Wednesday, 26 October 2011

ANOTHER TEST PASSED: But 'Continuous Improvement' still required

A good professional performance in front of, once again, a really impressive away set of fans (and it was good to bump into Ketts yet again!).
For those who went by car, it must have mitigated the frustration of getting out of the home side’s car park. I managed to get a local street spot but they were limited and only possible due to my very early arrival, which made it a long day.
After failing the test against little Stevenage, (with a few more to come) the side put on an impressive display to get the three points (though not without some late, all too typical, jitters). I cannot work out what the answer is to this problem, can it bee that the side are either not fit enough, or over trained and just plain knackered in the last 20 minutes?
It's should also be pointed out that the total number of shots on target at the end of the game bore no resemblance to the early domination.
The two front men are displaying potency in front of goal and are getting better at reading each other’s game. Unlike the last few games where Jan K won, unbelievably, almost every ball in the air, he surprisingly scored pretty lowly in this respect this time around. I guess that he played a really excellent man marker on this occasion. However, that did not mar another pretty good display. For a big man (he may not be that tall but he is certainly solid, which is what we need) he is pretty mobile. Staying on for 90 minutes will do his fitness no harm. A great overhead effort hat hit the bar was tidied up neatly by BWP slotting it home. He then added a superbly taken goal from an exquisite through ball from Hollands, who otherwise had a solid but forgettable game.
If there is one failing with the current side, as noted by one of the comments on CAFCPICKS, we do not seem to have anyone other than Wiggins who can genuinely round a defender with a burst of speed or trickery.
Green does not seem to be able to do this and all too often tries the spectacular instead of the obvious. Wagstaffes' less complicated approach seems more effective when he gets the opportunity, though he too can often not beat a defender and when he does his final ball / cross cannot be relied upon.
Maybe Stephens can return to form when he is next selected. He seemed capable of beating a man in his initial games but lost it just prior to his recent absence: perhaps the stress of his partner imminently giving birth was too much for him: let’s hope that was the reason.
Hughes was fairly steady, running around like a fitness freak, picking up the stray balls and breaking down the oppositions moves. However, he is prone to a serious lapse of concentration and often takes the easy option to clear a ball up field or to the wings instead of thinking and playing a more constructive pass. However, he has picked up since his calamitous Paint Trophy game and has begun to justify some of CP’s faith, if only as a utility squad man.
The back fours had a good game: and if one wanted to nit pick, Morrison and especially Taylor do not seem to clear the ball well enough but they are gradually becoming a strong partnership. Morrison performed one amazing goal line tackle the like I have not seen before, and which is impossible to describe unless you were there. The nearest I can recall for its uniqueness was when Paul Went many years ago trapped the ball intentionally with his arse, and on another occasion took Derek Possee 5 yards off the pitch with a perfectly fair but highly robust challenge that would probably have gotten a booking in the modern game.
Solly was Solly, pretty dependable in his defensive role but still needs to improve his distribution.
Wiggins continues to impress and looks like one of our best acquisitions after a slow start in the initial games.
BWP is on a great run which will continue to attract attention around the game.
However, I gather his contract is up next summer (2012). One of the reasons we managed to secure him was that we were prepared to take a risk on his apparently suspect leg injuries/ weaknesses. Our backroom staff seem to be doing an excellent job on this to to keep him in optimum fitness and form.
Come January and thereafter, we may be victim to an increasing circle of vultures in the shape of other higher clubs looking for a proven goal scorer. Having the name WP adds to any publicity surrounding his goalscoring exploits. The club’s resolve to keep him may be tested at some stage in the New Year, and maybe even as early as January?).
It could be ironic that the very same fitness concerns that we took a calculated gamble on, may be a factor that helps us to keep him, but certainly the offer of a good new contract and a personal genuine commitment from the player to the club would not hurt either (though I am not sure whether the latter is a charactersitic of today's game).

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Had to Happen: But it was the Manner of defeat

We got out of jail from two very poor first halves at MKDONS and Sheffield United and were nearly found out at home against Tranmere. Added to that the Paint Trophy debacle against Brentford, and we are not exactly in a rich vein of form.

In view of that, I feared the worse for this banana skin of a game as per my last post, and though we lost to an unlucky deflected shot, the manner in which we played and surrendered the ball and the midfield was the worse thing about the defeat.
The signs have been there to see, the midfield misfiring with Stephens and Hollands not dominating as they had in earlier games, and the opposition sussing out our style of play and closing us down.
It’s all very well playing it on the ground, as many fans demand, but you have got to have players who can command the game doing that naturally; and can beat a man.
Once again, we had few examples of anyone (inc. down both flanks) taking the ball around a man. Passing persistently square and finishing off with a hopeful punt is predictable now to most opposing sides, who have clearly being doing their homework before the games.
Stevenage did not dominate as physically as I had anticipated, but they probably had the upper hand for most of the game other than the usual last 10-15 minutes pressure that kicks in regularly out of desperation when we have gone behind on occasions.
Stevenage scored a freakish deflected goal but on balance probably deserved it, though our ineptitude on the day made them look better than they are.
Added to our lack lustre performance was the eccentric selection at the back with Solly dropped, Cort in the middle and Morrison switching to right full back.
Hughes did a lot of timed running in the pre-game warm up. My nephew speculated that it may have been a fitness test and when he failed it they selected Morrison at full back. Not sure about that, but it 's one explanation. I had speculated that Cort was in to defend in the air against their big forwards, and Solly was out because of a poorish game in the last home match and because CP was concerned he would be up against some classy, or big, opposing player.
In the event, Stevenage did not seem to have much talent going down the left and Morrison was not tested that much. Most of their attacking flair came from a deep right sided midfielder. Probably just as well, as many would have been criticising Powell for playing a centre half at right back (as he did with Mambo when Francis went off at home). The fact that our right back options are Francis (currently out of favour) and Hughes (who does not give great confidence and had a poor last home game) puts onto doubt the strength of the squad ion key positions.
CP took too long to try and change things around in the second half, taking off Green (another poor game) and bringing on Wagstaffe very late in the second half.
Others criticised bringing on Evina late on, as he is considered to be a left full back.
I was more in sympathy, as he has speed and can beat a man, and could have been usefully deployed down the left flank instead of Stephens, largely anonymous, or even Jackson who was once again out of the game for too much of the time.
It’s easy to be critical of Yann Kermorgant and BWP. The former won many balls in the air again, but others do not seem to read that so they are largely wasted. BWP came close a couple of times near the end (but did not do a much else). However, the patchy midfield performance and Green’s duff game did not provide either of them with a decent ball at their feet for long periods.
This poor performance was against a side who won the Conference a few seasons back with virtually the same team fielded today, bar two useful additional signings the club has made. That kind of puts this lacklustre performance into context.
The other results today went broadly for us, and I guess a draw between the two Sheffields tomorrow would be just about right.
We need to sort out the defence and get some creative attacking imagination back into the side ASAP, in order to avoid a gradual decline, as has been commonplace in previous seasons after such a good start,
(This disappointing display was once again soured for many by the selfish standing of a small minority. One half of the stand was seated for most of the game and made a hell of a lot of noise. The small minority made others stand after they had spent their hard earnt cash on a seat that they wanted. Sorry, but there are many loyal fans who have no need to 'stand up if you love CAFC'. They have demonstrated that over good and bad seasons over many seasons.
There was no such problem at Sheffield United, from a crowd really up for it,  and without the need for a repetitive drum roll!). 

Wednesday, 12 October 2011


This week sees an away game just 7 miles from where I have lived for the last 20 + years, a game I always saw as a  potential banbana skin.  It's now my closest league game.
Stevenage's march up the tables has propelled them above Luton and Barnet (and who knows, maybe one day above Watford).

I have only been to the ground a couple of times, one was a best forgotten frozen, brass monkeys New Year's game seated in their tiny draft stand. The ground has seen some considerable improvement since then and some expansion. However, it will be a new type of test with an atmosphere more in common with Welling than Sheffield United.
The crowd will be within breathing distance of the players with no doubt a rich mixture of barracking and abuse straight into their ears. However, there is a real possibility that CAFC fans will mitigate this as they may outnumber the home side's fans if there are available tickets on the day: but I’m not encouraging that, just stating the obvious.
I’m told there is a local fair in Stevenage this week and the field used for football parking opposite the ground may either be unavailable or pretty packed. The station is a 15-20 minute walk and may be the best bet, as it’s only about a half hour up from Kings Cross.
Stevenage have had a good start, not least their thrashing of Samedo's Sheffield Wednesday (to add to Newcastle's scalp in a previous cup game a few seasons back). A mid table position looks a possibility (a few weeks back, a real challenge for the play offs looked on).
Their style is said to be non-compromising and I fully expect them to have been briefed that "the posers from London don't like it 'up 'em". Nobody does: but I hope they come with the right attitude to overcome it.  
I suspect they will throw everything at us, rather like at MKDons and Sheffield United in the first half, but in a more physical and bruising way. We withstood (just!!) the onslaught in those 2 games but this may be a sterner test.
We need to keep calm and not be provoked, we do not want any unnecessary bookings or red cards. Hollands is a “100 per center” but needs to stand back if got at, and Wagstaffe’s petulance needs to be reigned in.
The real test will be for our two central defenders who must withstand any storm and be sure to really clear the box with powerful headers.
I was dismayed to hear that we were considering loaning Doherty out to Luton. He was not my favourite player last season but has played well both pre season and ion the games I have seen him appear in (though I gather he had a bit of a stinker ion the cup). Nevertheless, much as Mambo has real prospects, it would leave leaves us pretty thin if it were only him and Cort (whose heading was abysmal when he came on as a sub’ when I saw him).
It could be a really tough game. I would settle for a draw to keep our unbeaten record. Given my mediocre performance in CAFCPICKS this season maybe we’ll just breeze it 3-1! (hope so).

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Sheffield United : Resilence: and a Touch of Class

Well, this game demonstrated some of the weaknesses and, ultimately, the strengths of this new CAFC side.
For those who had laboured up a congested and "incident" afflicted M1 the game and the sunshine eventually provided a real reward, not the least 3 points. The Blades ground has also come on a lot and ranks alongside the Valley as one of the better venues.
The lengthy drive and jams on the M1 must have raised a few doubts for our Canadian (please note not American!) fan Bob Miller and his wife Rosemary as they sat in slow crawling traffic up the M1 after a 7am start in Blackheath.  A pint of Marstons and a Stake and Ale pie cholesterol blockbuster in the peaks may have restored spirits before the game but this was tempered by an anti climax of a first half.
The first half seemed like a bit of a rerun of MKDONS, with the home side putting together all the good moves and football and coming really close on two occasions to opening the breach, but for some desperate goal line clearances.
We seemed overwhelmed by the pressure and could not really put together a decent move for long periods, though Morrison had a good chance to score but hit wide. The midfield did not get going and was largely anonymous. Hayes was putting in an effort but getting little up front, Wagsaffe was trying hard but being as frustrating as he can be at times.
On the really bright side, Hamer had an excellent game making some great saves, coming out when required and generally showing us that this young keeper is grabbing the great opportunity we have given him with both hands.
At the back, I thought that Wiggins had his most impressive game to date (and removed much of the doubt many have had about him). Solly was poor in the first half in his distribution but he gave more than most in terms of telling tackle as and timely interceptions and stuck to his task admirably.
I said to Bob, honestly and not just as a 'cheer him up' throw away comment that our best was probably to come, especially if we brought on Kermorgant sooner than later.
After my enthusiasm for him in my last post, he did not let me down. On he ran as an inspired (but obvious) substitution) to nod bravely and firmly into the net from a corner with his first touch (much in the same style as at MKDONS). He then went on to exhibit the same control, laying off and grit in 50/50 tackles that he did in the first game. They say that he is not fit yet and that is why he is not in the initial eleven. I go along with the strategy for away games, but I would like to see him on from KO at home games and let him run himself out to be replaced by Hayes later on if necessary. That's certainly a way to help him get match fit and to maybe insure we go ahead in games rather than run the risk of falling behind.
A great result which rewarded the real core of Valley faithfuls at the game (Dr Kish et all). They were great in numbers and voice and the fact that they did not need constant repetitive drumming to demonstrate that said it all for me.
Many were monitoring Preston's surprising demise at Orient which made it all the better (but perhaps overlooking perhaps MKDONS' and Sheffield Wednesday's continuing march).
So, the challenge now is to keep it up to Xmas and not waste it in the New Year, as we have been apt to do in the past.
After such a performance, it was interesting to see CP get the players together for 3-4 minutes animated talk in the centre of the pitch at full time; oh to have been a fly on the wall during that!