Mansfield Town (A) – League Cup
I think I’ll do this report in a good news/bad news format.
First, the good news. We won a game.
Well, that’s that done with, we can now get on to the match. Somewhere, in some league there is a team to whose level we couldn’t fall in playing against them. Unfortunately we are yet to find that level. A year ago we went to Cambridge (a team in the same league as Mansfield and so, I assume on the basis of no knowledge whatsoever, of broadly similar ability). We absolutely walked all over them. To a large extent it was because Bellion was on fire that night and Flo and Stewart still thought they might have made a good career move and so were hell-bent on putting the ball in the back of the net. However, we also at that time still had some sort of tribal memory of how to play as a team (all be it we had long since stopped doing so in the league). You can blame our current football predicament on Reid losing the plot (it was then picked up by a small dog, played with on the beach, washed out to sea, got trapped in a fishing net and is probably now in a processing plant in Reykjavik) or Wilko being a practical joke rather than a managerial appointment or the fact that Mick Mac is having to manage under conditions that if any of his players look half decent then they will be sold to anyone prepared to take them. But even after all that, you have to think: “but they are all professional players – surely they could at least play the game as a team game?”. And who can you think is at fault that on Wednesday night, the only “team” on the pitch were Mansfield? I really, really want to support Mick Mac – he is just the sort of manager I’d like to do well at SAFC. But unless things start looking quite a bit better on the pitch pretty soonish then it is going to be hard to keep faith with him (and, I hate to say it, Bally).
Two examples. First, in the first minute, some good play put Stewart in an excellent scoring position just inside the box – he had a clear shooting area towards goal and only the goalkeeper to beat – instead, he passed back to Piper coming in to the other side of the box (i.e. further away) who had a defender blocking his shooting line to goal. Doing this in front of goal is criminal (I would have been even more despondent if I’d known we were still 93 minutes away from our first shot on goal) but this is symptomatic of our players – they’ll shift the ball off onto a player in a worse position rather than take responsibility for it. Second example: late on in the first half, Flo got the ball 10-15 yards into their half in the middle of the park, facing the left wing; he jinked once or twice on the spot to keep the defenders guessing, spun round (initially away from goal) 225 degrees and then played a pass forward into the run of Piper. I went into spontaneous orgasm. There was so much that was good about that one piece of football, but the sad thing is it was “one” piece of football. It is awful that something like that should stand out so starkly from everything else we seem to be doing. The main point I want to bring out though is the team point again. We actually had a player who saw the ball go to one of our players and therefore made a run that gave the player on the ball options and meant defenders became stretched. So rarely do we do that. One of our players gets the ball and our players do a mixture of hiding or just standing there watching, waiting to see what is going to happen next. If your own player has the ball, give him an option – make a run, move into space, anything – he may not use you as an option but you’ll have freed up either the player on the ball or the player to whom he passes – i.e. you’ll have contributed. Please sort it out Mick and Bally – this is the sort of thing you can do on the training ground, whatever players we have once the transfer window comes down.
I’ve started on Flo, so I’ll finish. I thought he wasn’t too bad. I don’t want to overdo it but he did use the ball in the box and cause the defence trouble. When he came off in the second half, there were some boos (I guess understandable but I’d still never boo a lad in a red and white strip while the game is going on) but the majority of the away supporters, as he walked past us towards the tunnel, clapped and cheered him. Let’s forgive and forget for the sake of the cause, eh? If he’s still here come the transfer window I think Mick Mac should play him – he could get us goals in this division and that is a damn sight more important than bearing a grudge.
What else? There’s not much point going through a blow-by-blow account of the game because most people will have seen it on the telly and so probably have a better idea than me. Poom had probably his best game in an SAFC top – his handling was superb and good to see because Tommy S never quite managed to command balls coming in from the side. Piper was very encouraging, but he really ought to practice cutting in on his left side. He doesn’t need to do it that often – he just needs to persuade the defender that he “might” do it and so will actually give himself more room to go down his preferred right. I know I’m sounding like a stuck record but again this is something Mick Mac and Bally can work on on the training ground. Dazza got injured – I hope not seriously because he is by far our best right back option (I refuse to even mention the other current option). He did look in agony but we sang his name and Dazza being Dazza managed to raise himself from his stretcher to wave to us – he’s a good lad. Babb is quite, quite awful. If he stops playing one more time to raise his hand for an offside he has no idea about rather than playing to the whistle than I swear to god, I’ll, I’ll …… type something nasty about him. Mickey came back – I assume he is now going to be with us after the transfer window but his defensive skills now seem to have sunk down to sub-3rd division levels. Whitley continues to make me think of other words beginning with w, including, but not limited to, “why? what? where?”. I have no idea what game he is supposed to be playing and so have no criteria on which to judge him – perhaps he is having superb games; we just don’t know what at. Stewart is still not performing and Proc should be back for Saturday. Kylie scored, which was nice – it meant we didn’t have to go to extra time and I managed to get home by the astonishingly early time of midnight (if you work for Her Majesty’s motorway constabulary, please refrain from calculating what that meant my average speed down the M1 was).
All in all, winning is nicer than losing. I feel we’ve tried out the losing thing sufficiently. Having just got our first win since woolly mammoths were a major hazard on the drive home, it seems churlish not to be more upbeat – but I’d now like to win where the dominant emotion was joy rather than relief.