Football Blog: Tangerine Flavoured

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Spring Awakening - Charlton Athletic vs the Mighty

Centre mid? Deffo not right wing? - Great, yeah, no problems. Bang! 

INTO THE VALLEY!

I'm running late, but rather than creating a massive panic as it would on a normal match day, it just means less time to write shite at the beginning of the blog. 'Enter Sandman' is belting out at the Valley and the sun is shining. I've been for a walk and seen flowers and everything. It's all good. With the sun and the springlike weather, the big ground seems achingly empty. Whilst being at home on a sub zero day in December doesn't seem so painful, this is really one of those matches that could have been a real day out. 


pre match photos.


I've already written about what I would do and whilst Critch isn't doing it (maybe he didn't see the tweet?), I don't mind the line up. Dougall and Stewart are both great at what they do but I'm not sure if they don't both do the same job. Matty V might add a bit more as an attacking threat as long as he's not on the right wing. Husband out is a blow but we've got an actual left sided centre back on the pitch instead. At least we get a sight of Nathan Shaw who I really rate, though he'll probably just sit on arse all afternoon, it's nice to know he's alive and well. 

--- 

At kick off, it's evident Virtue is in the middle. It's a big test today of Ellis Simms I think -  can he influence the course of play or will he just float about playing a slightly different game to the one we need him to?. He has a good early touch, coming short and flicking to not lonely but probably still missing Gary Jerry but the sniper can't prevent himself getting muscled out of play and it goes for a goal kick. 

Charlton look there to be got at early on. A long, poorly cleared ball from the back gives us a chance to cross. Ward scoops it in, Simms can't win it, then gets a second bite, stabbing it back towards Sullay but it's a bit heavy and the opportunity dissolves. A few minutes later, we go down the left, Yates, working inside, finding Simms who looks for Sullay again, playing it a fraction behind him, Kaikai tries take it, but it just evades his efforts. 

Then Sullay does get it under control in the middle, he spins, ride a tackle as if impersonating Jerry last week and plays a beauty of a ball, Simms is running shoulder to shoulder with Oshilaja, he start to get ahead, he looks through and then in comes a clumsy challenge. It looks a nailed on penalty, so much so, that I shout at my laptop... and it's given! 

Yates, stands. relaxed as you like, hand on hips but all casual, like an elegant vase in a stylish 18th century drawing room, as opposed to a pompous teapot stance. He winds up, releases and pelts the ball to the left of the keeper who goes the right way but has no chance of keeping it out. Jerry is a fucking sniper.

The Charlton commentary team waffle about unsettled central defence pairings. Imagine having that problem eh? 

Good running on the left from the Addicks creates a bit of pressure and we scramble it behind. The corner causes a bit of chaos. There's a flick on, a punch away, an air kick, a header back in, then the ball is nodded home, but it's always offside. 

Simms does well again on the end of a long ball. His initial control is horrible, the ball coming off his thigh like a bouncy ball on a tiled floor, but he works really hard, getting around his man and claiming his own miscontrol, backing into his man, shielding till Stewart takes over. 

Garbutt curls a free kick from dead centre a yard and half over the top. Charlton's commentators complain about the sun. It's really not fair. Sullay kills it, beats 3 then falls over. Garbutt has a outrageously cheeky little flick and concedes a foul as we lose possession. Thorniley thunders a header forward that works as well as a long ball, but Jerry can't turn his man on the edge of the box. 

We have a couple of crosses from set pieces that are dealt with fairly well. Thorniley cuts out a couple of Charlton forays. Simms does really well again, getting in front of his man, controlling it and turning, and getting cut down as he races away. 

Why is it that keepers look like they're going to make a mistake when they wear a cap? I have no idea, but I've decided the Charlton keeper is shit, even though he's doing nothing wrong, simply as he has headgear on. As I'm musing on this, Ward and Gabriel use a Thorniley ball well, creating a crossing chance, which leads to about three mishit shots and Simms going down again in the box. 

Simms takes it in about halfway inside the Charlton half and turns towards goal, he accelerates, meets a man, spins and lays off to Virtue, the moment the ball is at his feet, you know he's going to shoot, he's 35 yards out, he takes a stride, then another, then another to set himself and strikes, it, low, swerving, one bounce into the left hand corner of the net. What a fucking goal! It's Sunderland away quality! That's what he does... Matty fucking Virtue! Yes! 

Then we have some electric one touch passing, Yates, Virtue, Gabriel, Stewart and Ward all exchanging things on the right. This is some of the nicest stuff we've played all year. It's fast and instinctive and whilst it only yields a wasted free kick, it's very nice to see because that's the kind of play that you can't defend against. It's the speed of the movement and decisiveness which sets it apart from the somewhat ponderous passing we seemed to indulge in at our lower ebbs this year. 

We end the half with Charlton finally showing a bit of urgency. They put us under pressure, we get out, Jerry takes the piss for a bit, but they win it back when he goes a bit far. The superb Gabriel makes a great challenge and Maxwell leaps high to take a dangerous swirling ball. Charlton have one more moment, when the portly ref (really, he needs a size bigger shirt) penalises Kaikai but whilst they swing in a good ball and get a head on it, they're offside and Maxwell tips it over anyway... 

--- 

I was impressed with Charlton first time round but I'm really not today. They look as if they play for dead ball situations and have shown very little outside of that. It looks a different side than the one that showed up at Bloomfield. We've been excellent and used both sides of the pitch well. I've already expressed how much more Simms has shown but I've also noted that Jerry is fizzing with effervescent life, Gabriel getting forward more and as I hoped, Virtue and Stewart offering more of a balance between protecting the defence and threatening the opposition. 

I think both centre backs have been excellent and if credit goes to Husband for his centre back performance, Thorniley deserves it for once again stepping into the breach, this time later than a JFH inspired match postponement.

Here's the usual caveat about not getting complacent and trying to predict what they'll do. I wouldn't change a thing, but I'd keep my beady eyes on what Lee 'v neck knitwear' Bowyer does, because surely, like Darren Moore at Donny, he's not going to just say 'same again lads' and is going to kick there arses from one side of the dressing room to the other... 

It's the life of a Pool fan to think 'this can't last...' 

---

4 Addicks changes at half time. I've imagined Bowyer flinging his club coat down, bristling with rage in his curiously old fashioned, yet oddly fashionable knitwear/tie/slacks combo shouting "you, off, you shit fucking wanker - you on, fucking play better than that shit cunt or I'll fucking twat you" whilst everyone looks at the floor. In the Pool dressing room, it's been all relaxation tapes, positive words and Critch nodding encouragingly whilst Mike jumps excitedly from foot to foot like he needs a wee, so excited is he by what he's seen. Colin is in the corner, staring slightly less threateningly than normal but still exuding a menace as if to say 'don't fuck this up'.

Gabriel goes in on Pratley, there's some sort of afters as Gabriel goes down with Pratley on top of him. It looks as if Pratley has lashed out as they've fallen.  It's a bit of an odd one as Virtue runs across and shoves Pratley twice with no censure at all whilst the combustible Addick gets a second yellow, but hey ho Charlton now are down to ten men so I'm not moaning about refereeing standards cos that would be missing the point of being a football fan. 

Then ANOTHER PEN. What is this match? I'm not used to this being so easy... Garbutt slides a neat ball forward. Jerry controls it, back to goal, turns beautifully and Watson responds by just kicking his leg. It's not a nasty challenge, just frustrated. Yates, ambles around with the ball under his arm as Charlton protest, before placing it down and side footing it below the now hatless Amos, who, to be fair, has guessed right twice and been just beaten twice. 

We're dominant. Charlton are just fed up, kicking us in petulant frustration. Garbutt gets forward and hits the side netting. Sullay comes off, he's been relatively quiet and Demi comes on, which makes sense as if Charlton can be arsed to attack, Demi can run very quickly at them when we win it back. The ref books Jerry for reasons no one can fathom, maybe just cos he's embarrassed. 

Mike Garrity is standing next to Critch clutching the black notebook as they prepare to make a sub. You might think it's where they make notes about the game but really it's where Mike writes down the shopping lists that Neil and Colin give him. "2 cases of that cheap french lager and some crisps, take Ethan to help you carry it" I'm sure I see Critch say. 

Super Jerry is the man to make way for Embleton. 

I've liked the look of him when I've seen him, he seems quite natural. His first touch is nice bit of control, a run into space and a dangerous ball across the face of goal. Pool look to pass it about and stretch Charlton's ten men but we can't keep it up. Charlton look bereft of any real threat though. I can't think of any of their players who've impressed me and where last time out, I wrote that they looked to have a plan, this time out, I can't work out what it is they're trying to do at all. They manage a header from a set piece and that's it. 

The game is dead and I find myself wishing we'd got Holmes or Apter on the bench cos it's the perfect stage for one of them to get a few minutes and run round like a lunatic. It's a bit weird that our bench is full of coaching staff but Bowyer is stood on his own looking glum as fuck, as if his subordinates are too scared to talk to him in this sort of mood.  

Embleton stuns a cracking pass forward, Ward goes down. Free kick. Embleton takes a great dead ball, finding Thorniley at the far post, he nods it down, Demi goes for an overhead kick and the Addicks stab it over the bar. From the corner, we roll it short and Embleton runs, beats a man and whips another ball in. He's not bad this lad. 

Celebrate! For it's Nathan Shaw time! As Shaw is waiting to come on, Simms works it to Demi who wriggles a bit of space and toe pokes a good effort the keeper fumbles wide. From the corner, it's Demi again, his flick header going over the bar. 

On comes Ethan 'who else had sort of forgotten about him?' Robson as well. Then fucking hell! They're down to nine. Aneke jumps with Ballard who crumples. It was a wild arm without question. Bowyer trudges back and forth like a man who doesn't really want to go home watching his dog run round a field as the sun goes down, wishing with all his heart, he had the life of the dog instead of his own. He looks beaten. A thousand yard stare, his head barely turning to follow play. 

Shaw and Embleton exchange passes, the loan man then slides a lovely through ball that Virtue is a fag paper away from being able to lift over the keeper. We just knock it for a few minutes before it's Virtue with a slide rule pass putting Shaw in on the left. He's done the simple things well when I've seen him before and he does just that now, attacking the byline and putting in a great low ball that somehow isn't turned home... 

--- 

What a great performance. It was balanced, calm, clinical and probably the most convincing win of the season. We made Charlton look awful and by the standards of the division, whilst they may feel they're shite compared to where they want to be and will probably be fuming after that (I would be!), they're far from the worst side we've played so we've got to credit ourselves to some degree for making them look so poor. I doubt their owner will be playing air guitar on twitter tonight. 

At kick off, I suggested Simms getting involved and influencing the game was test he needed to pass and he exceeded my expectations by a long way, setting up the first two goals and showing that despite my reservations, he can play a hold up role after all. I think he deserves a lot of praise. 

I've already said who played well at half time and nothing really changed that view. Basically, the lot of them. Embleton, Mitchell and even Shaw who only had a few minutes all showed nice attacking moments. 

Well played to the impish gnomelike fella with the twinkly eyes, grey hair and big coat, he got it spot on today and whilst tinkering has done my head in a bit at times, what he's definitely shown is that we have a squad and that depth is going to serve us well in comparison to teams with a first XI and some back up players instead. We just looked so much more up for it than Charlton and to know exactly what we were trying to do, even with the changes we made.

In conclusion. We're Tangerine Wizards. 

UTMP

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Thursday, February 25, 2021

Preview: Charlton Athletic vs the Mighty

Donny got cancelled. I was oddly, not that fuming. I don't really know why cos I was raging at the frozen pitch episode but all 'Mr Fucking Irritatingly Reasonable' about the water(on the pitch)gate scandal. What do I know about pitch coverings anyway? I've only got a yard and that's got a sort of scummy mossy layer on which I half-heartedly scrub off with a brush every now and again, so really, a man who can't look after a small 'the bit behind Billy Casper from off of Kes's house' sized patch of concrete can't really comment on the state of a fuck load of grass can he? 

Also, as much as I was buzzing about the game beforehand and as much as I'm contractually obliged (as a football fanatic (c)SKYSPORTS1993) to be obsessively one eyed about everything involving MY TEAM, whilst fixture congestion is bad on one level, it's good on another two. 

Level 1: More games with CJ, the Goal Machine and maybe even Big Marv. 
Level 2: It's mad craic when teams run out of players and the kids have to play. 

It's all so serious these days. We've got a kid scoring for fun and another lad who looks like a right wizard, plus the other two lads who were ace in preseason and the tinpot cup but we've got to do po-faced talk like rent a gob boring pundits on talksport and say sensible things like 'It's a big step up' and really, my inner Keggy Keegle* self is screaming 'just attack and stick the kids in, we'll be reet' cos actually, I think we will. What's done is done innit.  


Exclusive insight from the Squires Gate whiteboard on the plan for the game that wasn't

This is supposed to be a preview so I'll turn to Charlton. I thought they were really good in our last game against them and I was surprised that they've not been right up there. Their fans (who were easily the friendliest lot we've played against this year online and actually nattered on twitter and that - most weeks, I tag my blog for opposing fans and its avoided like a bag of dogshit hanging from a tree branch) said they were generally a bit crap though, so maybe I was misled by what I thought looked a good blend of youth, experience, skill and pragmatism.

Bowyer is dapper mind and a dapper gaffer is always to be reckoned with. I think he walks a good line between old school suit wearing and quirky modern fashion slags like Paul 'I'm fashion mad me' Tisdale and Pep 'I just happen to be at a football match' Guardiola. That leaves him sat, somewhere between well dressed recently promoted to deputy head level PE teacher and Graham Potter. Combining v neck knitwear with pressed slacks doesn't look too try hard, but it's better than the not trying at all, just come straight from training look. Some weeks, Larry didn't look like he'd even washed his trackie bottoms, just grabbed them from the laundry pile and sprayed a bit of fabreze on them ffs. For a more authoritative take on gaffer's clobber, see SAFCBlog

What we do know is maybe, just maybe CJ will be back. If he's stuck on the bench for a few weeks, that should help address the 'fading out after a decent start' issues we've had, in the same way Embleton injected a bit of something coming on against Pompey. If Big Gaz isn't fit and I doubt he will be, I'm tempted to start in that 4-4-1-1 shape we finished with last week. Sullay can play behind Jerry and Embleton did really well there when he came on. That does though break the rule that 'we're always shite if we don't play two up front' - which, generally, we are.

I might be falling victim to a case of Critchley's Tinkeritis - a condition that causes the sufferer to declare that next game is 'going to be an exciting game and we've prepared well', as well as mentioning being 'back on grass' a lot, with an accent that's hard to place, a twinkle in the eye and an overwhelming tendancy to perm 11 random names from 20.

That said, I don't really see the point of playing Simms to not be anywhere as near as good at doing what the Goal Machine does as the Goal Machine. It feels unfair to bring a young kid who looks great on the turn or chasing through balls and then to say 'Go and win it like Gaz does' as Gaz is one of the best at doing that whilst Simms looks about as comfortable as a target man against gnarly grizzled pros as a school kid in Paris trying out some French on a fast talking and angry Parisian.

Where I'm struggling is whether to play Demi or Sullay on the left. I bloody love Sullay. He's also coming, if not good, but a definitely a bit better of late. Demi though, is electricity and playing away against a half decent side, I dunno if I want Kaikai's potential but mercurial influence or Demi's actual, definite pace. What Mitchell will do is pick up the ball and run very fast. That's more or less it but it's pretty useful to have when counter attacking. I don't rate him at full back at all, I don't rate him wide right doing the inverted thing, but wide left, he shows a rare desire to just get at the opposition, come what may. He doesn't over think it, he just legs it down the wing or through the middle and that's exactly what we lack. I don't know if I physically can drop Sullay though. Embleton will have to sit on the bench even if in my heart of hearts, I think he made a difference on Saturday. Maybe we can sneak Sullay on as extra man cos he's quite inconspicuous...

The elephant in the room is Jimmy Husband. Regular readers (no, really, there are some) will recall I published a piece recently declaring Jimmy the best full back in the known universe. The eagle eyed among you will note that I said 'full back'

You can relive his key contribution from the last game below



He was brilliant on Saturday and getting Garbutt on the pitch as well adds further to our attacking threat but I can't help feeling that keeping playing Jimmy there is tempting fate. Omar Bogle doesn't play for Charlton any more but the point remains. He's a full back.

Enough of the doom though. We can win this and we can win plenty of games. We can build up momentum to the point where it won't matter if we've got an extra game or two, it won't matter if we have to play the under nines or Bloomfield Bear, we'll be unstoppable.

utmp

*Kevin Keegan 

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Genius Jerry: Portsmouth vs the Mighty



Perspective is an interesting thing. I've had an ear infection for a few days, which along with Pool's ongoing injury crisis plus the general ennui of CovidUk life has left me a little flat. 
Enter a book on Dynamo Kiev and the experiences of their players leading up to and during WW2. I've just read a bit about their goalkeeper being shot in the knee whilst carrying out a daring raid on a German trench. Previously I winced through descriptions of their star forward having his fingers broken one by one by the Stalinist secret police for no apparent reason at all. Currently, at the point I've put the book down (2pm, matchday), it's late 1941 and two of our heroes have escaped being sent to a death camp by hiding in a big pile of laundry.

This might have absolutely fuck all to do with the game today, but it reminds me that having a few players with muscle injuries and not being able to go to TK Maxx isn't all that bad really on the grand scale of things. Whether we go on a play off run or not. 

The team sheet is in and it looks as if Jimmy Husband is taking his topknot to central defence. Hmmm. 

I'm all for giving decisions time to work but I'm really not sure about this. I know Thorniley missed a poor header on Tuesday but we kept a clean sheet and he's done ok in general and he *is a central defender* and *Jimmy isn't.* We'll see I guess. I assume it's an attempt to inject some (relative) pace into the back line that might otherwise be caught out. 

On the flip side, I'm heartened to see Ward on the right, a player I think we can get more out of and with our central midfield options being such as they are I can't see how we could really add any creativity anywhere other than the right flank. 

The key will be getting service to Simms in some way that isn't banging it at him as if he's big Gaz. He isn't and won't ever be. Hopefully having some skill and technical ability on both flanks will aide that with both Ward and Sullay able to drift inside and pick a pass, which is how you need to feed a player like Simms. The return of fragile Luke should also help us in that respect though if he's taking the free kicks and corners off Sullay, he better take them well as the Sull has just got into a bit of a groove again finally. 

To the barricades Pool! The motherland is calling! 

----

As we approach kick off, the screen at Fratton Park shows a surprising claim that Ronaldinho considers it the greatest atmosphere in world football. Not today sadly, though not hearing that fucking bell is always a bonus. 

There are early shouts for a penalty as Maxwell charges out to claim a loose ball and Pompey player gets in the way. Critch patrols the touchline, looking like Paul Daniels in a big coat, deep in thought about a difficult magic trick. I check that Jimmy's man bun is present and correct. It is. Garbutt's hair is of course, immaculate. Vosene Luke links brilliantly with Sullay who slips Simms through. He pulls back and Yates is denied by an excellent bit of desperate defensive work, a sliding challenge that hits at exactly the point Yates is about to smash it home. 

Pool are competing early on. Ward and Kaikai both get crosses in, Yates and his typical harrying creates a bit of uncertainty. Pompey are competing too though and Ballard is lucky to get away with some holding at a set piece as it's evident he has a fist full of blue shirt as he battles with his man. 

Sullay is looking busy. First, bursting the length of the pitch in a counter from the corner, then cutting inside and winning a free kick 25 yards out which Pantene Luke stuns at the near post, seeing it turned round by the keeper. From the corner, Pool play really nice triangles but ultimately the aesthetic quality of the play is undermined by the fact they singularly fail to get a cross in and the move ends after about 8 touches with Garbutt falling over. 

Pool perform a similar feat at the other end, working the ball out to Garbutt from Maxwell via Ballard and then all all the way back. It takes a very neat turn from Maxwell to take the ball away from the oncoming Marquiss.

The quality has dropped a bit. Pool win a corner from a long Husband ball that is poorly cleared. It's under the bar but headed away. Pompey have a free kick that Maxwell comes miles out and misses but it goes for a goal kick. 

The referee who has terrific eyebrows is blowing the whistle a lot and the game feels a bit scrappy. Pool show a little though as Grant Ward shows what an actual winger can do, accelerating into a small space and crossing nicely for Simms to head over the top. 

Then, somehow it stays even, Pompey get a set piece to the far post, there's one shot which is beaten away but it drops to a Pompey man who belts it, Husband falls like a felled tree and chests it off the line quite brilliantly. 

Simms gets mystifyingly booked for the crime of getting shoulder charged. He has the look of a 70s disco icon, John Marquiss for them looks as if he should be fronting a skiffle band. Whilst we're on it, Dougall looks a bit like he should front a rubbish emo band. I can't decide if Jerry Yates is in a laddish indie group that don't do very well or a really bad grime MC. Their no 19 could be a female soul singer (with a beard, it's 2021, what IS gender?) whilst one of their centre halves could be Shane McGowan's stunt double and their no7 is a session musician for Pearl Jam. That I'm speculating on the musical aesthetics of various players is because about 10 minutes has happened without anything other than a nice raking crossfield ball by Sullay being worth mentioning. 

As the half finishes there's a vague sense of Pompey pressure that doesn't really manifest itself as anything more than a corner and a loopy cross to the far post. It's not so much that Pompey are putting the pressure on, but that we've stopped. 

--- 

Like Ipswich we started quite brightly but we've struggled to make anything much happen in the latter part of the half. It's not sticking up top. I'm not having a go at Simms but so many times he's on the wrong side for a target man, looking to run off someone else as opposed to winning the ball for himself. 

It's been a fractious game and the ref hasn't really let it flow. I'm not sure what we do at half time given as there's no obvious way to get more presence up front. What I do notice about us, is we almost never shift tactics first and we're struggling to get a grip on the midfield or win the ball up front so, heresy it maybe, I'd be tempted to strengthen the midfield at the cost of a striker and see if we can make the extra man count there with Virtue combative nature the obvious figure to play in front of Dougall and Stewart. 

---

So, Simms IS off but it's headless  promisingly pacy Demi on instead. This could be fun. Sullay is going into the middle and we have a left foot/right foot left/right wing combo. Praise the lord. Kaikai responds to the challenge with a ropy pass and then running into Kevin Stewart and falling over. Demi has his first run a minute later, almost exchanging passes with Yates but just being cut off as he tries to burst into the box. 

Pompey have a couple of moves forward, once cutting in from the right, swapping passes in the box neatly but not finding a shot, the other a cross just too high to be met with power. Pool in response offer a through ball from Sullay that doesn't quite feed Yates and a nice move that builds from excellent defensive work from Gabriel, goes through some quality passing but founders on a poor ball from Yates. 

Sullay spreads it beautifully for Ward but he can''t beat his man. A moment later Sullay threads another delicious pass but Ward takes a heavy touch and the chance goes rolling behind. 

Critch continues to ponder things, helpfully tamping down a loose bit of turf as he does. What a nice man. 

Pool build up nicely and then Ward puts one of the worst crosses I've ever seen in, the idea was a swirling ball into the mixer, the reality was a shank deep into the fading seats behind the goal. Play continues in this fashion, both teams lacking quality. When the right ball is played, no one reads it and when they do, the ball is poor... We even end up with two balls on the pitch at one point. 

Like the first half, the longer the second goes, the more Pompey assert themselves. A pull back has to be cut out at the near post, Maxwell has to claim a cross. It's not a lot but it's a bit of intent. 

Critch has an idea. He's deep in conversation revealing the plan to Embleton as Garbutt launches a free kick forward. The free kick breaks down, Pompey break and another dangerous ball whistles in and is nodded away for a corner. 

The now informed Embleton comes on for Sullay. Presumably the top secret instructions were 'Go and do what Sullay is doing, but better' Dougall picks out Mitchell with a lovely pass, Demi runs forward with aggression and then makes to slip Yates through on the edge of the box. Poor old Jerry is easily manoeuvred off the ball though. 

Then some genuinely great work from Mitchell, picking the ball up on the edge of  the box and charging forward, all through the middle, riding a challenge, stumbling but staying on his feet then getting his head up and laying it to Embleton. The loan man, takes it in, pushes it out of his feet and shoots, the keeper sprawls, saves and it falls to Garbutt who absolutely cracks one like an angry russian sniper (with lovely hair) but it grazes a defender and goes wide. 

Pool are looking better all of a sudden. 

Embleton stuns the ball deep, a nice touch, then he spots Yates ahead of him and hits a quick ball forward, Jerry rolls his man, goes to ground but gets up and runs at the defence, charging hard down the right, he's got three to beat... He looks like he's going inside, then outside, he works a yard with a little shimmy then clips it with beautiful precision, past the keepers hand, the ball kissing the netting just a few centimetres behind the far post. It's a beautiful finish. 

Pompey manage a few shots from the edge of the area in response. Virtue comes on for Grant Ward. Embleton is well involved again in nice build up play that results in a terrific Garbutt cross that the keeper has to desperately dive and punch away. 

3 minutes of added time elapse. There's a scary moment when Pompey lift one to the far post, win the knock on and no one seems able to clear until the excellent Gabriel takes the ball and runs as hard as he can with it away from danger. 

The whistle goes. Critch has a quietly satisfied trudge about him as opposed to a world weary one. He's too reserved to be jaunty and overly demonstrative in victory, but you can tell he's going to go and kick the dressing room door and swear in delight when he gets out of public view. Mike Garrity is really excited at his side, like a kid talking to his dad about something in a computer game that his dad isn't very interested in... There's a nice hug between Maxwell and Critch and then a big bald fella comes out with a sinister black bag and with great ceremony, puts the match ball in it. Imagine that being your job? I envy him. 

--- 

It's a brilliant three points. We didn't look especially good for long periods of the game, but neither did Pompey. Embleton linked thinks up really well when he came on and his freshness offered us a bit more going forward. He's got a nice touch and is quick thinking and has attack in his mind. Yates did a classic job, frustratingly impotent for long periods but then deadly when it mattered. Mitchell also did well, offering drive and intent. Critch's subs have been criticised (including by me) but he did well today, making sensible changes that influenced the game and significantly, moving first before the opposition do, something we've not seen very much if at all. 

The defence did a really good job. Husband manfully battling out of position and doing a good job (not even getting booked!) Ballard recovering from what I thought was a slow start to really settle back in nicely. Garbutt was similar, you could tell both hadn't played for a while. It's almost not worth saying that Gabriel was excellent as he just about always is. 

Not a great game, who gives a fuck though?! It's odd how Rochdale felt a bit of a let down cos we played really well for the first bit of the game then rubbish for the rest, but this feels much, much better cos we ended the game well despite not being brilliant earlier on. Both 1-0 wins, both 3 points, but whilst I've not been impressed with Portsmouth either time I've seen them this year, winning there is no small achievement. 

My ear still hurts, but my soul is lifted (to the nosebleed heights of 13th.) We're mid table with games in hand, not caught between Stalin and Hitler in a mad period of terror and no food, so all is good in the world. 

utmp


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Friday, February 19, 2021

League 1 as expressed in the medium of mostly obscure music


Before reaching the dizzying heights of being the third most popular active Blackpool FC related blogger (of 3) I used to do an internet radio show of niche, unusual, obscure and unsigned music. It was good craic and I liked doing it a lot. I have nothing to say about football right now so I'm going to combine my love of music hardly anyone has heard of with my passion for writing blogs about football that not many people want to read. Other sources bring you interviews with legends, live interaction, match previews and astute comment. I bring you a league 1 themed episode of a sub John Peel show. Who says the market doesn't provide? 

Lets get one thing clear immediately. This isn't a playlist of football songs. This is a playlist of songs with titles that mention the names of league 1 teams but aren't (as far as I can tell) about the teams themselves. I've tried to find songs that entertained me in someway to some extent and in general I did but that was surprisingly hard for Gillingham for some reason. 

I've only included stuff I didn't know already. Whilst some of the artists are familiar to me, the individual songs are all new to my ears. Cos why listen to what you already know? 

Literally no one thought this would be a good idea, least of all me, but that's not going to stop me living the dream. 

Er... enjoy? 

(Exclusive imaginary MCLF car sticker for anyone who *actually makes it through the playlist* <-- click to play on spotify))




Tracklist 

Accrington (Not Hollywood) - Sleeperman
The Wimbledon Riot - Colourbook 
Blackpool Late 80s - James Holden
Bristol Road leads to Dachau - The Prefects
The Abbot of Burton - John Tejada
Charlton Heston - The Black Snakes
Crewe - Youth 83
Doncaster Road - Cargo Belly
Fleetwood Fair - Gilmore and Roberts
Gillingham Ramshire - The Dust Bunnies
Hull of Crows - Distant 
Ipswich - Pink Oranges47 
Hot Rod Lincoln - Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen
Milton Keynes - Meow Meows 
Northampton - Alan Moore, Mitch Jenkins
Oxford Gray - Shuggie Otis 
Peterborough Postman - Stompin' Tom Connors
Plymouth Chorale - Lesley Barber
Portsmouth - Francioiz Breut 
From Rochdale to hell - Graham Domain
Shrewsbury Steppa - Teutonic Kaboom
Sunderland - Cakehole Pressley 
Swindon - Venetian Snares
Wigan Pier Wiggle - Ray McKiley and The Swing Shift

Bonus track just because it's the best song ever with the name of any football team in the title: 
Starling Murmurations on Blackpool Pier - Membranes

utmp

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Review: Can we have our football back yet?





This isn't a book for you if you like the way things are. On second thoughts, maybe it is. If you're waltzing along, whistling the Champions League theme tune, bedecked in your club colours, just on the way back from posting another cheque to SKY and thinking everything is just fine, maybe you need jolting from this reverie for everyone's benefit. 

This short but intense update to 2019's 'Can We Have Our Football Back?' by John Nicholson retreads a lot of the ground that book travelled, but with the looming spectre of Covid for company this time. 

It's no surprise to see familiar themes emerge like 

  • The need for a morality in football and the (rarely questioned) immorality of such untrammeled financial waste
  • The challenging of the myth that big clubs are 'good businesses' 
  • An exploration of the problematic financial structures that threaten the game's future 
  • Attacks on the way the game markets itself
  • Criticism of the simplistic tribal view of the game that dominates how we think about the game
  • VAR and its corrosive effect on the match going experience.
Where the piece works particularly well is exploring the notion that pay per view TV models actually *cost* the taxpayer in terms of lost health benefits of having sporting role models available to all. This is an argument Nicholson has made before but the brevity with which he makes it here strengthens rather than diminishes his claims. 

He's also very strong on the ludicrous exceptionalism of the Premier League, something more apparent than ever over the last 12 months as top level football has dressed up profit making as a publicly minded mental health service

This isn't a highly structured academic treatise. It's a powerful and honest diatribe and reads like it too. That shouldn't put you off. Nicholson has plenty to say on the structure of society and he says it with wit, punch and vivid images. Whilst it may at times appear to be a digressive read, he's essentially reminding us of the way football has moved from a sport of the people to becoming a cheerleader for the kind of nihilist consumerism of permanent, idealess, hopeless, boredom punctured only by the hollow thrill of buying things that the likes of Mark Fisher identify as the true identity of late western capitalism. 

There's few football writers you can say that about. He's also very accessible and does an excellent job of summarising financial complexity down to the simple measure of 'How many Joelintons does it cost?' 

There's plenty of good football writers about who use words very well, but few who refuse to pull their punches like Nicholson. I especially enjoyed his criticism of the wider football media and its complicity in marketing the Premier League. 

To finish, I'll add a digression of my own: I recently watched the new Adam Curtis documentary in which the film maker quotes David Graeber thus

“The ultimate hidden truth of the world is that it is something we make and could just as easily make differently”
What makes Nicholson important as a football writer is, he is one of the few who don't simply accept the status quo and work from there. 

He reminds us that football as it is now is a construct and his railing against that status quo is important in keeping that fact in our minds. Whether or not Nicholson has the answer in terms of how change can and will happen is moot. He's a refreshing antidote to the cynical mode of thinking which sees what is as all there ever can be and rejects any alternatives. 

What this work and its predecessor tells us is that football can be so much better, so much more accessible, enjoyable, socially beneficial and generally likable, if only we can work together to make it so. 

It's that simple. 

Links

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John's own store https://t.co/w1MOHKViu0
Kindle https://t.co/l3UOFxVg9x
Amazon https://t.co/BUCdLD3YwU https://t.co/whiwpKiwGS

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Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Jimmy Husband's top knot



Paulo, pointing out some interesting truths... 

One of the most pleasurable things about lockdown has been watching James Husband's transformation from a generic looking young ex Premier League footballer to a mystical figure, possibly about to embark on a backpacking trek round India armed with only a map and a few packs of giant rizlas.

In a footballing sense, Husband has held off the challenge of fragile Luke Garbutt and kept hold of the left back berth. In terms of 'who looks most like an Italian defender from the mid 90s' Garbutt was way ahead at first, but Husband has come roaring back, first seeking to imitate Garbutt's alice band look, then going ahead of him with a top knot/beard combo that screams 'craft ale loving hipster' even on the less than crisp iFollow screen. 

Doubts about his hairstyle aside, I find it hard to fathom why Husband isn't more appreciated than he is. For Larry, he slogged his guts out. There were few players who gave more consistently wholehearted displays and more than once last year, I thought to myself 'Husband kept trying when it looked like others had given up' - He also got handed a bum deal, playing left back but also sort of playing left midfield at the same time in the weird lopsided formation Larry favoured for no apparent reason. Husband's efforts were perhaps best appreciated when anyone else tried to play that strange two positions at once role and looked shite doing so. 

This year, he got sent off twice early in the season, which frankly, wasn't the best contribution in the world, but the idea of playing him at centre half wasn't really drawn from the book of great managerial ideas either. Since then, Critch has worked out it might be a plan to play him at left back and a centre half at centre half and for the first time in his Pool career he's had the luxury of playing left back in a formation that actually makes sense. 

Husband in numbers: (rated against other League 1 players who've played ten or more games at left back) 

He currently ranks as the most difficult left back in the league to beat.
He has made the 4th most interceptions of any left back
His perceived weakness is against aerial balls, but he's 6th out of 20 left backs in terms of aerial challenges won
He has the 3rd least 'unsuccessful touches' of all left backs in the division. 

He's clearly not as strong in terms of attacking: 

His delivery of long balls is 8th (of 20 players) for accuracy 
His delivery of accurate short passes puts him 9th of 20
Where he falls down a bit is his crossing and he's ranked 19/20 in terms of accurate crossing

Looking at him as an individual is all fine but what sort of impact does he have on the team? 

Our record starting Husband at left back looks pretty good. 

P12 W8 D2 L2 

Compare this to fragile Luke's record (starts only) 

P6 W1 D1 L4 

Add in Demi Mitchell's record

P7 W2 D0 L5

Now, clearly, Garbutt or Mitchell aren't the only factor in the results above and Garbutt turned in some really good displays in the cup in particular, but the chatter that 'Husband isn't the sort of player that gets you promoted' is the sort of thing that you hear when browsing the tangerine twittersphere but looking at the record tells you something quite different. 

Here's a really simple stat: (starts and league games only) 

Points per game with Husband at left back: 2.17 
Points per game without Husband at left back: 0.77

It seems to me that what Husband brings is dependability, communication and work rate as well as simply being a really good tackler. He doesn't get as many crosses in as Garbutt but he does seem to work well with Kaikai who looks more comfortable with a defensively solid player behind him. He's a little vulnerable to a ball over his head, which is more a positional thing that his ability in the air, but all players have weaker parts of their game and we can't have it both ways, castigating him for a lack of attacking endeavour and then chiding him when he's simultaneously not slotted perfectly in at left back.  

You get promoted with good players, yes, but you also get promoted with hard work, leadership and endeavour and Husband epitomises those attributes and in recent games has shown some lovely touches going forward, suggesting finally getting to play as a plain and simple left back might be suiting him and developing his confidence. His earlier career stats (from the Championship) suggests he's actually better at running with the ball than this year illustrates and he's also never put as few crosses across or key passes through before either, so there's room for believing that he can offer a bit more going forward on top of his defensive solidity. 

The big question though, is what next for his hair? Dye? Shaven sides? White man's dreadlocks? Who knows... 

I think it's about time the lad (and his top knot) got some love.  

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Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Like we'd had someone sent off!: The Mighty vs Rochdale


Stanley Matthews' virtues are possibly a bit different from our Matthew's

I'm not old enough to have watched Stanley Matthews but from the cobbled together picture I have of him, a composite of florid, gushing descriptions, still photographs of him putting players on their backsides and the odd clip of him skinning a full back alive before popping the ball on to Morty's head, I've gathered he was pretty good at playing on the right wing.

Now, I don't want you to think I think badly of Matty Virtue. I really don't think badly of Matty at all. He definitely has, (if you'll forgive me), his virtues. I think it's fair comment to say though, that wor Matty has so far looked quite unlike Sir Stan. In fact, I can't think of many more players in the squad less likely to earn the title 'Wizard of Dribble' even if he sort of shares a name with the great man. 

I can think of at least 5 players I'd have selected ahead of Virtue. If you care, Grant Ward and Jordan Gabriel are more 'right wingery' in my opinion. You could play the latter in front of Turton. Sullay is actually right footed and you could pick Garbutt or Demi on the left and play Kaikai wide right if you wanted to. Still, Critch obviously values his workrate and who am I, a mere shite blogger, to question the impish one? 

---

Nice work between the newly top knotted Husband (presumably in competition with Garbutt for more than just the left back berth), Sullay, Yates and Gabriel is the first thing of note and it earns a corner. It comes to nothing. Then Sullay drifts inside, it looks like he's going to drive for the box but then he plays it wide for Husband. His low cross is turned behind for a corner. The dead ball is headed away but first impressions are that Rochdale will let us play which always suits us. 

Then Rochdale cause a scare. A lofted ball right down the middle catches Thorniley completely wrong footed. He realises what's happening, runs backwards, hopefully prods his head at it to no avail and the ball drops to a Dale man inside the box. Maxwell charges, the striker tries to lift it over him but the keeper stays tall and blocks it. 

Then a Sullay free kick from deep, Husband nods it into the mix. Thorniley lashes it. It hits a body. Dougall lashes it, it draws a great stop, Thorniley lashes the rebound and a diving defender turns it over the top... From the corner, Thorniley flicks on, Yates taps home but the flag is up... 

Sullay get flicked a pass around the halfway line. He knocks it first time on the half volley, it's a beautiful ball, Yates gets to it but just can't touch it on to Ellis Simms. 

Then... Husband swings a cross. It's too deep, but here's the wing wizard Virtue, battling as he does, twisting and leaping, turning a loopy overhit cross into a chance by fighting to the last and nodding it back. It drops for Sullay, who takes a touch and the hits it low, hard and right down the middle through a crowd. 1-0 Pool! Take that Sullay HATERZ

Ekpiteta plays a terrible ball out, Dale charge through. Marvin gets back and makes what looks to me like a great challenge but the ref deems it a foul. From the free kick, Dale hit a dipping shot Maxwell does well turn over the top. Marvin's error is contagious as Thorniley concede a needless free kick. Husband air kicks a clearance in his own box and Pool look generally a bit scrappy for a few minutes. 

Jimmy Husband starts a move by accidentally doing a Cruyff turn, taking a poor touch, stretching to keep it in play, then spinning, finding himself in space and haring down the left - the move goes through about 15 passess and ends with a curling Yates effort that is turned away by a diving header. Next, Simms holds it up well and Pool storm forward but both Dougall and Gabriel can't find a shot to to finish the move off. Then it's Sullay feeding another lovely ball that Simms explodes on to, surging into the box, then drilling it low back across goal. Again, there's everything but the finish. Now Sullay comes deep, takes the ball nicely and then, quick as a flash almost slips Simms in again with a back heel. Pool are really on top and the second goal is in the air... 

A free kick to the far post is headed up. Marvin goes after it and it looks for all the world like he gets shoved in the back with two hands. Nothing doing. Then poor ol' Marvin gets a wallop on the head and a very fetching headband. At least that'll help Chissy spot him. 

Dale have a bit of play but can't make a chance. Pool make one last attack. A terrific Stewart challenge, sliding in and then getting to his feet and receiving the ball back from Yates, slipping it to Sullay who goes wide and lifts it to the far post, where Yates nods down and wide. 

---

Simms isn't the goal machine, but he's led the line well and his mobile nature really suits the way Sullay likes to play, looking to drift inside and thread through balls. Sullay has been lively and looked much more himself, some of his passing has been a particular joy Stewart has dropped deep, always ready to take possession. Colin Greenall on commentary absolutely *hearts* him to the point where I'm wondering if he might propose marriage at full time... Dougall has ratted, picking up the bits and pieces. Pool have been absolutely dominant, largely because we've broken play down so well but the natural concern is we're not out of sight.

We've just lacked the calmness in the box to make the most of the chances and arguably, the balance to overwhelm them. Full credit to Virtue for his part in the goal and his work in keeping Dale quiet, but you feel with CJ out wide, we'd be 3 up by now. We've been absolutely dominant and cliche demands I say something about hoping we won't regret not getting at least one more... 

---

It's Kaikai and Simms again setting up the first chance. Yates tackles well in deep position, Sullay takes over and bursts through, threading it to Simms who is brought down. Sullay steps up and strikes a lovely free kick off the outside of the post from the left hand side of the box... 

Rochdale have a nice spell and win a free kick when chopper Kaikai has had enough of the neat passing. They make nothing of it but it's a reminder that Dale have goals in them. 

Stewart hits a lovely first time volleyed pass from the middle of his own half, that just gets cut out before Simms can race through. Dale immediately retort with a long ball of their own that bisects the centre halves. Fortunately the Dale forward's touch is horrible and he ends up stumbling after the ball, following it past the far post... Unfortunately though, Marvin has done his hamstring running after him which means Jimmy Husband moving to red card central and fragile Luke Garbutt coming on. On the upside, it improves the quality of the tangerine hair. On the downside, Marvin is a footballing god and now he's crocked... Fuck's sake football!  

The game is less comfortable watching now. Dale have much more possession. They win a corner, then a free kick level with the right hand corner of the box. Pool look hurried in response. Several times Virtue's tenacity is notable. Once winning an aerial battle in midfield, then tackling back and stopping a promising move in the right hand corner. Then he bursts through, spreads it for Yates, who tries to hit him as he darts towards near post. 

Dale are definitely in charge. They work a clever free kick routine that doesn't quite come off. They keep picking it up and coming at us. Maxwell is nursing a dicey hand as well he earned punching Thorniley in the back of the head. Dale are bringing on subs (I don't like it when the opposition bring on subs) and then they're winning a free kick right on the goal line that skims a head before going out for a goal kick... 

Critch makes a sub. Grant Ward coming on for Kenny Dougall. I'm a bit surprised by that. I wonder if Virtue is going to come inside and Ward sit on the right. A scintillating bit of passing between Kaikai, Ward and Gabriel offers momentary respite from the anxiety but Dale are soon back to forcing Pool to hack it away wildly. A free kick is nodded back across goal and headed away at full stretch. Then Dale get down the right, Garbutt getting caught wrong side of the ball and their winger races away before pulling it back, they've got three men charging forward, but one fortunately for Pool, the one it falls too screws his header wide. A let off. 

Dale win another corner. How can one centre half going off have such an impact on the team. He had next to nothing to do in the first half! Husband heads away from the corner. 

Pool finally have another shot. Thorniley lifting a free kick to the back of the box. Simms winning it, nodding down to Virtue who knocks it for Stewart to lash over quite a long way the top. Pool have some possession on the right for a few minutes. Chissy drops in the delightful image of 'Matty Virtue breathing out of all port holes' I wonder if he said 'port holes' or 'all four holes' and decide to stop wondering about that as the imagery is distressing either way I interpret it. 

Dale come again and it's defensive maestro Kaikai making a sliding challenge to block the ball out for a corner. From the corner, the excellent Husband head away but then a Dale man returns the header quite brilliantly, looping it past Maxwell into the top corner. A whistle has has blown though... 

Pool are at least now getting some joy on the counter attack. Yates twice galloping away, first playing in Sullay with a pass that is half a yard too heavy, then finding Grant Ward who indulges in what modern football calls 'game management' by eschewing the chance to run on goal and have a shot, instead, just stopping dead and strolling sideways, playing a simple square ball to keep things nice and safe and calm, signifying that Pool are ready to try and run the clock down. 

Five minutes of injury time is shown. Pool ride the first few minutes easily enough, until Dale win a corner. The keeper is up! Who doesn't love it when the keeper comes up! It's swung in right under the bar in a heart stopping fashion, but Maxwell gets a punch on it and when the ball is hooked back in it's offside. 

There's still time for game management's Grant Ward who was earlier calmness personified, to get into a bit of a ruck over a tackle by the corner flag, which is a bit of bonus fun. Pool win a very late corner but only have to hold the ball for a few seconds before the whistle blows. 

Thank fuck for that! 

Critch looks very relieved as he wanders out from the dugout, applauding and then commiserating for ages with Dale's Matty Lund. (I presume they know each other from Crewe) - we're up to the dizzying heights of 14th! Send Mike out for some lagers! 

--- 

As I wondered above, how can changing the centre half change the game so much? I think the difference in the two halves is symbolised by Stewart. In the first, he looked absolutely dominant, his timing in the tackle perfect, his use of space exemplary. In the second, he looked to be chasing the game, to be sliding in too late, to be making the challenge but the ball bouncing away from him. Something similar could be said about Simms who didn't really rise to the challenge of hold up play second half. 

It has to be said that for all Dale's pressure in the second half, they haven't really got that close to a goal and the defence needs credit for that. We've got through 40 Marvin-less minutes but there's really got to be some collective prayers to the football gods that Dan Ballard is fit as I don't fancy Jimmy and Jordan as the regular duo. 

After such fulsome praise at half time, there was really little to get excited about in the second half beyond defensive work. Yates ran hard up front and was the nearest to making something happen. Sullay vanished as an attacking force after hitting the post and no one else in midfield could get the ball down and play at all. Virtue battled his arse off but the fact I'm picking that out that sums up the second half in comparison to the first. It was odd. It was almost as if we'd had a man sent off rather than making a sub. 

Anyway, whatever it was like, we won! 

utmp 


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Saturday, February 13, 2021

Halfway report: Part 2 - the defence


A bit good


It's bloody cold and there's no football. Other football doesn't have any real appeal to me and the test match is over for the day so it's time for STAT ATTACK part 2 in which I adopt the tone of a real football journalist and substitute actual observation for telling you some numbers you could read for yourself.

Part 1 of this possibly not to ever be repeated exercise in dullness concerns the attack. The conclusion from it is inescapable. We aren't very good at attacking unless we play 2 upfront, we don't dribble very much, we miss CJ and even an out of sorts Sullay is more creative than most of the other players. The defensive stats should make better reading though, as even without looking at them, it's obvious that we've built quite a solid team. I was critical of the midfield and the lack of penetration it offers in part 1, but the converse of this, is it protects what is already a pretty useful defence and a decent keeper pretty well. 

So. Strap yourself in number fans and let's take a look at Pool's defensive qualities from the first half of the season. 

Stats refer to league games only and divisional positions are correct prior to games played on Sat 13th February 

4-4-2 is not just about scoring goals. 

442: P10 W6 D2 L2  G18 A7 (Pts 20) (2ppg)

433: P11 W3 D1 L7 G7 A18 (pts 10 (0.91ppg) 

other: P3 W1 D1 L1 G3 A4 (pts 4 (1.33ppg) 

As you can see - we've conceded 0.7 goals per game playing 4-4-2 and 1.57 goals per game playing other systems.
This suggests to some extent, attack is a good form of defence... 

Team Stats


We've got the 8th best defensive record in the league having conceded 26 goals.
That stat requires a small caveat, that we've played the joint least games in the league and we drop to 9th best in terms of goals conceded per game 


How do we concede goals? 

We're very good at defending against the counter attack, having conceded no goals in this manner. 
We've got the 11th best record against set pieces in the division (7 goals conceded) 
We're the 6th best defence in open play (15 goals conceded) 
We've conceded 3 penalties (which makes us joint 13th in this metric, however only 3 sides have conceded more)
We've also scored 1 own goal (11 sides have none, 3 sides have more including Portsmouth who've scored an incredible 4!) 

How do we get attacked? 


We're very good at stopping crosses. We face an average of 16 pg which makes us 3rd best in the league at shutting down attacks from wide. 

Interestingly, we've faced the second highest number of long balls (an average of 81 per game) - I'm not sure what this stat means but I wonder if it's because our midfield is quite combative and difficult to play through so teams don't bother trying? 

In terms of stopping opponents, we've faced the 9th least short passes which does add a little weight to the idea that teams don't try work through our pressing in midfield so much as go over the top of it. Perhaps the work of someone like Jerry Yates also prevents teams from passing at the back (though as we'll see later, our forwards have unremarkable records in winning possession for themselves)

We also spend the joint least time per game (25%) in our own third of the pitch which basically means, we defend less than everyone else in the division. 

With the above in mind, it also makes sense that we concede the 4th least number of shots in the division (9.7 p/g)

How do we defend? 


We make the 10th most tackles per game (we'll look below at who and where the tacklers are) 
We're also 10th in terms of interceptions per game

We've got the 2nd best defence in terms of not being dribbled past

We foul slightly more than we're fouled (12.8 vs 13.7) and have the 11th highest number of fouls conceded in the division (for balance, we're the 10th most fouled against side) 

Our record in aerial duels puts us 9th best in terms of winning them (note, this stat is rated as an 'offensive' stat but appears to include all kinds of aerial duels, not just those that happen in the offensive third) 

Individual defensive performances: 


So, who is contributing to our relative defensive stability? I'll analyse the work of individual defenders and the midfield whilst also look where relevant at how the work rate all over the pitch plays a part. 

Individuals: Aerial duels: 


We do look like quite a big side when we've got everyone fit now. Below we show who are the dominant players in the air and their rank against all the players in the division who have played a qualifying number of games. 

Gary Madine 5.5 (7th) 
Marvin Ekpiteta 4.1 (30th) 
Ollie Turton 1.6 (126th)

This suggests only part of the picture. If we factor in all players (including those who've played a small number of games) we see a very different story: 

Michael Nottingham (Blackpool appearances only) 6.7 (7th) 
Jordan Thorniley 6.1 (9th)
Gary Madine 5.5 (18th)
Dan Ballard 5.3 (25th)
Marvin Ekpiteta 4.1 (54th)
Daniel Gettarsson 3.9 (67th)

This wider cohort of players illustrates how Dan Ballard gives us much more aerial presence and somewhat surprisingly counters the belief that Jordan Thorniley is weak in the air because of his relatively petite build. 

Individuals: tackles. 


The result won't surprise anyone...  

Kenny Dougall: 3.2 (3rd)
Ethan Robson: 1.6 (66th)
Ollie Turton: 1.4 (100th) 

If we factor in the players with just a few appearances, surprisingly Elliot Embleton has the highest tackles per game ratio of all of our squad, with Kevin Stewart also edging out Kenny Dougall. 

Individuals: Interceptions


Ethan Robson: 1.6 (30th)
Marvin Ekpiteta: 1.3 (50th)
Ollie Turton 1.3 (59th)
Kenny Dougall 1.3 (62nd)
James Husband 1.1 (98th)

Adding in the players with fewer appearances again reveals some interesting stats. Daniel Gretarsson is praised for his positioning and the stats back this up. His record of 3.1 interceptions per game is by a long way the best record in the squad and by a fair margin the best in the division of any player in any position. Dan Ballard also excels here, with 2.1 per game and again, Jordan Thorniley comes out well as the third best interceptor in the squad with 1.7 per game. 

Individuals versus dribbling


Who are our best players when the opposition run at us? 

This is a difficult stat to work out, as obviously, some players face less dribbles than others... (hence, Super Gaz winning this one, is a bit of pyrrhic victory for him as he only attempts half a tackle per game...)

Gary Madine: 0.1 (42nd)
Marvin Ekpiteta: 0.1 (54th)
Keshi Andersson: 0.1 (68th)
James Husband: 0.2 (91st)

Jimmy Husband may seem unimpressive at 91st but he is the best left back (who has played the requisite number of games) in the division at stopping players going past him. Ollie Turton comes in 4th of all right backs using the same metrics. 

Which of our players get beaten most often? The answer is a surprising one... Kenny Dougall! (beaten 1.1. times per game, probably a result of him being one of the highest players in the division in terms of attempted tackles - you can't be 'beaten' if you aren't in the tackle after all...) 

Individual players blocking: 


Again, we need to take the players rankings with a pinch of salt as we've already established we don't concede many shots. So, whilst that means we don't need to black as much as other teams, it's still interesting to see who our best blockers are... 

Marvin Ekiteta 0.8 (21st)
Ollie Turton 0.6 (49th)

Of the players with fewer appearances, Jordan Thorniley (1 per game) outshines even Marvin whilst Dan Ballard (0.8) has a similar record. 

Who loses the ball when we have possession? 


Obviously, these are stats we have to caveat by pointing out players who takes risks offensively will come higher in these stats than others who play it safe... 

Amount of times dispossessed per game: 

CJ Hamilton: 2.6 (8th)
Keshi Anderson 1.7 (35th)
Sullay Kaikai 1.6 (38th)
Bez Luballa 1.6 (39th)
Jerry Yates (42nd)

When analysing our defenders alone, Mitchell (in defence) then Gabriel, then Garbutt are the most likely to get tackled (probably as they are more likely to attack than Turton and Husband). Ballard and Grettarson almost never get dispossessed and Marvin is one of only three defenders in the division to never get dispossessed in the season to date. 

Unsuccessful touches per game: 

CJ Hamilton: 3.2 (4th)
Jerry Yates 2.3 (27th) 
Gary Madine 2.1 (30th)
Keshi Anderson 1.9 (55th)

Analysing by position is interesting. Keshi has the highest ratio of unsuccessful touches per gameof any central midfielder in the division when playing in central midfield. Defensively speaking, Mitchell again, then Garbutt again are most likely to make an 'unsuccessful touch' whereas Ballard, then Ekpiteta, then Husband are the least likely to do so. 

Again, this doesn't necessarily indicate that the unsuccessful touches equate to defensive liability, possibly more indicating the way some players get forward more, though in Mitchell's case his performances at full back were somewhat sketchy!

Defending from the front? 


To analyse this, I filtered various attacking positions and looked at successful tackles made by player of all teams who had played more than 10 games in the positions identified

Yates is 18/32 strikers in terms of tackles and Madine is 24/32. 

Sullay is bottom (6/6) in terms of left sided attacking players making tackles.

CJ is 6/10 in terms of right sided attacking players making successful tackles but significantly more successful in the tackle than any other out and out attacker in our squad.

Stats for interceptions were similar, though Sullay faired a little better here, being 4/6 instead of rank bottom.

Which of our defenders uses the ball best when we have it? 


Key passes per game by defenders (starting games only) 

Jordan Gabriel 1.6 (mostly short passes)
Luke Garbutt 1.4 (equal mix between long and short) 
Demi Mitchell 0.9

Accurate long balls per game by defenders (starting games only)

Jordan Thorniley 6.0
Michael Nottingham 4.7
Dan Ballard 4.3 
Dan Gretarsson 4.0

Crosses per game by defenders (starting games only) 

Luke Garbut 8.1 (2.3 accurate, 5.8 inaccurate) 
Jordan Gabriel 2.9 (0.6 accurate, 2.3 inaccurate)
Ollie Turton 2.8 (0.4 accurate, 2.4 inaccurate) 

Goalkeeping: 


I don't have any especially detailed stats on goalkeeping. Chris Maxwell has the 4th lowest ratio of saves per game in the division but that needs to be understood against the stat that we conceded the 4th lowest number of shots per game and it's clearly unreasonable to expect a keeper to save efforts that aren't coming at him! 

General analysis of his play suggests his distribution is strong. He's in the top 15% of keepers for accurate long balls. In the previous piece, I explained we actually don't play about at the back that much in comparison to others. Therefore it makes sense that Maxwell is in the bottom half for overall number of short passes. His ration of accurate to inaccurate passes is good and he hasn't been dispossessed or racked up any 'unsuccessful touches' to date. 

Conclusions: 


There's little surprising here. So much so, that I wonder why I've even bothered writing it. Marvin has clearly been a key factor in our defensive solidity and Ballard, Gretarsson and latterly Thorniley have all complimented him in different ways. Unsurprisingly the stats indicate Garbutt could add something in an attacking sense but they also suggest that Husband isn't without his merits as a defensive full back either. Gabriel vs Turton is a similar story. Essentially, nothing the stats tells us really contradicts the view of our own eyes. In a similar vein, discovering Dougall's clear influence is no surprise (as isn't the fact Stewart has shown himself capable of similar figures) The question isn't 'can we win the ball?' - it's 'what can we do when we win it?'

Parts 1 and 2 together tell the story of the season to date. A solid platform has been built but to date we haven't launched enough rockets from it. Of the players we haven't utilised so much, Mitchell and particularly Garbutt have a clear capacity to add some things we lack (running/crosses) though Demi's propensity for giving the ball away is probably why we don't see more of him. On the other flank Gabriel has an ability to make key passes missing from the squad as a whole and I identified in part 1 the fact that Ward has been more productive on the wing in his earlier career. 

Basically. Thank fuck the stats thing is done. Sunderland* next. 

*Eagle eyes readers will note it's actually Rochdale and we don't play Sunderland for ages yet. Dunno why I thought it was them... 

utmp
 

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Tuesday, February 9, 2021

FFS: NOT the Mighty vs Burton Albion

I can't claim to have originated the 4-4-2 stat that's been doing the rounds, but I will point out that on Sunday I posted a detailed (actually, really fucking boring piece of the type I'd deride some smartarse stats ragmag like the Athletic for publishing) analysis of the shortcomings of our attacking approach. Within this, I unearthed the fact that we really don't dribble very much at all, even compared to Larry's globetrotter style, non stop fun bus entertainment dream machine of a team last year.  

The team coach (circa mid Jan 2020). Larry not pictured

Imagine my delight therefore at seeing Demi in the starting line up! If I was being uncharitable, I'd describe him as 'headless Demi' given his general habit of getting the ball and just legging it somewhere with it (or without it) but I'm not that sort of blogger. Demi is excitement. Demi is a little frisson of something, a ripple of optimistic chat round the stands, a burst of electricity on a cold and dark evening. So, c'mon Demi. Run like the fucking wind. Run at them, run round them, run up blind alleys and into traffic, run beyond them, over them, under them, straight through them. Just fucking run lad. Be yourself and enjoy it. 

Grant Ward comes in too. Now don't get me wrong, I like the idea of Kevin Stewart but Dougall and Stewart together is a bit like having a main course and a main course on a night out. Ward is a bit of contrast, perhaps a tasty, zesty fresh citrus dessert to Dougall's steak main. More relevantly (cue boring stat again - did I tell you I wrote a proper piece this week yet?) our Grant is one of the few players in the midfield where there's clear evidence from his past endeavours at other clubs that there's more creativity in him than he's currently demonstrated. 

Also back is Ellis Simms. Now, I think, to get the best out of this lad he needs to play with wor Gaz but that's basically true of all footballers. Everything and everyone is better with Gary but with the goal machine out, I'm very happy to see Simms start up front and even happier that poor Jerry won't be lonely tonight. 


The Cure - The Weedy Burton

Apparently Burton had some games off then nipped out to buy Messi, Ronaldo and Pele whilst they were supposed to be poorly but I can't be arsed analysing all that. Get at them, get into them. Who gives a fuck who is playing for them? We're the Mighty and we're far more than pissing about worrying about the opposition. Nothing can stop us. Nothing. 

---

I switch on and there's a ranty looking Jimmy Floyd Hasslebank looking like that mate you've not seen for 20 years whose facebook profile always makes you baulk cos he's aged less than gracefully. There's also a whole load of fellas with forks, Critch with an expression that says 'shit's gonna happen but I'm not chuffed' and a ref tarting about tapping his foot on the grass like he's discovered a minefield and is curious about everyone's opinion about how best to diffuse it. 

Then there's a load of on point 2021 fist bumping, the ref holds his arms out as if to say 'I had no choice' and everyone disappears apart from the fellas with the forks who if anything, seem to have bred and multiplied. Excitingly, Mike 'what does he do?' Garrity comes out and joins the blokes and helpfully puts his hands on his hips for a bit. He points sometimes. He bobs up and down behind Colin and now we've learned he does a good teapot. 

There's a few minutes of fork prodding and bafflement then it emerges that the game is off. 

Fuck my life. It's -1 not -30 for fucks sake.

What the fuck am I going to do now? Hoover? Stare at a wall? Watch Holby City backwards really slowly so the sound is all warped whilst crying at the futility and banality of everything?

Russians not being melts from a shitty non league brewery town: Snow (tick) Orange ball (tick) Sliding tackles (tick) 


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Yet another bad owner. Where do they breed them?

This is Brooks Mileson. He owned Gretna FC. If you don't know who he is or what the score is with Gretna, it might be worth giving it ...