On the face of it we went into this one as underdogs, at least on the form guide. No win in five for us, another centre-half down to add to a lengthy list of the injured and unavailable, and with it unclear as yet whether scoring four against Rochdale was a sign of what’s to come, as the two new players bed in. Up against a side that had won three of their last four. What we enjoyed was a direct contrast with Tuesday as today both teams were unable to hit the proverbial barn door and a match we should have won reasonably comfortably ended up being decided by a fluke (read defensive howler, this time not from us). No matter, we took the positives from Rochdale and can do the same again today, even enjoying the funnier side, which today included a cameo from our new Dane which he will want to forget.
The side showed three changes from Rochdale, one enforced. According to Lee Bowyer the defence picked itself (which I’m not sure Purrington would agree with), with in front of Amos Gunter and Oshilaja the central pairing flanked by Mathews and Maatsen. Forster-Caskey seemed to be joined in central midfield by Morgan, in for Gilbey, with Williams and Millar in the wider positions, and up front Washington starting (as Smyth dropped to the bench) alongside Aneke, who having lasted the full match on Tuesday evening started again, with Schwartz presumably not yet fit enough to start one. It looked like a 4-4-2 but we’ve been fooled before.
The first half was rather a damp squib. We generally dominated, with Forster-Caskey and Morgan controlling their area, Maatsen and Millar looking good down the left, and created decent situations, without producing an effort on target. Aneke, who looked unstoppable against Rochdale and scored a couple, seemed to have morphed into his alter ego Bogle as he fluffed from inside the box a couple of times. Indeed, with Bristol’s forwards equally inept when the goal came into view, we were about 40 minutes into the game before either of the keepers was called into action, with another Bristol long ball taken down into our box but the shot well saved with his leg by Amos. That sparked a retort as at the other end Aneke forced a save from their keeper with a low shot, Williams putting the rebound over the bar.
At the break you felt that we ought to prove too strong for Bristol, too many weapons, but we hadn’t turned territorial advantage into goals. Also, although the defence was holding up, it was worrying that Bristol didn’t have to work hard to create their openings. Generally a long ball into an area was enough, whereas our good moments tended to be the result of much more intricate play. No matter, for a change we were not behind.
No changes made at half-time and the game continued much as before, with us having the upper hand but not making it pay. Before the hour Bristol made a change and apparently switched formation to a back five. Oshilaja picked up a yellow for a rash challenge and not long after the deadlock was broken, in bizarre fashion. Good work by Washington and Aneke resulted in a corner. Forster-Caskey stood over the ball with Millar on hand for a short one. Instead he then ran along the line towards the goal, the ball was clipped in towards him and next thing we knew it had curled into the net, with their guy on the near post and keeper seemingly blaming each other. It was unclear whether or not Millar had got a touch: the BBC credited him with it but the suspicion was that he had made no contact, a view perhaps not surprisingly reinforced after the match by Forster-Caskey.
The goal understandably changed the game as Bristol had to press forward, which did result in them creating opportunities but also left us space to exploit, which we did until it came to the point of putting the ball in the net. With about 20 minutes to go Bowyer made three changes, with Williams, Washington and Aneke giving way for Smyth, Schwartz and Bogle. Three changes of personnel but no change in formation.
Not long after Morgan picked up what proved a significant yellow with a pull back. Then Bogle intercepted and played in Smyth, who lost out due to a poor first touch, a Bogle flick almost found Schwartz, then a glorious chance for us to get some breathing space went begging. Smyth was found again down the right and he delivered a good low cross, which evaded the first guys but then was on a plate for the incoming Schwartz to tap into the net. He’d come on against Rochdale and curled in a screamer, but the fox in the box turned something else as he managed to get his feet in a tangle and instead of scoring tumbled over.
Would we regret that miss? Bogle almost worked his way through and then, with around five minutes left of normal time, as on Tuesday, we found ourselves down to 10 men. Morgan challenged late for a ball being cleared by their guy and his momentum brought a coming together, clumsy by Morgan rather than anything else but few complaints about the yellow card (and red) which followed.
Not surprisingly Bristol redoubled their efforts, while we withdrew Smyth to bring on Gilbey to take over in Morgan’s position. And Schwartz had another contribution to make to ensure the score stayed 1-0 as from a free kick Gunter’s shot appeared to be goal-bound only for the Dane to get in the way – and from an offside position. That meant we were still biting the nails into five minutes of stoppage time as Oshilaja made a crucial block inside the area. There was still time for Schwartz to play in Bogle for a one-on-one with the keeper, who saved, and for Bristol to put a free header in the box over the bar before what was, with hindsight, an entertaining second half was brought to a close.
Three points, the first clean sheet in ages. If we focused on the positives after a 4-4 draw with Rochdale we might as well again this time around and overlook the fact that a team with more quality in front of goal would have converted some of the chances they had, while we had the chances ourselves to have made the game safe well before the end. Still plenty of room for improvement and a tough test to come against Peterborough, with Morgan unavailable but Pratley presumably back, perhaps one or two of the injured list as well. Onwards and let’s make it upwards.
Amos – 7/10. Really had just one outright shot to save, shortly before half-time, and did his job well; otherwise just a matter of dealing with crosses.
Matthews – 6/10. Decent enough. Didn’t feature as an attacking threat but can’t remember any poor moments.
Oshilaja – 7/10. Perhaps deserved an 8 as he made excellent interceptions and blocks, none more so than the one late on which probably prevented a goal. Still picked up a yellow for a rash tackle and feared he might repeat the exercise.
Gunter – 6/10. Filled in well enough. Might have got on the scoresheet too had it not been for his shot getting blocked.
Maatsen – 7/10. Undoubtedly gives us good options going forward, especially as he and Millar look as if they work well together.
Williams – 6/10. Worked hard and was involved in some of our good moments, but not strong in front of goal when half-chances came his way.
Forster-Caskey – 8/10. My man-of-the-match (and he got that vote from Steve Brown and Scott Minto afterwards too). Assured on the ball and competitive off it, seems clear he is benefiting from the run of games in his best position.
Morgan – 6/10. Has to be marked down for the poor decision to make the challenge that resulted in his dismissal. Otherwise he’d had a very good game at both ends of the pitch.
Millar – 7/10. Pretty effective, caused them problems all game, even assuming he doesn’t claim the goal.
Washington – 6/10. Some good moments but still the feeling that we’re not getting enough out of him, plus no real sign that he’s forming an effective partnership with another.
Aneke – 6/10. Still a handful but today started rather poorly and ended up not taking the chances that came his way.
Smyth – 7/10. Started with a poor touch in a good position but then gave us an outlet which might easily have produced another goal.
Schwartz – 5/10. Look, we’re excited he’s here, we loved his introduction against Rochdale, but today he missed a sitter and then got in the way of a shot probably going in.
Bogle – 6/10. Did good work but failed to convert the one-on-one to make the game safe.