Merde. Here we go again. Beaten once more by a poor team sticking to a simple gameplan, one which has clearly worked for others of late. And to make matters worse our manager seems to have moved permanently to cloud cuckoo land. To suggest that in the second half we were “brilliant” is deluded. We were fortunate not to be behind at the break, having gifted Cheltenham the opportunity they were waiting for but somehow failed to convert, and in the second half seldom looked like scoring (although we may have been unfortunate that VAR was not available for Kirk’s ‘goal’). How is it ‘brilliant’ to dominate possession when the other team doesn’t care about having the ball? I’m curious to know what word BG would have used to describe our performance if we had actually managed to do what is necessary to have a chance of winning a game, ie score.
Yes, we know the team is badly hit by injuries and suspension. But the worrying thing is from what Garner says we have to assume that he is happy with how we played and would be content overall with a repeat performance. The reality is that watching the first half last night was worse than watching paint dry and the second half was only marginally better. It was an awful game rounded off by a dreadful error to hand Cheltenham the winner and the points. Last season teams knew that we were easy to run through and score; this season they know that if they defend patiently, with discipline and in numbers, we are pretty toothless and will, sooner or later, give them the chance to score.
To go over the details, the team was a surprise, with it seemed a 3-4-3 set-up, or a 5-3-2, with Inniss flanked by Mitchell and Ness (with Lavelle consigned to the bench and Elerewe not in the squad) and Clare and Sessegnon operating as either wing-backs or wide midfielders, take your pick. Dobson and Fraser were sort of joined by Morgan, with Rak-Sakyi and the returning Jaiyesimi operating centrally up front. With Forster-Caskey, Payne, Kirk and Aneke among the subs, it looked as though we would be relying on changes through the game (although there was no Blackett-Taylor, don’t know if he was injured or dropped).
We did start the game reasonably well, moving the ball about, before Cheltenham settled into their gameplan. And before long Inniss had a mad five minutes. His first mistake saw them chip MacGillivray but the ball coming back off the bar and the follow-up effort was blocked on the line (quite possibly by Inniss in a form of atonement). Shortly after Inniss gave it away again, which led to more chaos, but somehow we survived. A few minutes later Sessegnon did well to find DJ in space, but he shot badly wide.
And that was the first half. In between it was football but not as most of us know – or like – it. The second half was more of the same. Rak-Sakyi had the ball in the net but seemed clearly offside (along with a few others), Clare was doing his best to make something happen, and we did have some shots blocked and a series of corners. The first changes came just after the hour, with Kirk and Aneke on for Rak-Sakyi and Jaiyesimi. Later Campbell and Payne replaced Sessegnon and Morgan and with a little over 10 minutes left we did have our moment of possible breakthrough. Payne intercepted and fed Fraser, whose Crossfield ball found Kirk in space. He shot into the net but everybody had stopped with the flag raised for offside. Replays suggested he may not have been.
A goal then for us (or at any time previously) and the game is very different. Instead the goal went to them. A long punt forward saw MacGillivray advance out of his area to clear, only to feel pressured into an indecisive header forward, which their guy latched onto and chipped back into an empty net. We were unable to fashion a decent opening in the remaining minutes and everyone trudged off dejectedly.
The way we lost was unfortunate but not “cruel” as Garner suggested. Cheltenham would have been content with 0-0 but accepted the gift offered second time around. What do we do about it? It would be reasonable to assume that if the owner was fully engaged with matters on the pitch and harboured expectations of us getting promoted Garner’s position would be in jeopardy. But that’s not really the case. Sacking him would be a massive loss of face for Sandgaard, given the fanfare around his appointment, while the injuries have been devastating for a modest squad. On that front Garner has been unlucky. He brought four of his players from Swindon and at the moment three of them are sidelined. He was let down by our failure to sign another forward before the transfer window closed.
All that’s too bad, we have to make the best of what we have – and on that front Garner has work to do. We can’t just wait for players to return. There may appear to be a cushion between us and the bottom four, but if one of them puts together a run (MK Dons for example have games in hand) we will be in trouble, if we continue to lose to bad teams. For sure the two brought in at the back were the plus points, although just what Lavelle (and Elerewe) are thinking about it all remains to be seen.
Fact is we have in Fraser, Dobson, Payne, Kirk, Blackett-Taylor, Jaiyesimi, Rak-Sakyi, Stockley and Aneke the weapons to be challenging at the top of this division. That we are not is down to not getting the best out of them (and others), individually or collectively. That isn’t bad luck. We are effectively halfway through the season with no settled side or formation, no established partnerships in key areas, and quite frankly no idea what team will turn out from week to week. It is not a recipe for success.