Football Blog: Tangerine Flavoured

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Incey, Incey, what's the score? - the Mighty vs Reading

What's the difference between Neil Critchley and Vladimir Putin on Wednesday night?  

One of them said he was going to attack and then he didn't, whereas the other one said he wasn't going to attack and then he did. 

Thank you very much. I'm here all week.


It's not fucking funny. It's absurd. Suddenly last week seems like the end of the past. The start of the future. The new normal didn't last very long did it? We were supposed to be at THE END OF HISTORY for fucks sake.

There's something obscenely hubristic about our complacency. About how it's not that long since it seemed we'd all slide frictionlessly into a wonderful future where the aberrations of the past would never resurface even though people have an intrinsic nature which means we never really get over our capacity for doing foolish things in the name of some pointless big idea. 

Yes. That's right. We thought Neil Critchley wouldn't go back to the front three. Boom. Tish. Fuck me, it's a hollow sound. 

The bloke who runs Ukraine is a fucking comedian. Literally. What is the world? Putin has been hiding inside for two years flexing his muscles in the mirror to pass the time and thus now thinks Stalin was a soft arse in comparison to him. He's therefore bringing his guns on to a bloke next door who played the president on telly before he became the actual president.  

Paul Ince being a football manager again and Paul Ince being back at Bloomfield seems almost normal. That's how mad this shit is. 

As I drive there, the car pulled over on the hard shoulder with a family spilling out onto the grass verge seems an echo of horrors not so far away. When I'm walking to the ground, a lad is unpacking rolls of roof insulation from a van and stacking them on the pavement. They look weirdly like mortar shells to me. It gets into your head this sort of shit. 

Finally, we're there. For two hours, we forget. Critch has named the best players in the best formation and all is good in the world. Even if there is an Ukrainian flag being waved from the north and blue and yellow encircling the pitch, we're here for one thing. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: the glorious sporting conflict of Association Football. The great escape. 


We're good from the off. Our performance was ponderous on Wednesday and there's more one touch football in the first 10 minutes here than we saw in the whole match then. Kevin Stewart's presence immediately makes us look more intelligent in the middle of the pitch. He's got vision this lad. He got that knack of looking like he might lose the ball, but not doing so. For a player so flimsy, he's really feisty and tough when we actually get to seem him play. 

If Kev has vision, Gary Madine has omni-directional radar and lays an absolutely silken through ball for Bowler (who won the possession in the first place with excellent pressing, knocked it to Gaz ,span and ran forward to make the pass a possibility.) We win a couple of corners. The crowd are loving it. This is 'Pool on the front foot where we want them to be. A diagonal ball. Madine leaps, but instead of flicking, he takes it out the sky with a technique every bit as good as Bowlers. We're on top. 

Jordan Thorniley has a little look, sets his sights on the target and hits a laser guided ball forward. Madine knocks down in the box for Yates whose effort whose effort forces a diving save. We move to pressure down the left, it's pulled back and Bowler takes aim but for once in the last few week, finds the stands, instead of the net. 

Reading have a rare foray forward but it's snuffed out by a crunching tackle from Gabriel. A throw to them. The North are serenading Gabriel but unfortunately, by the time they've finished the song, he's been beaten three times in the same move and the ball is in the back of the net. I'm not sure if it's all Gabriel's fault, he at least tried to put a tackle in whereas everyone else just watched Reading score. For fuck's sake. Things were good and now they're not. 

Jordan is not someone whose head goes down easily though. At the other end, he chases a lost cause and forces an unlikely corner. C'mon! The crowd again get behind them as Bowler goes to the far post with the delivery. Madine flicks, Jerry flicks and then Thorniley tries an overhead kick that runs about two yards wide. More applause for the intent, but still no goal to reward it. 

Pool aren't as slick as they were initially and Dougall and Stewart collide in attempting to do the same job. Kev comes out of the tackle and lays it out to Sterling. He goes wide to CJ, who whips a terrific cross, Madine has a full run up at the ball and meets it head on but their keeper makes a superb stop. C'mon Pool! What more do we have to do? 

We have another corner. It's flicked. It won't fall. It's with Gaz, now with Jerry. It's knocked out, Someone has a shot, it balloons a mile high. It drops and Stewart nods it back into the box as Reading stream out of it. It's a great header, cushioned and turning their defence on its heels. It bounces in front of the keeper and Marvin charges in and bundles the ball over the line. Yes! It's a scruffy goal, but it doesn't matter. A goal is a goal! 

Madine takes it down,  and then spins into a defender. The ball breaks nicely for him though and Gaz muscles through. Gaz is tripped. It's only a corner. Referees. Fucking referees. Corner. Madine again up to flick. it falls to Bowler. He makes space with a little shimmy, and on the turn hits a shot from distance. It's saved but it's a decent effort from where he received the ball to get a shot on target. 


We've been all over them. We should be ahead. If we had a central midfielder who could run with the ball, we'd be lethal. 


Bowler lifts a free kick conceded by Tom Ince (whose Dad's a cunt and so is he) into the box. Madine and the keeper jump. The keeper drops the ball and Marvin lashes wide.

Reading have a free kick because Kevin Stewart breathed in an aggressive way on a defender. It's a sharp swerving effort, Grimshaw saves, perhaps more spectacularly than he might have done which is out of character for him so I'll assume he didn't read it as well as he might have done. 

CJ has space wide again. He drives it across the box. Yates touch is delicate but sadly he only delicately takes it off Bowler's foot as he looks set to lash it home. 

Pool have a corner. Dougall is still taking them despite the fact his delivery hasn't been great. In fact at times during the game he's looked to have put his boots on the wrong feet, dropping passes short and playing the ball out of play. Here though, he finds the centre of the box, he finds Madine, not so much lurking like a shark but leaping like a dolphin above the static defence to nod the ball home and then wheel away in delight. All goals are great goals, but Gary goals are the greatest of all. Was it me, or did it look like Gaz hitched a ride on the defender's shoulders? Who cares though? The ref is terrible. He lets blatant stuff go and whistles for nothing. 

We're off again and Madine, who has been simply imperious today, shows sublime vision to stun it short for Yates. Jerry scored some absolute blinders last year and he dances and dances, he's stepping over, he's performing a high wire dribbling act of great daring and the ground is willing him to find the space for a shot, but he's finally bundled out of danger. 

Reading foul and foul. Ref doesn't care. Refs don't seem to care about us getting fouled that often to be honest. Reading get to the edge of the box. Reading shoot because they don't seem to be sure how to get much further. It's blocked. Repeat for a while. The game is really scruffy. Marvin has a rare moment where he doesn't look classy as he knocks it out of play for no reason. 50p head as I believe the coaching manuals would have it. 

For all the world, it looks like Madine is shoved over in the box by a two handed push. Oh well. As if we'd get a decision like that anyway! Reading put on more pressure without really creating much more than some balls across the face of goal. Jerry gets booked for tackling someone really cleanly. He's tracked back really well today, more than once making an extra man to tidy up a bit of a mess. 

Jordan Gabriel hobbles off. More injuries! Injuries and referees are things we're not having a lot of luck with. Reece James comes on to look like a bloke who might be in a Stereophonics tribute act but who doesn't look that much like whichever one of the Stereophonics he's supposed to be, playing in a pub on a Sunday night to 14 people for 30 quid each which will only pay for the petrol money and a pint. That's a long winded and frankly torturous way of saying he looks quite Welsh. Which, funnily enough, he is. 

A long ball, Gaz, Jez, Josh play it quickly between them.... CJ in space, he lashes a shot... Wide. 

It's still tense. We've struggled to make much in the second half and Reading seem to have had more of the game than they did. Lavery comes on. The ball is bouncing in midfield. Madine backs into his man and heads it square to Dougall with the purposefulness that Madine gives us. Kenny must definitely have his boots on the right feet now because he hits a lovely ball for Lavery. Shayne has space to run into but a bit to do. He does it brilliantly, Lavery's on fire as he twists between two defenders and deftly finishes. That's it! 3-1. We've huffed and puffed a bit, but we've blown Ince's house down and he stands looking hard done by in his technical area as he survey's the wreckage and the ground lights up with noise and the warmth that a goal brings. 

Madine takes the applause as he trots off and YTS Madine (Jake Beesley) come on. The ball is out wide. Beesley is wrestling for it. CJ takes over and surges forward. Bowler points, CJ delivers and Bowler knocks home a sensational half volley, falling away as he hits it and finding the bottom corner. This lad is just magic. It's a wonderful goal and it feels like we just expect him to do this now. What a player.

Incey! What's the score? 


Did we play well? Yes, we did. Was it a 4-1 game? No, probably not, but equally, there was no question we were by far the better side. For a team that have some undoubted quality individuals, Reading were neither solid nor especially dangerous. They couldn't handle Madine and whilst I thought they did quite well against our wide players, especially CJ as soon as they pushed forward, they looked (and were) vulnerable to the counter attack. 

Stewart adds real quality to midfield. He's so tenacious both in and out of possession and his use of the ball is a step ahead of what we've been used to. That said, whilst Dougall had a very rough spell, he did set up two goals. Otherwise, the rest of them did what they do. Yates still didn't score, but he looked busy today and played football and probably played the pass of the day in the first half, a ball for CJ that was weighted to perfection. He was waspish and tricky and I enjoyed his performance. 

The last time I saw us play Reading in the flesh, we lost to their reserves and got outplayed in the cup under Larry. That night underlined how far we had to go, even to beat a second/third string mid table Championship side. Today didn't prove anything in particular, but we've just thrashed their first team so that, I think says quite a lot about how far we've come in 2 and a bit seasons. 

I'm going to say it. I think we're safe and nothing can go wrong now!

Back to the real world now though... 


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Saturday, February 19, 2022

A numbers game...

We're all nothing if not hypocrites. 

I have, in the past, made statements along the lines of "the people who look at football through the prism of data are souless death bringers." Whilst I kind of stand by that, it's really 'orrible outside and I've got a few hours to kill so I'm going to slip into something cosy and cuddle up to a spreadsheet or two. 

Clearly numbers don't tell you the whole story of a football team but there's some interesting stuff to be gleaned. I've paid particular attention to where our player or team stats sit against the rest of the league. 

(All stats are taken from before the Cardiff City game and sourced from the 'WhoScored' database.) 

Inside my head... 

How do we play? 

This is a hard question to answer. We've been different things in different games. We've variously been guilty of what tactics experts might call 'fannying about at the back,' playing two little lads up front, trying one up front and loads of exciting technical players behind them and 'knocking it to a big man and hoping for the best.' 

The stats below offer an insight into who and what we are most often, but it's clear that we've tried a variety of approaches as the season has progressed. 

What we can say for sure is that we're relatively balanced with most attacks coming down either flank and their being very little difference between the left/right flank (39/38%) - We do forge a low number of attacks centrally, but there's only a few percentage points difference between us and Fulham in that respect. In essence, everyone attacks more in wide areas. 

What are we good at? (and not good at) 

Many of our team metrics are relatively mediocre - for example: 

- Our passing accuracy is a relatively low 71% (way down on the divisional leaders 85.5%)
- We have only achieved the 18th highest amount of shots per game and the 19th most possession.

In short, we don't have the ball as much as most teams and when we do have it, there are plenty better at using it than us. The fact we are 21st in the division for key passes tells a story

Where we do excel is perhaps a little surprising.

- If we look at the kind of passes we play, we play more long balls than many sides. We've got the 7th best record for accurate long balls per game.
- We've also got the 8th best record at winning aerial challenges

This runs slightly counter to the received wisdom that we are 'a footballing side first and foremost.' as evidently, we're a side that do well when we're direct. 

How do we score? (or not) 

- Whilst we're generally good in the air, very few of our goals (just 4 from 34) are headers, which is quite a low ratio. Cardiff have managed an astonishing 18 or 38 in the air and even teams like Fulham are knocking in about 1 in 4 of their goals with their heads.  

- We've already seen we don't create as many shots as other teams, but actually, we're relatively accurate in comparison to some others. West Brom have scored an identical amount of goals but are averaging over 5 shots per game more than us. That's around 150 more attempts on goal for the same outcome. Some sides are slightly more clinical (or shoot less wildy) than we do, but our shots to goals ratio is not a noticeable issue in the data. 

- The metric we're right at the bottom for is scoring goals from distance. We are the lowest performing Championship from outside of the box with just a single goal compared to Stoke's 11. The crowd's cries of 'shoooooot' are pretty well justified as we're 23rd in terms of shots taken from outside the box, a figure which supports the idea that we don't possess many midfielders with an attacking intent. 

How do we set up our goals? 

- We are very poor at crossing from open play. For a team that has played (mostly) with a midfield 4, it's surprising to see us 21st in the division with an average of only 3 accurate crosses per game. Even taking into account the fact we don't have possession as much as other teams, this is a low number, almost half the amount achieved by Cardiff (the most frequent accurate crossers in the league) 

- Surprisingly the data shows that we're not that bad at corners and set pieces. For both metrics, we're 12 in the division, a stat that doesn't seem to tally with the widely held view that we're a bit rubbish at both. We've also got the lowest number of inaccurate corners in the division! Perhaps we're hardwired to remember our own teams poor set pieces more than the opponents and that second number is somewhat distorted by the fact we get less corners overall than most sides. 

- Where we've clearly changed from last season is how we run with the ball. We've attempted the 4th highest number of dribbles per game and achieved the 7th highest number of successful dribbles per game

What about defending? 

- We get a lot of tackles in. Our average of 15.2 per game is the 8th best in the division. It also has to be said that whilst teams like Blackburn and Middlesbrough tackle a lot, tackling is not a guarantee of success. Fulham have the 3rd worst record in the division. If you have the ball a lot, you don't need to tackle as much. 

- We are surprisingly not so good at intercepting the ball. Much has been made of our pressing game, but we sit 19th for that metric. 

- Our offside trap is effective as you'd expect for a team that do sometimes try and play with a high line and we have the 7th best record for catching the other side offside. 

- We concede a lot of shots (the 7th most in the division) but we excel at blocking them (the 4th most blocks per game.) We're quite good at cutting out passes (9th) but pretty woeful at blocking crosses (21st.) 

- Everyone concedes most goals from open play, but our defending of set pieces is comparably poor. We've scored 15% of our goals this was but conceded 24% of them. There wasn't a comparative table available but the 5 teams I cross referenced all had better records at dealing with set plays (though, of course, a percentage isn't a total!) 

What can individual player stats tell us? 

By looking at where we excel, we can gain an insight into how we play as a team. Here is a collection of notable facts about individual players. 

- Dan Grimshaw is the most likely play in any of the top two divisions to hit a long pass. That's quite remarkable when you reflect on the seeming obsession earlier in the year with playing out from the back and the former City man's upbringing in the total football environment of Guardiola. 

- Gary Madine is the leading striker in the air in the top two divisions, winning 6.6. aerial challenges per game. Marvin Ekpiteta comes next at 36th in the division, which shows us how much of our relative aerial strength is down to one player. Surprisingly the slight frame of James Husband is 38th in the division, testament to the sheer effort he puts in, often against players bigger than him. 

The two stats above combine to show that we're increasingly direct and willing to go back to front in one move. That makes sense given we have less possession and aren't as good at passing as many teams. 

- Another area we excel is dribbling. Not surprisingly Josh Bowler attempts the most in the division per game and has the second best record (behind Dembele) in terms of success. Keshi Anderson also excels here, turning in the 9th best record for successful dribbles per game. 

Having two players capable of carrying the ball thus is the main way we've changed our play from last season where no one excelled in this respect. Now we've definitely got one of the most skilled line ups in the league in terms of individual players who can carry the ball. 

- Keshi Anderson also makes the top 10 for key passes per game. We might not pass as accurately as many, but with Keshi in the side, we can make passes count. Beyond Keshi though, we struggle and Josh Bowler in 65th place in the division is the next most likely player to hit a key pass. 

- Our most accurate passer (23rd best in the division) is Richard Keogh. No one else bar the departed Ryan Wintle and the occasional Start Soney Carey gets above 80%. Interestingly, our poorest performer in terms of passing is Shayne Lavery, which perhaps offers an insight into why he's not quite gelled with either Madine or Yates up front yet. 

- Where Lavery does lead the way is in shots per game. He's the 37th most likely player to shoot in the Championship and the most likely in our squad. 

- Whilst we're talking of strikers, the perception that Yates gets caught offside a lot is accurate. He's the 3rd most likely player to be offside in the division, getting caught twice as often as Madine and more than 3 times more than Lavery (per game) 

- Kenny Dougall is a highly impressive tackler, winning the 9th most successful challenges per game in the league. Kevin Stewart slightly outranks Dougall, but doesn't qualify for the table as he's barely played and next in line are Rhys James and again, Keshi Anderson, which shows what an all round player the latter is. 

- Another stat that will surprise no one is that Marvin Ekpiteta excels at blocks, being the 3rd most likely player in the division to get in front of a shot. Keogh is an impressive 11th which is testament to how our defenders will put their bodies on the line. Marvin (5th) and Keogh (15th) are also excellent at getting clearances away

- James Husband is our most likely player to make an interception (21st most per game) and also the least dribbled past left back in the division. Jordan Gabriel isn't far behind that, as the third least dribbled past right back in the division. 

- Our most likely player to foul the opposition is, to no one's surprise, Callum Connolly (the 13th highest number of fouls per game.) Our most fouled player is Keshi Anderson who has drawn the 8th highest total of fouls per game in the league. 

- We've mentioned the lack of crosses above. Luke Garbutt is 8th in the division in terms of crosses per game which shows how little the rest of the team do it. The next best is surprisingly Dujon Sterling who is 73rd and averaging a mere .5 crosses per match. 

- Finally, one random stat I enjoyed is the fact that in 30 games of professional football this year, Josh Bowler has one header to his name. Which is a beautiful thing. 

What does all this mean? 

There's no real conclusion to be made from these numbers. They're just interesting insights into how sometimes our perceptions are accurate and other times they're not. What we palpably lack (and we all know it) is a really quality ball player in midfield and that's borne out in the numbers. The loss of Grant Ward is a blow in that respect as he put up the best passing numbers last season in terms of accuracy. 

Clearly, judging by Critchley's obsession with signing Cameron Brannagan, he concurs. 

Brannagan is considerably more accurate than any of our midfielders this season (and more accurate than anyone in central midfield last year when we were in the same league as well) He's also far more likely than any of our central midfielder to play a key pass or score a goal (also true when compared with last season) and shoots with a greater regularity than anyone in our squad, including even Shayne Lavery. 

The lack of crosses and a lack of a real force in midfield make it hard to envisage us scoring freely. Whilst we play with inverted wingers (most of the time) we're not going to be skimming lots of quality across the box and we're also going to struggle to pull strings from deep because of the sort of players (Sonny Carey aside) we largely have as midfield options. 

We've clearly got a remarkably good centre back pairing and some solid full backs. In Bowler and Anderson we have terrific players and Keshi in particular is a remarkably well rounded footballer. If we can keep both of those players and add in some quality attacking instinct in central midfield then we might see more goals. It's easy to suggest the strikers should be 'doing better' but we've done ok in terms of turning chances into goals - it's just we don't create that many chances in comparison to quite a few other sides. 

What is clear is that some of our players haven't just stepped up to this level, they've excelled at it. Whilst Keshi stands out, it's surprising how often our players appear at the top of certain metrics and how we've lived with just about everyone in the division in at least one game. As above, we've got a good base to work from and most of our players will have added value to themselves in the transfer market which is a mundane way to look at it, but there are very few of our squad who seem truly out of their depth in the Championship. 

At the end of the day, what will be will be, but we've got the best long kicker and the best aerial duel winner in top level English football. In other words...

If all else fails, twat it at Gaz. 


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Saturday, February 12, 2022

11 vs 14: the Mighty vs AFC Bournemouth

Since we last communed, we've played Coventry (bit lucky to hold them off but decent point.) The main highlight of that game was Josh Bowler's superb crossfield ball to Dale to set up the latest Gary Goal (all goals are great goals but Gary Goals are the best goals.) This is further evidence that Bowler is *adding things to his game* other than dribbling into people which is very good news. 

I've also dabbled in the idea of becoming an internet influencer by creating a meme. It didn't turn out very well. I think I could best describe the reaction as 'mixed.' Still. We tried. We failed. There's nothing worse that going to your grave knowing you could have done more with your life than you did is there? Imagine croaking it going "I had an idea out of nowhere that you could take MAdine and yaTES and make the compound word MATES and yet, I did nothing with it! I know! Yes, that's right, they are 'MATES' and you CAN COMBINE THEIR NAMES TO MAKE THAT WORD!! I know right?!... I wish I'd worked less and spent more time with people I love and had more courage to live the life I wanted, not the life that the relentless forces of deathless capital deemed fit for me and all that, but really, it's that unrealised meme that nags most at me in my final moments... If only... (expires)"


Talking of not dying wondering, I've enjoyed the way we've been a bit more on the front foot of late and I feel worryingly optimistic about today. I reckon if we can get at Bournemouth, we can shake them up a bit and am starting to warm to Connolly (not Connelly as I've termed him in previous blogs) as a midfield enforcer who just gets the ball and gives it to someone else to attack. It's shitty weather and even though theoretically (trendy coach types) we play 'tippy tappy football' we don't actually do that and our trendy coach is a devastatingly effective (sometimes) practitioner of doing whatever works and if that includes having a couple of lads in midfield to kick the opposition up in the air and Big Gaz knocking over defenders like bowling pins, then that's the masterclass we'll have. It may be muddy. I fancy us. 

Of course, as soon as I think 'I've got a good feeling' then the other side of my brain says 'don't type that. Even if you're not publishing this till after the game, you are dooming us to an afternoon where Critch doesn't pick any wingers and selects a crazy 2-4-1-2-1 style experiment where Ethan Robson is the notional creative force and has a particularly Ethan Robsony game and three of our players get injured in the first 15 minutes'  

The diagram below (no expense spared this week) explains why thinking this way is ridiculous, who doesn't think they're at the centre of the universe because of the way our sense and minds work, but palpably, the idea we can influence a football match by our feelings is daft. 

Motivation Monday!


I think Scott Parker looks like a man who probably spends about £2000 to look like a man who spends about £100 on his clothes. 

Kevin Stewart? Remember him? He's playing! Fresh from stints on the Moral Maze and Homes under the Hammer, he's there, in the centre of midfield. Blimey! Critch has given 'MATES' (as all the cool kids are definitely calling them) another go up front which I always like to see. CJ is back as is Connolly, Gabriel is rightly back at right back and Thorniley brings his dutiful hangdog trudge to centre back. Let's go! 

The pitch is heavy and the game is very even. Bournemouth are obviously not utter shite and whilst we press very well and draw appreciation for the harrying of our front 4, they have an early counter attack that's a bit scary and a corner to show for their efforts. We have a lot of hustle and bustle and the fact we're making it a midfield battle means the odd ball pops out of the melee and gets chased down. The best thing we do is an instinctive first time effort from wide from CJ (I definitely wasn't going to flog him to a league 1 club 3 weeks ago honest...) Hamilton that goes wide and over, but shows an encouraging willingness to take on a half chance. 

The ball goes out. Clearly. The referee and the linesman ignore it. It was way out. Bournemouth break. They don't score. Oh well. People make mistakes. 

The Cherries get a corner. In it goes. It goes out. It goes back in again. It goes out again. That's good. Come on Pool! Wait. What the fuck? The ref has given a penalty? Has he? He has! What for? No idea. Literally no idea. Has anyone in the ground got a clue? It doesn't appear they have. What the fuck? 

Step forward Grimmy. He pops into the back of his goal and has a quick toke to sharpen his wits. Then he starts dancing. Bez dancing (not the lad from Crawley, the other one.) Sideways then back, waving one arm like a right madhead. I swear he's in a big cloud of smoke... Here comes the spot kick.... YES!!! It's utter shite!!! He's just side footed like he's me taking a penalty that time the top juniors let me play in their match and I shit one when I got to take a penalty. That was awful. Is there anything Grimmy can't do? 

Minus maracas but plus beard = Grimshaw at the spot kick. 

The midfield genius (that's Callum's new name) has a run. He runs out of anywhere to run. He gives it to CJ. CJ gives it him back. The genius passes it to no one. What was that?... Oh, wait... It was actually quite good! Bowler cuts in, and, hits it, first time, curling away from the keeper, arcing perfectly up and down and into the inside of the far post. 


Not for the first time, there's an air of disbelief at what Bowler has just done. That was outrageous. Again. 

Now he's off again, racing onto to a flick on, haring to the byline, skimming it across goal to where the sniper is sliding in and missing it by a whisker. Suddenly we've got hold of this game and the ground is alive. C'mon Pool! 


It was hard going but we've ended the half well on top and looking good. Again, we're threatening wide and pressing high. Bowler and CJ have stolen the ball several times, Yate is his usual irritating self and even Gary Madine has won a tackle after a bit of closing down. You did not dream that last sentence. It happened. Maybe Jurgen Klopp will be in for him with the contract problems he has? Probably couldn't afford him to be fair unless he gets cash for 2 of 3 of their forwards before then...  


Bournemouth come out and press a bit but don't make much. We counter. Gabriel gallops forward but then gets stuck in the corner. He seems to just stop. Suddenly he starts again, threading it to Bowler, who puts it across and like just before half time Yates can't quite get a touch, but this time, CJ also can't quite get a touch as well. C'mon Pool!!! 

CJ goes wide. He's going full tilt. He pulls it back. Madine is neat and tidy, just moving it on to the exact spot where Bowler needs it to hit it first time. It's both placed and swerving, a side foot rocket with a slightly damaged tail fin that makes it turn in the air. It's heading top corner but their goalie springs and makes a brilliant, brilliant stop. 

We have a corner. The ball pings around. Kev Stewart takes it on the edge of the box, a little side step and a run and SURELY HE WAS TRIPPED THEN???? REF??? REF!!!!!??? Nope. Hmmm. 

Bournemouth come back into it. They press again for a good 5 minutes but we just get the block in, get the header on it, they over or under hit the pass. Then they go wide. But the ball goes out of play. The linesman is right there. Good effort to be up with play. Why are we playing on? Oi! It's a throw! Stop playing! OI!!!! The flag hasn't waved though. The whistle hasn't blown. I actually cannot believe that the three people who are being paid to watch the game and decide if it's gone out of play or not haven't noticed that ball go a foot out of play within about 8 feet of two of them. It's astonishing. It's all a little bit weird. 

It gets worse though. Marvin is down. Marvin is going off. Nice one linesman. At least the blatant cheating incompetence from the officials means Oliver Casey gets to play a football match which is something at least. No offence to the lad from Leeds, but it's a bit shite that just as we've got a midfield of sorts fit, we lose the defence. 

Bournemouth pile on more pressure. Still nothing really threatens to get Grimmy off the sofa and we gradually assert ourselves again. Connolly floats a free kick. It's headed away. CJ strikes it and it flies. It's straight and true and beautiful but it cannons into the bar and out. The bar wobbles for ages. He absolutely caught it perfectly. C'mon Pool!!! 

Bournemouth nearly break through. Yates does magic work, running back from up front to intercept in his own box but then he's just too cute as he tries to set us playing out and they finally test Grimshaw with a rasping drive that he chucks up two strong hands too and diverts over. He's so fucking calm. I'm not... 

They work it down the right. It's spun over, they overload the left. I'm bracing myself for the shot, when out of nowhere Casey slides and takes it from their man. Brilliant. They come again. This time the ball from the left is curling and hanging and Thorniley is back peddling, springing and stretching his spine and neck as far as it will go and heading away. Brilliant again. C'mon Pool! 

A bit of a break in pressure. A corner. In it comes. Madine does his best little far post vanishing and reappearing magicians act and crashes it towards goal. YESSSS! NOOOO! Again, their keeper has pulled out a blinder, some kind of magical Schmeichel-esque starfish stop that seemed to defy logic. 

Madine fights for the ball. The Bournemouth defender just about stops short of using a straightjacket on him, but the ref is fine with that. Kev Stewart is covered in mud. He's wrestled by one, but he's got the ball. He's clipped then just about rugby tackled by another. That's all fine. Play on lads. A Blackpool player coughs. The ref blows up. I wish he would blow up. Literally. Boom. Gone. Ideally vapourised so no one gets splattered by him. 

The time ticks by. Lavery is on for Jerry. Bournemouth are throwing all their impressive players on the bench on up front. I notice they have a fake Josh Bowler. I'm getting very nervous. Wor Gaz is sliding in making tackles. No, really, he is. Honestly. 

They go down the left. It's dug in by the fake Josh Bowler. Connelly get a slight touch. It wrong foots everyone except their lad at the far post. He steers it home. I nearly cry. For fuck's sake. It's no one's fault, it's no one's mistake, it's just one of those goals that feels like shit cos it's right in front of you and it's a deflection from a player trying to make another heroic block and it just not being quite enough and it ending with a shitty tap in. A shitty tap in after all that effort. Fuck off football. 

Still. Maybe we can make it up? Maybe we can get back? We look knackered though. Bournemouth are just wheelbarrowing cash on to the pitch and we're on our arses. They drink their energy drinks off little silver trays that butlers bring out to them as they regroup after the goal. We have some stuff Mike Garrity got from Macro that Mike Garrity lobs on. 

The added time goes up. 5 minutes? Why? The five minutes seems to stretch out for ages. They press. They put it wide. They get wrong side of us. They knock it between themselves very quickly and that little lad from Peterborough gets in and slides it home. 

If the first hurt, this one is just agony. It's a shape blade drawn across the throat. This time, they did kind of outplay us and we looked stuck in the mud as they skated through and round. It's so painful. It's as if the one time we turned our back on a game that we'd fought and fought in, we got shot. There's something about this defeat that just doesn't sit right. 

When we were in front the ref got all shirty with Grimshaw about taking kicks quicker. He just stands and watches them celebrate for about 90 seconds when they go in front. Cos, why not? It's only Blackpool. 

The whistle goes. 


Only dickheads who ring 606 even though 'I wasn't at the game Robbie but...' go on about refs. Refs are part and parcel of the game and it's good craic shouting at them and chuckling to yourself when you get a soft penalty or when they miss your defender scything someone down. They're human and to err is to be human and I'd rather have human error than the infinite regress of VAR every day of the week.

VAR is death. 

There was something weird about today though. There were absolutely stonewall decisions ignored and pattern in the decisions that just felt a bit strange. I can't say for sure why, but it felt as if the officials all had... 

a) a terrible childhood holiday in Blackpool where it rained all week, the Sandcastle was closed, a donkey stood on their foot and their dad ran off with a 'funny girl' from 'Funny Girls' and they thus decided to use today as therapy. 
b) some kind of subconscious assumption that cos Bournemouth are minted that any 50/50 decision *must* be theirs as obviously, our players are just tinpot shite in comparison to their football wizards and we'd only be able to get the ball off them by fouling.  
c) contact from a far east betting syndicate. 
d) Scott Parker's credit card details... (Dear Ref. Please make sure Boreham Wood does not happen again if you know what I mean. Get yerself and yer linos something nice. Also, treat the wife and kids. Love 'n' hugs. Scotty.) 

...I'm being unreasonable. I know. But still... It was a bit... well... weird. I know what a shite ref feels like and... I dunno. Fuck it. We was robbed. 

We gave everything to that game and 3 points wouldn't have been outrageous, not by a long way. A point would have been one of those things, but to lose it just feels like getting what you wanted for Christmas then breaking it on Christmas Day. There's positives and all that, but fuck that. I'm sulking like a little kid.

No one deserves moaning at and plenty of them deserve praise. Kev Stewart is a better player than the player he's become in our heads as we've (probably unreasonably) fumed at his seemingly permanently fragility. Jordan Gabriel is magic. Bowler, what can we say? CJ, Madine so nearly got goals, Connolly is a presence and a force who makes up for his lack of finesse in sheer effort and will, Thorniley is doing everything he could humanly do and so on. 

The players deserved better. The manager deserved better. The crowd deserved better. Bournemouth have spend shit loads to be average and brought about 300 fans and their stadium is more like a crown green bowls venue than a football ground and yet they've got 3 points and we've got none. 

Football can fuck off. Fuming. 


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Saturday, February 5, 2022

Got into 'em: the Mighty vs Bristol City

The transfer window is over and we've still got Bowler and Marvin plus the rest, who are mostly loads of wingers and fullbacks, many of whom we won't/can't play because they're a) Owen Dale or b) injured. On balance, not selling our good players is great but I also can't help thinking that our approach to signing a central midfielder might have been a bit flawed. 

I'm not saying I lifted the transcript below from the audio on the CCTV in the modular building (NOT to be referred to as a bigger portakabin than the old one in any circumstances) at the training ground but then, if I had done that, I wouldn't tell you would I...? 


Transfer team: Right, Neil, this new software lets you put in attributes and comes up with a list of players that match what you want. 

Neil Critchley: That's clever. We could really unearth a diamond in the rough with this. Someone we've not heard of. Someone on no one else's radar! 

TT: Exactly. It's state of the art stuff this. 

NC: Great stuff. Try putting in "Cameron Brannagan" 

TT: Er, ok.... Right, I was hoping we could try something else, but I'll give it a go... (sound of cogs turning) ... It's come up with "Cameron Brannagan" 

NC: Great! We'll buy him! 

TT: Neil, it's got over 30,000 players in from all the leagues in the world! It's got the Russian third division, the Japanese reserve league, the Malawi League...

Neil Critchley: Fair enough. Ok, try "plays for Oxford at the moment, but also was at Liverpool when I was" 

TT: Erm, right. Give us a second... It's come up with "Cameron Brannagan" again. 

NC: That's a sign that is. What were the odds of that?! Mike, go and see if you can flog Jordan or Ethan at the car boot on Sunday... We need to act on this. 

TT: Neil, with respect, we're paying quite a lot for this software. Can we give it one more go? How about we compare this Brannagan lad's attributes with say, players in Eastern Europe? We can search by region and even estimated wage expectations... We might find a 'Brannaganovski' if you see what I mean. 

NC: It can do that? Clever. Ok, let me think. Ok, search for 'players that have a second name that's similar to a brand of crisps that do an excellent,very strong ham and mustard flavour...' Mike, remind me to remind Jannine to see if they still do them when she's in ASDA next week*. 

TT: .... 

NC: Sorry... Ok, I'll take it seriously this time. I won't even say 'ex Crewe youth players' 

TT:... Thanks Neil. We just want to help. 

NC: 'Players that rhyme with Bameron Hannagan?' 



It's not like we've done badly of late, but every time I see a starless midfield made of Kenny and a centre half, I worry. I picture a turgid game with the ball flying over the top and Callum Connelly in a ragged, filthy kit, looking like a hapless WW1 soldier stuck in no-mans land trying to fight off machine guns with just a bayonet. Bravery is great, but if the enemy has better technology than you, then it's kind of a horrible irrelevance. 

The centre halves don't fill me with confidence either. I'm sure we've had slower pairings than Keogh and Thorniley (Broadfoot and Mackenzie weren't exactly Carl Lewis/Linford Christie were they?) but neither of them are exactly fleet footed and Bristol City are quite sharp out the blocks from the little I've seen of them. For what it's worth though, both of them would also be excellent tragic figures in a heart rending WW1 story. Captain Keogh in particular would tug at heart strings, beguiling the troops with his life story and homespun wisdom, facing his fate with his face smiling but his sad eyes giving away the truth of his soul. 

Happily it's not 1914-18 (thank fuck) and Crazy Uncle Richard is chatting amenably with the referee, not cowering from shellfire. He's very much enjoying wearing the armband and if Trickie Dickie is happy, then so am I. We've got Jerry and Gaz up front and loads of pace on the wings, so stop worrying about it and get into em! 


Immediately Bowler justifies my claim that him staying is the triumph of the transfer window by not reading Jerry's cute through ball and letting it roll out of play with a kind of baffled look on his face. 

CJ is never going to be the technical wizard that Bowler can be, but he's played well recently and he starts well again. A mad run... Go on CJ! Go on! Go on! ... sees him pull it back for Yates. The sniper can't free the trigger, the ball is under his feet, so he squares it for Bowler who draws a decent stop. It was almost the Fulham goal again. 

I think readers may have gathered that I don't quite see Connelly in the same class as Pirlo or Iniesta but here he is with a crazy tekkers first time volleyed ball into space. Go on lad! Just to keep things grounded, he's also put it out of play up the touchline twice, but on balance, he's doing ok and showing intent to go forward. Bayonet in hand and all that. 

Brizzle have had nothing, but then they break. I don't see who gives it away, but they're on us like a rash and it takes a good sprawling stop from a slightly neater looking than usual Daniel Grimshaw to keep things level. I reckon Grimmy's nan makes him get his beard trimmed and hair cut from time to time and I reckon Grimmy, whilst otherwise seeming like a lad who doesn't really give two fucks what people think, wouldn't want to upset his nan for anything in the world. I digress. 

Dougall breaks up play (an occurrence that will become a pattern) and slips it to Bowler. Here he goes. Everything stops. When he runs it's like that Matrix scene where everything slows down and the rules of physics are suspended. He goes all the way down the middle and is only denied at the last, his spell on the ball broken by a Brizzle toe that diverts it for a corner. I'm already worrying about the next window. 

He goes again minutes later, Yates winning a flick on, the ball rolling into Bowler's path. He destroys one defender, he's haring past another, he tries to dive between the man he's nearly beaten and a third player desperately coming across. The ball bounces up. It hits a Brizzle hand. Penalty?!! Nope. 

Now CJ is off... I love this pair. Pace on both flanks - it scares teams. We're on the front foot, we're not checking back and fannying about.... Where is Keshi going to play?... Imagine him in the middle pulling strings with these lads wide. What lack of creativity? Anyway... Hamilton on the left is a revelation. He can cross! With his left foot! Who knew?... (insert stuff about inverting being a stupid modern fad here) 

Whilst I'm musing on all this, Madine has pulled away and pointed, Hamilton fizzes it over, Gary throws everything at it and it's a whisker away from being a fucking incredible goal. Madine at the far post on a delicious cross. Honestly. Football heaven. I'd be happy to tell St Peter I would eschew my drink with Jerry to have had that go in. 

CJ has another go, another arrowing ball is turned away. Another Pool corner. C'mon! In it comes. Madine goes in at the near post. The ball goes out except it doesn't and everyone thinks it does but by the time Gary realises it hasn't gone, it has. C'mon Pool! We need a goal. We're on top. These are shite. Just score! 

Grimshaw livens up a dull interlude with a bit of skill to outwit an onrushing forward. I imagine him with a spliff dangling from his lips, hunched over some decks on some decks scratching at a party in a flat in Manchester. A smile on his face, just for him. Lad doesn't give a fuck. Grimshaw for England. No, really. I mean it. 

We put a lovely move together, the ball goes left to right like a series of passes in rugby. Gabriel is the man outside everyone else who will take the ball over the try line. He hammers it and the keeper tips it away... 

Rain drums the stand roof. It sounds exactly like one of those rainstick things that only exist in primary school music rooms. Brizzle are a bit better for a while. Connelly, who has done well, balances up his good work with a terrible touch that lets them in. Keogh comes across. Their lad pulls out a swan dive and gets nothing other than mockery for his trouble. 

I'm starting to think we've maybe missed our chance to score.

Madine flicks it. It's not found anyone. Everyone on both sides thinks the moment is dead except for Josh Bowler who does brilliantly to keep it alive. Gabriel swings in a cross. Yates is there, it's too far for Jerry to nod home but Jerry isn't thinking of scoring so it's not too far at all. The sniper leaps, and turns it back the way it came, into the path of CJ who slots home with raw delight! YES! It's his first goal forever and well deserved by both him and the team. 

Bloomfield rocks with delight. CJ's name is sung. The Albert Hall can get to fuck. This is music.

We come forward again. We're on our feet again. C'mon Pool! A far post ball, CJ scrambles and keeps it in, CJ battles and wins a corner. More noise. Dougall spots it up. No fuss, none of that getting it on an exact blade of grass shite. It's a good one too, swinging out slightly, far post. Who is there? It's only the shark made human himself, Gary Madine. He lies in the water, basking. Nothing to be seen here. THen he gets the scent of blood. A flick of the tail and he's moving, first away from goal, then another flick and he's going up and forward, crashing onto the ball, powering it toward goal. He's torn into the cross, feasted on his prey. A defender sprawls but when Gaz gets a header right, the ball stays headed and the hapless Brizzle player can only turn it into the netting. 

I've gone. I've practically whited out. My head is just pure static. It's Madine. With a bullet header. From a corner. I could stop writing for the season now. 

Seeing Richard Keogh bellowing his heart out in delight, a mirror of a fan at the front of the stand doing the same is a sight that stays with you though. The arl fella is magic. He just likes football. The fan and Crazy Uncle Richard roar in tandem. Then he drapes himself around Gaz. The two of them have a moment. Something about redemption and coming back from stuff and all that. Honestly. I think I've got something in my eye. Richard Keogh has got to be the best player that I ever once thought was complete shite. Have I ever been more wrong? 


Weirdly, at half time, I'm more nervous than if we'd been shit. We've been really quite good. Ok, we're not playing the sexiest modern football ever, but we're going at them and we're making and scoring chances. What's not to like? 

I've been here before too many times. Game of two halves and all of that type of thing. I know the drill. They make a sub, we stand off, they score, we wilt, they score again. We rally, we miss a chance. They nick it. We all go home and rage about life. 

"A third would kill it. Be nice to get another just after half time." My neighbour offers a more optimistic take. 

As if that's how it goes though! 


He goes.

Dougall sees him go and hits a raking ball. It's a good ball, floating and falling exactly where Bowler is. If the ball is good, the control is something else. A football dropping from the sky is fast, heavy, hard. It swirls in the air to defy your best efforts at reading it and it bounces away if you get things a fraction wrong. Having a big lad running at you as well would put most people off their touch but Bowler doesn't see the wind, the rain, the defenders charging after him. He just hears music. It's classical, balletic music playing just for him. The ball is a dove, flying gracefully to land at his feet. He takes it down with the most gossamer soft bit of skill imaginable. He caresses it, brings it close to him and then he explodes at the box. A defender? Who cares. A shimmy, they're gone. He stands the keeper up, sits him down and puts the ball neatly into the other corner than he was looking at. 

That was genius. 

The game is over. The cheers are weirdly muted as if we can't quite believe it. This doesn't normally happen. It takes a while before the noise really builds up but when it does, it's beautiful. A rare 40 minutes stretches ahead of us. We're so on top, we're way ahead and we can just watch football. Not biting nails and imploring for more, just watching the game for the sheer hell of it. 

CJ is still hungry. He bustles down the left. He's tackled but he snarls into his man and takes the ball back and smacks a cross in. Another corner... Go on lad! I really do like him on the left. In my head, I'd sold him to Wycombe or someone about 3 weeks ago but here he is playing like this. People who claim expertise in football are idiots. 

The game drifts on pleasantly. Allez Allez Allez! Owen Dale gets a little run about. Bowler gets a heroes reception and responds by high fiving all the people in the bottom rows as he walks back to the bench. There's just a feeling about him at the moment. He's got something you just don't see every season. Every team, even the shite ones, has a player or two that you get behind and rest your hopes upon, but every now and again, you happen on a player who makes you feel anything is possible. I think that Bowler could be the first one for ages who really fits that billing. 

Brizzle do a bit more cos what else are they going to do with their time? A lightning break with lovely swift interchanges sees a shot slammed into the side netting. That was probably the best football of the day (outside of Bowler's control) so they can't be this shite every week surely? 

There's a flash point on the touchline. Madine is fuming. Madine squares up. This might not end well. Jerry goes haring in and has a scuffle. Don't fuck this up Pool! A yellow card is a welcome relief. 

Yates has a little dance on the edge of the box. There's a load of players in it, but it's as if Jerry is determined to tee up his mate so picks Gaz on the edge instead. Sadly, Gary can't dance round the defenders and finish with a little chip up and scorpion kick. He turns quite slowly and loses it. Jerry gives him an encouraging gesture though. The two of them are a proper pair. Every know and again, they come together and low five like gangsters before trotting away. Are either of them the best striker at the club? It's a moot point, but they are without question, the best partnership. 

Charlie Kirk and Jake Beesley come on. Kirk looks more like a wing back to me than a winger in terms of physique. He links nicely in one move, him, Jerry and Dale combining really well, but the final ball, beautiful as it is, is to no one at all. Beesley, I really like. The best way I can describe him is 'like an athletic John Murphy' and he moves a lot. He's strong and surprisingly quick and could have been in had Jerry not tried to flick a Keogh ball that was arrowing right towards the new man who had lost his marker intelligently in the box. 

Brizzle keep going. They get a bit tetchy and hack a few down and finally get a goal. It's a bit of a shit goal to concede as we fall asleep at the far post but it doesn't matter. The end isn't tense at all. We calm it down a bit and stop looking for the fourth goal and just play a bit of football instead. When do I get to write that this year? 

The whistle goes. Delight! Critch keeps the crowd waiting and then it's YES! YES YES!!!!! 


As I practically skip down Bloomfield Road, I think that we probably controlled that game as well as any this year, aside from maybe the PNE match. We didn't really play champagne football all the way through or owt like that but we won the war. Our midfield bullied theirs. Connelly got stuck in, Dougall was fucking terrific. He snapped into them high up the pitch and when he won it, he used it well. 

We pressed effectively. CJ and Bowler are both doing that very well at the moment. Our goal at Fulham came that way and the two first ones today saw those players simply not giving up on a loose ball and making something happen a few moments later. For all the beautiful play, Bowler seems to have realised something about his role that is making him work for the team far more. Whatever that is, I hope he has it written down so he never forgets it. 

There's a directness to us that has been lacking. We didn't faff about. We mixed it up, we got it wide, we went down the middle. We got at them. We played like we believed in the defence, instead of playing like everyone needed to defend. We gambled with players like Gabriel getting forward. We really rattled the other team. 

I look at the table. 5 points to 6th. Madness to think about that. Nothing today really said anything other than we put away a side having a bad day. Football is madness though. It's a beautiful collective insanity. We've got no chance. I'm getting carried away. That's the point though. Football takes you away. We've still got no chance. Not without a midfield, not against all that money, not against everything that makes it obvious that we've got no chance. We really haven't. 

Have we?  


* It is my awful duty to reveal my extensive research has led to a discovery that Brannigan's crisps have been discontinued. Please consider the picture below to be a tribute to a truly sensational potato based snack. RIP. 


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Yet another bad owner. Where do they breed them?

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