Football Blog: Tangerine Flavoured

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

'On the front foot' - the Mighty v Port Vale.

A picture that possibly suggests a degree of drama that really wasn't present. 

On the way to the game, I saw a bloke riding a bike. He had a massive carrier bag on one handlebar, a lopsided backback on and he was ranting into a phone. The bike was a racer, with those old fashioned rams horn type drop handlebars. His situation was a bit precarious. He wobbled, he lurched and then he shot off suddenly towards a wall and had to turn in an impossibly tight circle to avoid hitting it. With one hand. He set off again. He repeated the feat. I had to admire his manic balancing act. 

That was probably the most exciting thing about tonight. I bet Neil Critchley ALWAYS keeps two hands on his handlebars and any luggage appropriately tied on with bungee cords on the designated carrier. He'll have both reflectors and lights. Probably in the day light. Can't be too cautious. 

I imagine he cycles in a very sensible manner, whilst planning his tactical masterclasses and deciding whether he's going to spend Sunday at Dunhelm Mill or Laura Ashley. They both do great beige things. It's a tough choice. 

I imagine him ringing Mike on a break, taking a swig from his water bottle (weak lemon cordial) and removing his phone from the waterproof and reflective strip clad bumbag he's wearing with his keys and stuff in before dialling him up... 

'Big Mike! Yes, it's me. I've got it! You know how Port Vale lost 7-0? Well, the last thing they're going to expect is us to keep everyone deep and defend. If we do that, they'll get bored then Sullay will do a bit of magic' 

'Boss, I'll double check with Steve's blue folder, but I don't think we've got Sullay anymore?' 

'Why not?' 

'You let him go...' 

'Oh. Right. Well, that's no problem. I'll just play Josh. Josh will have one of his moments and we'll be home and hosed quicker than you can say 'we do a lot of work on shape, both inandoutofpossession - ask Ian about it will you' 

'Boss I don't know where Ian is. I last saw him on Monday but he had a disguise on and said 'don't tell anyone you saw me' and disappeared looking a bit worried, you know how he is... also there's one problem with your plan, I mean, it's great as usual boss, but...' 

'Don't tell me we haven't got Josh either!... Oh, bloody hell. Well, don't worry, Jerry will come good. I'm telling you Mike, we just shut up shop and one of our trickier lads will get the goal' 


In the first half we were inexplicably timid. It was really boring. I can't remember very much. I'll do my best. Sideways. Sideways. Back. Sideways. Lift it up and over. Shayne runs on. Hard luck Shayne. 

Sonny is trying some little flicks and looking to make something happen. The rest of the team stand on the halfway line. Why isn't he passing it backwards? He gets booked for diving for being tripped. 

Marvin does a weird thing where it looks as if he's stuck in a loop, just rubbing his foot on top of the ball like a horse pawing the ground for ages before making a horrible pass. I think he's probably been standing too close to Grimmy and his cloud of smoke. 

Vale score. It's offside. 

We give the ball away. Vale flash a shot just wide. 

We have a little spell when (checks notes, nope, it's right, even though I haven't actually got any notes) Jimmy Husband comes and joins the attack and even though Super Jim isn't the worlds greatest attacking player, the novelty of having a left footed player in a position he's comfortable to deliver and receive the ball in makes us look threatening for a little bit. 

There are not many thrills and spills. 


The central midfield was way too deep. Every team in the division seems to have had the note about 'Marvin will pass it to Norburn' and we're caught out thus several times. Morgan and Dougall are nowhere near Sonny. There's no point playing him as an actual striker cos he isn't an actual striker but we seem to have done so. Shayne makes runs, Sonny drifts about, but no one at all goes in any of the space they open up. We look about as potent as a queue for a Viagra clinic. 


Things improve a bit. Morgan has definitely got more advanced. We have a bit more intent. We do some things that could be described as 'attacking' 

It's a struggle though to recall that much. I remember thinking 'this is a bit better' and then looking at the clock and realising ten minutes had gone without anything really happening. 

Lavs (I think) flashes a header just over, or onto the bar. Beesley comes on and gives us a bit more presence. He gets onto the end of a cross (I think from Jimmy) and puts it narrowly over. 

Lyons gradually comes into the game and has a couple of far post runs. CJ does CJ things like making a really nice run but leaving the ball behind. He works hard. Virtue comes on and crashes into people and tries to make something happen. Jensen Weir comes on and has a shot that is encouraging in it's intent, even if it doesn't make it to the goal line. CJ has a shot that gets an 'ooh' in the South until we realise it's actually missed the penalty area and possibly ended up further way from the goal than it was when it left his boot. 

Marvin makes a brilliant run and challenge to halt Vale's only real threatening moment. In another attack, they look as if they might be away, but they're not. I watch Grimmy, he reads it beautifully, he's chasing ready to come out, but then he just stops. Dead. Steps back. It's like watching an animal, he's so in tune. He's fucking ninja or something. Love Grimmy me. With his big shorts. 

Marvin measures one of those diagonals and puts into row 12 of the east. There is general disgruntlement.  

Time ticks by. Jimmy is immense. He's on the left wing. He's at centre back. He really is very good. Casey is decent too in a similar vein but I think Lyons' quality makes the left flank more productive. 

We're attacking but we don't think we're going to score. I don't think we're going to score. There's one more effort at the keeper. It's right at him. We don't score. 


One of the reasons why I wasn't hugely keen on reading Critch part 2 is that I know the story. It's about solidity. It's about percentages. It's about process. I feel like I've written this blog about 30 times already. It was dismal as a spectacle. It was flat. It wasn't 'front foot football' and there was neither death nor glory. 

I also know that, actually, we've got a very effective defence, on the back of a season where our defence was so hideous that records should be locked in a concrete vault under the sea forever, like nuclear waste. I know that football is made of fine margins and we were a couple of feet away from winning both this and Exeter and Grimmy hasn't made a meaningful save in either game. I know we need better players in certain positions (wing back for certain and without a fit Joseph, a striker at least) and that Critch is long term thinker who will plan for what he wants and get the fundamentals right so those players slot into a system that already functions. 

I know all that. I've already read this book. We always struggle against sides that come for a point and are physical. I hope we can skip to the bit where we're a tight, coiled attacking spring a bit quicker than last time because we just lacked both belief in our own attacking ability and the individual (be it Madine, by force of presence and brute will or a player (Keshi, Bowler, Embleton, Kaikai etc) with a moment of impudent improvisation or the fearlessness to just get at them. Jimmy Husband really, really, really was the best attacking player. 

Perhaps overlapping centre-backs are the new master class? They're certainly fucking difficult to mark. 



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