I doubt that many of us fully expected Crawley to stroll to three points on Saturday at Fratton Park, but even less of us expected it after we saw the starting line-up.
As I’ve said previously; playing the style of football that Dermot Drummy wants us to is all well and good is we a) have the players capable and b) have the opposition that we can employ it against. Sadly on Saturday I think we got it horribly wrong. We attempted to out-football Portsmouth, a side with far greater resources and strength in depth than we have, against a Crawley side that raised more than a few eyebrows.
As someone far more intelligent than me said on Saturday: “tika taka is fine on the training fields of Cobhan, but not so effective in League 2”. Now whilst I don’t necessarily agree that there’s no place for it in League 2, I do think there was no place for it on Saturday with the players we fielded. With that in mind, let’s step straight in to the player ratings:
Mersin – 3 – And that’s being generous quite frankly. He was shocking on Saturday and Mitchell Beeney must be wondering what he has to do to get a start in the league. He had a good game against Colchester on Tuesday and his shot stopping, decision making and distribution all looked to be vastly superior to Mersin’s. I lost count of the amount of times that Mersin’s kicking went in to touch and he was clearly a goalkeeper that had lost his confidence. I certainly don’t condone his own fans having a go at him from behind his goal, as that’s hardly likely to improve his confidence, but you could see where their frustration was coming from.
Young – 5 – Struggled to get forward and showed little of the promise that we have seen in previous weeks. Portsmouth made it very clear afterwards that their game plan was to pressure our back four and keep the full-backs pushed back. Young fell victim to this far too easily and looked a beaten man by mid-way through the second half.
Connolly – 6 – Didn’t really do anything wrong, but with a lack of protection from his midfield in the first half his distribution was limited to long diagonal balls to Boldewijn. This was clearly evidenced by the introduction of Payne later on, but by then the game had gone. Glad to see him start and suspicious as to whether he would have got the nod had he not won MoM on Tuesday against Colchester.
Davey – 3 – At first I thought he was at fault for two of the goals. On seeing the replays I can now see that he was at fault for all three of them. For the first he failed to mark his man, plain and simple. If you look at the replays you can see Connolly shouting at him in the early part of the move to get the right side of his man. He didn’t and gifted him a tap-in. The second goal was just abysmal. As I’ve said previously, trying to play out from the back is all well and good when you’ve got time, but sometimes you need a centre back who’s going to just put his boot through it. With the third goal he dropped three yards deeper than the rest of his defensive line (as he did a few times against Colchester on Tuesday) and played the unmarked Smith onside. Again, Connolly’s first reaction was to put his hand up for offside before he saw where Davey had wandered to. The look of frustration and resignation on Mark’s face is a picture! I cannot for the life of me see why Dermot is so fixated on playing Davey when he has Connolly and McNerney available. Davey was at fault against Barnet and again with Portsmouth, whilst Connolly and McNerney have both had great starts to the season when given the opportunity. Surely the time has come to give him a rest.
Blackman – 4 – Shockingly bad again I’m afraid. Clearly a midfielder who’s trying to play at left back. And does neither role particularly well. His weaknesses were amplified by having Davey next to him and Yussuf in front of him, but he really did look out of his depth. Replaced by Arthur on 52 minutes who, while he also looks a little out of his depth is at least a full-back and seems to put his defensive duties first.
Banton – 4 – Another poor display from Banton. Offered little support to Collins who must now be feeling very isolated up front on his own. Gave the ball away far too many times and seemed to instantly put us back under pressure when the defence managed to get the ball forwards.
Yorweth – 4 – Outclassed and outpaced in midfield. Offered no protection to his back line and his distribution was poor. Staggered that he was given the nod ahead of Payne who finally came on after 52 minutes and showed how the role should be executed.
Smith – 4 – A move back to the Smith of old, which isn’t a good thing. We’ve come to expect more from Jimmy this season and at a game like Portsmouth you need your captain to raise his own game and lead the team. He didn’t.
Boldewijn – 5 – Very quiet, but not entirely his own fault. With Lewis Young pinned back and a midfield who’d forgotten how to pass he saw little of the service that he’s had in recent weeks and subsequently didn’t have the ball enough to do anything with it. When he did get forwards he was left waiting for Collins to catch up.
Collins – 5 – Can’t hold a ball up, doesn’t like to run. Not ideal for a lone striker, but some of the blame again has to be levelled at the midfield. A striker like Collins, especially when he’s playing on his own up front, needs support and service. He just isn’t getting any and you have to wonder what we really expected him to do.
Yussuf – 4 – His substitution by Bawling at 68 minutes was greeted by the loudest cheer of the game from the Crawley fans. The only mystery is why it took 68 minutes to come to the conclusion that he was having a shocker.
What bothers me most about this game is that the substitutions made during the game should never have occurred. I cannot for the life of me understand why those players weren’t on the pitch in place of the players they finally replaced from the kick-off. Add in to that equation the lack of Beeney for Mersin and McNerney for Davey and you have to look at the manager for some poor decision making.
Dermot clearly has his favourites, as all managers doubtless do, but he needs to look a bit deeper if we wants to get something out of this season. Comments from Dermot after the game with reference to Davey being on a “learning curve” worry me. Maybe I’m being a bit naive here, but I expect players being brought in on loan to be far more of the finished article than this. I expect contracted players to be developed to a degree, but I don’t expect on-loan players from Premiership clubs to still be learning to this extent, I expect them to know not to dally on the ball in your own area facing your own goal when surrounded by three opposition players. That seems like a reasonably basic expectation to me.
The second half on Saturday looked marginally better than the first. The fact that we didn’t give away another three goals is one positive, but I can’t help but think that the lack of bite from Portsmouth was more a result of them sitting back and protecting their lead than our ability to give them a game. The worrying statistic of one shot on target should bother all of us and shows how far away from Portsmouth we were.
Stevenage next week is going to be another tough away day. Their win at the weekend (6-1 against Hartlepool) will give them a lot of momentum going in to Saturday’s game and we need to be approaching these games with our strongest possible side. We are not a development squad and this is not a League 2 “project”. I know we’re going to lose games and I know that there are times when we’re going to struggle, but I can only accept that when we field our strongest side and they give everything. On Saturday we folded cheaply and easily, we can’t see that again soon if we want to progress in the league and increase our home attendances.