Now we’ve got past the mixed emotions of Saturday’s stoppage time, what can we learn from the game?
First, I think Garner was slow to make changes in the second half. Of course there’s hindsight involved here, but I thought the big change from being able to make five substitutions was that you adapt to an 18-man squad game (OK, 17, assuming you don’t change the keeper voluntarily). Accrington had upped their game after the break and the balance of the game shifted back, after we had been in control after taking the lead (I’d say it was pretty even before then). They were creating chances and our central midfield trio were flagging. But BG waited until after they had equalised and until the 71st minute before making a change (he ended up making four, but two of them were in the final minutes).
Second, the player I think would have made a positive difference to us in the second half, Forster-Caskey, wasn’t even on the bench (considering we had both Gilbey and Payne among the subs that I found mystifying as surely we wouldn’t end up using both of them). We needed someone to command the central area, impose ourselves on them, and put us back on the offensive. They had played their part in getting us ahead in the game, but bringing on JFC and Gilbey (or Payne) for Morgan and Fraser around the hour mark seemed to me to make sense. Does JFC’s non-appearance mean he is on his way? I’ve no idea but if he does go we will lose the best player we have to deal with certain situations (assuming of course he is fit and mentally right) and will be weaker as a result.
Third, as Steve Brown was stressing after the match, if we are going to fanny around at the back we quite simply have to get better at it. We coughed up another couple of good openings by poor control or passes around our own area. It didn’t cost us on Saturday but it will do if not corrected. And we found out enough times last season that if you consistently give away soft goals it has a draining effect on confidence, in turn feeding into results.
Fourth, obviously we had some insights into team selection and who BG considers to be first-choice. I thought before the game that Clare (given the absence of Egbo), Sessegnon, Blackett-Taylor and Stockley were the shoo-ins. Wollacott did indeed get the nod over MacGillivray and provided more evidence of the pros and cons. Couple of excellent second-half saves kept us ahead, no chance with either of their goals. Equally, he came for two balls into the box in the air and didn’t get near either. One resulted in a header over the bar; if it had been a little lower and into an unguarded net it would have been down to him.
The central defence pairing of Inniss and O’Connell was what most would have predicted, with Lavelle in reserve. Both ended up playing well enough, but both were involved in Accrington’s goals. O’Connell was turned inside out down their right side and when the cross came in Inniss was in no-man’s land, requiring Clare to get central to compete with their guy. When the ball went over both it went to their guy on his own at the far post (who did finish well). For the heart-breaking second the ball into our box was excellent and the fact was their guy beat Inniss to it. What looks worrying now, however, given that surprisingly Elerewe has been sent out on loan, is the lack of numbers. Clare was injured during the game and you wondered how we would have adjusted if he had been forced off (either Lavelle would have been obliged to play right-back or DJ or CBT brought into the back four). We now have only three centre-backs (four if you include Clare, but he is currently required elsewhere) and only two fit full-backs (one of which is we assume playing out of position). It is, quite simply, not enough, and I’m inclined to assume that Elerewe being sent out on loan will herald a signing or two.
The midfield trio of Dobson, Morgan and Fraser was also if not predictable not especially surprising. And we saw the fluidity at is best for our first goal, when Sessegnon did well and found Clare, who moved it on to Morgan. Accrington allowed him both to run a long way with it and to be able to time to perfection the pass to Jaiyesimi on the right. As Stockley took their defender with him, creating space, the low ball back was just right for Fraser to run on to. It was an excellent goal, hope to see many more like it. Again, my surprise was that when we were coming under the cosh more in the second half changes were not made.
Up front, my feeling is that if Aneke isn’t available, as on Saturday, it works against starting with Leaburn as one of the three. Basically from the bench he can either be needed to replace Stockley or to alter the options either side of him, but if he started there would be nobody available for such a change (presumably if he started Leaburn could move central if something happened to Stockley but there would be no real goal threat from the bench). That gave Jaiyesimi an opportunity. His played his part in our first, he also put over the bar a delightful first-half cross – and as was pointed out after the game by Brown would simply not have been an option for the lofted ball in for Leaburn to score our second. So a mixed bag. CBT was a massive threat once more, able to turn on the gas and breeze past his opposite number, without turning this into goals.
So overall I’d say plenty still to work on, still obvious areas we need to strengthen. Still concerns over the overall abilities of those selected and the mix, still a need to get better at the style of play BG wants. For me it all adds up to a team/squad which has the potential to compete for promotion but isn’t hitting the ground running.