A little later than planned, but here’s my brief review of Saturday’s action against Barnet:
If I’m honest, before the game I really didn’t think we’d get much out of this game. And if I’m more honest, the more I think about it we were lucky to walk away with a point.
It was horribly predictable that Big John would score against us. It’s probably even more predictable for those of us that remember his time at Crawley that he missed a hat-full of gilt-edged chances. Quite simply put; a better striker than Big John would have seen us out of touching distance well before half time. Throughout the first half we were second best and for the first time this season I think Dermot Drummy actually got something wrong.
Bear with me on this one, because if I was in Dermot’s shoes I don’t doubt that I would have got a hell of a lot more than one thing wrong by now. But his failure to select Mark Connolly at the back with Joe McNerney was a mistake. A mistake painfully borne out in the third minute as Alex Davey failed abysmally to deal with John Akinde as he sauntered on towards goal.
I fully get what Alex brings to the side, and I can see why Dermot might favour him on occasion over Mark. He’s far more of a distribution player than Mark and he’s ok at the back. Unfortunately though, in League 2 there are times when you have to sacrifice your principles and play with a bit of tough old muscle at the back over the luxury of being able to play the ball out. We did this well against Wycombe who play a remarkably similar “get it to the big guy” tactic, so I’m even more confused as to why we didn’t repeat the formula against Barnet. I am convinced that had we had Mark Connelly at the back instead of Alex Davey in the third minute that John Akinde would not have got through as easily as he did. For me, Alex’s place is slightly in front of the back pairing. Offering protection and distribution in equal measure rather than becoming the last line of defence himself. At the tender age of 21 and with only 25 senior appearances since the start of the 2014 season before joining us I’m not convinced that he’s fully ready for the rough and tumble of League 2 defending quite yet, especially against some of the more “agricultural” sides.
Going forwards we still looked dangerous on the wings, but the final ball in was too often lofted rather than drilled. With James Collins looking increasingly more isolated in the middle, even if he could get on the end of one of the gently placed crosses (which in most instances went right over his head) there was little he could do on his own. It’s interesting to note that the goal finally came off the back of a failed set-piece when Joe McNerney was still up the pitch to finish off Collins’ endeavour. Collins is clearly a quality signing and has the potential to be a high goal scorer for us, but you have to ask the question of the team selection that leaves him so isolated and wonder if he might be better served having a true goal-scoring partner. I’ve voiced my thoughts about having him play up front with Matt Harrold before so I won’t labour the point again, but without Jason Banton sat in behind and pushing forwards and with Clifford looking increasingly unable to fill Jason’s boots when he’s injured I think we might have to revert a bit more to the 4-4-2 that Dermot clearly doesn’t like.
It was a good point in the end against a tough side that outplayed us for large portions of the match and regardless of my gripes we can’t avoid the facts: 8 points from 12 puts us only 42 points away from safety…!
And on to this weekend against Notts County: I think we’re going to be in for a rough ride. Alan Smith has an annoying habit of running the show against us from the back and his distribution has all the hallmarks of putting us under pressure at the back again. The youthfulness of our side cannot have gone unnoticed by the rest of the league and I fully expect them to come here with a physical, imposing and possibly aerial tactic. I honestly hope we go for a more solid approach at the back and that if Jason Banton’s not fit that we try something a bit different to give Collins some support up front.