Saturday, 20 February 2021

Lucky Point But Another Game Gone

With the setback against Gillingham, today you felt was all about the result, especially as the early pictures from Fleetwood underlined how strong the wind was up there and how difficult it would be to play any pretty stuff. We wanted a win and didn’t get it, we didn’t deserve a point but at least got one, and we suffered a game in which especially in the second half we were by a distance second-best. We tried substitutions, different formations, but were unable to secure good possession or retain the ball, underlined by a period of playing it out from the back which repeatedly ended in us coughing it up in a bad position. It looked like they wanted it more than us and made us look bad; all you can say in our defence is that Fleetwood are probably well versed in how to play these conditions while we failed to adapt.

We knew the team would show at least a couple of changes, given the unavailability of Forster-Caskey and Aneke, and in the event Bowyer opted for four. In front of Amos, two changes to the back four with Famewo making his long-awaited return, partnering Oshilaja, and Maatsen also back in and Gunter on the other side, with Pearce and Purrington dropping to the bench. A midfield four saw Smith brought in alongside Pratley, Shinnie and Millar, with the potential replacements being Watson, Morgan and Jaiyesimi, while Stockley was paired with Schwartz up front, the returning Washington on the bench. It looked like a basic 4-4-2, although the surprise when the game began was that Millar was operating on the right side, Shinnie on the left. Perhaps Bowyer had seen something in the Fleetwood line-up, but it meant we wouldn’t get the Maatsen-Millar partnership on the left that has promised so much.

An awful opening five minutes during which neither side could hold the ball ended with us taking the lead. Millar on the right intercepted, passed square to Maatsen and pertinently kept moving towards that side. Maatsen to Shinnie, on to Millar, back to Shinnie and a good ball curled behind their defenders for Stockley to run on to and head home. Good movement, good goal. It was as good as it got, we were unable to produce anything similar for the remaining 90 minutes, although we had no way of knowing this at the time.

It was soon apparent that in the first half we would be operating with the wind behind us, which brought both opportunity and problems. It was difficult to control the ball and play passes so the temptation was to go long, in the expectation that the wind would make it difficult for their defenders, but too many balls were overhit. We saw Amos take a free kick and it sailing through to their keeper, while during the second half we had a couple of occasions where we thought we might catch out their keeper with a shot from long range. At the other end Fleetwood’s five-man midfield increasingly caused us problems, especially their guy down their right against Maatsen and Shinnie. We saw balls played in behind Famewo for their forwards to run onto, with Fleetwood looking far more effective when they played the ball on the deck.

We did fashion a second opening after the half-hour when Stockley and Schwartz seemed to bundle the ball forward and Smith almost got on the end of it. But not long after that it was all square. Fleetwood played a one-two down their right to bypass Maatsen, Shinnie was unable to get back and the ball was played into the box, where their guy was more alert to the situation and slotted it home before any Charlton player could get to it.

At the break we really had no complaints over the scoreline, although the contest had been pretty even and we had led for most of the game to that point. It was a pretty dire spectacle, but we really wouldn’t care if we won and it remained to be seen if we could cope better playing into the wind rather than with it. For the record, we could not.

It wasn’t clear early in the second half if Millar had switched to the left, or was occupying a more central role. What was clear is that we came out with instructions to play the ball out from the back, which Fleetwood were alive to and pressed, resulting in us giving the ball away repeatedly in our final third. Thankfully before long we abandoned the option and settled for Amos hoofing the ball high into the wind and not making the half-way line.

Pratley was caught in possession and committed the foul, picking up a yellow, and it really didn’t look as though we knew how to get the ball forward. The result was on 55 minutes a triple substitution, with the anonymous Schwartz withdrawn for Washington, Smith – who had some good moments but struggled against their extra man in midfield – taken off for Morgan, and Pratley replaced with Watson, presumably with the yellow card in mind. The changes seemed to result in Millar playing as the point of a diamond, with Shinnie and Morgan either side of Watson, but it was hard to tell as we had so little possession.

It was around this time that Fleetwood began to reel off chance after chance. Never great chances, usually bringing routine saves from Amos or good blocks, but with us becoming frustrated at our inability to hold them back or play in their half. On the hour we made a further change with Purrington coming on for Maatsen, who doesn’t look like he has the enthusiasm he did when he first arrived. Fleetwood almost scored from a throw-in, with Amos saving well and Gunter hacking the rebound behind.

I did check after 75 minutes – before the commentators picked up on it – that at this point we had had three efforts on goal, one on target, to 21 for Fleetwood (8 on target).

Fleetwood then did themselves no credit with silly overreactions to a Stockley challenge. The ball had been lost by their guy and was loose. Stockley and another went for it and he was beaten to it, ended up fouling the guy. It looked poor but clearly there was no intent, unlike their guy who tried to kick Stockley in the face while he rolled around, while others piled in. Stockley was shown a yellow, which was fair enough, but the ref did well to do no more – and to book two of their guys for the silly overreaction (Oshilaja was also shown yellow).

As we went into the final 10 minutes the hope grew that somehow we’d nick an utterly undeserved winner, which would have been very funny. Why not? We did have a corner or two but the fluke didn’t come. Instead with five extra minutes and Millar taking a yellow for the team it was indicative that Amos was not exactly rushing when taking goal kicks. We knew really we were getting away with a point that we did not deserve.

The only thing we can do is move on, regard this game as a reflection of the conditions (and perhaps the absence of Forster-Caskey and Aneke), and look to the next game to get the long-awaited run going. We might even get the cliché of who knows how important that point might be at the end of the season? This was a game that gave no reason to believe that we can get into the mix, but we have another opportunity on Tuesday night to change the picture. There aren’t that many more.

Player Ratings:

Amos – 7/10. A number of routine saves, one good one with his legs, claimed some balls, came a long way for one.

Gunter – 6/10. Nothing wrong really but like everyone else struggled with the ball at his feet.

Oshilaja – 6/10. One or two iffy clearing headers but no serious mistakes, except when trying to play the ball out in the second half. Can’t really blame the defence for the game.

Famewo – 6/10. Of course we’re delighted to see him returning, not surprisingly a little rusty, some good work, once or twice they played it in behind him.

Maatsen – 5/10. I really hope we haven’t burnt him out. Just doesn’t seem to have the enthusiasm for the game that he had early in the season. Want to see him enjoying the game.

Millar – 7/10. Involved in just about all our good moments, the guy seemed to play wide right, in the hole, then wide left. Didn’t see enough of the ball but was once again our main hope.

Pratley – 6/10. Combative as ever, sort of game where his experience was a real plus, withdrawn because of the danger of another red.

Smith – 5/10. Tough game to judge him on, we were outnumbered in midfield in awful conditions.

Shinnie – 5/10. Problems in the first half came down our left side and like others he struggled to do anything with the ball when he had it.

Stockley – 8/10. Scored well, combative throughout, he I thought had a decent game despite playing off scraps.

Schwartz – 4/10. Perhaps he’s suffering from high expectations, perhaps trying too hard. But in our exchanges during the game we noted after 30 minutes he hadn’t touched the ball, his only contribution to the first half was a spat with the ref. We have to get more out of him.


Watson – 6/10. Replaced Pratley to reasonable effect.

Morgan – 5/10. Unable to have an impact on the game.

Washington – 5/10. Ditto.

Purrington – 6/10. Fair enough, did his job. 


Sisyphus said...

Dear BA, thanks for a great write up of a dire game. Next time I'll save 90+ mins of my life and just read your report. Smith deserved to stay on. Unless we have more energy/effort in midfield we are destined to remain in this division. I have to sympathise with Bowyer as I have changed my mind just like he does.. All players over 30 (except Amos) should be paid off and told to get their coaching badges. ( yes a quick reverse about Shinnie)
Some how the wind was always against us? how did that happen.,even with a following wind the playoffs look a stretch. Its the hope that kills me. Still 11 wins away.

Vince said...

Having calmed down a bit I ask myself - was the wind much stronger in the second half than the first ? If it was that may be a valid excuse for us looking inferior to Fleetwood in the second half. If the conditions were roughly the same they were either superior players man for man or applied themselves better. Both of these are a worry.

Blackheath Addicted said...

Thanks guys. At least we're a day closer to Tuesday and forgetting all about yesterday's game. I've been reminding myself we have a club to support, Duchatelet is if not completely out of the picture back in his box, and a manager who deserves our support through a tough period. We're going to win well on Tuesday, feel it in my bones.

Vince said...

Indeed, the days after we got back to the Valley were pretty dull so I guess we need to patient. I used to think of us as a second tier team with occasional
forays into the top tier. I worry we have become a third tier club with occasional visits to the second tier.

Blackheath Addicted said...

I used to think (a long time ago) that we were a second tier team which never saw the light of the top flight (but always managed to stave off relegation to the third). I'm never going to get used to the idea - and will never want to - that time spent in the third flight is anything more than an aberration, something that we have to endure from time to time, like being below Palace and Millwall, evidence that the world is not in harmony.