Football Blog: Tangerine Flavoured

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Oh, the pain...: the Mighty vs Middlesbrough




Firstly imagine Jurgen Klopp with his weird lazer eyes saying 'Ya, but this is the thing, although we always look to do the right thing, y'know, my boys, they are so careful, but what we need to do is abolish all the games with the lower leagues and then let us just play games once a veek not all the time because it's crazy! crazy! People are always saying, yes, well this is the English way and I say it's not fair because my squad only cost a few billion and other teams they have an extra billion and it's just not right you see what can I say? I am only concerned about the players you see... So we don't need to y'know play the game against Rochdale and Shrewsbury or like, Leicester cos really who are they no? What about the league of the champions huh?'

Now, be thankful that wor Neil didn't go down that road. Whatever his faults, the wee maestro likes playing football matches and has done what he needs to do to get this game on. I am glad. Some say it's a naive thing to do, a sign that Critchley has his head in the clouds, dreaming of honour and decency, I just think that usually, when you have a break and everyone is supposed to come back rested and ready, they come back rusty and shite and if we can play, fucking play. Don't be a fucking melt about it. It's just football.

Bring on Bez, Joe Nuttall, Teddy Howe and Ollie Sarkic. Have 7 other players trot out then have the fab four enter the pitch from a helicopter, one by one, wearing sequined warm up jackets that will twinkle in the floodlights. Why the fuck not? Live a little. Don't be so frightened by life that you want to cancel it.


When the team comes, I'll admit, I'm a little disappointed. Whilst I didn't really expect to see Bez, there's no real novelty thrill, no Antwi, no Jack Moore and only Luke Marriette on the bench really sets the pulse racing in terms of 'players for whom tonight is a big chance.' The line up is weird. It screams 'wing backs' but there aren't any. Callum Connolly is in midfield again. I don't really get it. I'm not especially clear what else Critch was supposed to do to be fair. Our list of 'players I consider to be proper central midfielders at this level who aren't injured' reads 1) Kenny Dougall 2) That's it.

I can't see how we will get the ball to the strikers and we're playing a bang in form side with one of the best English managers of a generation* in charge of them. What could possibly go wrong? Critch walks slowly, his hands in his pockets, tamping down the divots with his foot. Control the controllables. The grass is flat. What more can he do?

*srsly tho. Look at the lad's record. Just cos he's a bit gruff and Yorkshire and worked his way up doesn't mean he's shite. We clearly need a bit of gruff experience somewhere in the set up.

---

We spend the first half not quite making a clear chance and being quite thankful that they don't score with the ones they make. Grimshaw makes a couple of decent stops, they miss one that looks easier to score than slice wide. We are manful and direct and Madine wins a lot but nothing quite runs for us. Yates is a whisker away from being through. Keshi beats a couple and fails at the third hurdle. Gaz slide rules one but Jerry is just not quite quick enough to whip it round the goalie and is foiled at his feet instead. It's all so nearly and not quite. Keshi bursts onto one and gets clattered. Please God, don't let Keshi get injured too.

Sterling and Husband are weird wing backs. They're more like cudgels than rapiers, bludgeoning their way forward by force of will as opposed to twinkling toes and skill. Sterling whips it across. Husband has raced beyond the far post and throws himself at it, it flashes back across goal and Yates is about, it won't fall quite right.

The ref. What is he? He's just giving random decisions. Why do we keep getting these refs? Am I just biased? Are they that bad or just lightning rods for my ire when we're up against it? I don't know. It feels like they've been shite. Week after week. Boro poke one away. It's as clear a corner as you could ever see, but the ref knows better than everyone else in his stupid purple shirt. It's the sort of colour that only very posh people or jockeys wear. What is up with black? When I rule the world things will change.

Why do the other teams we play all seem to be bigger than us? Keogh is pushed back by one of their lads and is so powerless to do anything about it that he reminds me of someone who has realised he's left the handbrake off his car trying to wrestle the car to a stop and coming to terms with the fact the car is heavier than him but not letting go.

Grettarson is a clever player. He's playing a part in making sure we can attack by linking defence and midfield. I don't know if he's good enough as a defender or not for this level, but some of his little short passes, his awareness of space around him is terrific.

Connolly is doing ok. He started off by hacking a pass out of play but also played a delightful ball through to Yates. He's not letting Boro settle and fighting for everything. He's also now making a needless and wild challenge that sees him on a yellow. Not again please Pool. C'mon!

Boro win a free kick. It's just before half time. They're going to score. They don't. They get a corner. It's even closer to half time. They're definitely going to score. The whistle goes. It's 0-0. I'll take that.

---

It's been slightly odd in that they've had the better chances but I've quite enjoyed the performance we've put in. The best way I'd describe it is - we've won a lot of challenges and been quite physical, we've got ourselves into decent positions as a result but because we've got the more physical players on the pitch doing that, we've not had the technical ability to make those positions count.

In normal circumstances, hoping to keep it tight and frustrate the opposition wouldn't really be a ringing endorsement of a performance or a set up but whilst I can see Boro scoring and then scoring two more, I can also see us holding them and then letting Bowler and others into the game and nicking it.

I've enjoyed it thus far. It's an intriguing match. Finely balanced. Committed.

---

We're unchanged, but we get forward better. Connelly is surprising me with his willingness to shoot in a side that looks otherwise shot shy. Husband is surprising me with his ability to get forward. Whilst he's no wing wizard we keep floating it into the left hand channel for him to win with his head. John Beck would be thoroughly approving of such a tactic.

Keshi glides out on the break, Husband races outside him, Keshi gives it, Jimmy crosses, Madine drift accross the box, he's wide, he's taken it and looped a shot back across goal, he's hit the post! That would have been a weird goal, befitting of a weird game.

Grettarson goes in for a challenge. It looks like he's tried to flick it to someone as he has been doing but not made proper contact. Boro have it now now on the edge of the box. It's slid through. Everyone is frozen, as if everyone can't quite remember what the plan is at this point. Who is supposed to deal with this? Me? You? The other guy? It's almost as if we aren't used to playing a back five. It's knocked across. Marvin and Grimshaw slide into each other in trying to stop their man turning it home, but turn it home he does. A deft finish that barely hits the net. I'm gutted. I can't see how we can come back from that.

It takes a little while for Critch and everyone's favourite youth club worker Mikey G to summon the subs we all know we need. Critch does a weird amount of clapping intensely, like he's broken and can't stop clapping. Sadly, clapping isn't as effective as subs. If it was, we'd be 3-1 up. He's way better at clapping than Wilder.

Bowler and Lavery finally come on and we're better straight away. Bowler finds space and uses it. Sterling seems relieved to have someone to pass to. Connelly has a shot deflected wide. Bowler whips a corner, Connelly glances and the ball glances the post... We're chucking everything (ok, mostly a makeshift defensive midfielder) at it. Marvin gets up but it's blocked. Jimmy Husband throws himself at one, but it's wide.

Time is ticking away and reality is biting. Then, Lavery chases down a sloppy touch and slams it home! YESSSSSSS! It happened in a split second. It happened out of the blue. It was the stroke of luck, the bit of fortune that has deserted us and it feels magnificent. I really didn't think it was on and it was. That's silenced the Boro fans, that was a tremendous moment. It's a fucking masterclass. A point well earned, In your face chemical industry. Fuck you Bob Mortimer. Stick your parmos where the sun doesn't shine.

But...

Husband plays it out. Mitchell takes it and.... 'for fuck's sake Demi!' - he's run into their player and lost the ball inside his own half... I have a flashback to the Demi Mitchell we signed who was, in my humble opinion one of the poorest left backs I've ever seen in a Pool shirt in terms of his defensive qualities (and I saw Scott Darton and Ben Dixon). I like the Demi who plays on the wing and grafts his arse off, I just never, ever want to see him at left back ever again. It's a freak set of circumstances that has led to him being there...

The goal is vile. We shadow their runner but without ever looking like we want to stop him. Jimmy tracks but never looks like pouncing. They slides it in and Watmore tucks it away from what seems like about an inch out. Again, he just kisses the ball and glances it home. It goes in slowly, which makes it all the more painful. They erupt. Some of them run on the pitch. We'd do the same. Lets not pretend we wouldn't. Let's not get all sanctimonious. Cos we would. It's heartbreak.

Pure fucking heartbreak. Again.

---

It sums up the way it's going that after going away to Huddersfield and wiping the floor with them for an hour, playing lovely football, the midfielder we'd finally found a place for that allows us to play such football broke his foot.

We're then scratching around for another way to play and coming up with a plan that involves defensive full backs being key to unlocking the opposition. It's just frustrating as it kind of worked. It was really admirable the way we created pressure and played with everything we had. Anyone grumbling at players application can fuck off. Anyone grumbling that we don't quite have the quality probably has a point.

It was quite clear tonight that getting tight on Keshi was more or less all Boro really needed to do. It was also quite clear that the frequent changes of system have effected the fluency. Equally, those changes have (recently at least) been borne of necessity and whilst the goals were both horrible, the players absolutely knew what the plan was and did their best to execute it.

If this was a real crisis, you wouldn't see that. You'd see a shapeless, hopeless team. What we've got is a squad who aren't far off but are desperate for some reinforcement. We're like a runner who has run well but needs the second wind to kick in. We're like a decent enough soup but one that needs a good grinding of salt and pepper cos it's a bit tasteless.

We need a quality midfielder most of all. Do a thought experiment. Imagine Kevin Stewart had been fit all year. How many more points do we have? In my head, at least 4, maybe 6. Kev is never fit. It's no good moping after Kev. We need a new Kev as a starting point. There's no point chucking a big strop and demanding new everythings but we need that player so badly. That player would improve everyone.

Tonight was painful as any game can be. Tonight was a really engrossing game of football. Tonight showed what we don't lack (application, desire, will to overcome the odds, a plan, the ability to be flexible, Gary Madine) but it showed what we do lack as well (genuine depth of quality, creativity, cutting edge and luck)

After the match, I didn't know whether to be thankful I'd seen a cracking game, with two noisy sets of fans and experienced the horrendous, sado masochistic pain of football or to just sit in the car and have a little cry. Pain is at least a feeling I guess. At least I know I'm alive. Fuck's sake Pool!

We're not quite good enough to make the luck we need. We're not quite quick enough to react to things, not quite on the money with changes, not quite clinical enough, not quite holding on. It's not so bad but it needs some fixing. A bit of fresh paint. New batteries. It's ok saying we're close, but we're definitely not there. We'll sort it.

We'll make that luck when we do.

Onward!




Sunday, December 26, 2021

Mist, Madine magic and misery: Huddersfield Town vs the Mighty


I used to live in Huddersfield. It has an effect. I sometimes say "us' ouse" instead of "our/my house" but I will never ever stretch to describing a chip barm as a chip teacake. There are standards to maintain. 


Welcome to Yarkshire: Abandon all hope

It's a very Huddersfield day. Fog clinging to the hills. The slopes disappearing into a slate grey blanket that passes for 'sky'. Some might say this is 'dismal' but the folks from round here probably think this is a relatively tropical day. I once lived in a house about 3 miles outside Huddersfield and all there was to do was watch the rain, sleet and snow sweep up the valley. I quite liked the place to be honest.
The modern bit of Huddersfield...

If the day is typically West Yorkshire winter, the team selection seems weirdly un-Critch. You've got a Gary! With a Jerry! With a Sonny Carey! With a Viking for good measure. Lovely stuff. I absolutely adore it. Get into them instead of fannying about worrying what might happen if they get into you. ---


Civilised Lancashire types

Get into them we do. Bowler cuts out a loose pass and sets off down the right. This is the all new Josh Bowler though and instead of excitingly but ineffectively running to nowhere in particular, he less thrillingly but more effectively feeds Yates. Jerry has quite a lot to do but do it he does, putting the ball into the perfect spot beyond the keeper's grasp with laser guided accuracy, wheeling away after he's scored like his body is a counterweight to the direction of the shot. The sniper is back. If the goal against Peterborough was a bit clumsy/lucky, that was a beautiful finish.


At this point, young people would say #scenes - I am not a young person so I won't, but you get the general idea. Hang on... Huddersfield have (as they will do throughout the game) used width and hung a ball up in the box. Their player is barrelling onto it, Grettarson is looking a bit lost. Their player is meeting the ball. The ball is in the net. Grettarson is remembering what first team football is like. Fucking hell. That was a bit simple.


3 minutes gone and we're back where we started more or less. Game on. If the Viking looked rusty for the goal, he redeems himself with some well timed challenges and nice touches. Bowler is looking nippy, Jerry is full of life, Carey is full of the joys of youth and Keshi has finesse. This is a decent game. Grimshaw foils an effort at their striker's feet. We put a few in the box that Madine can't quite make a decisive contact on. Gaz comes deep. Gaz shields the ball. Gaz makes to lay off then send it the other way. We pass it about a lot. Gaz meanwhile trots innocently towards the edge of the box, moving like a bloke out for his Sunday paper and a packet of fags. Bowler has it. Gaz makes a little dash, as if he's seen the newsagent is about to close. Bowler has given it to Keshi. Gaz has broken into the box, he has his arms up now, he screams for it. Keshi loops the most delightful ball in, Madine leaps, he heads it down, the keeper reads it but though he gets his hand to it, it's in... YESSSSSS! IT'S MADINE!!! All goals are great goals but Gary Goals goals are the greatest goals. This was a peach. A lovely football move started and finished by Madine. This is turning into a great day! Pool are generally really good for the first half. We work a great move that ends with Yates putting it on a plate for Keshi to head wide. Gabriel puts wide from the same man as well and after a massive gap in play whilst Tom Lees is treated for concussion and Ollie Turton comes on, Sonny Carey either rattles the bar or forces a good stop from the keeper (I can't tell, I'm miles away) Huddersfield have their chances. They nearly equalise quickly and put a great chance over the top, but we are clearly the better side. The only real worry going in at half time is two daft yellow cards - one for Jimmy Husband for a shoulder charge and the other for Gabriel for what looked to me (i didn't see it that well) like a daft late attempt to tackle a player who'd already crossed it. --- We've been really good. I worried that when I said I like the line up that would immediately condemn it to being a disaster but we've played on the front foot. Madine had been at his best, both orchestrating and getting on to the end of things, Jerry is fizzing with effervescent Jerry-ness and looking a real player as he does at his best. The midfield is primarily concerned with getting the ball forward to those two and I like that. I hated the Callum Connelly in midfield thing and whilst this is putting a bit of pressure on the defence and the back line is looking a bit shaky at times, we've tried the 'sneak a one-nil win away' for the last x number of weeks and it's not worked. So let's try and sneak a 4-3. It's more fun that way. You can't expect us to attack, attack, attack and defend, defend, defend and I know which one I prefer... C'mon Pool! ---



Huddersfield manage a bit more pressure but we're dangerous on the break. Carey is delightful to watch because he's so good at picking it up on the edge of the box and you don't know what he'll do - shoot, chip it, lay it off or drive at their defence. He tries all the options and a couple of times they nearly work. He chips it through and for all the world it looks like Keshi is being held as he tries to run on to it. He runs at the box and it gets stuck under a series of players' feet and just as it nearly falls to Jerry it's gets nicked away. This is going well. They have, to our delight, a goal disallowed. Ha ha ha. 

The more they go forward, the more likely we are to score a third on the break. Here goes Bowler. This is the new look Bowler but he's still got the double edged thrill and frustration of the old one, tying his full back in knots, beating him, finding himself in the clear on the by-line and then just chipping it into the keepers hands. He's off again haring down the right. He runs straight into the full back. The ball pops lose and seems to be there for the challenge. Gabriel steams in. Their no 8 who looks to me, very much like Paul Scholes clears it though. Gabriel catches him. Shit. I've seen the red in the refs hand before he shows it. Fucking hell. 

Now I'll say it - this ref is fucking wank. He's totally inconsistent. Only fucking boring pricks who ring 606 go on about 'the consistency of refereeing from game to game' - refs, like players are human and have different styles and I don't mind if what is a yellow in one game isn't in another but this lad just seems to hand out cards according to whether he likes the player's hair or not and he obviously doesn't like Gabriel's highlights. He even booked one of their players for protesting that a player with a serious head injury merited stopping the game. What's a foul one minute is play on 5 minutes later. He's shite. 

This has fucked it right up. We play for a few minutes with Dougall at right back and Jerry dropping deep then take off the sniper and Bowler for Sterling and Keogh. We're going to try and shut up shop. In retrospect it's a terrible move as we just offer ourselves up for them, but at the time, I thought it was an attempt to try and get the full backs wider and dealing better with their threat from wide that made some sense. They make chances but we still manage to get the ball up the other end. Madine is a focal point and Keshi is managing to get onto the end of his flicks. Nothing so much as resembles a chance, but we're at least pressuring them. Keshi has a sensational run. No one is with him at all. He's been terrific, again.

 

Madine's number is up. We're still winning. Lavery comes on. Again, in retrospect, the minute the Goal Machine trots off, we barely manage to hold the ball in their half for more than few seconds but at the time, Shayne's chasing and harrying and two player's worth of energy seems the thing we need. 

When it comes, it hurts. They seem to shuttle it sideways a ridiculous amount of times before the last player at the end of the move slams it home. It felt more like a series of rugby passes than it did a build up to a goal. They've got those stupid big flags they wave for a goal. They can fuck off. 

 The third, I can barely remember. It seemed to bounce about, we hacked at it and missed it, it fell to a lad on the edge of the box who smashed it through the players in the box. The shitty flags wave again. Their fans sing a bit. The mist swirls. For fuck's sake. Football can fuck right off. This was going so well. 

Still, there's time. I wonder, as Critch throws big Marv up front he's been reading this blog and decided to grant my wishes. I doubt it somehow. We get a deep free kick. Everyone crowds the box. They head it away. Marvin is quite good at flicking it on but either no one gets to it or he flicks it to a lad in an offside position.

This has a grimply inevitable feel to it now.

 Grimly. Inevitably. The whistle blows. It's a cruel game. 

 ---

This was a match of if, buts, maybes. I don't know if Gabriel was unlucky. He certainly made two daft challenges but maybe on another day he gets a talking too for one of them. If we'd put one more of our first half chances away we'd have likely held on and not felt so inclined to make daft challenges. If we had stuck to two banks of four we might not have ceded the midfield and invited such pressure. If we'd had Wintle or Stewart fit enough to replace Carey (who played really well, but isn't perhaps the ideal man for a backs against the wall midfield) we might have felt more inclined to do so. If Keogh hadn't been out for so long, we might have been a bit more alert in the last 20 minutes. If the ref hadn't been a twat who made it up as he was going along then... You get the idea. If. But. Maybe. Fuck's sake. I'm still pissed off. 

That's football in a proper league though. It hurts, but it's the way it is. Any given week, you can win, lose or draw. We played really well for long spells but we played really poorly with ten men and got done again by a quick burst of goals. Huddersfield have been basically matched by us over the two games but have taken 6 points. After the Derby game, I said something like 'I'd rather have lost 3-2 and given it a go' - It's sort of easier just to say 'we were shit' though and today we weren't.


I'm trudging back in the mist and rain. I hear two Huddersfield fans saying 'Ah don't durn't knur why they tried to park the bus - they took their best player off too, that 11, he were brilliant - soon as he went, they were turtally predictable' 'Aye, it never works that. I mean, it must do sometimes otherwise managers wunt do it, but it never seems to to me' 

I'm trying to turn left onto the main road. Some cunt in a BMW beeps at me cos I've not got the nerve to mow down the kids on the pavement in front of me and am thus blocking his way out the car park too. Perhaps if you have brand new BMW you can mow kids down but last time I checked the highway code, it definitely suggested it wasn't good conduct. I think about getting out of the car and smashing his windows with my fist to make me feel better after that end to the game, but I think better of it. I think of Gary Madine at the far post instead. Fucking hell football. I'm fuming that we played so well and got fuck all. 

C'est la vie. Hopefully anger will be an energy on Wednesday. 

Onward!

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Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Halfway point (squad review, numbers, too many words)


Welcome to the MCLF halfway report. It's like something you'd read in the actual paper but not as good because it's not got someone going 'oi, that's way too long and you've missed out the apostrophe there!'

That's how you market a blog. I haven't got to the lofty heights of 'third best Blackpool blog on the internet' (if you discount a few) without knowing a trick or two about how to market what people call 'content' - If you like quantity, stick around.

Quality might be lacking though...  

Goalkeepers: 

We've got good ones. No one knows why Stuart Moore is kept hanging around but he did well in the few minutes he's played against Blackburn Rovers. It's a bit weird how he seems only there to sit on the bench though, like he's some kind of novelty mascot. I imagine Critch makes him drive around with him when he pops to Aldi and such, but makes him stay in the car just because he likes to have him sat there. Maybe he's very fragrant? 

Chris Maxwell is a quality keeper and anyone who says otherwise can get in the sea. Recency bias says we mostly remember him limping about not being at his best but if you want to recall how good he is think of Sunderland away and recall how he seemed to be trying to outdo himself save by save. Think of the clean sheets last year. Think back through all our keepers of the last god knows how many years and find one who is obviously better. 

I like Dan Grimshaw. He looks as if he's a hung-over lumberjack and he makes goalkeeping look quite simple, a matter of being in the right place at the right time. At first I thought he was one of those keepers who claps and points put then dives over the ball but it turns out he's pretty good at both saving the ball and lofting it to Jordan Gabriel. He's very calm and he's improving. Lovely stuff! 

---

Right backs: 

Who remembers when we didn't have any? Callum Connolly (who has never actually played where I think he'd play best) looks like he's from the 1950s and he plays like it too. Very reliable and reserved but not very outgoing. That sort of works as an analogy. He didn't really work at right back for me as we always looked a bit wonky with him not being very adept at carrying the ball though he certainly put a shift in defensively. He's a bit like that when he plays in midfield too. Remember when Ian Rush left Liverpool, so they went and bought John Aldridge because he looked a bit like him and played a bit like him? That's Ollie Turton and Callum Connelly in my head. 

Look - they're a bit the same. 

Dujon Sterling
had us salivating after his first couple of games at full back. He looked ready to step into the Chelsea team and we were all thanking Mr Abramovich for lending us one of his massive stockpile of players that we might have been able to have anyway hadn't if he hadn't have created a kind of Romanian orphanage for young footballers that was then copied by all the other Premier League clubs. As it turns out, our initial perceptions were a bit wonky - Dujon is fine, but he's not as good as the next lad on the list. 

Jordan Gabriel has the worst chant ever, but he's mint. The only thing he can't do is shoot. He's really bad at that. That doesn't matter. He's a right back. We've got him for ages as well. He's practically the new Mike Davies. He'll need to work on dinking it though. Love him to bits. I'd say he's even better than Fonz at clapping the fans as well. 

---

Left backs: 

When we had no right backs we had loads of left backs. Reece James (not that one) looked frankly a bit cack playing in midfield but when he went to right back against Millwall he looked pretty good. He looks quite good at left back too. I don't know if it's just me, but he seems to move about out of possession like he's been carrying two massive bags of coal on his shoulders for ages and is tired out, but when the ball comes near him, he explodes into life. 

Despite what the chant suggests, Carlo never actually said Luke Garbutt was shite - he had literally no idea who he was and thus, he called him nothing at all. Also, I'm not sure Garbs is fucking dynamite either, - he's a player I like, but he's kind of the opposite of Callum Connelly at full back, all forward endeavour and a bit questionable at the defending stuff sometimes. Shouldn't have had a haircut is my deeply thought through footballing analysis. 

Jimmy Husband hasn't had a trim for ages and he suits the look of someone who is really into cryptocurrency and coffee.  He also increasingly suits playing centre back even though some of us (me included) still get a bit jittery at the thought of it. Jimmy is probably the player without a chant who deserves a chant most. He's capable of out jumping people far bigger than him, timing a challenge to perfection and pointing/shouting at corners. What's not to love? 


---

Centre backs: 

Why did we buy Ollie Casey? Who knows? He's played twice in the league cup, once at right back and didn't look dreadful but other than that, what is to say other than it seems there's a lot more footballers called 'Oliver' than there once were? 

I have a theory that Daniel Grettarson has been mistaken by Critch for Jordan Thorniley. Critch has forgotten he sent the latter to Oxford so keeps saying to the Viking things like "On the bench today Jordan and we'll look at moving you on in January when the lad from Iceland gets up to speed" to which the Viking looks puzzled and Mike Garrity mouths "just go with it Dan - I'll try and speak to him again" Another equally likely theory is that whilst the Iceman is clearly an able footballer and his positioning and distribution are excellent, the fact he seems to get poleaxed about 4 times every 45 minutes has led Critch to not be able to start him, such is the pain of watching him play. 

Why did we buy Richard Keogh we all thought. What a shoddy, Oyston-era type signing that felt like. How wrong we were. Even though he makes Brian Reid and Kirk Broadfoot look nimble and his first few games were a bit of a disaster, he's proven to be a shrewd signing, bringing know how, aerial prowess, beautiful use of the ball, terrific eyebrows, tremendous pointing at things no one else can see and so much more. I have never, ever seen a player of his age be so rawly enthusiastic about playing football in front of people. His celebrations are to die for. What will happen when he finally scores for us? Who knows? Everyone on the pitch? Football ends because it can't get any better? We love him. 

Hands up who remembers that Marvin Ekpiteta didn't start the season in the team. I know! Mentalism. It's like getting your head round the fact that the universe will start and end. It just doesn't compute. I'm tempted to write here that he's utter shite just to put off bigger clubs but then the idea that bigger clubs are thinking 'I know, we'll browse some shite football blogs as a guide to where to spend our billions' seems a bit far fetched. Giving the captain's armband was a stroke of genius - it's brought him out of his shell. He's not perfect, he still sometimes relies on his ability to recover more than he might, he still occasionally has a mad wander but honestly, one of those inch perfect sliding tackles or incredible blocks that are like having an extra goalie and you'd forgive him anything. 

---

Central Midfield: 

It's scary how few of these we have. We've tried playing full backs there but it's not a great plan. We've tried playing Kevin Stewart there but he breaks. It's a real shame that, because Kev is superb. I never really 'got' him watching on the laptop in the lockdown but in the flesh he's terrific. He blends physicality and intelligence and is probably good enough to free up one part of the double pivot to be more aggressive. It's just a shame he's made of balsa wood. 

Grant Ward had his injury woes before he signed for us and spent the early part of his Pool career with me going 'what does Grand Ward actually do?' as he seemed an odd fit for a midfield that seemed to need steel as opposed to a nice touch and a neat pass every now and again. By the time he was carried off at Bournemouth though, Ward had become an absolute favourite, a metronome, a player of balance, poise and grace, his football as stylish as his neatly manicured beard. 

Without Ward, Stewart and the yet to feature Matty Virtue, we had to turn to Ryan Wintle who is basically the most midfieldy midfielder ever. I can't decide if he's the new David Fox or the new David Vaughan. He can do everything pretty well (although I think he's only taking free kicks cos no one else wants to) and should Cardiff recall him, I think we've got a big hole in midfield to fill. He's kind of deceptively good because every game he's quite average. Which is good. Sort of. I haven't explained that very well. He's a fucking midfielder. He does what he needs to. He's midfieldy. I suppose 'midfieldy' isn't the sort of content you get in The Athletic is it? Well - fuck them. They all come from public school and are called Rory and have connections and support a team in Spain and some hipster non-league club. You can pay to get behind their paywall if you love them so much. Go on then. What are you waiting for?  

Kenny Dougall has shown little sign of scoring another 2 (not 1) goals but continues to be the buzzing heart of the midfield. Flying round the world isn't ideal however and I'd have been happier if Dougs had taken up his dad's Scottish nationality because Critch has possibly got jet lag mixed up with a more serious condition as he never seems to play him for about a week and a half after he's been down under as if he thinks he might die from being tired. Like Garbs, I think losing the trademark hair has been a mistake. Return to the bleach blonde and he'll be bagging braces in no time. More flying around in our midfield please Kenny and stay off the jumbo jets. Ta. 

Who knew I'd feature Natasha Bedingfield? Not me. 

Sonny Carey: 

When you sign a player from non league football, you expect them to be a bit ragged. You assume they'll have some sort of obvious attribute, like height or pace but will require a lot of coaching to learn how to use it well. Usually they don't. Carey doesn't fit this mould at all. He's nimble, balanced and intelligent. He's technically able and ambitious in the way he plays and his genius is the subtle art of finding space. He's struggled with certain situations (usually when starting in a game we're playing poorly) but he's superb at exploiting the gaps that open up in late game situations. He could have had a few more goals than he has with a bit more luck and his effort against Sheffield United is a not quite a goal of the season contender. We can get carried away with him or we can see what he does as a bonus at this point. I'm probably in the latter camp but he's going to be superb given time. 

---

Right Wing: 

We've got about 800 wingers and wing backs. Even Grant Ward used to be a winger.

Josh Bowler
is the man who has played on the right most of the time and probably the man who has had most impact. Whenever we don't play him, we look a bit short of impact. He's an firework of a player, but sometimes (often) one that emits the loud screech then doesn't go 'bang!' at the end. He annoys people cos he isn't very good at the stuff they could do (sweating, tackling, running after the other teams players and jumping) and is very good at the stuff they couldn't (hurdling over challenges at the speed of light, stopping dead, turning on sixpence, taking the ball out the sky and killing it dead.) I think it's accurate to say, he's a work in progress.    

Demi Mitchell is the proletariat workhorse to Josh Bowler's bourgeois decadent prancing pony. He'll give everything for the cause and do all the jobs that Josh won't (and he'll do them well). Unfortunately, he can't physically cross the ball with his right foot which means that playing him on the right and relying on him to provide crosses is a bit problematic. 

Anyone remember CJ Hamilton? He's that lad who is very quick and I once said was better than Ronaldo. It turns out I wasn't 100% accurate there. At the start of the season, he wasn't very which unfortunately rendered him pretty impotent. He's had a rough time recently has CJ and missed chances against West Brom (when he was very quick again but finished like he was scared of the ball) and Millwall seem to sum up the way the season has gone for him. I'm not sure he's got much left in tangerine. I hope I'm wrong. 

---

Left wing: 

Keshi Anderson is without doubt our most influential creative player and has made it look like rather than going up a league and the football getting harder, he's actually gone down and faced easier opponents. His impudence is off the scale. Some of his goals might look like luck but when you add up the number of simply ridiculous pieces of play he's pulled off, the conclusion had to be that he's a football genius. Most improved player in the squad by far. Finesse. The little golf putt finish against the team from the fake city whose university is too ashamed to use their name was Kesh in a bottle. Love him. 

Tyreese John-Jules This years Ben Woodburn? In a bit I'm going to go on a rant about Gary Madine versus players from premiership academies and it's tempting to make John-Jules exhibit number one in that argument. I quite liked him though. He was clearly a bit lost playing on the left and didn't really do it for us outside of a league cup game when he delivered possibly the two best deliveries all season and a couple of sexy passes at Bournemouth. We'll mostly remember him for doing the same stuff people moaned at Kaikai for not doing very well and looking a bit scared of scoring. Like he who continues to be misunderstood at Wycombe, I can't help feeling he never really played in the right set up and I always instinctively defend the player doing the wrong job. Some people seem to go through life, sure of themselves and their purpose - others feel a bit lost and question themselves in a life full of second guesses and self interrogation. I'm not sure how we've ended up in this existential corner but you get the idea I think. Move on.  

Imagine if we have an injury crisis and TJJ has to play and belts one in from 20 yards and then runs the game. How good would that actually be? 

Owen Dale 
has played on the right and the left. He was incredible for 20 minutes against Reading and since then has done very little. I like his penchant for switching the ball, his delivery and the slightly arrogant cut of his jib but it feels like he might lack a yard of pace that would allow him to make the most of what his head suggests his body does. I'm undecided on him. I wonder if Critch is also. 

---

Strikers: 

Shayne Lavery was, according to conventional wisdom, here to give back up to Yates who displayed the constitution of an ox to keep on playing at full pelt last year when we had no one at all to replace him. It turned out Shayne wasn't here to play second fiddle though and his Jerry Yates on steroids impression has won the hearts of both fans and Neil Critchley. He reminds me oddly of a kind of a slightly failed experimental process to create the opposite of Armand Gnanduillet. Ok, yeah, that's a stretch but go with me... He chases everything, he never leaves you thinking 'what if he put his body in there?' which isn't like Armand - like Armand though, he's got the knack of missing then scoring, of making a chance, then making another. Like Armand he's slightly unconventional and I wonder if so leftfield are some of his runs (he makes runs no one else would think of let alone do), it's (like Armand in a different way) going to be difficult for anyone to strike up a proper partnership with him. In other words, his genius is what makes him but also what makes him difficult to pair with. Keshi loves playing with him but I'm not sure he doesn't run off the other strikers radar so to speak. 

We've been going on the piss with Jerry Yates since May and we're still not bored of it. He's not yet hit the heights of last year where he was utterly brilliant after Christmas but he's still there and considering he's had a poor season in the eyes of some, he's actually got a very decent goal return and is our top scorer. I love Jerry to bits but he's really struggled playing on his own up front this year. That's hardly a surprise as he did last year too. I think he's going to get some crackers for us in the second half of the season. Far too good not to. I hope we play to his strengths a bit more instead of making him run around on his own because we're scared of the other team.  

Gary Madine - he's a goal machine. That's all there is to say. Ok, go then, I'll bite - he's also crucial to us because he allows us to attack in different ways, adds height in defence, gives off a 'been there, done that, don't give a fuck' vibe that we need and is a far better player than he gets credit for. It's easy to point out his deficiencies (he doesn't score very often and he's not very quick) but then, it's easy to manage a team in your head according to some kind of Pep-esque wet dream fantasy where you imagine us cutting the opposition to ribbons on the basis of triangles and movement every week. The Gary-doubters seem to see him as an offence to a football philosophy built on characterless kids hothoused in giant football battery farms who've never seen the outside world, so schooled are they on a dream of 'Barcelona' as a pointless romantic end point of football because they read it in a magazine or some pundit dickhead waxed lyrical about them. Fuck Barcelona. Overrated, one dimensional and boring. I love Gaz because he's lived a life and learned from it, because he gives us something no one else does and because he's the part of the machine that shows Critchley isn't playing Football Manager 2022 in his head - having Gaz around shows he understands that without some heft, we get pinned back, without some knowhow, we can look clueless. Having Gaz around means there's a lad in the changing rooms who can say 'oi, don't be a dickhead,' with meaning in his eyes

All hail the goal machine. Sign him up. 4 more years. 

The sort of attire you regularly see Gary doubters wearing. (fact)

Summary: 

We've been pretty steady all year. It took a few games to work out some kinks in the team but once we'd got a centre back pairing and right back, we've been generally pretty hard to beat and kept ourselves in most games. We certainly lack a little depth in midfield and even when everyone is fit, it's difficult to see where the creativity is beyond Carey who isn't yet ready to be a week in week out nailed on starter. Keshi has been tremendous but play him centrally and we lack cutting edge wide. Up front we're also a player short. The plan was possibly to play with one, hence only having three strikers but playing with two is proving an essential option and when of them is Gary Goals, inevitably one of them will miss some games. 

It's always easy to look at what you need though. Football fans are like greedy kids at Christmas, having opened a mountain of gifts and then saying 'is that it?' - there's no utter shite in the squad and whilst it definitely has room for improvement, you have to pinch yourself at where we are - almost exactly the same place we were this time last year, but a division higher. We've had some immense days out (Middlesbrough, Bournemouth and Sheffield United spring to mind) and some brilliant home games (Fulham, Blackburn and Preston seem the most obvious ones. For every duff performance (like Luton, Derby or Huddersfield) there's also a sense that we can put it behind us and put in a good one. 

That shouldn't be taken lightly and whilst it's difficult to see the squad as it is getting to much beyond lower mid table without a bit more in key areas, in itself that's an achievement and whoever we bring in needs to add skill and guile but also possess the same determination and spirit that has been evident throughout. 

We evidently need more goals but we have a good base to build upon. We've got more than enough points to survive even if we drop off a bit and if previous years are anything to judge, our recruitment midseason is targeted and effective and should help us prevent that possible dip. 

Interesting Numbers: 

Most goal involvements (goals plus assists) - Keshi Anderson and Jerry Yates (7) 

Most accurate passer - Richard Keogh (86.5% accuracy) 

Gets most tackles in - Kevin Stewart and Kenny Dougall - (2.3 per game)

Most shots - Shayne Lavery - (34) 

Most key passes - Keshi Anderson 39 (way ahead of anyone else, Josh Bowler is next with 19) 

Aerials won per game - Gary Madine (5pg) 

Crosses per game - Luke Garbutt 1.4 (way ahead of anyone else - Ryan Wintle is next with 0.8) 

Assists from all the central midfielders combined - (1 - Kev Stewart) 

GPGWGMS - We have scored 10 goals in Gary Madine's 9 starts. Thus when Gary plays from the beginning we average 1.11111111111111111111111111 (etc) goals per game. 

GPGMWGDS When Gary doesn't start (14 games) we have scored 13 goals at a rate of 0.92 per game. 

The conclusion we can obviously draw here is that Gary is a goal machine or to put it mathematically -
If Gary is x then y = Goals. 


Having cleared up any lingering doubts about wor Gaz, we'll turn to one of the biggest mysteries of the season which is why on earth Jordan Gabriel got dropped.

The graph below shows that our love of Gabriel isn't based merely on a whim or a fancy. 

There aren't that many other debates to really be had. If we assume 442 (and this is already far too long without getting in to that debate) - the midfield more or less picks itself - despite his faults Bowler has had a more telling impact at least in terms of putting the other team on the back foot than anyone else and the other three are shoe-ins. The defence is again fairly simple, maybe when Keogh is fit there'll be a question of Husband or James at left back. Maxwell getting injured again has solved the goalie conundrum. 

The fact there's not a lot of debate is a good thing - it shows that the majority of our key players have been there or thereabouts. It also perhaps shows that we need a few players to add a bit of pressure and that some of the fringe players are not really likely to do that. If we can add that central creativity and someone to add depth to the striking options who is more like Madine than they are like Jerry and Shayne then who knows? If Bowler could play like he did on Saturday more often then he'd be closer to matching Keshi for genuine impact. Maybe he can, maybe we need another wide player. I don't know. The point is, we're not so far off being pretty decent. 

Everyone thinks that though. It's this league. You can win and lose. No one is that good. No one is that shite either. Most of the games we've won we've could have lost and vice versa. 

It's all to come. Covid allowing. That can fuck off. Get big Gaz to stare at it till it decides better of it and decides not to be such a dickhead about stuff. 

Onward! 



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Saturday, December 18, 2021

Lost in Music: the Mighty vs Peterborough United.


When that fella sang 'It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas' I don't think he had a picture of crowds of nervous grey people shuffling about anxiously in his mind. I don't think 'Christmas Spirit' refers to a palpable sense of underlying unease either. I went to do some shopping in town on Friday. It did not warm the cockles of my (black) heart. Boarded up shops and anxiety. Spaces where famous old names once served as emporiums of wonder replaced by pop up shops that don't even bother to disguise how shite their goods are. Walking around a city in winter in 2021 is like traipsing through a painting by a dystopian futuristic Lowry. Gloomy crowds trudging through the a pound shop version of the Bladerunner world. 

'Shit, the 4g isn't working...' 

Today is very old skool Lowry weather. It's grey and slightly misty where I am but despite the gloomy aesthetic, it is a day full of promise. The Mighty are playing (as far as we know) and I'm going. We're playing a team we beat last year. We're playing a team we even beat under Larry. We're playing at home and despite the fact I have to undergo a full retina scan in order to make sure I'm not a replicant, before I can enter, the doors are none the less open. 

'Covid passes ready please' 

I just want some noise and a good game. None of this shuffling back and forward slowly whilst the stands mutter discontent. Get into them. Attack. Play with fire in your bellies and all of that. This could be the last dance for a while. I hope it isn't. If it is, let's go down with the band playing. We might be lost at sea, but at least we can get lost in the music... 


----

The atmosphere pre match is kind of uneasy. Are we heading back to where we were and where no one wants to go? (no, not Rotherham... no, not even Gillingham... worse even than that...) Will Boxing Day happen? Will we end up on iFollow again?  Fuck it. I don't care for the next few hours. We're here, it's now and I really like the team. Gabriel plays, the midfielders are both midfielders and Gaz is up front. What could possibly go wrong?

It turns out what can go wrong is that Peterborough can do absolutely the square root of fuck all and yet score first. We huff and puff, we press well and we make a few chances. Gary is in imperious form winning flick ons for fun, Lavery is causing their back line all sorts of problems by simply running a lot. We look well on top but they split the defense with a tremendous ball down the middle, Dembele skates through on to it, Grimshaw commits himself and Dembele just slides it past him and the defender on the line. 


The 150-ish Petrborough fans go mental. It's tempting to mock them for the tiny numbers they've travelled in but I don't blame them for not coming in a climate where it appears fine to call games off last minute because actual fans are last on the list of things that matter. I also quite like their 'we're winning away, you must be shit, we're winning away' chant. 

We redouble our efforts. Wor Gaz wins a header from a corner. It flashes just wide. That would have been my perfect goal. Lavery has a half chance. Bowler has flickered a bit but bursts into flame with a run and shot that is turned over. It's all good fun, but we're losing. 


Keshi runs on to a beautiful ball from James. He's in! He drives it, the keeper sprawls. It bursts free. Lavery is bearing down but the ball nutmegs him and rolls away. It's one of those days... Or is it? It's worked back in, Bowler has it wide. He stands completely still. He takes off. He completely destroys his man, he slides it across and to the astonishment of everyone in Bloomfield, his ball finds a target, Keshi with a late Clarkson-esque run to the edge of the six yard box where he can't miss. Yes! 

We absolutely deserved that and I'm delighted to see Bowler make something happen. It's true that he's more frustrating than those packets that say 'tear here' but really you need to find a pair of scissors for cos not even Jeff Capes could tear them with bare hands alone... but it's also true that he's electric. (once in a while at least) 

The rest of the half is notable only for the ref's decisions being completely incomprehensible and Peterborough demonstrating a spectacular lack of self belief by indulging in time wasting even though we're barely a third of the way through the game. 

--- 

We've played ok. I'm happy enough. We attacked. Gary leapt like a salmon. We looked better than them. Yeah, we lack a bit of guile and sometimes the decision making is a bit patchy, but frankly, these are shite and so are most of the teams we've played. All the talk of 'can these players cut it at this level' does my head in. It's not that good. We've been crap for a few games but we've lost to crap teams that weren't much better. We're definitely less crap than this lot. Lets go and win it for we have wizardry and the ghosts of Matthews and Mortenson on our side and they have only Darren Ferguson and that no10 who is quite handy. 

---

We aren't very good in the second half. Actually, that's a bit unfair. Our attacking isn't very good in the second half. Marvin is terrific, blocking, heading and doing what he does. Jimmy is possessed by the life force of one of those madly brilliant Italian defenders who just has to stand near a player and they tackle themselves. Three times I stand up to applaud him not actually making a tackle. He's not always perfect but he's improved so much. He's a far better player than many are willing to concede. Gabriel is everything you'd expect him to be. We are always better with Gabriel playing. 

We lose the midfield we'd controlled pretty well previously and concede a few scary moments that if Peterborough were any good, they might have made more of. They're a weird team. In flashes, they look really coherent, in long spells they do nothing. One cross fizzes, forcing Husband to crash it just wide of his own goal. One raking crossfield ball is ridiculous and slices us open. One bit of attacking leaves us flailing about before Marvin rescues the situation. 

We don't offer a lot. Madine is still flicking it about, setting Bowler away but his shot is blocked. He's still getting on the end of things but his header from a corner is straight at the keeper. The game has gone a bit flat. I've enjoyed it thus far but it's turned a bit stodgy now. Their time wasting is now taking the absolute piss. 


Critch is bringing on Jerry. Lavery will be trotting off - He's done ok, but he's looking a little tired. Wait a minute... Critch is bringing off Madine too!? What are you doing Neil!? I like Sonny Carey but c'mon, what is this madness? It's Jerry and Gary, Gary and Jerry. That's what you need now! Ffs. 

James gets away, he's done ok again today. He's not a player who is ever going to be described as 'elite' but he's an honest lad who gets stuck in and gets forward. He pulls it back. It's SONNY CAREY!!! 

It's into the stand. 

I'm gutted. He's got it all, balance, vision, effort, aggression, bravery and style but he keeps not quite getting a goal. I'm worried that's going to throw him. That was the moment. That's why Critch sent him, to drift from deep and hit it like that and when the chance came, he missed it. He's a kid. He needs one of those to go in sooner or later. 

We're better for the changes though. A bit more forward thinking. We implore everyone's favourite right back to have a shot. Unfortunately, whilst he might be the most wholehearted and generally wonderful right back in the entire professional game and pretty good at everything else, he's also fucking awful at shooting. He manages to both look like he's connected well and yet put it out for a throw in. Next time Jordan. Next time... Maybe he was trying to help Sonny forget his miss? 

Marvin goes to loft it forward. It clips a Peterborough player and a hopeful ball becomes a demonic pass. Keshi is a mischievous sprite and he's on it. He's annoyed me a bit today holding the ball too long but not this time. He's got a sight of goal but his vision is superb as he rolls it into the path of Carey. The young lad is just so calm. He sees the chance to find space, he steps one way, then trots a few yards the other, collects the ball and slips it into the corner, completely sitting their keeper (who to me, looks like a my little pony owned by an annoying kid) on his arse. 

YES! I am absolutely ecstatic. Carey is the player we lack. He's a bit raw at times but at others, he's got the poise, the brain and the attitude to lift us from being a side that can try very hard to a side that can hurt you. Being sent on to win a game, missing a gilt edged chance but then having the composure to win it anyway is going to do him the world of good. It shows he's got it. He's got the stuff in his head to not give a fuck and believe in himself. For all the lovely flicks and clever play, that is often the difference between a play who does and a play who ends up not doing. It's not the mistakes you make, it's how you forget them that matters. 

We're not done. Gabriel harasses their full back on the edge of their box. Which would be remarkable were it not Jordan Gabriel so that's just normal. Bowler has it. He doesn't even try to beat anyone, just sweeps it into the path of Jerry whose first effort isn't very good, but who slams home the rebound. YESSSS! 


There's time for them to force Grimshaw into a wonderful save and then to miss the rebound in a comical fashion. There's time for the whistle and lots of singing and hailing of Critchley. I take a moment to soak it up. I don't really care that this wasn't the greatest display of our history. I really enjoyed it and I love being here. If there's so much as a fraction of a chance we're going to be seeing cancelled games or playing behind closed doors, I want to absorb as much of this as possible. There'll be all the 'quality' football you want on TV in the contractual obligations cup but this was proper stuff today. I'd rather watch this 600000 times than watch a game I don't give a fuck about on TV. 


---

I've already said we've played better and I've seen better games. That's not the point. It was two sides very short on confidence and a bit short on quality. So what? They tried hard. They got covered in mud and won the game. We scored three times and it was probably the three players who have got the most magic in their boots that scored them. The three players who, if on song and playing with confidence, you'd think could really impact against whoever, whenever. 

We attacked and we played our game. We didn't always do it perfectly, but we got at the opposition and we continued to do so even when we'd got in front. We went behind and we came back. Bowler actually found some end product. All of the strikers got involved in different ways. All of these things are good. Wins are good. Football is good. Being top half is good. 

Can we do this again next week? Please? 

Onward! 

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Saturday, December 11, 2021

Slow and slower (fuck the EFL): Derby County vs the Mighty


Things that happened today in no particular order.

I saw the real life Rayne Wooney and he was wearing shitty bright white trainers. From the distance I was at, it looked like his mam had nipped down the Strand in Bootle and got him a pair of plastic knock offs. I noticed the M6 giraffe had blown away. I shouted 'why the fuck are we playing Callum Connelly in midfield' to no one in particular.

Some other things happened. Derby staged the world's worst pitch invasion. I wondered where the fuck Jordan Gabriel was. As I idled at some traffic lights, I noticed my car had passed 175000 miles. According to actual proper journalist Matt Scrafton, when Maxwell got a knock, Jimmy Husband was holding some goalie gloves in case he couldn't carry on. That was too far away for me to see but I feel deeply cheated that we didn't get to see an outfield player clapping his gloves together as if trying to convince himself and everyone else, that he knows what he's doing. 

Derby fans sang and sang. That's what a football club is. It's that simple. Fuck it up and lose it and that noise behind the goal is gone. Nothing else really matters. It's all an illusion of betting sponsorships and self important rich cunts. What it really is is just people standing behind a goal, watching a game. That's all it is and all it ever will be. Forget that and the game is fucked. 

I notice Derby have the weirdest floodlights I've ever seen. They look like drunk installed them. I've never really noticed them before. They're really incongruous on what is an otherwise very uniform and neat ground. I like the weird angles. It makes it all feel a bit avant garde. 

That's about it. Nothing else any good happened. Derby scored a goal. We were shite. That's the blog. I want to stop there. We both know I won't and probably, we both wish I would.

Read on at your own risk. 


--- 

What the fuck is this team? I'm happy to see Carey and Lavery deserves to start but I just don't get it. In Critch we place our trust and also at Critch we aim our bemusement. Maybe Crazy Uncle Richard isn't ready for 90 minutes. James has done OK, so maybe that's fair enough but... Callum Connolly. I don't understand. I thought we'd got rid of Ollie Turton, but he's like Ollie Turton with bigger shoulders. He also, like Ollie Turton, looks like you could stick him in a uniform and take a black and white photo and fool people he's your grandad on national service duties. I don't have anything against him, I just don't know why he's there, galumphing about in midfield, manfully not doing anything exciting at all. 

We are marginally the better side in the first half. That's not saying very much. It's like two bald men arguing over whether the analogy works better if you use hair gel or a comb as the point of conflict.

'Highlights' include: 

Everyone singing 'fuck the EFL' 
Soney Carey doing a lovely cushioned pass
We have a few efforts, Shayne looking most lively and most likely. 

Lowlights include: 
Us giving the ball away a lot to a Derby team who don't seem to know what to do with it and attack with the speed of grit spreading machine, which is fortunate at times, because had they got some incision, we'd have looked a bit stupid. 

We manage to get up to the speed of a milk float. 


--- 

At half time, the conclusion is... (what comes next is why you don't need heat maps and those scatter graph things - you can just ask the bloke next to you and get the same thing in an easier to understand form) ... 'these are shite.' 

We've been marginally less turgid than Derby but ceded possession far to easily. If we just up the tempo, we should waltz this. Maybe Bowler? CJ? Jerry? Perhaps Jordan Gabriel*? Fast, intense players. 

*Why in the name of every fucking god ever is Jordan Gabriel not playing? He's been superb. Why are we playing someone at fullback who is not our player and is palpably not giving us what Gabriel gives us? Why? Neil?! Why!? I am confused as fuck to be honest. 

--- 


So. What pacy young starlet is coming on? Why, it's 36 year old oil tanker with a gearbox problem Richard Keogh!

 Because. Of. Course. It. Is. 

Don't get me wrong. I love Tricky Dickie. The eyebrows. The desperate sweeps of his thinning hair. The positioning and the Baresi esque distribution. He's fucking ace. He's also the opposite of what you'd think you'd need based on the first half. I am now completely flummoxed. Maybe James has an appointment he has to get to or something? 

Remembering this game is like trying to remember a trip round Wickes where you went in for some creosote but couldn't find it so left with nothing but a feeling of emptiness. It all felt the same. Boring. Frustrating.

We started the second half well for about 45 seconds. Shayne had another shot that never looked like going in. Then we went shit again. Derby moved marginally quicker than in the first half. Their style of play reminded me a bit of a shire horse doing show jumping. They weren't without finesse and style, it just seemed quite laboured. Rayne Wooney stands on the touchline with his cheap office carpet hair. Neil Critchley waves and points. It doesn't seem to have any impact. 


Derby put a ball in. Wintle chases back, Wintle falls over. The lad Wintle was tracking gets to it. It's blocked or Maxwell saves, but it falls to a Derby player. For fucks sake. 

What is supposed to happen now is a rousing response. It doesn't. We try Josh Bowler. He does ok-ish but as usual doesn't turn his dribbling into runs or shots. We bring on Yates. He's mostly offside. We make a few positions. One time, we even look a bit threatening, knocking it quite nicely out to the wing but then it turns out it's centre back turned right back turned centre midfielder Callum Connolly on the wing rather than one of the 50 actual wingers in our squad and who knew that a centre back turned right back turned centre midfielder wouldn't be very good at crossing it?! 

Keshi has a scrap. 


Jimmy swaps passes with Shayne. He burrows into the box, Jimmy follows him in, Jerry steps back. All he has to do is pull it back and either one of them can't miss. He lashes it at the near post instead. That's the closest we come. We have a corner. We head it over. The Rayne Wooney's Derby County fans make a big old noise because it's a bit shite being a Rayne Wooney's Derby County fan but they're so obviously going to win the game. They're not going to stay up cos they're not especially good but they're going to make a noise about doing so because why not? I would. 

Jimmy motors forward. Jimmy plays a rubbish ball. Jimmy shouts at everyone because his only option was the rubbish ball. Everyone looks a bit sheepish. For a few minutes we charge about. Bowler beats 3 then fucks it up. Cos of course he does. At least the pulse quickened slightly. 

The whistle goes. 

--- 


We were shit. I am not a fan of writing things like 'disgraceful!' and 'spineless!' cos I dunno, you lose games sometimes and it's possible to try hard and play shit as anyone who has ever played a game of football themselves will know, but it's really hard to find anything to say that isn't criticism today. 

The ref was fucking awful, but that wasn't really the reason we lost. Derby were absurd in their time wasting, but we could still be playing now and we wouldn't have scored. 

When we picked a similar line up against Birmingham, I made a point of trying to work out what Critchley was doing cos he's obviously not fucking thick like Lee Clark or someone. Connelly was there to stiffen the midfield. I get that much. Why repeat it though? It didn't work. Why can't we fucking go at a team like Derby? Against Birmingham, fair enough, you try it out. It doesn't work. Why the fuck do it again against a side who didn't especially threaten us nor have threatened anyone that much all year. 

I really didn't get what was going on. Carey is a likely lad, he's got a touch, but he seemed to be pushed so far up he barely impacted the midfield. Play two strikers instead or let Carey actually create and use the combative midfielder you've picked to make him some space... We faffed about at the back then spooned it up to smallest lad on the pitch Owen Dale for no apparent reason loads of times.

When we move it around, who are we trying to shift it to? Wintle can pass but he's playing so deep most of the time. The wingers didn't really beat anyone and the full backs don't seem to overlap. Derby were a bit more physical up front and had a couple of moments of real quality in their passing. That was it.

Why are we so fucking cautious? Why don't we pick the best team and go toe to toe? I have nothing against Dujon. I quite like him. Jordan Gabriel though. WHY IS HE NOT PLAYING? He's good in the air, and plays that hard he's like having one and half players. Plus, he's OUR PLAYER! Fuck developing Chelsea kids for them. Gabriel leads, he sets a standard, a tempo. Dougall does the same. No one set a tempo. It was like a band with no drummer. Formless. 

Here's a thing. The last few games, I've seriously wanted us to bung Big Marv up front in the last 15 minutes. I wouldn't have minded Keogh coming on up front. I am seriously, genuinely, not even in an 'wouldn't it be funny, ha ha, cos he's shit lol mad banter' way thinking we should stick Joe Nuttall on the bench cos at least he's got a bit of brawn and if he's up for it, it would be something cos we've got so little presence when super Gaz isn't playing. It's fine in theory trying to thread it to tricky little forwards, but we don't have the consistency and quality in midfield, especially not in the centre to rely on that. 

Football is hard. It's a piece of piss to be a shite blogger and write some snide shite about us being shit. We were though. We just didn't have the hunger. We didn't seem to be doing the extra yard or two that made us dangerous a few weeks ago. It's hard to escape the conclusion that we have an imbalanced squad and that we need to address that fairly sharpish. We don't have any plan B when Gary Goals is Gary Groin Strains and our options in central midfield are Kenny and Ryan or Wintle and Dougall. 

Take a breath. These games happen. A bad run was always coming at some point. Maybe we've been spoiled by the early season success. Maybe we aren't as good as we thought we were. Maybe Critchley needs an ex Scotland international in the dugout at all times. Maybe this was him doing what he does, giving an idea one game too many instead of a game too few. 

Maybe next week we'll play all of the wingers and fullbacks at once and win 28-0 and Jeff Stelling will be all excited about Bon Accord and Arbroath. Bowler will set them all up with inch perfect crosses and everything will be a haze of tangerine joy.  

It could happen. 

Onwards. 

utmp. 

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