tuesday’s game to break the 50 points barrier. Eight games left, four home, four away. Unfortunately the ‘certainty bar’ didn’t budge last weekend. All that did change was that we have one game less to reach the 67 points that makes everything else completely irrelevant. Six wins and two draws are all that’s required, but that would mean a better win ratio for home games than we’ve achieved to date.

More realistically, I don’t mind crimping from the site that New York Addick alerted me to regarding probabilities of avoiding relegation (we’ll leave aside for now whether eight straight wins would get us a play-off spot). It suggests that 50 points will very likely not be enough (a relegation probability of around 90%), 51 probably won’t suffice (70.2-74.5% chance of relegation depending on the combination of results), while with 52 at least the odds are in your favour (40.9-46.3% chance of relegation). The chances of getting relegated with 53 drop significantly but at 15.0-22.5% don’t afford much comfort, especially as our last two home games are against teams in the bottom three (Wolves and Bristol City). The real comfort lies in 54 points (only a 2.9-5.7% chance of getting relegated), while 55 and you’re below a 1% chance of going down.

Bottom line would seem to be that, barring an unlikely (but not unacceptable) eight successive draws we probably need to win at least two of the games left and pick up a couple of draws to feel secure. I’m not inclined to suggest which games might produce them, it’s got to be about taking one at a time. After all, just about every game left is against a team either fighting for survival (Barnsley, Wolves, Bristol City), scrapping for a play-off spot (Bolton, Brighton, Leeds, Middlesbrough), or looking to cement automatic promotion (Cardiff). If there’s one priority, it’s clearly not losing against any of the three currently below us. I feel the long-overdue season’s daft away trip for me beckoning (Barnsley).

We’re clearly not safe and are involved in the relegation mix (albeit we’d not be among anyone’s current picks to go down). It has reached the stage now where I’ll be looking as much at others’ results as our own, as over Easter we’re rooting for the teams around the top (with one obvious exception). Peterborough host Cardiff and then travel to Middlesbrough; Wolves are at home to Middlesbrough before travelling to Birmingham, while Bristol City travel to Derby then host Sheff Wed. Add in a six-pointer local scrap between Sheff Wed and Barnsley on Saturday and clearly all could be a good deal clearer after the holiday break (well, by definition as it period contains 25% of the remainder of the season it has to be).

Which brings us to Saturday and Bolton. My only suggestion regarding our home record is just forget it, put it out of people’s minds. It’s irrelevant. We’ve endlessly mulled over possible reasons for the differences between our home and away form (or at least results) and I’m not sure that there’s anything to be gained, or learnt, from it all now. All that has gone before is far less important than the eight games left; treat it like a mini-season with no baggage.

That said, we do have one possible advantage for Saturday. Bolton will no doubt be aware that to grab a play-off spot they have to virtually win all their remaining games. They must see travelling to our patch as one that they have to take three points from. That clearly doesn’t mean they are going to adopt a gung-ho approach, but it does suggest that there would be nothing wrong in us treating it like an away game. If that means 4-5-1 (or some version of), being patient, so be it. The priority is to get something from the game, with a win a (very welcome) bonus. I’m not saying I think we should adopt that approach (Sir Chris and his team have today forgotten more about football than I will ever know and need no prompting), but it has to be a possibility.

There will be an extra bum on a seat on Saturday as my French partner Suzanne will be in attendance. She would of course prefer a goal-fest, but as her record for the season to date isn’t impressive (seen two, lost two) she will learn to embrace the beauty of victory of any kind, even just a point. A fellow Addick brought a work colleague to the Millwall game and he offered some pre-match reassurance in that he was getting around to all the London venues and hadn’t seen a home team lose. He has now.

On matters French, I’m sorry to report that the promotion push by my adopted team Lyon Duchere has stuttered of late. They did manage a decent 1-1- draw away at promotion rivals Moulins last time out, but with this preceded by a 0-1 home defeat to midtable Yzeure it amounts to three draws and two losses in the last five games. They have slipped to fourth in the table (with only one promotion spot available), pretty much on a par with Strasbourg and Moulins and still in touch with league-leaders Grenoble (3 points behind with a game in hand). But that still leaves Mulhouse, who are two points behind Grenoble with three games in hand (which in this league means they would go top even if they lost all three) and are one point above Duchere having played two games less. With 10 games left for Duchere and 12 for Mulhouse, it looks like the top spot is there for the taking for the latter. But who knows? Mulhouse have also lost two of their last five, as have Grenoble. Stranger things have happened, just ask Leicester and Cardiff.

Saturday 16 March 2013

Small Margins, Again

No amount of reasoned assessment can compensate for the facts; once again we’ve lost a home game that on the balance of play we should not have done. The fact that it’s against Millwall is irrelevant; they’re going nowhere and, as with Palace, we’ll have the opportunity to turn them over next season (in that sense it is improvement compared with a season ago). Of course it doesn’t feel like that now. There were no problems with attitude, or effort, but we didn’t make it count when we had the upper hand and ended up conceding bad goals and finding no way back. If we’d scored first, we most probably would have won, but instead it proved to be another game which turned on incidents at either end in a minute. Both went against us and we lost. I really wouldn’t mind, but it’s not exactly the first time this season, at home.

The team was adventurous, even ambitious. While there were no issues in defence, with Cort still absent, Sir Chris opted for Jackson and Pritchard in central midfield, Harriott and Wilson in the wide berths, and Haynes and the returning Kermorgant up front. It was a line-up that seemed to take chances in central midfield but relied on Haynes getting in behind them, from Kermorgant’s flicks. In the event central midfield more than held their own, with Jackson outstanding and Pritchard winning more than a fair share of tackles, The tactic of getting Haynes in behind them so nearly worked, but ended up falling foul of Shittu’s ability to prevent Haynes from getting past him, by his playing right on the edge of the rules.

The opening 10-15 minutes were not surprisingly scrappy as both teams tested each other out on a still difficult pitch (once again, down the side nearest the East Stand it was a problem to move the ball, with surface water visible). Keeping possession wasn’t easy, but as the game settle down we did begin to create half-chances. A Pritchard shot wasn’t gathered by their keeper, but he recovered in time to smother the follow-up; Harriott had a fiercer effort parried, while Haynes was to set the scene for the rest of the game by almost making the most of balls that Kermorgant had no right to win. N’Guessan did blaze one over for them, but through the first period we steadily asserted ourselves, based on the work by Jackson and Pritchard, while Taylor and Morrison were keeping their forwards under wraps.

Towards the end of the first half you had the feeling that we were in the ascendency, but in a game in which it was evident that the first goal would probably be crucial we hadn’t made that count, And the warning came in stoppage time as a ball broke in our box and their guy hit it narrowly wide. It was probably the best chance of the half and despite our relative dominance it went to them.

The second half started off much as the first and for a while we looked as though that elusive first goal would come. It was all based around Haynes and Shittu. Two, three, possibly four times Haynes seemed to be in as you would have backed his pace to beat the defender. But each time Shittu managed to move him wider than he wanted to be and to prevent him from getting in a strike on goal. At times it bordered on the illegal, with full use made of his ample frame to restrict the pace. But each time the referee deemed what was done to be fair enough. And a free kick for us just outside the box saw Kermorgant curl one over the wall but fractionally wide of the post, with their keeper stranded.

The decisions of the officials were to play a role in what proved to be the decisive moments not long after. Easter came off the bench for them and straight away a ball went into their box. Kermorgant challenged for it despite a defender having his arms around his neck and after neither made contact Wilson sliding in at the far post failed to convert the opportunity. Both the ref and the linesman deemed that nothing unfair had happened; both could have decided otherwise. After a break for treatment for their keeper who’d collided with the post, the ball was squared from their left and nobody went close enough with Easter, who slotted it in from close range.

To be behind was harsh enough, but only a few minutes later Pritchard was guilty of a clumsy challenge. The free kick was some way out and, although their guy shaped up to shoot, there wasn’t a sense of imminent danger. He ended up curling it into the top corner. It wasn’t hit that hard, and Button had a long time to see where it was going, but he wasn’t able to keep it out. I’d have to see it again to see if it was a wonder strike, but for now it looked like a mix of that and an error by Button.

From being on top on points we were 0-2 down and more than chasing the game. Wagstaff and Fuller came on, for Wilson and Haynes (presumably the thinking was that Millwall would sit deeper and there wouldn’t be the space behind them to exploit). But in truth the game was up. Fuller seemed to be manhandled in the box, but again nothing was given, while a decent ball into the box from Wagstaff looked to be dropping perfectly for Kermorgant only for Fuller to get an ineffective touch on it. However, as seeing out a 2-0 lead goes it was pretty comfortable for Millwall, with Shittu maintaining the dominance he’d shown through the rest of the game. We didn’t get back into it and all that remained was for their lot to enjoy the closing minutes.

There was a fair bit to admire about our performance. Kermorgant played the main striker role effectively, Jackson was immense, especially in the first half, while Taylor and Morrison, supported by Solly and Wiggins, were seldom troubled. Where we failed was making it count in and around their box, where Haynes threatened so much but didn’t deliver, while too often going forward we failed to make the right choices, or make the opportunity count. Most neutrals would give man of the match to Shittu; most of us would question why so many challenges by him and others were deemed fair, If the ref gives us a penalty just before they scored, the game turns out differently. It’s a league of fine margins – and at home just about all of them have not gone our way.

So we have to eat it. Two defeats against Palace and Millwall turning us over on our patch. It will all seem better in the morning, when their electronic tags spark into life and we contemplate that this season is really about staying up. If that’s achieved, nothing else matters. We can sort them sort them out and re-establish a proper order of things next season.

Player Ratings:

Button – 5/10. Had very few shots to save but I do think he should have kept out their second as he had a long time to see it coming. Also, he wobbled after that with a flap or two at a cross. All a bit reminiscent of the performance by Hamer that saw him rested.

Solly – 6/10. For the most part more than fine. He saw off the threat down his side in the first half in some style, but their opening goal came down his flank.

Wiggins – 6/10. Sound performance, but not a great deal coming forward.

Morrison – 7/10. The defence restricted Millwall to just a few chances and to concede two was tough. Just who should have been picking up Easter for their first is the open question.

Taylor – 7/10. As with Morrison, for the most part was in control of their forwards but they scored.

Harriott – 6/10. Was a threat in the first half especially, but when the pressure was on to get back into the game after going behind became more peripheral.

Jackson – 8/10. Immense in the first half in particular and was central to us gaining the upper hand.

Pritchard – 7/10. I still don’t know. Did more than his fair share of work and won many tackles. The problem was when approaching the final third as there he didn’t make the most of his opportunities, whether shooting or passing.

Wilson – 6/10. Put in a shift but perhaps should have got on the end of that cross to score.

Kermorgant – 8/10. Once more played his heart out, took the battering that comes his way, and was involved in creating the openings that should have won us the game.

Haynes – 6/10. He should have been the match-winner but today in the first half nothing seemed to stick and in the second the better opportunities he had fell foul of Shittu.

Subs – Fuller (5/10 – the game might have been up by the time he came on, perhaps he should have got a penalty, but he blazed over from a good position and was otherwise ineffective); Wagstaff (7-10 – did deliver a cross or two and made the usual nuisance of himself).

Thursday 14 March 2013

Spare A Thought

It feels like a day for feeling sorry for some people. Pity the poor Wigan fans, whose Wembley semi-final now becomes a test of endurance (may it be followed soon after by a more joyous final for them). Pity the nation if contractual obligations mean that contest has to be shown on the box. I even feel a twinge of sympathy (in between the laughs) at the sight of disappointed cardinals coming to terms with the fact that, barring fresh bouts of ‘food poisoning’, they will now never get the top job (seems a bit like two managers getting their teams promoted to the Premiership and getting the boot). They are even obliged to appear happy about it. Sometimes life’s a bitch.

Most of all, let’s spare a thought for Andy Hughes (and Danny Hollands, who I hope’s making progress with his injury). No sooner has he capped a long battle back from injury by getting back in the frame and making the bench for the Burnley than he sees us signing up an alternative midfield veteran. I hope Mark Gower proves to be a blinding loan signing; the need to improve quality in midfield has been paramount and if he brings decent skills in winning it, holding it and finding a red shirt with the ball it can only be for the good. Perhaps we will start to look (relatively) comfortable in possession in midfield. Most thoughts here will probably turn to Claus Jensen and Scott Parker, but before them there was Dick Tydeman and the one I remember with most affection, Graham Moore. Mrs Moore had no pace, precious little mobility, but he could have taught Jan Molby a thing or two about just never being knocked off the ball and ensuring that he could play the game at a tempo of his choosing. Had a decent shot too.

Clearly Gower’s arrival and the availability again of Kermorgant pose selection issues for Saturday’s encounter. Back up to four available strikers, three outright central midfielders (five if you include Dervitte and Hughes), plus four possible wide men (five if you include the option of Haynes starting wider). There’s too many combinations (of formations and personnel) there for me to suggest a possible line-up. I hope Yann’s chomping at the bit to get back in (and I’ve just watched Adebayor for Spurs take a swing in the direction of a ball but get nowhere near it and connect with the defender ; he was given a yellow card, as I still feel Kermorgant might have been given if the Notts Forest players hadn’t made a meal out of it) and still have an inkling to see him and Haynes in tandem, but whoever Sir Chris puts out will be fine by me.

I have been messing around with some of the player appearance statistics this season and last to try to throw up something meaningful, in the context of the problems we’ve had with midfield in this campaign. After 36 games last season we had eight players who started in over 30 of them (including three ever-presents). The back five basically picked itself, with Hamer, Solly, Wiggins, Morrison and Taylor missing only a handful between them (before Cort came in in the final games). Jackson and Hollands also managed 30 or more; with Jackson usually wide-left the main issue was who would partner Hollands in our 4-4-2; Stephens was the usual choice (26 out of 36) but Hughes and Russell also featured. This time around we still have five players with 30+ appearances, again focused on the defence (Hamer, Solly, Morrison). Midfield has been more evenly spread, but Jackson is over 30 games and Stephens and Pritchard (both on 26) not far behind. The loss of form and effective absence of Hollands since the early games does stand out as the main difference, but I suspect that really it’s been more about the need for greater flexibility (in formation and personnel) playing at a higher level, plus considerable good fortune last season with injuries and suspensions (ie lack of) that is behind our failure to date to find a consistent, effective combination in midfield this time around.

So finally let’s spare also a thought for the home-based bloggers. Not being privy to much in the way of information on possible ins and outs, since Burnley what has there been to say? Only from me statement of the bleedin’ obvious in that four points from the two away games came as a welcome relief. At half-time against Peterborough sitting in a hotel room in Amsterdam the league table looked pretty horrible. It’s hardly surprising that those of us that don’t make many away games (to my shame I don’t think I’ve managed one so far this season) have a slightly pessimistic view on things. But glorious victory on Saturday will go some way to erasing what memories remain of the eight home defeats I have witnessed.

I always like to keep things simple, so perhaps it’s time to begin the countdown. With nine games left the maximum number of points that the third-bottom team (Peterborough) can secure is 66. That means 67 guarantees safety, or for us 20 points from nine games. Of course the required total is going to be a good deal lower, but I’ve had enough of uncertainty through this season and crave guarantees. So I’m just going to enjoy watching the gap from sure survival progressively narrow with each passing round of games. With luck, in just a couple of days it will be down to 14 from eight.

Saturday 2 March 2013

Three Formations, No Goal

Once again, not exactly what we had in mind, Three formations during the game – 4-3-3, then 4-4-2, then 1-1-8 - and not one produced a goal; in fact their keeper was called on to make only one good save (and a routine one). The stats show we had 58% possession, 14 attempts on goal to their six, and 11 corners to four for them. But they are meaningless as one of their six attempts was a bullet of a shot from outside the box. The credit on the day goes to Burnley for defending well, but we didn’t test them enough as the game plan(s) failed to work. On another day, had we scored first in a fairly open first half, things would have been different; and with the play in the final 10 or 15 minutes being all about us lofting the ball into the box and hoping something would fall we could have salvaged a point. But we didn’t play well enough to say we were unlucky.

The team saw Button replace Hamer in goal and with Solly absent for some reason Wilson taking his place. The surprise was that being stripped of Kermorgant for three games, leaving us with three strikers, all of them were thrown in at the start, with Haynes and Obika playing either side of Fuller. Jackson and Pritchard were in central midfield, with Dervitte in to protect the defence, with Stephens and Wagstaff omitted. It was a formation which seemed to rely on Haynes and Obika getting behind their defence, either from Fuller flicks or from telling passes. In the event, neither happened, at least not in any meaningful fashion.

The first half was open, if low on quality. When the ball was in their half we did look threatening; at the same time they had a surprising amount of space in our final third. They were passing the ball better than us, but our tactics didn’t rely on controlling midfield, rather on the strikers to turn scraps into something productive. Even then it was shaping up to be a game in which the first goal would prove crucial. Both teams fashioned half-chances - Haynes had a header which forced a reaction stop by the keeper, Pritchard found himself a number of times in good positions but failed to make them count, while they were guilty of not making the most of the space afforded them. I don’t remember Button being called on as half-time approached.

Indeed, I made a mental note that the first half was all about two teams looking low on confidence and not taking the opportunities that sporadically came along. And then it all turned on two moments. One of their defenders two-poked an interception back and their keeper, under no pressure, opted to pick it up. I wouldn’t say it was a definitive back pass, but had to be a close call. The ref wasn’t moved and when the ball was played forward Austin was allowed too much space to turn. It didn’t seem that serious, but he then hit one which we were right in line with. It was truly one of those that you know is a goal as soon as it left his boot. Button – and no other goalkeeper on the planet – had no chance.

That changed the shape of the rest of the game as Burnley had something to hold on to and could concentrate on defence. Again, to be fair they did it well. Their big centre-back won just about everything in the air against Fuller and neither Haynes nor Obika were able to find the space necessary to make their pace count, both generally being outmuscled and well covered. None of them were helped by the quality of balls played in their direction, which too often amounted to ‘hoof it towards Fuller and hope something breaks’, while the necessary narrowness of the formation meant little opportunity for Wiggins or Wilson to get forward (Wiggins did try but often found himself isolated). However, not long into the second half we did fashion what was to prove out best chance of the game, from our best move. The ball for once was moved quickly out wide and a good ball in was met by Fuller, only for his header to narrowly clear the bar.

Corners were coming and going, but the time had come for a change and, with no extra/replacement forward available, it had to be about formation. Dervitte and Obika went off, with Green and Harriott coming on, to give us two genuine wide men and a basic front two. Only problem was we continued to play as if nothing had happened and carried on hitting long balls centrally. They were eaten up by Burnley’s defenders.

With them pretty content with their lot and not surprisingly taking every available opportunity to waste time, with the occasional cynical foul when anything threatened, we did nevertheless progressively pin them back. But none of the set pieces came to anything. As the clock ticked down Cort spent most of his time up front and it was increasingly a cavalry charge, with Burnley content to defend their area. Every ball in five minutes of stoppage time was lofted forward and every time they headed it clear. But we haven’t scored in stoppage time this season, so why should today be any different?

The game ended with the players trudging off disconsolately. Again, if we’d scored first we probably would have been able to get the space for Haynes and Obika to thrive. We didn’t and now have one win and a draw, just four points, from seven games. If not in an outright relegation scrap, we are vulnerable, given that the teams at the bottom don’t look like giving up. We do have the luxury of two away games coming up, but the next one against Peterborough now takes on a worrying form. You’d have to back Sir Chris reverting to 4-5-1 for the next two. Whatever the choice, of formation and personnel, it is a time to dig deep as today we had the look that I thought Peterborough had when they came to our place – too used to losing. It’s a bad habit and we need to shake it off quickly.

Player Ratings:

Button – 7/10. No chance with the goal; did flap at one low cross in the second half which could have resulted in a second for them, but otherwise looked sound and didn’t have a lot to do. He’s waited for his chance, now Hamer has to regroup and wait for his to come again.

Wilson – 6/10. Nothing to complain about, other than that the forays forward didn’t seem to have the energy and bite we’ve seen before.

Wiggins – 6/10. Much the same as Wilson; his efforts to get forward, especially in the first half, tended to fall foul of the fact that nobody was anywhere near him.

Morrison – 6/10. Some uncertainty in a few balls that came his way in the second half, and distribution wasn’t great; but the primary role of a centre-half is destructive and in that context it was OK.

Cort – 6/10. Same as Morrison really, they can’t carry the can for the goal and I’m not going to criticise him for not playing like a centre-forward when pushed forward.

Dervitte – 6/10. Nothing really wrong, although they did find a lot of space going forward in the first half and it’s his job to make sure the defence is protected. Sacrificed in a tactical change in the second half.

Jackson – 6/10. It wasn’t a game in which we were going to dominate midfield, or have the space for him to get forward. Nothing really influential but nothing bad.

Pritchard – 6/10. I really don’t know whether to give him a better or worse mark. He did get into positions in the first half which should have produced more but didn’t because his choice of ball was poor; but he did get in the positions.

Obika – 5/10. Harsh perhaps for a first outing, one in which most of the time was spent trying to deal with poor balls in the direction of the front three. But didn’t get beyond his defender.

Fuller – 5/10. It’s not really his game to play the target man for balls in the air against a big centre-half. But he was asked to do it and really didn’t do it well.

Haynes – 5/10. Started brightly, decent header, and the first-half mark would have been much higher. But he really faded as the game progressed and deteriorated into hit-and-hope.

Subs – Green (6/10 – came on to deliver crosses – and long throws – and did get plenty in, but nothing counted); Harriott (6/10 – bright start but was starved of the ball as Burnley responded to us bringing on two wingers by playing deeper).