Football Blog: Tangerine Flavoured

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Don't panic...

There's no match blog this week cos I didn't go to Millwall as I'm a lazy, good for nothing part time fan that deserves to be ejected into orbit on a one way trip to the sun. 

I thought I'd attempt to write something sort of slightly sensible instead as we're heading for two weeks of no football and a chance to draw breath and think about how we've done to date. 

Post match on Saturday, despite the performance showing more spirit than a big bottle of meths, there has been an understandable gentle gnashing of teeth. We haven't won yet (except against Middlesbrough reserves in the probably soon to be discontinued cup.) There are also clearly some issues we didn't necessarily expect with recruitment when Ben Mansford was stood outside his hotel the day after the playoffs, the egg from his celebratory English hotel breakfast smeared around his mouth, shouting "we'll get Messi, Ronaldo, Mbappe, that sort of player. Just you wait. You'll piss yourself with delight, where do I sign the super league forms?"* 

'So Neil, Firmino, Salah or the other lad. Or all three? Pass me the ketchup will you?'

*He may not have said these
exact words 

Everyone knows what we need most. 

The obvious problem is the lack of right back. Until we have one of those (if for nothing else, to blame for not being a good enough right back,) then we'll continue to bemoan the lack of it. It has had an impact. I'm not Opta and I don't have a heat map or graph that looks like an exploding nebula for you to prove my thoughts, but my take is that he's played reasonably well defensively (yesterday's James Husband impression was the exception, not the rule) but he looks (understandably) a bit lost trying to skip down the flank like an actual full back might. 

That, to me, a shite blogger with no UEFA coaching certificate in a brown envelope in the loft, has left us a bit imbalanced and undermined a little bit our attempts to Brazil it out from the back. Several times I've seen us shift the other team with the sideways defensive passing and then noticed how we haven't quite had the out ball on the right as Connolly is being studiously defensive in his duties, which is fair enough because he isn't (to my mind) playing in his best position. Playing out of position is a bit like driving someone else's car - you don't take the risks you might in your own. 

It's good to have a right back. If for nothing else than to complain about him... 

The best is yet to come? 

We're rumoured to be in for a flying wing back from Chelsea, one who presumably will do the flying down the wing thing with the relish of Douglas Bader. Hopefully he'll have legs though. It would, to be fair, be a striking blow for equality if he didn't and it never stopped wor Douglas who achieved more in an average week than a hundred people with legs do in a lifetime, I mean, I have legs, but I've never flown a spitfire or tried several escapes from Colditz, so who the fuck am I? He can be as legless as Jerry on a night out with Gaz for all I care as long as he's a right back. This wasn't the searing analysis I was aiming for. Lets try again. 

Not replacing our loan players yet has been an issue but we may take some heart when we remember that last year, the best ones didn't sign till later on. Whether we thought we didn't need them and later decided we did, whether it's the case that sometimes you just have to wait for the players to be available or possibly that it's wise to play a few games before you know exactly what you need most, I have no idea but either way, we've got a history of bringing the better loans in later. 

If we look at our most vaunted loan players in what I'll call (to avoid mentioning certain names,) 'the post boycott era', Moore, Kirby, KDH, Ronan, Ballard, Simms, Gabriel and Embleton all signed at least several games into the season and some a lot later than that. Only Ben Heneghan was a genuine season long loan who worked out to some extent and second time round, even he wasn't there from the outset. (I can't recall when he got there first time cos I didn't give a shit about it all then) 

Established 1887:  

I'm still not quite over this one. Are we sure it happened? 

A lot could be said about the lack of established signings and it's certainly possible to imagine a world where we went out and bought 3 nailed on quality championship players and had started somewhat better than we have.  

There's a few things to look at here.

Firstly - we've shown so far that when we spend money, it's going to be on 'moneyball' type targets.

That means broadly that we'll look at:

- Young, hungry players who have performed at a lower level and deserve a chance at a higher level but won't cost much because their pedigree is lower league. 
- young hungry players who haven't made the grade at a higher level and have been released.
- players who are being misused in some way and are undervalued at their current clubs who could be better utilised in another position or system. 
- players whose value has dropped due to issues like injuries or clashes with their current club.
- players from outside the league who have the potential to step into it and are really cheap as they might be shite really even though they look grand against postmen and butchers and that.   

What we almost never do, is go and target someone in the same division who is established in the job we want them to do. We might, as fans, want that to happen, but there's very little evidence to think that's something we're likely to do. 

No, I've no idea why I'm here either? 

If we look at the signings last year, we can clearly see this in practice. Ignoring Sarkic (a signing that broke that mould as he seemed to be an established player in the division we played in with no known obvious issues) and the stopgap signing of MJ Williams who was also a League 1 regular, most of the others fit one or more of the above categories. 

- Yates was playing on the left for Swindon on loan and under appreciated by his parent club Rotherham 

- Dougall and Stewart were both discarded by their clubs due to injury. Whilst clearly being 'good enough' they'd been cast aside and were without a contract.  

- Marvin was a mid table league 2 defender. CJ a mid table league 2 winger. Both had some promise but neither were the obvious 'next big thing' 

- Keshi was also a league 2 player who had additionally apparently fallen out with Richie Wellens. 

- Maxwell had a reputation for being 'a bit dodgy' and was floating about going on loan. He was signed before Critchley, but the decision to make him a long term acquisition was Critch's

- Mitchell was a left back that couldn't defend with hardly any pedigree to speak of outside of youth team football. 

- Grettarson was a player who no one had heard of and who had little experience of playing on actual grass. He was trailed as 'an international' but the reality was he'd been capped once. 

- Embleton was a wonderkid who his own club has seemingly forgotten about after an injury. Sunderland fans I asked about him felt he was at best... 'ok' and at worst 'crocked.'

- Garbutt had a reputation for quality but a history of injury undermining his progress. He'd had lots of loan moves but never forced anyone to really make Everton an offer they couldn't refuse, probably because he kept breaking down. 

We could perhaps mention others above, but we can see the pattern. None of these signings were obvious. None of them were akin to signing say, Grant from Lincoln, Oliver from Gillingham, Piggot from Wimbledon or whoever else was playing really well for teams in and around our division.  

The signings weren't all successful, we've already mentioned Sarkic and sadly we've not seen the best of Bez Lubala who firmly fits in the 'player who achieved at a lower level' mould and is probably the most disappointing bit of business of the new era. (I'm not counting Joe Nuttall as he signed before the fancy recruitment people with their graphs and tick sheets came in.) Obviously, Embleton's efforts will ultimately benefit Sunderland and our other loan players have moved on, but I'd argue there's a real core of players in the above list that have proven our broad policy correct. If we were to sell all the players listed above tomorrow, we'd definitely recoup a lot more than we spent on them and we could easily cover whatever we spent on Bez and Sarkic for good measure. 

Worth a few quid with or without shirt

So far, whilst Garbutt hasn't shone defensively at left back, (and obviously, players like Stewart and Grettarson have been injured) only CJ really has looked like he's actively struggling with an additional leap to the Championship. Even if CJ is struggling, it's also important to remember a key fact. We got promoted. Even if someone like Hamilton isn't able to contribute this year, he's been part of achieving that key goal and thus can't be regarded as a failure overall.  

Even more moneyball? 

This year's signings follow a similar (and arguably more extreme in some cases) pattern.

It's too early to judge them all but... 

- Shayne Lavery has come from Linfield and has already shown he can more than cut it in the Championship. 

- Josh Bowler fits both the 'injury risk' model and the 'needs a bit of refinement' model and thus far is my favourite signing for about a decade I think. 

- Sonny Carey has come from non league and in the (albeit relatively unimportant) games he has played, he has not looked out of place. Whether he can force his way into a championship side is a matter for debate but he's without question a player with significant potential. He's not Ben Tollit or Ben Garrity or that kid we bought from Blyth Spartans. He doesn't look like a fish out of water, which, to a greater or lesser extent most of our more extreme punts since Brett Ormerod signed from a then very much non-league Accy have done. At worst, I think he might turn into a Curtis Tilt level player, which is to say, he looks like he's got a decent standard of football ahead of him. 

Probably better than Craig Sutherland

- Reece James is an established player from the division below and has had a rocky start to an extent but played very well against Millwall in a different position than we've seen him to date and one that isn't his best where he hasn't yet played. There's therefore some as yet untapped promise in that signing. 

- Callum Connolly also is from the division below (in terms of actual experience) as well as fitting into the 'players released from a higher level' group and as yet, hasn't had the chance to show what he can do in his natural position. That said, he's shown leadership and tenacity and as above, I think he's defended pretty well, if not always been the jigsaw piece we need overall. His willingness to do his best to play that part is to his credit.  

- Richard Keogh is supremely good at pointing and to be completely fair, he's looked ok (and perhaps better than that) when we're not playing against nippy technical front three. Surely Critch has realised now there's a time when you don't play him. He's also the player who may well be this year's stop gap and the one signing who we won't be looking to potentially make a profit from. He played too 6 month stints last year at different clubs and who is to say he won't do the same this year. With centre backs options including Marvin, Grettarson, Connolly, Casey and Husband, if Keogh plays 25 games across the season, it will mean he's playing well (or everyone is injured again) 

- It's not fair to analyse players like Casey yet but let's do it anyway. He looked decent enough in his actual position and a bit laboured at right back in the two games he's played.

- We'll have to judge Casey in time as we will the loan signing of Ryan Wintle, a player who fits the model of 'team at the same level don't rate him' so much it's almost painful. Imagine being signed and then let go again? We did that with MJ Williams who helped get Bolton promoted so it's not always the worst thing in the world. Wintle was part of the Crewe side that looked incredibly committed and knocked us of our stride at Bloomfield last year. He likes a tackle and a long pass which sounds almost exactly like what we miss when Kevin Stewart is on his bi-monthly periods of recuperation. 

But I want a WOW signing! 

It is frustrating that we don't go and sign players that immediately get the pulse racing. I still recall the jaw dropping impact of signing Tony Ellis, but then, I was pretty excited when we signed Chris Malkin too. When we look at the fact we are very rarely, if ever in the market for players that are playing at our current level, it's actually quite remarkable how many of our signings have been hits as opposed to misses. 

Wow! It's Chris Malkin! (actually, still not over this one either...)

This bodes well for our longer term future, even if it's frustrating right now. In order to progress, we can't simply rely on Sadler's largesse. I don't know how much money he has but he's seemingly prepared to put a lot of it into infrastructure. What that leaves for signings is anyone's guess but unless he's seriously rich (and some would argue, seriously stupid) then it can't be enough to just go and buy a championship team. The championship is a horrendous league in terms of finances. Whilst almost no one in the lower league makes any money, losses are generally fairly constrained. A few million here and there. An extra few hundred grand can make a big difference to a playing budget. 

The championship is not like that. To just cling on to the coat tails of the established clubs costs 7, 8, 9, 10 times the sort of average wage we've paid out over the last two seasons and to do that, whilst finding funding for a training ground, improving the infrastructure of the stadium and so on would challenge the deepest pockets. There are clubs paying players the kind of money we earn from our entire season ticket sales. We shouldn't underestimate the effort that has gone into retaining players like Yates and Maxwell on improved deals. I have no idea how much that has cost but it won't be cheap if we've done it to stave off established championship clubs. 

The costs rise and, yes, so does the income, but we're playing clubs with parachute payment riches and average gates three times our own. We all get the same TV money but others get a lot more than that on top as well and they set they going rate for an established player. 

To overcome that ,we must achieve a model similar of buy low, sell high and repeat. We must mark ourselves out as a club where players feel there is a pathway to success, where they'll get a chance to play, high quality coaching and an opportunity to progress, either with us, or via the transfer market. We haven't yet cashed in on any of our significant assets (the perennially falling over Jordan Thompson the only significant sale of the Sadler era to date) but when we do, the algorithm is fairly straight forward. If we sell one Marvin or one Jerry, then we get to seed 10 more Marvins or Jerrys. If we can maintain a record of identifying more successful players than we do complete duds, then that will eventually develop our finances to a point whereby we are looking higher up the league for the diamonds that need a little less polishing than those we have taken to date do. 


To return to the immediate, it feels as if we do need some 'quality' - However we dress it up it seems bizarre that we don't have a right back and haven't been able to identify even a stop gap player to fill that position. It's also clear that having taken risks on players with a history of injury has left us nowhere near able to field our best XI for long periods, perhaps inevitably when we consider how our play is based on a kind of relentless, unforgiving intensity that requires players to be at top condition to successfully execute it. 

The frustration we feel with the shortcomings of the squad is perhaps enhanced when we look at the incredible spirit that there clearly is. This is a tight knit group of players. The players who've broken into it and had most impact so far show the same personal qualities as the players they've replaced and visibly share the ethos of the squad. The most exciting thing is that it doesn't feel as if we've hit the ceiling of achievement for some of the players who've been there from the beginning if we can put the right players around them. That is what makes the need for a bit of extra quality feel urgent. 

Remember this?

Neil Critchley is possibly the most dignified man in football. He may sometimes dither over a sub or two but he reflects and he learns. He's more forthright than he was, he's got braver and whilst he's not called everything right this year (Keogh against Coventry for example), he's also inspired some tremendously spirited performances. The players are more than playing for him. The players will run themselves into the ground for him. Whether or not he's able to play the way he personally wants to is unknown. We can mix and match formations anyway we like, but without a right back and with no fit taller player up front and with serious problems maintaining any sort of partnership at the heart of midfield due to injury, any manager is going to be forced to put out a side that looks like a compromise from time to time. 

What Critchley unquestionably does, is make most players better. We've listed quite a few already without mentioning Simms, Ballard, Gabriel and also without mentioning the reinvention of Grant Ward and the surprising love in between Gary Madine and the Critchley way.

The other thing he does, is relentlessly search for the right way to play. He doesn't just settle for a formation and stick to it. He might appear stubborn from any short series of games, but after he's given things a go, he'll chuck that formation in the bin and try something else. The much criticised (and frankly absurd in retrospect) experiment with Michael Nottingham is a good case study of Critchley in miniature. He's very difficult to predict, he'll try something out. He'll stick to it for longer than you or I might, but once he's decided it doesn't work, he's ruthless. I'd say that's a real strength of his. He gives mistakes time to turn into something that works because for every mistake that's doomed to fail there's also an idea that just needs patience to bear fruit. 

The counter punch to Nottingham is Grant Ward. "Why on earth (said some bloggers not a million miles from here) would you use a winger in central midfield? Why not just get a fucking central midfielder? Grant Ward is just a pretty player who doesn't really DO anything...." Yet, here we are, in a division higher than when we (ok, me) thought that, absolutely gutted because he's out for a long period and it's difficult to remember when Grant Ward was anything other than the driving metronome who keeps us ticking over. 

'We wish him well'

The end bit with some rousing words

I don't know what we're going to sign over the next few days or weeks (I say weeks, because arguably our key signings last year were free agents) but what I am 100% sure of, is that if we can plug the gaping hole at right back, pick up a bit of class on loan and get the squad something like fit as a whole, we will more than stay up.

Whoever comes in is going to be walking into a genuine culture of quality, a culture where players get better, because they believe they will get better, because they believe in what they are doing. Football might be a results business, but sometimes results mask the real work. Every great side doesn't just win. They work incredibly hard. They lead each other. They don't give up. In Yates, Dougall, Maxwell, Marvin and others, we have those leaders. We have those players who set the tone. Who give everything and accept nothing less from each other. I've recently been reading back on last year for something and it's hard to reconcile the spirit of this team with the damp squib of a side that started last year. Some of our players have grown immeasurably since then. We've learned so much. We will continue to do so.

Seeing how rapidly Ellis Simms matured from a bony kid loping about out of his depth to giving one of the all time great Pool striking performances of my life against Oxford away shows what Critchley and the culture he's fostered can do to a player's development in a short space of time. Look at Jerry picking up Shayne Lavery when he missed against Coventry. That's a player playing for his club and not just himself. Look at Jimmy hugging Grant Ward when his achilles went. That's a teammate. Look at Keshi barrelling through midfield on his own against Millwall trying to make it happen against all odds. That's what you want. Players, backing themselves. Taking risks. Look at the sheer fucking joy of watching Josh Bowler. What more do you want? Look at goal Lavery scored by sheer force of bloody will. His body on the line. What's not to love about this lot? Anyone coming in to that and playing in front of the north stand or the relentless noise of our away fans can't fail to feel they're *somewhere*

We're going to be ok. It's going to be fucking brilliant. Bit by bit, we're going to get there. We'll find a way. It's what we do. Summat about processes and trust. Blind faith innit. 


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Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Raging at the ref: the Mighty vs Sunderland

I love mostly meaningless cup games. If they're shite then you can just shrug it off, but if they're decent and you win, then you can get excited about the next round and how yer obviously going all the way to Wembley. 

You also get to see stuff others don't see, with my personal meaningless highlight being a Matty Blinkhorn hatrick in the pissing rain sometime long ago in the tinpot cup before the internet remembered everything for you. When people say 'Blinkhorn wasn't that great' I say 'ah, but you weren't in the crowd of 2,345 (or whatever) for the night he was' and feel a pathetic sense of exclusivity, like I achieved something by going to a not very popular football game cos I had nowt better to do. 
Tonight my wish list is simple. I'm not one for big demands. I'd like to see: A Richard Keogh goal. That's basically it. I gave him a load of shite the other day, like being a blogger makes you some kind of special entity, able to pass judgement on stuff. It doesn't. It just makes you a wordy cunt writing about someone's misfortune and I hope crazy Uncle Richard shoves my cocky twat writing right down my gobby throat. 


Pool start well and put a bit of pressure on. These lot look a bit League 1. Remember League 1? Ha! What a tinpot league. We're *Championship* now. It doesn't matter that we haven't actually won in that division yet and this lot were almost as good as us last year and are in red hot form, being promoted obviously gives us an automatic ability to beat teams we were bricking it a bit about playing last year when we arguably had even better players.   

Carey goes on a run up the middle, he lays it off to John-Jules who cuts it back and Lavery finishes with ease. We're a glorious football team and infinitely superior than this lower league shower of shite. I might go home now. I don't want to get bored when we're winning 23-0. I stay though, cos the north is in good voice and I fucking love it when chants overlay each other and there's depth to the noise. 

It's all going very well. 

Sunderland equalise. Because of course they do. There's hesitancy in defense. A ball slid down the middle to Aiden O'Brien who has enough space to pitch a caravan, erect an awning, put out a nice blanket on the grass and he makes no mistake under no pressure from anyone but the keeper. Hmmm. I don't know who was at fault but something didn't work then. 

Carey is linking things quite well. Antwi looks a little off the pace but one lovely chase back and an an almost defense splitting pass give a bit of hope. CJ looks frankly lost. His best work of the half is defensive. 

Keogh is Keogh. I applaud him tackling someone with aplomb. Positive reinforcement. Hopefully he'll get into the habit. Like them dogs and the bell. 

Grettarson's delivery from the back is at times superb. Cross field passes onto a sixpence. We've missed that player who can switch it with ease. We've got him back. 

We've got some slick play in midfield but struggle to break through that often until a sweeping move that ends with a Carey low shot saved. Sunderland keep threatening on the counter, hinting that they'll do what they did for their goal but they don't. 


What to say? It's 1-1 and I've said it above. 


Let's talk about CJ. Someone says he's not interested. I'm not sure. He's not CJ though. I consider the horrific possibility that he's lost faith in his explosive pace since his injury. There's an absolutely classic moment for him, a diagonal ball, all he has to do is turn on the afterburners and race away but he looks so, well, normal, as he chases it down, gets beaten to it by the full back and trudges away. Where is CJ Hamilton and who is this imposter? 

Crazy Uncle Richard is running up the pitch. He does this. He also gets lost at garden centres on days out and sometimes sleepwalks out onto the fire escape at away games. He plays it to Sonny. He shimmers and wriggles and shoots over the top. I like the fact he will have a shot. 

I might write a children's book called 'Dan The Unlucky Viking' about a talented warrior for whom stuff just goes wrong involving slapstick injury. His boat sinks, his sword falls in half, that type of thing. None of it will be his fault. Sunderland get a corner when the ball hits him in face. From the corner the ball goes in and out and then in again, someone has a shot, Gretterson throws himself at it and it ends up in the goal. Deflation. 

Embleton and the giant Ross Stewart comes on. Unlucky Dan does his best human crash test dummy impression as the giant knocks him over then tramples on him. I worry about Gretarsson. He's proper class but he just seems so breakable. He's not totally broken though this time. He gets up, dusts off the the stud marks, reattaches a few limbs and carries on. 

I don't normally talk about the ref that much cos without being a boring cunt, they get stuff wrong and it happens but this lad is shite. John Jules gets clattered. Nothing. Someone gets battered in our half as they try to break. Sunderland get a free kick. Keogh wins a header from a corner, they get a free kick. It goes that way all night. 

Shirtless Jerry, Bowler and Keshi are all on by now. Jerry's first contribution is magnificent, robbing the fullback, leaving him on the floor, dancing in the box to make an angle and cracking a near post effort in. Lovely. He motions to the north stand and the north obliges. 

Bowler is brilliant in his cameo. He tears down the right, he whips the ball in, he hares all the way through the defense and just runs out of steam. He picks it up and play in Jerry with the most superb lofted ball, up in the air and curling down gloriously like a chip to the green that rolls round to the flag. 

Keogh keeps winning headers for corners. First he head it down and it bounces up over the top. Then he nods it on but no one can claim it. Then he whistles one a bit wide. C'mon... 

Bowler wins the ball, he's marauding again, he's standing up his full back, he lays it off, John Jules controls, turns, glides it across goal and there is Bowler to slam it home. Yes! 

So, penalties then... or a winner! Corner, header, Keogh! No... Sunderland come again, ball through. Offside. It's fine. O Brien takes it on anyway and tucks it home, but we're going to be taunting them. Aren't we? Where's the flag. C'mon. Put the flag up! Why is the flag not up?... For fuck's sake. It's a goal. I'm not even counting it. It's 2-2. Surely? Everyone stands about and looks baffled. 

We kick off. There's one last header from Keogh from one last corner and a Yates effort that's wide and flagged offside anyway, just to piss us off. And it's done. We're out. They're through. 


It was an engaging game. I always enjoy a cup game relocation to the north and it nearly had a cracking climax on a balmy evening. We wus robbed etc. 

We lacked midfield presence and again, I wasn't convinced by James. He's tidy enough but he's neither a physical presence not a creative player. He got forward a bit more than I'd seen him before and it felt like he wasn't really the right player to have doing that either. I'm not sure really what he is. I think that's the point, he's a bit of an odd job man. He might be a great left wing back to be fair to him but I think he's just here to plug gaps and be cover here and there right now and didn't have the impact you'd hope in an inexperienced midfield (youth, plus the fake CJ) 

Carey on the other hand looked promising again. He's not finished but he looked good enough for me to wonder what he's look like if the rest of our midfielders were fit and playing alongside him. We still don't have a right back. Garbutt got forward well enough, but Casey, whilst putting in some decent challenges wasn't offering much in terms of interplay and attacking. Why would he? He's a centre half and with a malfunctioning CJ on the flank as well, it really meant we were one sided. 

Anyway, we probably owed them a win after the two games last year where we got six points through 'spirit' and 'battling' and 'fucking unbelievable saves by Maxwell' (i.e we were a touch lucky) and it doesn't really matter. It does a bit though and whatever you tell yourself, once your there and the noise is going, the tackles are flying in and you're called the referee a fucking cheating twat, you want to win that game. What we did see, was Josh Bowler on fire for a bit, Jerry looking revved up, John-Jules continues to set things up and maybe people will accept he's not Ellis Simms and that's ok... but it's not a win. Can't win em all tho. We'll just have to win the FA Cup. It's better anyway. 


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Saturday, August 21, 2021

Seaside!: AFC Bournemouth vs the Mighty

9 goals in 1 game for them. 0 in 13 games for us. 

I'm by the beach and a *very* posh man walks past and I hear his rather luvvie voice drawl "and I held onto his swimming shorts and swam, with one arm" Sadly the rest of the story is drowned out by someone shouting "Cheesy chips! Cheesy Chips!" as an order is ready at the snackbar. It's a bit like Blackpool, but also a bit not like Blackpool. 

On the drive down (I've come from Weston Super-Mare because, for reasons to dull to explain, I have) I wondered the following things... 

- Why don't people with those felt tip NHS rainbows that have faded away leaving just a white piece of paper think "that's a bit shit, I'll take it down?" 

- Why does the West Country make me feel uneasy? It's full of places called stuff like Welton Comley or Fursminster or Croome Underlip and fucking huge hedges. It's not Lancashire. It's made of dangerous roundabouts, identical villages, storage centres, farms and golf driving ranges. I am well aware that making baseless judgements on places is xenophobia itself, but I feel like if I were to stop and go to one of the many olde worlde pubs I pass, it would be about 6 minutes before someone said something really quite racist or a serial killer would be there. I don't really know why I feel like this. It feels sort of apocalyptic even though it's all quite picturesque and I can't put my finger on why. Maybe it's because there's so few football clubs and my mental map of the world is based on football clubs that Yeovil aside, the place is a weird black hole I don't believe really exists. That said, I'd definitely love to play GTA West Country. I think that's the natural way for the franchise to go. Imagine the tractor and combine harvester based frolics you could have?  

- Would it better for Keogh to not play or to play and play really well? 

- Will the rule that we play better against better teams hold for this division? 

- What are the odds that all the experts are wrong and actually Bournemouth are shite and can't string two passes together? 

We'll find the answers to some of these questions when I've walked up the hill from the beach to the ground. 

*Note to Bournemouth. Boscombe pier is more of a little walkway that juts a few yards into the sea than a pier* 



The ground is weird. It's like a tiny miniature matchbox Premier League ground. It feels a bit like Accrington gone mad. It's all fanzones and very polite stewards (at least from my experience) and slick bar staff but it's dead small. Everything is pristine in the way lower league grounds never seem to be. Marvin is playing. Crazy Uncle Richard isn't. Who will do the pointing at things only they can see now? The sky is blue, the pitch is a carpet. Bournemouth are definitely shite. I've decided that from the warm up. We're way better. We're on for a hatful. This is going to be quality. 

The game starts. I may have misjudged Bournemouth. My bravado lasts about 15 seconds. They're knocking it about and we're back peddling. They're going through the middle. They're moving, giving it, going, moving again. Hmmm. They're shooting, they're going close. We're looking a bit desperate to be honest. I glance at the clock. 5 minutes have gone. I was hoping it might be 20 or more. I was contemptuous about the 'step up' but at times it feels like we've gone up two leagues by accident. 

They score. They cut through the middle. We back peddle, it seems like we back peddle till we run out of pitch. The shot is low, past Maxwell from the right. Husband throws his arms out as if to say "what the fuck happened?" We rise, we sing. We're louder after they score than they are. 

Garbutt gets booked. Callum Connolly still doesn't look like a right back to me. So far though, no one has run twice as fast as Marvin and left him floundering, so there's that. We can't get a grip at all. Garbutt plays it out. It's a sloppy pass and Bournemouth pounce, the ball goes wide, the ball comes in and there's a glancing touch at the near post. The ball is in the net. Fuck's sake. But again, we're on our feet and we're singing. I'm right up against the home fans. They taunt us by dancing along to our songs. I notice who I'll be calling, waiflike tracksuit man (who is a skinny waif, in a tracksuit) gesturing at us gleefully. 

We sing on. The player respond with a flurry of efforts. Garbutt has a go, Keshi has a go. Marvin has a go. We don't score. We don't look that much like scoring, but it's better. We've not given up, they've not given up. Bowler runs through on an angle and then wellies the ball straight ahead as if he hasn't noticed the goal is about 8 yards to his left. It would have been a cracking finish if the warm up goals had been in place. Bowler runs into traffic. Bowler looks a bit confused in general. 

Bournemouth cut through again. They score! No.. they don't. The ball hits the hoarding and bounces back into the back of the net (literally). Tracksuit waif gestures as we taunt their mistaken celebration. IT's the same gestures all game, just with different facial expressions.  

John Jules is fed in the box. He goes down. Penalty! Surely. Fucking hell. It's a yellow card for a dive. I have no idea if he dived. He's not done much at all. No one has really. 


Right. Critch. For once in your life, make a fucking substitution. I know Jordan Thorniley isn't playing, but you are allowed to make changes at half time even if you bought the players you're substituting. Lets just go for it. 3 at the back, CJ on the right, Garbs on the left, Keshi in the middle. Just give them *something to think about* please! 

For fuck's sake, don't do the usual 'same again, put it right' rubbish. By the time you actually make a change it will be TOO LATE. 

I think that's clear enough. 


Guess what. Same again. Who would have thought it? Might as well just go home now. 

Fucking hell. They're through again. Solanki for a hat trick. Marv flies in, but not even his telescopic legs can stop this. Wait, There's a top knotted super hero. Jimmy Husband. Take a bow. He never give up. He never gives it up. Super Jimmy Husband. I don't get why we never sing his name. He's ace. I love Jimmy. 

We're on our feet again. John-Jules is being pulled back, definitely. He's slipped it through to Bowler though, the ref signals advantage. I swear he does, Bowler storms through. Bowler.... passes it to the keeper. To say it's a poor finish is to be polite. I perhaps jumped the gun just a touch by comparing him to Messi earlier in the week. The ref forgets the foul about 5 seconds before. We're getting nothing. Absolutely nothing. 

Jerry rats the ball out. We play it about. We're fighting at least. It's knocked though but Jerry stumbles and he can't take it. We're getting nothing from the ref and nothing from the bounces of the ball. Dougall is looking more like it though. Garbutt is getting forward more and looking a better player for it. We're winning second balls and we're fighting. We've got a corner. We over elaborate and end up spraying it wide to Marvin of all people. What's he going to do from the right wing slot for fuck's sake? Skin his man? Don't be stupid. 

Hang on, he only goes and skins his man... Maybe Crazy Uncle Richard has been showing how to play centre half like a total footballer? He gets his legs taken. We sing, but we've never stopped singing so really, the volume just rises a bit. C'mon the Pool. In it comes, Marvin leaps, Marvin hits the post, there's a groan but then there's a roar as the ball cannons out, only to be met by the topknot hero who throws himself at it and hooks it into the roof of the net. YESSSSSS! Waiflike Tracksuit man gestures again, a scowl on his face. He vary the gestures for the only time in the game, adding a little flourish where he holds up two fingers on one hand and one on the other. 

Bournemouth try to hit back, but we stand strong and we break, John-Jules on the half turn, John Jules threading it, it's a lovely pass, right down the middle, splitting the defence, it's Keshi coming across his man 8 yards out, it's Keshi going down, it's Jerry and Keshi imploring, pleading, telling the ref. It's a penalty. It is. It has to be. The referee isn't moved but then, like those cricket umpires that take an age, he processes what he's seen, he raises his whistle to his lips and he points. It's a fucking penalty. Tracksuit waif looks a bit worried. He's not gesturing. 

Jerry. Deep breath. He's going to miss. He SCORES!!!! Down the middle. Bang. Sniper. You are dead. Take that tracksuit waif. Take that angry bald guy. Take that bloke who kept going to the steward to complain about something in the Blackpool crowd. Take that parachute money. Take that sandbanks and your fucking horrible millionaire nouveau riche mansions worth more money than entire fucking housing estates elsewhere. Take that Harry Redknapp and I dunno, Steve Fletcher and the lad who drives the tram on Bournemouth prom who was a bit grumpy looking and shouted at a little kid to sit down and I've run out of Bournemouth related things to say, but you get the picture. 

I told you Critch needed to stick to his guns. Give the lads a chance to put it right. I definitely said that. It's one of his strengths. He doesn't panic. 

Can you even imagine supporting a team that played in a shit normal run of the mill everyday colour? Like white for example? 

We're still on cloud 9 when Grant Ward goes down. I don't see what puts him on the floor but a stretcher is needed. That's not good. It really doesn't look good as Jimmy kneels and hugs Ward. I can't see him, but I assume he's upset because he knows it's bad. But still we sing, breaking only to applaud the metronome off the pitch. Critch sends on Reece James and he also sends on Shayne Lavery for John Jules. He's going for it. Bournemouth are wobbling. Critch a year ago would have shored up the midfield. Critch today is sending on another striker. 

Jerry comes short and dummies brilliantly. Keshi picks up and goes to drive down the wing but the back heels it. Jerry is an inch from taking it through. Keshi slides it through, Jerry is in. He hit's the keeper, the flag goes up. It's fucking good football though. It's more like us at the back end of last year. 

We press high. Lavery, Yates, Anderson get in their faces. Kenneth tidies up. I'm sat down low, much closer than I normally would and Dougall's control is terrific. He's playing much more like himself. He's finding that extra yard of space. He's knocking clever passes. Nothing too fancy, just well weighted balls that put us on the front foot. 

What's also like us from then is the defence. Twice Bournemouth go through and twice, Marvin makes wonderful challenges at the last moment. He's so good at that. The first one is good, the second is just textbook Marvin. He gets turned, but he doesn't give up, he chases, at first, he looks done, but he's gaining ground as he hits his stride, and as the Bournemouth player coils to shoot, Marvin strikes. Bang. It's like a brick wall that collapses in the path of the attacker, it's like one of those stinger things the police use to stop cars. It's so good to have Marvin back. It looks like the proper Marvin as well. Not the slightly hesitant, slightly rusty post injury Marvin but the mid season last year one. He wasn't perfect (cos frankly, who is?), but he was brilliant at times. 

Time is running down. Ben Pearson (booooooooo) comes on. He passes the ball out of play (cheer!) and then gets into scuffle with Keshi. The boy Anderson squares up, puts his face right up against his. This is superb. There's some chaos in the box. Everyone tries to tackles but no one makes one until Marvin cleans out the Bournemouth player. It could be a red? It isn't. Thank fuck for that. I'm right up against the wall with the tunnel to the concourse below and I'm really tempted to tap on the copper's helmet who has stood below me. I don't. 

We're going to do this. 6 minutes... Tracksuit waif is looking pensive. Bournemouth win a corner. Behind me, someone shouts helpfully 'defend it Pool' and follows up with 'Get it away.' Bournemouth do a weird build up chant with drums. It's quite good to be fair. In it comes. Shit, it's met at the near post but thank fuck, we've got Chrissy Maxwell who used to play for Preston but is alright now and he tips it over, flinging himself upwards in a microsecond and saving our skin. Jesus... 

Another corner. It's ok. It's away. The whistle is blown. The players shake hands. Tracksuit waif gestures furiously then gives up and goes home. We sing. The players troop over. Critch toddles over and bows. We sing. I swear someone is singing 'Nigel Critchley's Tangerine Army.' I don't care. He can be Nigel if he wants him to be. What the fuck do I know about football? Superb. 


I've already said how much Marvin impressed me, but Keshi also did today. I've doubted whether he can play the wide role and also whether he has the consistency in his final ball or finishing that a.n.other Pool no 10 of recent times had, but he was terrific. I'd still rather see him in the middle, but in the second half, it was a privilege to see him up close on the near touchline. Bowler isn't Messi and he had a woeful first half, but he's got to get credit for the way he played after that and even in the first half, though his end product was frankly, a bit shit  less than perfect sometimes, he was none the less, the player making the runs, trying to beat people and having a go when we really weren't doing much. Character counts and with a player like that, if you're going to moan that he's tried something and it's gone wrong, then you'll just miss the point of him. Jerry's goal gave him a spring in his step. He needed that. 

Bournemouth were really good when they were good. I felt like they could play more bravely. That seems a weird thing to say when they've had a dominant first half, but they had periods where they didn't seem committed to attacking and to me, it looked like when they put their mind to it, they really worried us. That said, for us to knock them off their stride and end up playing higher up the pitch after being pinned back is a really good sign. The only real downside to the second half was Grant Ward. 

To come back into that game against a side who oozed quality (David Brookes alone looked terrifying to me, never mind the rest of them) took character from the whole team and I wonder if, had Ward not gone off, we might not have gone on and won it as we had them really shaking and the change maybe just disturbed us a little. James did fine, it's just we had the momentum and Ward and Dougall know each other well. The Pool fans were superb. Everything Coventry were at Bloomfield on Tuesday but us. More of this at Bloomfield, all around the ground. Unequivocal support. The faith was kept. The faith was rewarded. 

A grand day out. 


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Thursday, August 19, 2021

Hollywood Bowl(er) - 3 players (sort of) better than Messi

The biggest stories in football have been the transfers of Grealish and Messi. That fits in with the observation that people like me (poe faced over serious boring fun sponges the lot of us) have made before, that some people like the money game more than the actual game. That increasingly, football is akin to the film industry, where, it doesn't really matter if the film is shite or not, as long as it has a star in it. 

Keep your eyes peeled for the 'aging star signing hypocrisy' later

Clearly, this is not a fresh concept. As far back as the 1890s, people were moaning that certain clubs would buy the star players and pay them shadily under the counter. Arsenal built their first decent team in the 1920s on such an ethos. Even the Mighty 'Pool were accused of such grandstanding in their high flying days. Indeed, at the last match, my lad asked me 'Who is Stanley Matthews' and that set me off on a long, boring and frankly over complex explanation of the changing social and economic status of Blackpool as a whole, the maximum wage and the impact of package holidays and the way de-industrialisation has made cities like Manchester and Liverpool glamorous in a way they never were. I was trying to explain why Blackpool could have the world's best player then, but (Jerry Yates aside obviously) it seems unlikely we'll have a ballon d'or winner for a while at least. 

I like Grealish. Or at least I did. I liked the romance of a lad who sounded like people sound in Aston, playing for the Villa. See also Wayne Rooney and Everton. Now he's gone to City, I don't really care. I'm old fashioned. Out of step. Legacy if you like. It would be great to see my team sign someone really good, but does that really compare to seeing a player come through the ranks, hearing about their development, watching them grow from promise and potential to being a matchwinner. I'm not sure it does. I am but a dinosaur. 

With Messi, the same applies. I quite liked the homegrown thing. (ok, sort of homegrown) but now that's done with. What's weird is, I don't really have an opinion on him. He's a machine of a player. He scores loads but I never seem to thrill to him particularly. Ronaldo does stuff that defies physics whilst Messi just seems to score a lot. Put it this way. I've seen him play a bit and be really good because how can you not but I don't really remember it. That will probably have readers (ha! there's a presumption) spluttering and saying 'what about the goal against x or y?' 'what about the double hatrick he finished with a bicycle kick?' 'Who is this fucking idiot blogger?' 'Don't you even watch La Liga you parochial old fashioned bellend?' 

Ok, I watch this and I do feel like deleting the article a bit. 

Which is sort of the point. Certain players have become bigger than their clubs, bigger than the game. People follow them with a different mindset than I follow my team. People follow football wanting to see 'the best' do 'amazing things' - I am old fashioned in the sense that, of course, I like it when I see good stuff, but I follow with a kind of trudging acceptance that often it will be crap and those amazing things will happen occasionally. I don't really have time to watch La Liga, pay the bills and write a shitty blog ffs. 

The sums of money paid for and to the elite players is insane. It's insane, until you understand that the elite clubs are literally playing a different game to the rest of us. People used to scoff at the brand first, football second policy of Real Madrid's galacticos, but that's the norm now for some of the world's biggest clubs. They work internationally and they need the names to attract the floating loyalties of the global fan. Real Madrid seems so early 2010s now. Get with the programme global soccer hipsters. Madrid? Fucking tinpot m8. 

These clubs need names monetise their social media channels, their merchandise, their PPV TV ambitions. They need it to make their games a global event and satisfy their sponsors in the same way a film needs a known actor to float. Do City really need Grealish or, in football terms is a mid 30s player on his way down, the ideal investment? (Feel free to say 'oi, you moron, you literally mentioned Stanley fucking Matthews 4 paragraphs up, you utter muppet' if it helps.) 

There is, by the very nature of football, a degree of hype about the quality of the elite player. Most, if not all of it is on pay TV. It is in the interests of the TV channels and associated media to tell you that these players are wonderful. Similarly, the clubs need to trumpet their investments as do all the associated brands. This is not to say Messi is not a wonderful player. You'd have to be idiotic not to see him as an all time great but the gap between the value of these players and 'the rest' is such, that you'd expect to see Grealish being able to literally fly or split the atom on the pitch. He's good. He's really good. Is he *that good?* 

I had this poster! 

Ultimately, I don't know. I watch mostly football that isn't 'elite level' football, but what I do know is that over the years, I've seen some special talent that has given me more pleasure than Messi ever has. I mean, Messi is great, but I just don't really care. The precocious confidence and skill of Trevor Sinclair was apparent, long before *that* bicycle kick. The absolute class of Paul Simpson, his intelligence and measured crossing was an education to watch. The rapier like finish of Tony Ellis, the searing pace of Brett Ormerod. The frankly mind blowing Wes Hoolahan and the impossible daring fairy tale writing magic of Charlie Adam with his angelic caress of the ball that seemed so at odds with his lumbering gait. I could go on. Even Sullay fucking Kaikai. There. I said it. 

I've seen two proper games so far this year and I've already seen 3 players I really enjoyed. Players who had that little something. That magic. The 'x factor' 

First up was Lewis Duncan. Who? Lewis Duncan. Ok. I'll explain. I watched Fraserburgh vs Cowdenbeath and this lad ran the show. Twisting turning, pointing for the ball at his feet in a tight spot, taking it, spinning through players and knocking a pass into space. Running, shooting. Going outside someone, then going inside next time. Curling passes to meet the runner. Taking the set pieces. He was a thrill. He's 19. He was released by Aberdeen. I'd never heard of him, but now, he's definitely seared deeper into my mind than Messi ever will be. No. Really. He is. No. Really. Honestly. I've just watched the highlights video. I still remember 90 minutes of him more than the last 17 years of Messi. Sorry. There's something that just doesn't register when a player gets to a certain level with me. Lewis Duncan might be rubbish every other week. I don't know. But in my head, he's magic. 

You don't really need Qatar when you've got a butchers behind you. Free meat for the meat raffle in the social club. Sorted. 

Then there's the first Blackpool game I saw this season. Coventry had a proper class no 10. Callum O'Hare. I'd also never heard of him but I learn he's ex Villa. Released. Taking it on the half turn, skipping away, charging at the penalty box then offloading at the precise point that would throw the defence into the most chaos. Sometimes gliding across the box. Sometimes driving into it. All the time, balanced, comfortable in possession and even willing to try and overhead kick once that didn't quite come off. It would be incorrect to say I enjoyed his performance because frankly, I was hoping he'd get put in the stands sooner or later, but deep down, you can't help warming to someone who just seems to play with such an instinctive attacking flair. 

Which brings me to my final player who, in my head alone, is more significant than Messi. The Pool's own Josh Bowler. Released by Everton. Fearless and fast, when he goes, he goes. No second thought, no checking back. Like a rabbit after a hare. Fast but not without skill. Feet a blur. How doesn't he fall over? Shimmying. Step over, blasting past his man. Everytime the ball comes to him, a little hum of 'what next' around the ground. A low cross, a delicious through ball weighted to perfection. A charge down and a run on goal. Something from nothing. A drive over the top. Head down, then head up again. Ready to go. I like this lad. He'll be good to watch this year. He'll do things. 

Three players released. Three players signed for *nothing* by their clubs. Three players who can do the unexpected, can make a crowd purr their appreciation. Three players who probably won't be big TV draws or attract a multinational corporation to any of the clubs I've named. Three players, who in different ways, I don't honestly believe are a 100,000,000 times inferior to Messi or Grealish or anyone. 

This is just the rambling of a middle aged man who doesn't like the way that clubs can buy success on the basis of being run by states and oligarchs. I think, to cope with that, it's good to appreciate that even the players in the 5th tier in Scotland are about a million times better than me. It's true Messi is a genius level player, but it's also true that Lewis Duncan's speared low free kick in the last minute (saved,) Callum O'Hare's brilliant, clever link play and Bowler's daring pitch length run will all live in my mind whilst I can't tell on Messi goal from the next. 

I think that it's fitting to finish on the fact that about 4 weeks ago, I was walking home. I stopped for ten minutes to watch a park game. It was really good. There were about 5 goals in that short time. The football was a mix of calamity, skill and luck. I walked off after the fifth which was a beautiful arcing half volley from outside the box. You couldn't ask for a better goal. You couldn't ask for more. Two evenly matched teams, trying to win the game. 

A park. A comedy goal. A brilliant goal. All good. 

It's still football. No matter what you spend. 

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Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Something about speedboats and oil tankers: the Mighty vs Coventry City

I've been away so I don't really have a sage preview full of wise pre-match words to write. (reader: 'no change there then...') We drew, we won, we lost. I didn't see any of the games. From what I've gleaned Lavery is mustard, Bowler isn't shite (I was undecided on this technical point having reached the measured conclusion that he *may or may not be any good*) and Critch is still up to his usual game of 'pick the team no one on social media picks.' Performances have apparently ranged from world beating to a bit shite.  

It's only right to mention that Coventry are happily back playing in Coventry which is *a good thing* - Imagine if we'd had to play at Preston or Blackburn for a year cos of mad rent shit whilst Fylde played Rugby at Bloomfield? Summat about being sent *from* Coventry that probably every shit blogger ever has thought of. Some more random stuff. Mark Robins is the tenth longest serving manager in English football. Keith Houchen's diving header in the cup is possibly my favourite non-Blackpool goal ever probably because that match is the first football match I can actually remember. 

I quite liked Coventry in the old days cos they seemed to hang about being not very glamorous but somehow not getting relegated until finally they did. I saw them get well beaten in 1988 when an Everton season ticket holder took me to Goodison for the first actual live game of my life. Youtube is a goldmine of old football stuff and I find the video but don't spot myself. Would you spot your 8 year old self? I'm not sure. I haven't seen a picture of me as a kid for a long time. I don't really know what I looked like. That's a weird thought. Let's move on. The video also reminds me that a) Kevin Sheedy wasn't always utter shite b) Steve Ogrizovic played for Coventry for about 300 years. In fact, I wouldn't be all that surprised if he was in goals for them tonight.

In the old days, Ogrizovic was one of the weirdest names in football. I do a quick google and the teams that day were a sea of mundanely British surnames with only the Dutch Welshman Van Den Hauwe comparing with Mansfield's own Steve Ogrizovic for novelty value though it always seemed quite funny to an 8 year old that David Speedie was quite nippy. It still does to be fair. We've already established that I dunno if I'd actually spot the 8 year old me in the street but I still *feel* essentially the same person inside. That said, we actually regenerate our all of our cells every 7 years* so by now I'm literally about 4.7 times a different person than I was than. 

*I'm a bit sketchy on the science of this tbf. It might be complete shite**
** Actually, it's broadly accurate according to a page called 'how stuff works' which is the sort of trustworthy title that makes me think they know stuff about things and how they work. 

I could happily sit in an empty room on a saline drip and watch old football videos on YouTube forever. How the world turns. How we move forward, forever. The past getting both grainier and sharper, fading and becoming ever more colourful at the same time. More distant but yet strangely growing in emotional strength the more it recedes. The present is always raw and a bit frightening. The past is safe even though it was just as raw and weird when it was the present. 

Shit! I've digressed a bit. This isn't the thrusting kind of tactical insight I'd aimed for. I've not even been talking about the Mighty for the last 4 paragraphs. For fuck's sake MCLF. This is championship blogging now, not the easy going league 1 stuff where you can get away with a digression like that without being punished for it. 

So. Pool: Get into em. Attack. Play the best players. As my dear ol' Grandad used to say 'Kick them up in the air....' Score more than them. Win. 

That's better. If you're still reading, thanks. Your patience is appreciated. Think of this intro as the blog equivalent of standing in the queue for forty minutes any time you want to give Blackpool FC any money.  It may or may not get better... Fair warning. 


The first half seemed mostly to consist of their players running past Richard Keogh. Their no 10 was particularly good, running at our defence and then passing to someone to run past Richard Keogh. Sometimes he ran past Richard Keogh himself. It struck me as a novel approach, having a skillful, technically gifted and attack minded player *in the middle of the pitch* as opposed to *on the edge of the pitch* and I promise myself not to mention any Wycombe Wanderers players in the blog tonight. 

Chris Maxwell remains a really good player. That's important because Coventry are giving him quite a lot to think about. Jimmy Husband does ok as well and whilst I'm still convinced Connelly isn't a right back, he's up for it and doing his best. I don't think Garbutt should have had a haircut though because Coventry are also finding space behind him and when he gets the ball, he also seems to have turned into Ollie Turton. Where is the marauding wing back with the glamorous hairstyle? 

Keogh mystifies me some more. He's really good at some things. He's very cute in finding little passes or clever defensive headers to a colleague. It would be fair to say, he doesn't look very good at running or tackling. He makes a really big deal of passing the ball 5 or 10 yards to the side. It's like he's being filmed for one of those 90s VHS 'Soccer Skills' vids where pros show their technique and you copy them. He's so precise about how he does it, arms out for balance, leg following through in the direction of the pass. It looks like Liam Brady spraying it 50 yards onto a sixpence, not a centre half knocking it square to another centre half. Then he goes completely mad, winning the ball and going on a wierd run to nowhere, dribbling past a few players with the look of an out of control frightened horse before losing the ball and sliding into a wild challenge that gets him booked. Call it rose tinted memory but I don't remember Ballard doing that very often... Or to be fair, Brian Reid either. Then, later in the half, there's a great defensive header from a Cov cross (it's weird isn't it, how people call them 'Cov' but don't call Everton 'Eve' or Exeter 'Ex') that brings me to my feet and it's mad Uncle Richard getting up from the turf, heroically sweeping his side parting and pointing at stuff only he can see, glad to have a break from the fast lads running past him for 20 seconds. 

Essentially Coventry are better than us for most of the half. My lad says quite early
'you can tell we're in a better league'  I reply 'why' and his analysis is pretty spot on - 'The other team are faster, better at passing and heading and everything, just better than the league one teams.' I can't really argue. Maybe he should do the blog. It would be shorter for one. 

We do, however make chances. Lavery curls one just wide wide after Keshi plays a delightful ball from wide into his path, letting him take it in his stride and cut across the box. Jerry bundles into the box after knocking their full back over and showing a glimpse of his skills but drives at the keeper when it looked for all the world like he should have squared it. Bowler, who is the brightest spark of the night, charges a clearance down then belts through, but looks to have too much time to think about it and their keeper out psychs him and makes a good stop. He also provides Lavery with a couple of chances, the best of them from a gorgeous through ball, a mirror of Keshi's earlier pass that this time sees the mobile Lavery come across the box, run on to it, and shoot from the near post side and it being turned away for corner. 

Then Cov score. I don't really see the goal clearly cos I'm walking down the steps convinced the half is over. The just seem to waltz through, play the ball wide, cross it in and score. Maxwell comes out of his goal furiously signalling handball and everyone is very cross, but nothing can change the fact it's 1-0 to them. I don't know. I watch it on the grainy replay in the concourse whilst not succeeding in spending any money (see also the club shop before the game) and I can't tell. The lad in front of me is insistent it's a handball, the fella behind me is definite it's hit him in the face. 


At halftime, the lad comes out with another pithy and succinct point. 'Dad, it seems like Blackpool haven't really planned for more people being here now we're in the Championship.' Again, I can't really argue. 

Surely we'll see Marv and King Kenny in the second half. I've not mentioned the name of a central midfielder thus far and that's probably a good indication of the way the game has played out. Coventry have controlled it, but they're not *that good* that we can't hit them on the break. Ward has, I think, been ok but he's a technical metronome that needs an enforcer and James isn't that man. I don't think James is *bad* but he's simply not the presence the game needs. Keogh hasn't yet played his way into the pantheon of 'great tangerine centre halves' is the kindest way of putting it I think. 

I say 'surely we'll see changes' but we all know we won't. Critch is twinkling impish football maestro who made our dreams comes true. He has been jumping up and down, pointing, clapping and generally looking quite manic (by Critch standards) and we love to see it but he doesn't do halftime subs. It's not his way. Unless it's Jordan Thorniley.  


The second half is frustration. They seem to handball it for real about every 5 minutes. They don't have as many chances but Maxwell makes one blinding low stop to his left that is simply fucking brilliant. I've never seen a keeper so good at reaching low shots than he is. 

Coventry are buzzing about a Brazilian. They sing about it for what feels like hours. They twist and shout. To be honest, they're relentless in their support and I don't know why, but our wall of sound never seems to get going. Is it more people turning up expecting to be impressed? I dunno. We're usually louder than this. It's a weird one in that we never really have a sustained period. We do have decent moments, but they're all spaced out so maybe that's why the noise doesn't build as it often does. 

It takes a while, but we make some more chances. Yates and Lavery combine and the new lad has a header saved. Keshi rattles an effort in that's saved low down. Garbutt continues to not be as good as he can be, but then he smacks a terrific effort that the keeper tips over having drifted infield and over to the right. Better. Bowler runs the length of the pitch. I can't remember what actually happens at the end but the run itself is a thing of beauty, Maxwell finding him deep in the full back berth and then him blazing past a couple of players with a trick, a little jink shuffle. He's good. He can do stuff without slowing down. 

He seems a nice lad too. One of their lads goes down. We play on. The ball comes to Bowler. He lets it go out and points to the prone Sky Blue man and makes a gesture as if to say 'c'mon, I want no part of this devious plot.' The rest of the team look a bit sheepish. I decide he's a moral individual. I like the cut of his gib. He seems to have that knack of not being downhearted when it goes wrong and just doing his thing. 

Time ticks by. We look stretched. Connolly gets booked for a very professional foul. Keogh has hit on a top plan to cope with the really fast players (basically, everyone looks really fast compared to Keogh so it's hard to tell if they are actually fast or not. They don't look as fast when running against Jimmy.) The plan is to run into them and fall over. It actually works once as well. We still look stretched. We put together one or two nice passing spells. The noise rises. 

Time is still ticking as it tends to do. I get cross as Ward and Connolly faff about not crossing it, but it turns out they're actually creating a really good angle for Ward to cross and Lavery to score... actually, no, he's squeezed it just past the post. We sit down. In the words of the world's greatest football analyst "It's one of them Chizz"  

Dougall is on by now. He's given us a bit more of a grip of midfield, but he's not looked his best either. so it's more of a finger hold than a vice like one. TJJ is also on, with Yates off. He has a little flash of skill from time to time, but he looks as if he's sort of caught between being a striker and playing deep and not quite doing either. I'm not sure the side is set up for that. CJ comes on and runs very fast, but Coventry come up with a cunning plan of putting a man on him that can also run very fast. It's that dastardly next level tactics stuff that'll do you in at this level.  

People get up and start filing out. 6 minutes of injury time though. Where are they going? It's always baffled me that. We work it down the left. The ball is cut back. CJ is there. CJ is on it, CJ is putting it into the north stand. It's one of them Chizz. It's one of them. 


I don't want this blog to be a slagging off of one player. It's not right to do that. I really don't understand Richard Keogh though. He might work in a back three with mobile players next to him but I am baffled as to why we're playing him in a pair as he just looked out of his depth and the whole point of his signing was that he would be the player who understood the water we're swimming in as opposed to the one floundering and being rescued by teammates. At one point, I was trying to explain the concept of 'the high line' to my lad and to show him how all the defenders were in a line to catch players offside. Guess who wasn't... I'll stop. He's got a fun photo on twitter and he's not utter shite. There's flashes of real class when you watch him (no, really, there are!). I just don't get how his attributes fit this team and why you wouldn't be playing players like Marvin or Casey because a) they've got stuff to learn about football and b) they're faster than him. Ok, if Keogh was brick wall, grand, but he wasn't suited to that game against a skillful front three yet he played a full 90 mins. He's not going to be a sellable asset or a possible cornerstone of the defence in 1,2, or even 5 years time as both big Marv and not quite as big Oliver could be. It just runs so much against the grain of what we've done to date that I can't work it out.

Maybe I'm wrong and I'm always a bit slow when people go 'ah, the goal was actually the player at the other end's fault because he didn't track the run of their left back and that opened space up, so therefore, the lad who fell on arse and let the striker score was actually left exposed when he shouldn't have been' but it was weird to feel a lack of trust in the defence (basically, when anyone ran at Keogh) after months of feeling like it's actually something really special. 

Listless Luke is a mystery. I think possibly the formation isn't helping him. He's nowhere near as good as Jimmy at being a *left back* but he's better at being an attacking wing back. We aren't playing him as one though. I'm not sure why we wouldn't do that, or instead, play Jimmy at full back. 

Bowler is a player. I like him. Lavery missed chances, but he's mobile and relentless and he didn't miss by much. Him and Jerry might work, but we can't hoof it to them and we did sometimes. I've already said what I've said about the midfield and we miss Kevin Stewart so much it's as painful as the recurring knocks that he keeps getting must be. I remain to be convinced that Keshi is an infinitely better player than the one I'm definitely not mentioning in this blog, but I also feel he's suffering a similar fate. We were crying out for another body in the midfield that could thread it or drive forward. We've got two little skillful players up front and someone behind them like Keshi could unlock triangles, make late runs and create uncertainty. 

It was a bit odd. It's like we set up the side for a front two with Madine in it. Keogh actually floated some quite nice balls forward that the Goal Machine would have loved, but the Goal Machine is having his roots done rather than playing football atm. The question is, do we need to find a formation that makes the best of what we've got (more or less, we obviously need a right back) or are we going to bring in players to make this work? If it's former, this isn't the answer in my opinion. It gives neither the defensive solidity to frustrate teams and hit them on the break, nor the creativity to overrun sides. If it's the latter, then we really, really need another Kev Stewart. 

All this said, we made chances. We could easily have got a point (but then, we could easily have shipped 2 or 3.) We will get better and when you add Madine, Stewart, fully up to speed Dougall and a pairing of Marv and the Viking into the starting line up, there's a much, much stronger spine to work with. 

It'll be reet. Get behind em. Bournemouth next. Piece of piss! 10-0 at least. Jerry to score 7 and Keogh to head a hat trick.  


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