At the end of a Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday run, a point at home was probably a fair result. Leyton Orient, who are on a very decent run of form themselves, were definitely tough to break down but we also struggled with a lack of mental creativity to create a winning chance.
It wasn’t that we didn’t have our moments. Harvey Knibbs, once again, showed how important he is to the team with another fine performance but he, much like many others, showed that three games in a week takes its toll at some point.
Even as early as the opening 10 minutes of the second half, there were signs of fatigue. The energy levels dropped and runs weren’t so peppy as they were in the first half. A drop-off is to be expected in any game but it seemed to be more apparent here. By the end, there was nothing left in the tank but we still managed to see the game out with a point fairly comfortably.
This tiredness is obviously to be expected given that the only change of the starting XIs in all three of these recent games was Charlie Savage for Michael Craig. And that could be a big problem going forwards. While it’s clear to see that a stable side with a clear way of playing has obviously helped in getting control of our season, it’s also been the downside, too.
Manager Ruben Selles obviously knows who he trusts and who he feels can deliver week on week, but this comes at a cost. The lack of rotation in the forward positions is a problem. He has few obvious replacements to come in for the likes of Harvey Knibbs, Femi Azeez or Sam Smith.
We can use Caylan Vickers or Kelvin Ehibatiomhan but they are inexperienced. While they’re able to play in the positions of the aforementioned, they’re not in any way like-for-like replacements; they are very different players in their own right. Ben Elliott, when he returns from international duty, could be cover for Knibbs.
We often hear about “player performance dropping” via the data that is garnered from the statistics and players getting into the “red zone” regarding their likelihood of injury. For some of these players they must be getting dangerously close to burning out and injury if they are not handled carefully.
At some point different players might have to be deployed just to give a few a break. Could this lead to some fixtures being sacrificed, like Portsmouth away, to give some players a rest? There’s an argument that some games would be targeted more than others, like our trips ahead to Fleetwood Town and Carlisle United in the coming weeks. Maybe that could be the only way to rotate efficiently and effectively?
In February we play seven times in a pattern of Saturday (A), Tuesday (A), Saturday (H), Tuesday (A), Saturday (A), Tuesday (H), Saturday (H). It’s only in March when we get a clear week off to recharge the batteries. We can’t keep going to the well and expecting wins and top performances with all these games coming in thick and fast. The only upside to this is that Port Vale have to play EIGHT times, but that’s in part somewhat of our doing, ironically!
The important factor after the miserable performance at Wigan Athletic was that we still collected four points from Derby County and Leyton Orient, two teams that have been in good form of late.
If we swapped around the win and the draw so that we drew against County but won against Orient, the optics would be slightly more positive. As it were, the energy that was absorbed in the highly deserved win against Derby was never going to return in time for the Os. It simply wasn’t possible. It’s still a good return for two of the better placed teams in the division, however.
The line-ups will likely stay the same as we do have a week off now before our clutch derby game up the big road to Oxf*rd United. Adrenalin and passion will have to step up to the plate and fill in where the legs might not necessarily have it in them.
Equally, we do have the slightly thorny issues of deadline day to endure before we can really relax into the remainder of the season. There are still rumours abound that we could lose further players other than the few that we have, albeit that one has returned in Tom Holmes.
The big IF is whether we can get in some attacking reinforcements to share the load of Smith, Knibbs and Azeez. It’s unlikely, but who knows what can happen in the next few days? If there’s some kind, benevolent soul out there that will lend us a star or starlet for a Chomp Bar and a bag of Salt n’ Vinegar Hula Hoops then we would be forever in your debt!
If we could get through this window without losing any more key players but still add a bit of quality and freshness into the squad, that would be welcomed with open arms. But the thought of losing any more of our best players (for next to nothing) would be as much of a kick in the teeth as it was to lose Nelson Abbey. These will nervy days ahead to say the least.
Overall, the picture is still positive. While still in the bottom four, our trajectory is still on the rise. The teams around us still struggle to find wins, while we can pull off results like we did against Derby.
Our form over the last 10 games, both home and away, is firmly mid-table. All things being well, there’s not much to suggest that we can’t rise into relative safety, but it’s keeping these players fit and with enough in the tank to keep going is the worry.
The importance of the next week cannot be underestimated. The transfer window will be key to what we can do in the last three months of the season from both an inbound and outbound perspective. A positive result against our three-sided neighbours could provide the mental boost we need for the crazy February ahead.
Strap in folks, it’s not all going to be hearts and flowers.