Wednesday, 15 March 2023

Welcome Relief, Even A Team Goal To Celebrate

It may not matter a great deal (for us), but it’s been a while, so let’s not knock it. A win and four goals, even if against very soft opposition, can’t be bad; and after we’d been reminded by Sessegnon in midweek that it is possible to put the ball in the net, his screamer was in its way matched by our fourth, an excellent team effort rounded off in style by Fraser. The three points pretty much finish off any fears we might get dragged into a relegation scrap and, after Accrington Stanley had reminded us that we could struggle against teams around the bottom as well as the top, Morecambe showed frailties which serve as a reminder that teams in the basement are there for a reason.

It was something of a scratch side put together by Holden, with Ness and Sessegnon dropping out with injuries. That meant a questionable pairing of Hector and Inniss in the centre of defence while Thomas was asked to play right-back, with a welcome return on the bench for Egbo to provide what little defensive cover we had. In midfield Kilkenny was nowhere to be seen while Payne dropped to the bench, with Fraser returning after injury and Morgan getting a start. Up front Leaburn was flanked by Blackett-Taylor and on the right Campbell, who came in to give Rak-Sakyi a break, although he was fit enough to make the bench.

There wasn’t a great deal in the early exchanges, but before 20 minutes were up we had taken the lead and just four minutes after that doubled it, both goals coming from set pieces (with Inniss, Hector, Thomas and Leaburn we carried a threat from these which Morecambe were just physically unable to deal with all night). The first was a messy affair to begin with, as a low ball in was followed by a scuffed effort from outside the box. But Thomas managed to flick the ball goalwards and as their defence was moving out Leaburn was left in splendid isolation to take the ball on his chest, turn, and shoot on the volley powerfully enough to get past their keeper. No camera angles we saw could say whether or not he was offside, but the linesman’s flag stayed down and we were in front.

The second was perhaps more routine but just as calamitous from Morecambe’s perspective. A corner from the same side, this time to the far post, was met by Inniss. He headed it back and across goal to the far post, where CBT was moving in on it. The replays seem clear that it was their defender who got there first, thumping it into his own net. The smirk on Blackett-Taylor’s face as he was receiving the congratulations said it all.

Not surprisingly the goals knocked the stuffing out of Morecambe and we were able to play without pressure. Clare went on an outrageous run from our box to theirs, although at the finish he shot tamely when others were well placed. CBT set up Fraser, who curled the shot over the bar. And although the priority was to get to the break without letting them back in it, there was no great surprise when we added a third, curtesy again of some poor defending. Campbell found space on the right and was able to hold the ball up and consider his options. He dinked it to the far post and this time Blackett-Taylor undoubtedly got there first as his marker just stood and watched. The finish may have been a little scruffy but all he had to do was make meaningful contact.

In stoppage time Morecambe had perhaps their only really threatening moment of the half as after Hector put the ball behind for a corner it required a block by Clare to keep them out, then Maynard-Brewer failed to make contact on the follow-up cross, only for it to go behind in any event.

At the break there was (for once) good reason for quiet satisfaction on the part of the team and Holden, irrespective of the opposition’s problems. The only questions for the second half seemed to be could we still conspire to throw it away, could we turn it into a rout, and would there be the scope for a little experimentation and to give some a breather?

We did have a wobble. A poor 15 minutes began with Blackett-Taylor needing treatment and eventually being replaced by Rak-Sakyi, with Campbell switching to the left. And on the hour we conspired to gift Morecambe one back as their guy was allowed to run along the touchline, with inconclusive challenges and an attempted back-heel by Inniss failing to stop him. The space opened up and a ball inside was followed by another to a guy in space advancing on the right side. He was able to pick his spot.

That goal lifted them, got the crowd back in the game, and just for a little while an improbable comeback loomed. Another goal for them and it would have been game-on. As it was, we provided the perfect retort with about 20 minutes left as we fashioned our best team goal of the season. Good interchanging of passes helped to pull them around, Clare and Rak-Sakyi combined well on the right, the latter played a one-two with Fraser, and he converted well from inside the box. Crisp, progressive, and decisive. Not often those words have been used this season to describe our forward play.

That was truly game-over. Holden was able to make a triple change, with Bonne, Henry and Kanu on for Leaburn, Fraser and Dobson (who it seems had good reason for looking a little jaded against Accrington), then into the final 10 minutes and Egbo was able to make his return, for Thomas (who had started the game looking vulnerable, threatening a repeat of his unhappy experience being thrown back into the team in a makeshift back three at Oxford, picked up a yellow, but in the end coped well in an unfamiliar position). At the death Rak-Sakyi fluffed his shot from a good position having gone for goal rather than play in Kanu, but it mattered not a jot.

Now it’s off to Cambridge on Saturday, a rather easier trip for the team and the fans, to round off this little mini-series against teams around the bottom. They’ve lost four out of their last five (and won just once this year apparently) and are the division’s lowest scorers. Can we really manage two in a row?

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