Well, at the end of the day it’s a win and three points in the… oh. I’m getting ahead of myself there, that’s for next season! It’s into the hat/bag/bingo card/whatever it is for the next round.
All in all, it wasn’t pretty, we were pretty fortunate to get two goals ahead before a late one at the death gave all 13 of us in the East Stand a minor tremor of trepidation but, equally, that might just have been my lunch.
Again, Ruben Selles chucked a bunch of player names in the air and saw what landed. Some worked, some were fine, some were pretty poor. Again, he messed about with the formation that was a bit like the first half against Portsmouth but mixed in with the 4-2-2-2, still. It was confusing, I’m not sure what it really was meant to be. Whatever it was, nobody seemed to be that comfortable with it.
I’ll tell you what I did know though: it didn’t work! The lack of joined-up thinking for a lot of the play was infuriating to say the least, apart from the lovely opening goal from Kelvin Ehibatiomhan via an assist from Lewis Wing. More on him later.
Whether it was the system or the players or both, it just didn’t feel connected in the first half. Three players stood out for their uncomfortability: Ben Elliott, Caylan Vickers and Paul Mukairu. We’ve been crying out for Elliott to start as his cameos from the bench have been eye-catching. But, for what seems like a recurring event, when he does start he invariably has a stinker.
Nothing came good for him and it all became a bit scruffy after he was booked. All his usual poise and swagger had gone. Maybe it was because he was a lot wider than he’d like to be in what looked (sometimes) like a definite four in midfield with Sam Hutchinson patrolling behind, but he never looked particularly happy.
The same can be said for a rather forlorn-looking Caylan Vickers. In the first half especially he seemed to be flitting between being up top with Big Kelv or dropping back to help solidify the midfield four, but didn’t seem to enjoy either role. A lot of the time he was just looking over his shoulder to see what was around, almost robotically, as if he’s been told to be more aware of his surroundings and proceeded to do more of that than what his natural role is.
Worst of all he just looked a bit sad. The fun had left his feet and it was no surprise that he was hooked in the 60th minute for Dom Ballard. Vickers could have been substituted at half time and I don’t think anyone would have noticed. Quite depressing.
Lastly, Paul Mukairu. Now, from what I remember about his signing from the much more exotic FC Copenhagen was that he’s played in the Champions League?! I’d seen some clips of his play and thought that we’d got a hell of a player on our hands here. Right? Wrong!
We’ve wanted to see much better things than what we’ve seen from him, save a couple of bangers at Exeter City, and this was no exception. I waited for him to do something, to move into space, drop a shoulder, totally burnout a defender with his blinding pace, a bit of dazzling skill. What did we see? Nada, nothing, zip.
Literally nothing he did he did right, and he was rightfully replaced at half-time. In a low-pressure game, I expected more from these three. All of them had their time to shine and all fell into the bog of despair instead.
But what did go right was the performance of Lewis Wing, replete with one goal and two assists, which I’m sure he’ll be absolutely delighted about. It wasn’t the perfect performance, he didn’t run the show completely, but when it mattered he delivered. This will, hopefully, give him a lot more confidence and feel like he’s starting to settle in now.
It’s small things like this that can generate a positive snowball of events. If players can see that Wing can do it, then they too could feel like they can do it too. If that happens then so could another, and so on. It’s a stretch, granted, but it’s how these things often work. We need someone out of this group to find a bit of form to pull the others up with him. In Wing, we could well have found a slither of a chance of a hope. After two goals and assists in a week he’ll be more than happy with his work.
What also seemed to be better was the arrival of Harvey Knibbs and Femi Azeez at half-time, replacing the hapless Elliott and Mukairu. Suddenly, the energy that these two provided gave us a lift. That, and the shift back to the much maligned 4-2-2-2, seemed to pay off, especially for our third goal where the pressing game finally produced some end product for Wing to stab home from close range.
It’s this energy from Knibbs and Azeez that gave us a much different complexion in the second half. Not every player can play with the tempo that those two can, but equally we don’t have anyone better than them so they start games, rather than being good impact substitutes. But this is what we are and this is what we have.
Azeez showed his experience and understanding to bring others into play, unlike Mukairu, for example, who didn’t seem to know what sport he was playing. As frustrating as Azeez can be, and, again, he missed another great chance when it seemed easier to score, he’s easily one of the more reliable players to get us up the field and to create chances. Finishing them off is another matter entirely, though.
And so we roll on to yet another home game against Bristol Rovers, who themselves aren’t in the greatest of form, having won just two of their last six league games, and recently sacked the shrinking violet that is Joey Barton. However, they did stick seven past Whitby Town in the FA Cup to annoyingly give them confidence going into this fixture.
Ruben Selles will no doubt ring the changes once more with returns for David Button, Andy Yiadom, Harlee Dean, Charlie Savage and Sam Smith, one would imagine, and starts for Knibbs and Azeez. Hopefully he’ll refine the 4-1-4-1 that we saw against Portsmouth a bit more, but as the 4-2-2-2 delivered something against the MK Dons, don’t be surprised to see that make a return either. Ugh.