Saturday, 24 October 2020

A Struggle For Sure, But Three More Points

 I think we (supporters) went into this game with slightly different expectations from the previous two. For Wigan and Blackpool we were hoping to see signs of promise from the new signings, encouragement for the future, not much more. This time around, after consecutive wins and three clean sheets, thoughts were turning more to another three points from a team that had made an ordinary start to the season and continuing the move up the table. In the event we got the points but from a game where the conditions – howling wind and sometimes driving rain plus a poor pitch - and the opposition made it a struggle from the first kick to the last.

It would be wrong to say the starting X1 contained real surprises, given that nothing is yet decided as regards combinations in key areas; but I doubt that many would have won the prize for predicting it. The defence did pretty much pick itself (barring further injuries), with Pearce and Oshilaja still unavailable and Purrington presumably very much in the naughty corner (and suspended). In front of Amos were Gunter, Inniss, Famewo and Maatsen (who had come in against Blackpool to such good effect), with no defender on the bench save ersatz centre-back Pratley. Up front, with apparently Aneke not fully fit, Bogle and Smyth got the nod with Washington on the bench. The real surprises came in midfield, with neither Watson nor Pratley starting. Instead it was Forster-Caskey and Levitt, accompanied by Doughty and Williams, with Shinnie, Morgan and Maddison the potential replacements.

It looked like a 4-4-2, if Williams and Doughty occupied the wide midfield positions, or a 4-3-3 if either of those two were to take a more advanced position (which did seem to be the case with Doughty and Smyth starting off either side of Bogle). The absence of a defensive blocking midfielder (ie Watson or Pratley) did seem a risk, even though the defence had looked solid in the previous two games. And so it proved as in the first half we were really pretty poor. Northampton set out their stall with a long-ball game, complemented by long throws around the box. Simple but in the conditions reasonably effective. By contrast Forster-Caskey and Levitt didn’t seem to know how best to play together, their early long balls generally failed to pick out a target, and Doughty, Williams and Smyth barely got a look-in.

We started poorly, had a spell of around five minutes midway through the half when it seemed like we might get getting to grips, then lapsed back to poor. We were grateful to get to the break still on level terms. The BBC game stats at the break said we had two shots, one on target, but I’m blowed if I can remember them. Instead we were, not for the first time recently, indebted to Amos, who contributed another outstanding save. A free kick from their right was curled in low and connected by their guy, only for Amos to leap to his right to turn it away (and then be required to kick the ball clear while on his back). Otherwise the only point of note was that the defence again acquitted itself well while Northampton might have had a claim for a penalty as their guy seemed to go over a Bogle leg when turning (it would have been very soft but you never know).

At the break the competition was to try to recall a worse 45 minutes of football, with some thought as to how Bowyer might change things. And Levitt was withdrawn for Pratley. Perhaps harsh on him but clearly not a game to suit his skills and one when we really needed someone much better equipped to scrap – ie Pratley. He did make the difference, so too it seemed did kicking into the wind. 

It was still poor stuff for sure, but after 54 minutes we had a corner on the left. It was played in to the far post, Innis nodded it back into the mix, Bogle seemed to control it but with his back to the goal, and Pratley took matters in hand by smashing it into the roof of the net. The first goal in a game like this was always going to be crucial; and we only had to wait a few minutes more for a second. Amos gathered the ball and saw Doughty available. Storming run down the right to the byline and the ball squared, not to a Charlton player but to a hapless defender running back who succeeded in burying it with aplomb.

Still 30 minutes plus of the game to go and much work to be done, horrible work, just intercepting, hacking clear, chasing lost causes. But we did this ugly stuff well and Northampton, despite having a number of corners and long throws, never seriously threatened (there was one shot after a half-clearance into the side netting). Again, credit to the defence for that, as well as those in front of them, with Pratley to the fore but also Forster-Caskey much more effective alongside him. Doughty was replaced (by Shinnie) after a run down the right ended with him fouled and hobbling off, hopefully nothing serious, while later Williams was withdrawn (Washington). The final stages were just about not letting Northampton back into the game and that was achieved.

At the end the commentators acknowledged that Bowyer might have got the line-up wrong and that was my impression too. Sometimes Plan A doesn’t work, it was changed. And although nobody will remember the game for the football, we can take heart from the effort and commitment put in. Happily it suggests that the dressing room is united and that is another plus.

Player Ratings

Amos – 8/10. Could be a 10 in that he didn’t put a foot wrong, made the outstanding save to prevent us going behind, saw the potential for a delivery to Doughty which led to our second goal.

Gunter – 8/10. Another real shift put in, again signs that he will be able to combine well with Doughty going forward.

Innis – 9/10. Give him man of the match. Lost count of the clearances and interceptions. Nothing pretty (including the kicks into touch) but this was not a day for finesse.

Famewo – 8/10. Another excellent display. Northampton were able to create few chances despite the difficulty in judging balls into the box.

Maatsen – 8/10. I doubt that he has played in many games like this one. Adapted to the conditions and contributed to the clean sheet.

Forster-Caskey – 7/10. Poor first half but much better after the break alongside Pratley.

Levitt – 6/10. Not a game to judge him on. Harsh on him that he was taken off at the break (it could have been Forster-Caskey) but the personnel change to bring on either Pratley or Watson was needed.

Williams – 6/10. Much the same as for Levitt really. Barely had a look-in in the first half, more involved in the second but hard to have a real impact given the conditions.

Smyth – 7/10. Worked hard but not a day when his pace could be effectively used.

Bogle – 6/10. No shortage of effort, still looks rusty but we can give him time.

Doughty – 8/10. Our most effective outlet going forward, instrumental in the second goal. Hopefully the injury isn’t serious.

Subs – Pratley (8/10; he might have been the only player on the pitch loving it, scrapped like a good-un and scored the first goal); Shinnie (7/10; not easy to influence the game as we were 2-0 up before he came on and it was all about seeing out the game); Washington (7/10; not on long enough for a proper mark).

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