Well, that was alright, I guess? If we could crack this “stopping crosses that turn into goals” malarkey we’d be fine, right? Maybe. For the second game in succession we saw an opposition that’s well organised, solid, fluid and tough to break down. Another side that’s well into its development versus our ragtag, scruffy street-brawlers that are still very rough around the edges… and middle and everything.
At the end of the day, it’s definitely a very good point won and we have to keep telling ourselves that because, overall, it was an edgy, nervous, sloppy performance. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
While the shape is miles better generally, midfield is still a huge concern. The inexperience of Michael Craig causes him to get booked more often than he would like and then this in turn upsets the balance as he can’t be as terrier-like as he would want.
When we had the ball in defensive areas nobody moved into space for someone to create any actions from central areas. Is it a command from the manager not to play out from the back unless absolutely necessary? Who knows.
While we did vary our attack more than we did against Barnsley, it was still very rudimental and basic - apart from the only, literally, bit of quality that we had all game via Lewis Wing’s delicious pass for Sam Smith to smash home and celebrate in front of his former club. That’s as good as it got by quite some distance for us in terms of actual football.
Otherwise, it was a game littered with errors, nerves, tension and tiredness. Nelson Abbey typified all of the above with an untypical performance that ended up in an early substitution. He seemed to take it on the chin and accept with good grace. He knew he’d not had the best of game, but it was still full of his trademark recoveries nonetheless.
He wasn’t alone in making basic errors and taking awful first touches: the entire back four were particularly guilty, but to single out Abbey seemed to be a tad harsh. Tom Holmes got booked for missing the ball entirely but not missing his man. Andy Yiadom failed to clear his lines several times, almost putting us in trouble, and Jeriel Dorsett, returning at left-back, seemed to be overawed by the atmosphere and struggled positionally and his intensity.
It didn’t change much when Amadou Mbengue and Tyler Bindon replaced Dorsett and Abbey. Both were guilty of having the old 50p foot or letting the ball bounce instead of whacking the ball into safety.
Only the more senior players of Wing, Smith, Knibbs and Azeez seemed to find some sort of calmness and energy, at least in the first half. Knibbs, who was probably our pick of the bunch, worked tirelessly to rescue situations where control was lacking with some superb challenges and interceptions.
Azeez was causing all sorts of issues in the first 45, but was rather shackled in the second after United switched their left-back for the experienced Joe Bennett. More of a concern was on the other flank where Caylan Vickers toiled fruitlessly.
The supposed Real Madrid-linked kid really struggled to find his feet. The whole game seemed to be running at a different pace to Vickers. The ball fizzed around, over and through him constantly. He looked out of place and a wee bit lost, in honesty, but that’s not entirely his fault.
If we had a midfield that had an element of control about it then we could get the ball to him in the final third where he would come alive. But when most of our attempts are balls into channels, he’s never going to come out on top against most physically stronger defenders.
That said, he did win a defensive header from a corner. Think about that for a second!
But, as has been said so many times before, this is a squad that’s been assembled for next to nothing, well, literally nothing. The options are all youthful or opinionated, and some might say “past it”. We’ve got what we’ve got. There’s going to be growing pains and instability. The state of the club practically decrees that we can’t elevate our play beyond this right now.
We are inching our way towards being out of the relegation zone, slowly, painfully, scruffily. There’s still a lot of areas of improvement required but this can only come with familiarity and experience. Many of the players are in their first season as pros and this would have been their first experience of a proper derby atmosphere.
The more experienced pros should be communicating and taking them under their wing, so to speak. Oh, and if David Button could come and collect a cross from a corner that would be grand. He did look like a prime Fabien Barthez in his snazzy all-black outfit, though… well, apart from the coming for crosses bit.
It’s difficult to know what to take from the game. On one hand we failed to control any element of the second half versus a first half where we were troublesome and could have nicked another goal from somewhere, but on the other hand you’ve got to be mindful of the state of everything and we were playing a team in the play-off positions.
Whilst it’s acceptable to a degree, we do need to find a way to get on the ball more, to move into positions instead of standing static. We need to be more assured in possession and think about where the passes are going rather than to a marked man on the touchline, for instance. (This sounds more like InceBall all over again. Nobody wants that).
Next stop, a long trek north to Lincoln City. Another hard task ahead but they have only won four of their nine home games, so it’s possible that we could come away with something.
The recovery period over the next few days will be key, however. A few looked a bit tired and leggy in the second half so a well earned rest is required. We don’t have the luxury of being able to rotate in many positions with like-for-like quality, so it’ll be interesting to see what Ruben Selles cooks up.
He can be proud that his troops didn’t crumble in such a big game, but what’s left in the tank for the gruelling Christmas period? That said, I’m looking forward to our post-Wigan Festive Curry! No Turkey Curry though, that would be madness and disgusting. Bring on the Mince Pies with custard!!