Football Blog: Tangerine Flavoured

Saturday, April 6, 2024

'Fine margins' - the Mighty vs Cambridge United

Apathy is like quicksand. Apathy is a cold wet bog on a bleak moorland. Apathy is like having your shoelaces tied together and trying to run. Apathy is a shrug of indifference. Apathy is giving up on hope. 

Have you ever felt incapable of feeling? Did that frighten you? 

Apathy is how despots gain power. Apathy is what allows incompetence to take root. Apathy is a scourge. 

Sometimes I notice that I spend my life sighing. I'm sure I used to smile more. I'm sure I used to try more. I'm sure I used to dream bigger. I'm sure I used to throw off my worries more easily. I'm sure the burdens were lighter. 

Apathy is when you get ground down. Apathy is the stone of your ideals being worn into sand by the friction of life. Apathy is fucking shite. 

It's not fair to blame Neil 'front foot football' Critchley for everything. He's just a bloke who washes his Volvo, and makes sure to buff the wax to a shine, who likes his polo shirt crisply ironed and does his best to do what he thinks is right.  

I've just read a book about Alf Ramsey. It was brilliant - the most revealing moment comes near the end, when Alf, fed up at his treatment by the FA and finished with the game as a job goes to some matches. Ramsey is an odd, stubborn, singular character but also someone who possesses a strange kind of dignity and strong moral code - he refuses to trade on his name and eschews the directors box, instead paying to stand with the fans. There, he has an epiphany - it's not, he realises, that fans know nothing as he'd always thought - it's just that they want something different from the game than those on the pitch and on the touchline do. He finally learns to enjoy the sport as they do. He learns that a mistake can bring joy, that a risk can pay off. He learns what it is to be a fan. He realises they're the point of the whole thing. He enjoys himself. It's really quite moving to read. 

Neil 'in and out of possession' Critchley is an enigma. I still don't really know anything about him. Every time we lose, he says 'we weren't us' and I don't know what that means. If the team is his and therefore the 'he' defines the 'us' and the 'we' and I don't know who he is how can I understand what we or us are? 

I watched (which is rare for me to do) an elite game last week. Sitting through the dirge of Manchester City vs Arsenal, I thought about how fearful both teams seemed. Everything was about not losing the ball, not giving the opportunity to the opposition to launch an attack. It was, in the words of our glorious leader, all about 'shape - in and out of possession' - for two sides possessing wonderful footballers, neither team wanted to risk playing any football which seemed a shame really. 

There's a weird passive aggressive quality to it all this year. Neil 'the group' Critchley seems tetchy. The fans seem tetchy. The players seem heavy legged and edgy. We just don't seem to be together. 

I also watched Goal! - the story of the 1966 World Cup. It's an amazing thing, capturing a world on the turn, an England where the page is flipping from a Victorian past to a jet age future. I was struck by a phrase in the narration, right neat to the beginning, that bemoans 'not losing, that's what modern football is about' 

Apathy is the opposite of love. 

C'mon. Deep breath. It's only a game of football. Our old mate Sullay Kaikai is on the pitch. Today might just be the day when Sonny shows what he really is. He's the League 1 Phil Foden. No, really. He actually is. It doesn't matter - We're not catching Lincoln, not least because our goal difference is fucked - so lets just try and win 15-0 and hope for the best. 


The first half isn't bad even though Critchley has gone pure roulette wheel for the team selection and managed to get the ball to land on both Kylian and Bees. When promising sexy football that we'd cry with pride over (or whatever he said) I don't think any of us had 'two lads who could maybe play for Grimsby without it seeming too weird' as the strike force in our minds eye. 

That said, I actually quite like the way neither of them actually look like scoring but occupy the defence and win enough of the direct balls that it gives us some space to play behind them. Whilst Kylian and Bees probably have a negative XG, the space they give Kaddy, Sonny, Byer and Coulson to play in is valuable. I always said that goal machines don't simply score goals and the two of them add a kind of Madine-esque bloody mindedness to our play that oddly works even though it probably shouldn't. We're better when we don't linger on the ball and we don't have to because we can hit a big lad if things get a bit tight. 

It's frustrating though. We're all down the wings and putting crosses in but the crosses are never quite right. There's some corner we get our heads to but they loop over the bar and plop on the top of the net or flop harmlessly into the side netting. There's some neat link up play with Coulson and Carey. There's a blocked shot or two. There's Dembele making the heart ache when you think that we've only got a few more weeks of watching him stop, stutter, glide and then simply dance his way past like a puckish child running around the legs of boring adults for the sheer fun of it. I fucking love him. Never fall in love with a loan player. Fuck that. Who am I supposed to love? Matty 'cameo' Virtue? I'll take the pain. It was worth it. Every second of him has been a delight to behold. 

Talking of lost delights. Sullay glides square. I'm almost tempted to shout 'go on Sull' but then he's not ours anymore and he's run into traffic anyway. Then he has a free kick. It's in the exact spot he flew that beauty in from against the Cods. He steps back. He more or less misses the south stand. Oh well. It's not his day. He'll be spinning some magic sooner or later. I just won't see it. I'll always see that Sunderland goal though. The net lifting off its base...  

I'll tell you whose day it is though. It's Sonny fucking Carey's day. He's again busy and purposeful. He's got a little strut about him. He's the player who benefits from Cambridge realising that Kaddy is fucking ace and they should mark him more tightly as that give a bit of space to exploit. He's good at that. CJ has it wide. He puts it in. His crossing is somewhat of a lottery but he finds the jackpot of a Blackpool player. Kylian manages to squeeze it to Kaddy. The wee wizard appears marked by the entire Cambridge team. He dummies doing something brilliant with it and then in a move that shows as much as anything how good he really is, does something simple and effective instead, just tapping it square for Carey to run from space and swerve home a low side foot shot, right into the bottom corner. 

We carry on playing ok. I mean, we're not great and it's not pretty, but we're actually putting a fair amount of pressure on the Cambridge area. It would be pushing it a bit to say their goal, but we're in control and in the right half of the pitch. The wing backs are high and Cambridge are reduced to a couple of shit breakaways and not a lot else. A ball is swung in. Beesley leaps. Sonny pounces, taking with one foot and slamming the ball an inch wide of the near post with the other. 


That was ok. I could handle another half of that just about. Ok is fine. I'm not precious. 


We don't get another half of that. Gary Monk is not Gary 'what about Gary Monk for the X vacancy?' Monk for nothing and like so many managers of teams with players who aren't as good as ours do, makes a tactical tweak that renders us baffled and seems to negate the quality of our team completely. He only goes and puts a really big lad on at the back to counter our big lad threat. What an absolute 4d chess merchant! 

It hasn't up to this point been a classic, far from it in fact, but the second half really plumbs the depths. For some it makes them angry when it's shit, but for me, it's a great advert for League 1. At one point someone kicks it out for no reason. The throw is then thrown straight to the other team for no reason and then kicked out of play for no reason. It's kind of beautiful. There's 10,000 people watching this shite. Is that not glorious? I'm sick of top flight football with all the 'best players, best games, must watch appointment global TV' shit. Give me some attritional football where it's only fellow sadists present. 

Lavery comes on. Beesley goes off. I wouldn't have hooked Bees myself and I'd have brought Joseph on. He's on a few minutes later though. The twin towers have fallen. Still, There's barely enough time to notice the subs between CJ letting the ball roll out of play multiple times for no apparent reason and a load of shapeless midfield scuffling. Sullay goes off. He gets a nice round of applause. I clap a bit too loud. Fuck it. The boy brightened my life up by playing football well. I don't care. 

A Cambridge free kick. It's fizzed in. A touch. It's in. FUCKING HELL GRIMMY. He springs from nowhere, it's like an optical illusion. He defies gravity and time by springing from one side of the goal to a place he physically doesn't seem able to get to but does and gets a strong palm on the ball to push it away. It was a stunning save. He's basically been able to snooze most of the game but as soon as one of his trip wires are stepped on, he's up, shuriken at the ready for some ninja action. I fucking love Grimmy. He kneels, takes a deep breath. Exhales. Claps his gloves. Goes back to sleep. What a player. 

Lavery races away. Here we go. We're going to put this to bed now and we can all go home moderately happy. Shayne is devoid of confidence though. He's done the hard bit, it's opened up in front of him but instead of going on, he panics and tries to slot in Joseph who doesn't expect the ball and ends up just running into a defender. 

Cambridge aren't exactly ripping us to bits, but they've got far too much of the play and we've got far too little. There's a move, I can't really remember what happened apart from the fact the ended up two on 1 with everyone running backwards in full on terror, a little slipped pass and their forward is in - Grimmy goes to meet him, the ball is past him... it's a moment of slow motion horror as it seems destined for the inside of the post but like a long shot on a wonky pool table, it seems to take a slight deviation and instead kisses the post full on and rolls away to a relieved Carey who up and unders it away like a rugby player and we all breathe out. They have a shout for a penalty. I don't think it is one, though that said, Marvin is penalised just before for a foul outside the box that seemed less of a questionable challenge than the one inside, so if we were in a world of mad VAR cross checking of every pixel it might have been. Then again, we also had a shout at the other end that I thought was one, so we might end up in an infinite regress of what ifs. That that's not an option is another thing I much prefer about crap lower league football. 

Not a lot else happens. Virtue comes on and does the thing he does where he barges into people and hacks the ball upfield. He's quite good at that. It's also clear that the switch to a clear central three finally gives us a bit more presence. I'd quite like his job. My work quite often gets me down a bit. I seem to have quite a lot to do and a lot to think about for not a huge amount of money. Matty V gets paid more than me and he just has to play football (and then, mostly only the simple bits of it) for about 7 minutes a week on average which isn't even long enough to get tired. 

Sonny puts a free kick into the arms of the keeper. The whistle goes. 


In a way that game was the story of the season. We were definitely better than them first half and whilst the game suited what we were trying to do, we did fine. We were definitely not better than them second half because the game ceased to suit what we were trying to do and we didn't know how to respond to that. Cambridge caused us problems without actually being any good. Critchley did a lot of enthusiastic and purposeful clapping on the touchline but he made like for like changes that didn't seem to add anything in particular other than legs and it wasn't like Cambridge were outrunning us. We ended up deeper and drawing them on and the clapping didn't seem to do much to alter that. 

3 points is 3 points is 3 points, but then, does it make a difference? I don't know. I'd rather win than lose. I've told myself the season is over, but I kept checking the results so deep down, I must harbour some ridiculous hope. That said, it just doesn't feel anything like a promotion team, whatever the maths might say is possible. I had a slight pang of envy at the Cambridge fans, tightly packed, singing and celebrating their likely safety. It's all relative. The point is surely to get some joy from it and they make a few hundred seem like a lot more and our sulky under par mood seems very flat by comparison.  

It is what it is. The sun shone. Sonny shone. We clung on. Just. I really don't think we're going up. C'est la vie. 


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