One day, one sweet, sweet day, it will be us that gets a last-minute winner away from home. However, that moment seems far, far away. Not that it is for the lack of trying, not this season at least.
Last-minute losses are the worst kind of sickening gut-punch. A draw, especially after the drought away from home, would have been more than acceptable. It would be a sign of some progression. A draw to Exeter City, who are no mugs in this division, would have been pretty decent. Alas, it came not to pass, again. For all those travelling fans who week in, week out support the lads on the road, this is getting more than a wee bit tiring.
All of that said, there is a bright side. We didn’t give up, we looked stronger towards the end of the game than simply fading away, we made a couple of starting changes that didn’t upset the balance of the side, Harlee Dean made his debut too.
They are very small bright sides, but that’s where we are right now. It’s all incremental, it’s tiny things that will amount to better things down the line. Just not today.
We still look like a side that’s a massive improvement on the fare that was put on show last season; from an entertainment perspective alone that has to be of some merit. The football on show is actual football and not some tactic-free drivel. The change around in such a short space of time is something to admire, but it amounted to nothing at Exeter.
You do wonder if the form away from home has become a bit of an albatross on their backs now, but then again only Amadou Mbengue, Andy Yiadom and Kelvin Ehibatiomhan remain from that era. But then again, much like we’ve seen before, the hive-mind can work in mysterious ways. A whole unit can rise and fall collectively depending on the situation.
Of course, we are looking at fine margins this season. Each time we have lost it has been by just one goal. There’s nothing to get overly concerned about. It’s hard to feel that there will be progression within a loss, but there will be lessons plenty of lessons learned.
Of those lessons, Selles will have to consider how to protect his full-backs more when out of possession. Mbengue was substituted at half-time and Carson too in the second half, but this is more of a regular occurrence. Opposition teams will have already learned that, with our narrow system, there will be gaps to be exploited out wide.
Doubling down on that, our full-backs are young and inexperienced too. They are adapting to this new system as well as the midfielders who will have to cover them. What will be certain is that the system won’t change. Don’t even think about a 4-2-3-1, 4-3-2-1 or 4-3-3. It won’t be happening. That much has already been ascertained from Selles; this is the system and the system will be made to work or different personnel utilised to make the system function better.
At home, it seems to be less of a problem where the high press can cover those deficiencies to a degree, but away from home, where possession is traditionally less, then issues will arise due to that lack of experience and confidence to push higher and to negate the space that is allowed.
No system is perfect or proven to be unbeatable, no doubt Ruben will be tweaking and moulding accordingly. It’s all a work in progress. We can’t forget that.
And that’s the key thing to take from all these early defeats. As much as we get high with the wins, there are still lessons to be learned from those games, too. Losses make errors more magnified and, naturally, you learn more from a defeat. But this is where we are as a club. We have to be mindful of the squad churn - remember that this group is vastly inexperienced and wet behind the ears.
Going from where we ended last season to where we are now is a monumental achievement. We’re still in a learning period, we’re still formulating the squad, we’re still nowhere near the finished article. Nobody wants to lose, not everybody can win. But we have to take something from this defeat and if it’s anything it is that we were inches away from winning this game, not losing by two, three or four.
The upcoming fixtures will give the young (and old) limbs some rest. No doubt there will be quite a few changes for the Carabao Cup game at home to Ipswich Town. Surely we’ll see an experimental side there that won’t be anywhere close to full strength. Following this, a six-day gap to a very oddly timed Monday night fixture away to Cambridge United looms.
Hopefully, we’ll have a few new bodies in through the door as the transfer deadline slams shut (except it won’t for us as we can always lure in free transfers). By the end of the window, we’ll hopefully have a few more options, maybe a bit more experience and a bit more definition of what we have to play with until January when there might be more outgoings than incoming.
On this showing alone, the wholesale changes that we have seen before won’t be returning but the fine-tuning will continue as the system evolves. One day, we will win away. The oil tanker was always going to turn slowly. Very slowly.