Sunday, 19 March 2023

Proverbial Game Of Two Halves

Could we really manage two in a row, ie sustained the improved performance and take three points again? The answers proved to be in part yes and no, and yes. We probably deserved the win overall for a first-half of good movement, pace, effort and control, reflected in the two-goal lead at the break. But the changes made at the break by both teams changed the game and we were under the cosh for most of the second, grateful for the final whistle. So there was a good deal in common with the Morecambe game except in that one when they scored to get back in it we had a better cushion and repaired the damage with a good goal to finish the game, yesterday we didn’t have those comforts.

So a welcome win, but before anyone goes off talking about improved performances, progress etc all that has happened of late is we had a mini-series of four games against teams gunning for promotion. We emerged with a draw and three defeats. Now we have had a mini-series of three against teams around the bottom. Two wins and a draw. It isn’t hard to draw the conclusions. Assessing progress is also rather pointless as who knows which of the players will still be with us for the next campaign? And while a lot is being made of the number of academy players now in the team/squad, that – while undoubtedly a positive – has to be set against the fact we will be spending another season at this level.

The team did highlight the bad news that Blackett-Taylor is out for 6-8 weeks, effectively the rest of the season along side Aneke. Rak-Sakyi took his place, with Campbell the other side of Leaburn. The midfield was unchanged, with Dobson accompanied by Morgan and Fraser, both starting ahead of Payne, while the defence was a case of last man standing. Thomas was asked to continue to fill in at left back, with Inniss and Hector in the centre, Clare on the right. Sessegnon was back for the bench, with Egbo taking a breather after his cameo at Morecambe, the only defensive replacement, Henry, Kilkenny and Payne the replacements for midfield, Bonne and Kanu the forward options. In January Holden was saying he wanted a smaller squad and, while not down to the bare bones, you struggle to think of anyone – aside from Penney, who seems decidedly out of favour – not included.

The first 10 minutes were pretty ordinary, although we were doing OK in terms of dictating the play and not giving Cambridge a look-in while probing down the flanks. And like on Tuesday night we took the lead before 20 minutes were up. A pass down the right side saw Rak-Sakyi spring the offside trap (or two yards offside but the linesman not watching, depending on your colours, the available replays were inconclusive). He took it to the edge of the box before squaring it perfectly for the inrushing Leaburn to convert from a couple of yards. Simple and effective. And also like Tuesday night, before 30 minutes were up we were two to the good. Leaburn was fouled (a common theme) on the right side. The free-kick was played in low and Rak-Sakyi made a telling contact to lift it beyond their keeper into the net. Good technique, pretty poor defending.

We might have added to the lead before the break against decidedly crestfallen opponents, but unlike Tuesday night we did not. They did have occasional moments when they looked threatening, with their main forward a handful and troubling Hector and Inniss; but Maynard-Brewer didn’t have a meaningful shot to save and the closest they came was in stoppage time when a low cross from their right came off Hector and went into the side-netting.

The CATV guys called it right at the break: get another and its game over, then experiment with some changes; concede a goal and it’s a different game. Unlike the Morecambe manager, Cambridge’s boss decided something had to change and made three substitutions at half-time, changing their formation. Disappointingly we also made one as Leaburn was withdrawn, apparently feeling his hamstring and after some rugged treatment. And perhaps surprisingly, with a full half to play and the task being to operate as a lone forward, the job was given to Kanu, not Bonne. Might have been a case of Holden wanting to find out more about Kanu, but if he did the message was operating on his own is at least at this stage of his career asking too much. The service to him was often poor, with the snap going out of our game as too many relaxed, but he was also caught offside too often and looked lost. Cambridge’s change of shape seemed to restrict our threat down both flanks and it all left us struggling to retain possession or do anything with it.

Although Clare threatened down the right, with a one-two with Rak-Sakyi ending with him shooting over from a tight angle, our play became sloppy for a while, not least as Clare struggled to contain his opposite number. A ball in from the left saw Hector almost put it into his own net and from the resulting corner a downward header drew an excellent save low to his left by Maynard-Brewer. Clearly encouraged by the turn of events, Cambridge continued to press and were finally rewarded with around twenty minutes to go. Clare slid in to stop an attack and from the resulting corner the ball was flicked on to the far post. We all stood still and watched while their guy was able to hook it beyond Maynard-Brewer into the net.

Holden responded by sending on Sessegnon (for Thomas) and Kilkenny (for Morgan), but the pattern of the game had changed and it was Cambridge creating the openings. A series of corners, danger as Clare was skinned and the resulting shot was blocked. Payne came on (for Campbell), another Cambridge corner and a header over the bar. But as perhaps Cambridge blew themselves out we did exert better control in the final 10 minutes, with Payne playing his part. And we might have avoided a nervy finish as Kanu appeared to be held down at the far post but no penalty was given. No matter, we negotiated the closing minutes reasonably well, with Bonne getting on in place of Rak-Sakyi, helped by Maynard-Brewer claiming a couple of high balls in the box.

The remaining nine fixtures are a more mixed bag, starting with a tough one at home to Wycombe, who after failing to close the gap on the top six will be desperate for the points. We sit 11th in the table and barring something remarkable that’s as good as it’s going to get, with seven points separating us from Shrewsbury. So we enjoy two wins in a row away from home and wait patiently for some developments off the field, something to really get us enthused about next season’s prospects.

1 comment:

  1. Something to get an old Charlton fan excited?
    Well theres a brace from JRS or preferably Leaburn, or what the hell, from them both. And against Wycombe. Yes Please.


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