Wednesday 15 February 2023

Talk About Winning Ugly

Back to matters on the pitch, at least for an evening, one which as for some others may require a little compensation in return for spending it in front of the telly with the live stream rather than something which would apparently be considered by some a little more romantic (and you’ve got to love Holden’s post-match suggestion of Charlton targeting dating sites if that many were able to travel up). Like Saturday, we went into it expecting a victory, against opposition on a run similar to that of Fleetwood and unlike them anchored to the bottom of the league, with no sign yet of a new manager bounce. A win and it would be five out of seven, looking like back on track (at least ahead of some tough fixtures); anything less and we’re wondering again just why we’re failing to see off teams in the lower third of the division.

What we got was another very mixed bag. After the Fleetwood game I saw a fair amount of comment along the lines of hoping we quickly get back to the level of the Exeter performance. In truth I still see little if any difference. At Exeter after a sticky start we scored twice in the first 20 minutes from perceptive balls in to the danger area and good finishes. After that, aside from a near miss early in the second half, we created nothing and played the determined away team role, kept Exeter at bay, at least until the final minute when we might have dropped a couple of points. By contrast Fleetwood came to The Valley and did the hard yards, scored with a speculative effort and a calamity of a set piece (from our perspective). We mustered one moment of quality but also wasted two very good breakaway situations with numbers over with poor passes. Against Exeter we were ahead for most of the game, against Fleetwood we were behind for a large part and never ahead. Yes, you might say we needed to move the ball quicker against Fleetwood, but that was in part down to their approach when out of possession, denying us space. Exeter gave us that space. I’d suggest the lesson to learn is how to adapt our style when facing different challenges, not necessarily seeing the result as the direct reflection of our performance.

With Inniss having had his red card overturned, but with him having ended his game on Saturday with his head in bandages, plus Clare and Penney having left the field injured, there were doubts about who would be fit and able to start tonight – as well as whether Holden might opt for a change or two. In the event the line-up showed two changes, with Penney replaced by Sessegnon but both Clare and Inniss both fit to start. No change in midfield or the wide front roles, but Aneke was selected in the central position with Bonne dropping to the bench (with still no sign of Leaburn), alongside Hector (who replaced Thomas as the centre-half back-up).

The first 20 minutes were like the Exeter game. Really nothing happened in the first 10, just scrappy all round, then out of the blue Rak-Sakyi collected the ball on the right a long way from goal but clipped it past his marker and outpaced him, choosing the outside channel. Inexplicably no other Forest Green player came across to close him down (perhaps a sign of why they are where they are in the league) and he was able to advance to the box. His low cross took a deflection but that in turn laid it into the path of Blackett-Taylor, in the right place at the right time, to plant into the net. And shortly after we really should have been two to the good. Clare advanced down the right this time and his cross to the far post was headed back by Aneke. Somehow, from a couple of yards out, Rak-Sakyi failed to put the ball into the net.

As Holden commented after the game, perhaps it felt all too easy and we began after that to ease off. Forest Green didn’t create any actual chances during the rest of the first half, but neither did we and it was much more even than early on. At the break the overriding feeling was that if Rak-Sakyi had taken his chance the game might already effectively be won, but at 1-0 you just never know. And surely at some point, if it stayed that way, Forest Green would throw caution to the wind, having nothing to lose.

In the second half against Exeter, after that Blackett-Taylor chance, we created nothing of note. Last night in the second half we created nothing, period. Throw in that we failed to score in the second half against Fleetwood and perhaps we see a problematic pattern emerging, perhaps key players tiring as the game progresses? In any event, from our perspective the second half was at best turgid and at worst almost calamitous as we came very close to throwing away two points. Forest Green’s new manager may have been overcooking it after the game by talking of them dominating the second period and ‘peppering’ our goal, adding that how they failed to score was ‘beyond’ him. But they had all the telling moments and the fact that Maynard-Brewer was selected as our man of the match says it all.

Four of those moments stood out. Of the many crosses which came in one was on its way to their guy at the far post before Ness managed to divert it for a corner (one of their nine on the night to our three). With about 10 minutes of normal time left they broke in space for once, but their guy strangely opted to try to play someone else in instead of taking it on himself. Shortly after from a corner Maynard-Brewer earned his MotM award by diving sharply to his right to turn a goalbound header wide. It was, the stats say, Forest Green’s only effort on target all night. And with a few minutes on the clock Forest Green almost salvaged a point, as had Exeter, but from a great position inside the box their guy scooped his shot from a cross over the bar. Add in numerous blocks and after five minutes of stoppage time we had made it over the line, claiming a very narrow, scrappy win against the team bottom of the league.

At least the three points ease any pressure ahead of our next four games: Derby, Sheff Wed, Peterborough, and Plymouth. If we play in these four as we did last night, nobody would be surprised if we emerge empty-handed, but each game is a different challenge and at least we don’t really have to worry about the results, just look to the performances. Aneke getting 70 minutes last night was encouraging. Hopefully with Leaburn back we will have three competing for the spot – although what we have seen of late is more evidence that whether it be Stockley, Leaburn, Bonne or Aneke the role is a tough ask, unless Fraser gets up in support and the wide players also get into the box (which they do seem to be doing). Hector looked impressive with his 15-minute cameo – but it’s hard to see him working well alongside Inniss and our switch to a back five last night can’t be said to have worked well.

Hoping for some clarity on the ownership front in the near future is probably asking for too much. We should be cutting Sandgaard some slack in light of his mother, nobody – or at least nobody who hasn’t seen and read the agreement and has insight into who talked to whom and when - knows if the Methven camp has a viable legal case to proceed with their investment, and nobody can say if the Spiegel approach will result in a deal. Until all this is sorted out nothing that happens on the pitch can say anything about our prospects for next season.

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