Football Blog: Tangerine Flavoured

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Ian Evatt's TANGERINE! : the Mighty vs Bolton Wanderers

For the first time since 2019 I went to a game of football this week and I didn't write about it. Why not? I didn't start this blog to slag people off and writing stuff like 'this lot are a bunch of uninspiring middle aged journeymen managed by a bloke who seems like he's the tutor of an adult college accountancy course abetted by a dim but well meaning youth club worker and a tubby coke smuggler in a puffer jacket' felt unappealing to me. 

I'm done with Critchball. Tell anyone. The guy is a fraud with a capital F. All the other letters can be capitals too. That makes it shouty and shouty is certain and telling it as it is heart on the sleeve stuff like they do on talksport and that. I will shout it out loud. Take me to the top of the tower and let me loose from there with a very big megaphone and some neon lights. I'm done with it. It's boring and it's predictable and it's not good enough. Call me Mr Certain and let my opinion be known. Fuck your process polo shirt boy.

Weirdly though and (I almost wish I didn't...) I fancy us today.

I don't know why. Actually, I do know why. It's because I've said the above. It's because, above everything else, the thing that most annoys me about Critchley is that we're stuck with him.


It might feel like we're reaching the end of the line, but it's almost certain that we're not. It's never going to be this easy to get rid of the man. Every time I decide he's a broken robot, he goes into 4d chess tactical genius masterclass mode and makes me look a proper knobhead.

Oh, fucking hell. Critch. Why have you dropped Albie? Get in the bin and cover yourself with your body warmer then I don't have to look at you. Do you want to lose this game? Fuck's sake man. What are you thinking?

Evo is pointing at things like a very authoritative chap. Evo is lapping up the chanting. Evo is getting rapturous applause. I'm a bit jealous. I'm very jealous. Why can't we have Evo? Look at him. He's a big manly man doing manly man things and his football team are actually any good.



We actually start quite well. I'm musing to myself that I might have jumped the gun on deciding Critchley is worse than Neil Macdonald and Lee Clark spliced with Nigel Worthington and Colin Hendry but then Bolton score. It's one of those shitty scrappy not cleared properly, stupid surely someone could have got a foot in or put their foot through it goals that we specialise in conceding and I actually do a little jump of fury as it hits the net. I am literally hopping mad.

I look at the dugout. There's Evo, all brawn and presence. He's like the model for some kind of super masculine product. A chainshaw or a beard trimmer. That sort of thing. Critchley looks haggard. Arms folded in his tight tracksuit. What's going through his head? Evo is thinking of steak and fighting bears. Critch is probably hoping Janine hasn't put too much pepper in the spaghetti bolognese as it made him sneeze last time she did that.

Jimmy Husband is creaking. The man looks so tired he could lie down on the pitch and just die right there. I reckon he had to have his shoelaces tied by Ian Brunskill (perhaps we've found out what he does?!) before being pushed out to play.

'Please can I have a game off one day?'
'No Jimmy. We need you'
'But everyone else gets a rest. I've got three broken toes and no hamstrings left'
'Be quiet Jimmy'

I wisely observe 'you can see how the fight has just drained from us can't you?' The ground was a throbbing mass of drumming, back and forth chanting and passion for the first 8 minutes but now it's just Bolton noise and possession. I can feel the second coming of Critchley ending here, the fizz in the kaliber has gone. The bottle is warm. It's undrinkable piss. They're going to batter us now.

Kaddy. A little wriggle and turn. The crowd lifts. He's good at least. He slides it to Beesley. I mean, I like Beesley in a 'nice to see an honest lad trying hard' kind of way but c'mon, he's not going to do it from that range...


He fucking has! He's dropped his shoulder and bought space and then sculpted the ball into the net, swerving it past the keeper, inside the post and down into the back of the goal after kissing the inside of the netting in a beautiful cushioned collision. That was fucking magic. Yes!

Football eh? What the fuck do any of us actually know about it?

We're back on. The fire beneath the cauldron is stoked again. Critchley is prowling. Byers is like a compilation of Kenny Dougall's best bits, all slide tackles and sticking to his man like a stretchy glue you can't break free from. He's all neat touches and intelligent work. Gabriel is up and down. He's winning those ball we loft to the flank. Coulson is looking surprisingly good. He's just done a high speed Cruyff turn. Who knew?

This is a battle. We're in it. Grimmy makes a fucking terrific stop at the near post. Marvin tidies things up. Pennington is all yeoman endeavour and shirehorse-like galloping forward with it. He's got a really good eye for what to do. If his feet were as good as his brain, he'd be incredible. Early on I bemoan Norburn getting caught on the ball, but he's threading it well and snarling into things.

Jimmy finds a burst of energy to overlap. A slide rule pass finds him. He digs out a perfect cross, Byers is on to it, he's headed it down, it must go in, but the keeper plunges and claws it out but there is Marvin and it's all a scramble and YESSSSSSSS!

The ball is over the line and it's manic. The players are running away, the Bolton defence have their hands on their hips. Their keeper, who looks oddly grizzled for a modern day player, like a new dad who loses his hair overnight with the shock of responsibility, is looking skyward. We're on fire in the stands. They've had their five minutes of glory. We're Blackpool FC and this is how it should feel to be us. Glorious.

We keep playing. Lavery makes some great diagonal runs and puts Santos under real pressure. He might be big, but Shane is the horsefly to his horse. The ball is up and down the pitch. The players are playing at their physical limits. It's tremendous to see.

Half time creeps up. Bolton lash a shot over. There's derision but it's not so far away. Bolton work it down the left. They fizz it over and it's met by a forward. Shit.. Somehow Grimmy comes out with the ball having kind of done the splits to try and throw any part of himself at it. He gets up, he's too far away to see for sure, but I imagine he's got that sleepy unfazed look on his face. I love Grimmy me.


A tremendous half. We've really more than matched them. We're playing extremely well. Committed, resourceful and dangerous. I couldn't pick out anyone to say they've struggled, I could pick out any number to praise. Coulson has particularly impressed me, decisive, direct and more skilful than I'd seen from him to date.


What? Two subs standing there. Waiflike Lyons and the King of The Seaside (Joseph) - has Critchley gone mad? I assume we've got injuries as Lavery and Coulson come off. Lyons hasn't had a great season and Beesley and Joseph looked like a confused pairing on Tuesday. I hope this isn't presaging a 2nd half collapse. Myself and my neighbour confide in each other. We admit to 'a bad feeling' about this upcoming half.

The bad feeling is almost immediately dispelled. We're on it again and far from tripping over Beesley, Joseph is haring about playing off him really well. Lyons is deceptively strong for a wee lad and he's soon up and down the left like a Jordan Gabriel tribute act. A ball in, Bolton scramble it away, Lyons nods it back in, a weighted touch that falls perfectly for Joseph who swivels and clips it, lifting it up and over the keeper who does brilliantly to get hands up and turn it on over the bar.

Everything that was happening in the first half is still happening. Bolton are moving the ball about, but they're not threatening as you'd imagine they might. They try the Holloway style switch and overload but we're equal to it. They do fizz one across the face of goal and it looks like it might catch us out, but Penno shephards the far post runner away. They slap a few more across the box but Marvin is sticking his leg out and blocking and it's not flying into the top corner.

We break. It's a lovely swift move, forward passes at 45 degree angles, the ball looking like a high speed move in a game of draughts until Kaddy (oh Kaddy, how I love thee) plays a simply gorgeous straight ball, weighted to perfection for Lyon to dissect the Bolton fullback and in turn, play a near post ball to Joseph for a tap in. The tap in doesn't happen. Joseph is sent flying up in the air and crashes down to the turf. The ref, who is an amenable looking slightly portly fellow trots calmly towards the spot and points at it. Delight! He then trundles across to the defender who made the challenge and shows a red. Double delight!

The place is absolutely shaking now. There's real belief. Score this and we're almost certainly home and dry. Jake Beesley stands. It seems to be an age before the Bolton lad drags himself off. The noise quitens in a way that symbolises the tension of the moment to come ramping up. Bees sets off. Smash! Straight down the middle. The keeper goes past it and dives at air. Beesley leaps and punches the air. The ground erupts

'I want another against these bastards' says someone around me. Why not I think? They keep trying but they're not making Grimmy work. We keep looking threatening. Jimmy spies a loose ball. So does a Bolton player. The formerly top-knotted somewhat jaded looking god does the knock needs pigeon toed painful looking hobble that passes for him running at the moment and crunches into the most solid tackle in the history of the world. The Bolton lad bounces off it like a piece of plastic in a spring loaded toddler toy. The ground roars its appreciation. It's not a song, but it'll do.

Talking of songs, the ironic chanting of Evatt's name is a curious thing of wonder. We love Evo. We're delighted to smash Evo. Bolton fans slink out. We implore Evo to give us a wave. He simmers. Critchley is thinking of the drive back, a cruising speed of 58.9 to maximise fuel efficiency and maybe he'll pop in to M+S at Knutsford services and get a garlic bread to go with the bolognese. Evo is thinking of grimly chewing an unpleasantly tough, leathery steak and being mauled by the bear. Perhaps getting bitten by a snake for good measure. He's simmering. Critch is giving off an air of confidence that wasn't there earlier as he points, shouts, implores players to push up, get tight, stay awake.   

Morgan is on to freshen things up. CJ on to add further pace on the break. Bolton have no choice but to go at us even if it's a fairly lost cause now. It's a matter of time before we spring on them. Albie Morgan is marauding, Kaddy is haring ahead of him. Morgan threads it perfectly. Kaddy is in rare form today, he's aware of Gabriel flying forward from the back in acres of space, so, instead of going on himself as you might imagine a player of his ilk would, he slams on the brakes and slices a pass that looks simple enough, but is actually ridiculous in terms of the angle he manages to play from the position he's in and has Gabriel clean through. I always think Gabriel's one flaw is in front of goal, but maybe that's another thing I'm wrong about because he draws the keeper and slots it into the bottom corner with a beautifully satisfying precision, tucking it away neatly and giving us time to appreciate that the ball is going in before it does.


There's just time for Jimmy to finally collapse to the turf. The man has no more to give today. He needs a week in bed and another week by the pool. God love him. Casey comes on. That's 4 minutes rest for Jimmy. A rare luxury. 

There's the whistle. 

Fucking magic! 


The applause cascades down from the stands. They were all magnificent. Sometimes you just have to say it as it is, heart on the sleeve, honesty don't you? They were fucking brilliant. I look a knobhead. I don't give a fuck. We might not have quite played total football but we played brilliant league 1 football and mixed up fast and incisive passing with muscle and aerial fight. Beesley isn't an aesthetes choice but it makes such a difference having an outlet like him and his work rate is incredible. I doubted him at the beginning of the season but we generally look a stronger team for the option he gives.

Byers was also terrific, giving us a kind of skilful street fighting quality, making us tick in a way we sometimes don't. Gabriel looked at peak levels and that's some player for this league. I could go on. I could list the lot of them.

Critchley comes to the south. There's applause. He wanders up the pitch to the north. He lets the players take their moment. He approaches the fans massed behind the goal. They're singing and he claps them. He stands for a moment but there's no response. He turns and begins to walk away. As he does, it's like the stand can't do this to him. It's like we can't stay angry at him forever. We're stuck with him and maybe he's stuck with us. The noise rises, Critchley turns back, the pace at which he does betraying the fact that underneath the self proclaimed unshakeable belief in the process and behind the iPad screen and within all the data, he might just have been a bit worried before this match that *things had unravelled* and there's the 3 short explosive cheers and the drum banging away and we all walk out into the last dregs of late winter light and face the oncoming spring with just a bit more lightness of being and the Dembele chant going round in our heads.

We could still do this. Perhaps there's still a hint of the imp left in the man on the touchline after all. 

Fuck me. It's the hope that kills you isn't?

I'm walking down Bloomfield Road away from the ground. A couple of older fellas, maybe late 60s or early 70s are walking near to me. One of them tells the other... 

'I tell you what, it feels good when we win doesn't it?' 

...The way he says it to his mate, the sudden unaffected happiness in his voice, makes it seem as if the feeling has come upon him fresh. As if all the years and hundreds or thousands of games, all the ups and downs and highs and lows still haven't washed away the same sensations he had as a kid. I want to hug the man. His carefree observation makes me realise that I feel exactly the same as I did when I was 12, with my dad, walking back to the car after a big win. Lighter. As if the world is less sharp edged and a little more easy to cope with. It might be stupid or irrational or whatever it is, but it's undeniably how I feel. My team played well and we won. 

That, right there, is why we do it. Cos sometimes it's shit. Quite often it's neither here nor there. Sometimes though, it's fucking brilliant.

Whatever happens next and whatever went before, Critch 2.0 gave us today and today was tremendous. 

More please. 


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Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Not an interview with Critch (part 2)

Some years ago in the middle of a pandemic, I didn't interview Neil Critchley.

We didn't sit down for a (decaff) coffee at his favourite garden centre cafe somewhere on the outskirts of Warrington. He didn't greet me with a cheery 'how was the drive?' nor did he refer to roads by number alone, removing the usual prefix assuming a certain level of driving knowledge would allow you to differentiate your M's from your A's and B's - 'did you take the 56 or come down the 6?' 

None of this happened, though I'm convinced that the interview I didn't do was a turning point for the club.... (I did after all invent Gary Madine coming out of the sea which ultimately led to Roma's kit launch) ... what with Colin 'not Ian Brunskill' Calderwood appearing out of nowhere as if in response about 2 days later.

It's almost certainly a case of coincidence being mistaken for causality but if you're going to write nearly 400 episodes of a shit blog, then you've got to tell yourself that it's more than just shouting into the darkness cos if you don't make some meaning for what you do, no fucker else is going to. 

I still find Neil 'Critch' Critchley an enigma. He's a mystery wrapped up in a very mundane packaging. He's like a John Lewis delivery with no address label* I'd love to get into his head. I'd love to ask him what makes him tick. I'd love to ask him some more thought provoking questions than the usual ones he gets which generally amounts to: 

'A good/bad day at the office Neil. Your thoughts?' 
'What did you see in (insert name of ex Crewe player) that makes him a good fit for this squad?' 
'(Insert name of opposition) on Tuesday/Saturday Neil, how is the squad looking?' 

It must be boring as fuck being Critch in interviews. Being a lower league manager means you get to play at the press conference thing but with none of the scale and spectacle (and tricky questions) that comes with the big leagues. 

*I've never actually ordered anything from John Lewis - I imagine whatever it is they sell comes in a very sensible box though. 

To this end, I decided once again to not interview Critch. I didn't write to the clubs press officer, who didn't grant me permission and I didn't get in the car and drive back towards Cheshire and meet Critchley at a different location - a sports bar opposite a driving range that does paninis at lunchtime. 

I didn't shake Critch's hand as he strode over and said 'Nice to not see you again' and I didn't reply 'likewise Neil.' He wasn't wearing his body warmer over a light pink polo shirt and he didn't order a Kaliber. We didn't exchange small talk that amounted to me asking if he played golf here, to which he didn't reply 'No, I do find watching the repetitive practice kind of soothing though.' There didn't follow a short silence which I didn't break by not offering up the observation 'did you know Panino is actually the singular of the plural Panini' to which Critch never replied 'is that right' and I never responded with 'I think so, actually, I'm not 100% sure' 

Then, with the pleasantries not out of the way, we didn't start the interview. 

These are the questions I would have asked: 


Did you enjoy playing Neil? Do you think it's important for players to enjoy themselves? 

What did you learn from your first spell? What made you plump for a very different set up? Last time around wide players were crucial - Anderson, Kaikai and Bowler were all essential - why have you moved to a set up without out and out attacking wide men? 

What do you make of what seems to be a lack of real on pitch leadership? You've bemoaned the players' decision making at times and their inability to follow instructions - who are the real dressing room leaders and how do you go about transferring that on to the pitch? There's no Madine or Keogh types in the squad it seems. Players who will bang heads together on the pitch. Is that problematic? 

The most successful player this season was signed almost by accident. Did you think the squad you were taking over was better than it turned out to be? 

Again, returning to the first time around, a mark of the way you managed both the League One promotion and the relatively successful Championship season was tactical flexibility. This time round, it's been almost the opposite, with you sticking rigidly to a formation (with swapping a second 8 for a 10 being more or less the major change across the season.) - Was that an attempt to address the concern some had that we were successful but that it was difficult to recruit for a chameleonic side?  

Do the players get frustrated with setting up more or less the same way every week? After Wembley Jerry Yates hailed you as a 'tactical genius' on the pitch - but this year, it seems there's been a lot less innovation? It would be fascinating to know if there's any push back from the squad in playing the same way week in week out, especially when it's been going badly away from home?

On a similar note, there's been a real lack of impact from the bench this season. I think we've only won once from a position of not taking the lead in a game. I can only think of the second half vs Fleetwood and the early days of Dembele when he was a sub where there was a genuine impact from the bench. Is that down to 'like for like' changes or simply not having enough variety in the type of players we have? 

How do you deal with dissent? Do you listen to it? Do you adopt the Clough maxim of 'we have a conversation and then decide I'm right?' Do you just ignore it? 

The formation you've chosen relies on quality wing backs. We all know CJ brings searing pace but lacks the touch that would make him a real top level player if he had it. Why have you been so determined to make him first choice at RWB when we've got both Gabriel and Lyons - two players who most supporters rate highly who seem well suited to the role? Does his continual inclusion speak of a lack of pace in the squad? 

How much do we miss a quality target man? Jake Beesley has been injured more than not. Kouassi is sporadically unplayable but also then anonymous. You've been critical of us going long, but in the Championship, Grimshaw to Madine was the most hit pass by any keeper in the league - is there a reason you haven't sought a quality hold up player to supplement the squad? 

On paper, central midfield should be a strength. We've got numerous players who can play there, including some who held their own in the Championship. Why is it that baring a spell when Kenny Dougall was playing really well, we struggle to control the centre of the pitch? Is it the players or the shape? 

Similarly, last time round we had a ridiculous defence - it was a back 4 and you almost never played a 5 unless forced to. In fact, you were far more likely to play a midfield 5 than a defensive 5. Why do we never start with a 4 and perhaps even more tellingly, switch to a 4 mid game to release an extra player up to the pitch when we've got 3 players who were important elements (Gabriel, Husband and Ekpiteta) in last promotions campaigns' back 4 so it's not as if you'd be going with a totally unknown element is it? 

Kaddy is obviously a wonderful talent. Are you concerned that he's a marked man now? Do you look at the squad and see options for creativity if the other team are getting tight on him? How does leaving Apter at Tranmere and letting Dale go square with having cover for our main creative force? Do we have the players to interchange and play fluidly? Why don't we rotate attacking players more and ask more questions? 

You've brought in Ian Brunskill and Mike Garrity three times now (here, QPR and here again) - yet your management record is significantly better with an outsider on the staff. What do you see that they bring? 

Here's one that might be naive. I understand the short goal kicks business and the knocking about at the back is to invite and then break the press. That makes sense. Everyone more or less does that. What, for the life of me I can't understand is why we never take a quick throw. We always have the ball ready, then stop and wait for the right or left wing back to come and take a throw once the other team have reset. Why? 

Similarly, I don't grasp why we never leave a player out for corners. CJ, for example, is not good in the air, but he'd beat 99% of opposition players in a footrace. Why do we always do all 10 players back at every corner we defend? 

You're obviously steeped in youth coaching. You've spent the majority of your time in football preparing young players. No one has stepped up under your management to become even a semi regular player. We saw how Port Vale's youngsters (very raw players) did a job for them against us - why do you favour an experienced square peg sometimes to an inexperienced round one? 

How do you deal with players who don't give their all? Do you see it as a confidence issue, a sense of burnout, an attitude issue? Football is relentless and you can't take for granted that every player will put themselves and their career on the line for every tackle in every single game. How do you get that sort of commitment? 

Have you changed as a person following your experiences at Villa and QPR? Having such a rough year can't have been easy. You've worked mostly behind the scenes, then your time at Blackpool was spent firstly behind closed doors, then with a largely positive fan base backing you. To experience it turn twice on you in a short space of time can't have been enjoyable... Has it had an impact on the way you think about football? Do you spend the same amount of time on the details as once you did for example? Has it made you more pragmatic or more idealistic? 

What's the greatest football team you've ever seen? The one you dream of when you send your team onto the pitch? 

If you could only choose to tell a team one thing which was either 'Attack! score one more goal than them and we'll win' or 'keep it tight and we'll win more than we lose' which would you choose? 

How hard was it to make a transition from youth coach (focused on technique and compliance with a game plan above all) to being a manager (results are everything) - what's the biggest thing you've learned in the last 4 years? 

When you're coaching players, do you shape the players to the system or the system to the players? It feels a bit like you've taken two opposite approaches in your two spells. If I was taking over a football club tomorrow, which approach would you advise I take of those two? 

What's on the car stereo? 

With the questions out of the way, we don't shake hands again. I don't thank Critch for his time. He doesn't order a skimmed milk latte (double decaf) to takeaway and doesn't ask me if I want anything whilst he's getting his. He's a nice fella, so I resist saying 'some fucking substitutes that change things and a sense of urgency Neil for fucks sake' and just say 'no, thanks, I appreciate the offer though' and feel slightly guilty at giving him a hard time. 

With that, the interview that didn't happen isn't over.

After all it never got started did it? 


Then, in the real world, I read this and I felt sad. In the words of the music hall song, 'Things, ain't what they used to be' 

I didn't want Critch to go as he did and I didn't want him to come back when he did and I'm not enjoying the second coming as I made myself hope that I would. I've done my level best to put aside my doubts and try to believe but... 

Tuesday was as bad as we've been for a long time. There was no 'but they spend way more than us' get out clause. There was also no sense that 'it's just a blip' or 'it's early days' - it was the nadir of a series of rank bad performances against sides of a similar nature and Critchley doesn't seem to have the answer to stop them. If anything, we've got worse over time. Yes, we can beat a good side, but half this division aren't good sides and thus, it's going to be a struggle unless you have another way to play sometimes. 

The team look flat and languid. They look, with few exceptions, like they don't believe. This is a side where, Lyons aside, Critch has either signed or or given a significant contract extension to every single one of them. This isn't 'first season' stuff. He's been Blackpool manager for just about 3 years overall and whilst he can't be blamed directly for the shit show last year, he was picking up with a whole group of players who knew him and what he wanted and that's not a usual situation for a manager. 

It is, in my humble blogging wanker opinion, time for Critchley to start plotting the tactical masterclass to end all tactical masterclasses and to concoct a plan B,C,D and for good measure a plan E. Things really need a shake up and if he doesn't shake it up, then he'll need to be shaken up himself.

Such is football. 


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Saturday, February 10, 2024

Not enough - the Mighty vs Oxford United

Here we go again. Somehow the end of winter seems to have appeared from nowhere in the distance. The gold coast is endless blue sky. There's even a hint of warmth in the air. 

Neil 'thrills 'n' spills' Critchley has picked a team I like. It's got balance and pace. 

I've had a bit of a week. I could really do with a belting game of football and 3 points at the end of it. It's not that such a thing will make any material difference to anything, it's just that it's nice to get lost in something and life is better with a bit of joy in it than not. 


It's quite clear that we're quite well matched with Oxford. It's all hard pressing and snarling at each other. Albie Morgan looks really good early on. He's combining passing the ball about with doing tackling like a proper midfielder might. Cameron Brannagan is anonymous so far. I hate him. He's like the pivot on the seesaw - until his stupid pond based u-turn everything seemed on an upward trajectory and then as if somehow his rejection ate away at the very confidence of the club like acid, it's mostly been a bit shit since. 

Morgan hits a swerving shot that wobbles and spins wide. C'mon Pool. Lavery runs very hard and very fast at their defence. They don't like it. He has an effort turned over for a corner. The atmosphere is good. We're playing hard and we're taking it to them.

Kaddy cuts inside, fakes a shot, glides past a defender, shoots for real and somehow the ball doesn't go in. It seems to pass through the netting, to dematerialise and reappear the wrong side of the post.

Joseph shows lovely skill to back in and control the ball. Madine would have been proud of that. Joseph shows a pace and drive that Madine could only dream of as he squares it to Lavery. Another corner. It's swung right across the box. Norburn puts it back in with a tatty volley on the bounce. Suddenly space open up right at the heart of their defence and there's Pennington bundling the ball into the goal and we're in front! It's on... This is us now. A deserved goal against a decent team that we've pretty much dominated. So much for doom and gloom and the season being over. The ground is bouncing. YES! 

Oh, for fucks sake! Pool! Just fuck off. That lasted about a minute or something. Oxford just fucking score. It's one of those really fucking shit goals that concede all the time where they just do a thing that isn't particularly clever or even that dangerous seeming. The ball bounces about, they score and we all stand around shouting for offside looking hurt and upset. Brannagan is giving it big to the North after he was regaled with charming chants as he took the catalytic corner. I hate football. 

The game goes into a bit of a trough. Their pond lover smacks a good effort a tiny bit wide. We almost force a ridiculous own goal when Lavery, who has spooked their centre back without managing to break him, chases a lost cause, forces a header back to the keeper which is misjudged completely, loops up and over the goalie, everyone chases it back as if running after a pram that is rolling free down an embankment towards a busy road... Lavery looks favourite for a split second but in the collision that ensues, the keeper manages to extend his arms and dive forward to claim it. 

Marvin pulls off a ridiculous save to keep us level. By save, I do mean save as well, after Oxford piss about with it to a ludicrous extent, managing to fall over the ball and exchange three unhindered passes in our box, they look odds on to tap it home at the far post but Ekpiteta flings himself and appears from nowhere to block the ball at the near post with Grimmy stranded nowhere near the situation. 


It's deflating. We started pretty well but an equaliser knocked the strut out of our step and we lost the initial verve we played with. 


There's quite a lot of minutes in the second half that tick by with not a lot happening. Oxford don't seem that arsed about scoring but we don't seem too bothered either. Someone shoots down the throat of the keeper (possibly Coulson) and the fella behind me helpfully suggests he tries missing the goalie next time. 

We're in charge of the game but we don't make a whole lot of it. Norburn has a great chance to slide us in but chooses to chip the ball to nobody instead in a fit of needless elaboration. We're not getting much joy on the flanks and Lavery is tiring. Just as I'm starting to mutter a bit internally, Morgan swings in a free kick, Pennington rises and somehow the keeper dives and kind of pats the ball up in the air and manages to get to the falling ball before it drops over the line. It's a great stop. 

The North stand is belting out the songbook. Behind me, a tiny kid is at their first game and she's bouncing in time to the Dembele chant as it rings out over and over. Hooked for life it seems. Poor thing. 

We change things both in terms of shape and personnel. Wonder kid Rob Apter comes on and his dynamic feet and fearlessness make a real difference. As the energy and intent of the early part of the game fades, what a player to come on and really make an impact... It's such a joy to see us putting our faith in one of our kids to have an impact. Actually, as you know, that's literally never happened and today was of course, no exception.  

What does happen though is, the best Kylian bar none in world football, the best CJ I'm aware of in world football and the best George Byers on loan from Sheffield Wednesday in world football all come on. Byers looks quite tidy. He has a kind of Dougall-esque desire to get really close to the players he's tackling. CJ makes a bit of a difference, his pace posing a threat that Gabriel didn't, though his crosses don't really find anyone. 

The ref makes some seemingly random decisions. Nothing he does has any consistency at all other than he seems to like yellow more than tangerine. 

The best bit of the game comes when Kylian doesn't so much roll his man as steamroller him in slow motion, the defender reduced to a cartoon figure, flattened by a massive wheel, spun round and spat out in 2 dimensions as the big man heads for goal after recieving the ball with his back to it. It comes to nothing, but it's a joy to behold. 

Then Oxford almost score, a ball fizzed in from their right. Marvin clearly isn't keen on another own goal, Pennington has assumed Marv is going to deal with it and Grimmy is assuming either of them will. It's a horrifying moment as the ball inexplicably gets past 3 perfectly good candidates to stop it and an Oxford lad stoops at the far post but thankfully smacks it off the inside of the woodwork and away. 

We end the game with three corners. They're all decent balls in, hanging, in swinging but headed, punched and fought away and that final flurry is that. 


It was a decent game. It wasn't three points. I don't know what it is this season but we're definitely lacking something. One moment I noticed seemed to typify us. We had a break on the right. We didn't capitalise on it fully. We came back inside and once that moment had gone, we never really seemed likely to make another moment as everyone fell into a predictable pattern in terms of shape and the sequence of passing. The players executed the original intent well, but when the situation didn't run entirely to plan we didn't seem to have another bit of collective creativity within us.  

All too often we seem to dwell for a touch too long or to reject the simple pass. We play well for periods but we run out of steam. Not having Lavery to replace Lavery who can't play with the required intensity for long enough is problematic as is the fact that Dembele is the one player with real guile and craft (Morgan aside) and his magic feet alone aren't enough to do it every week. 

It isn't a performance such as today that is why we're not where we would want to be. We did ok. There were, however, enough elements in our failure to take three points to remind us of the overall issues. We had some shaky moments at the back, we had spells where we seemed hesitant and unable to move the ball at pace and we didn't make enough of our attacking situations. 

It's not over, but it's starting to feel a bit like whatever we do, it's not going to be enough. I liked this variation on the endlessly repeating theme of 532 and I think the fundamental strengths of the players involved aren't the main problem but our inability to change shape and adapt to games as we go is. Oxford 'game managed' us to a point relatively easily and it's not the first time I've left feeling as if we didn't necessarily leave it all out there. The basic effort wasn't in doubt, but perhaps the nous is questionable. 

We need an away week like we've not managed all year now... It would be typical of us to manage it and rekindle the agony of hope. 


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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 ...