After what all Mackem fans likely agree was a great away result last weekend versus Oxford United, I spent a little time assessing what Phil Parkinson said in his post match interview, as aired on the SAFC website.
There are a few key messages running through the interview, which can be reflected on in a number of ways. Here is what I took from the discussion...
On general play, Phil said...
We responded really well today. 1st half was scrappy, windy, we dealt with it in the main ok. Second half really good, dominated for long periods.
Pleased with the professionalism of the team today, we played the right ball at the right time, that’s so important especially away from home, there was some intelligence with the way we played in that second period.
Let's be honest, there were a lot of glimmers of promise from half time on, but the first half was some of the worst football we have (not really) played for quite some time.
To put that into context, in 2015 (about 18 months after I returned to the UK from living overseas) I found myself living in the Peterborough area, and I went to watch “The Posh” play Yeovil Town with some free/cheap tickets. It was nothing short of bloody awful, and I dreaded the day we may ever play at that level, hoping it would never be the case since what I dimly recall from the 80s. How things can turn out eh.
Posh won 1-0 (Maddison was subbed off after 84 mins, after a very average game). My conclusion is we were more “League One” in that first half against Oxford than anything I’ve seen before, including that massive 1-0 win for a Posh vs Yeovil. We were grim.
Yes, we did well in the second half, but was that your doing Phil? Or was that the confidence inspired by a great yet opportunistic finish by the “bag of onions”? We may never know.
On chances, taking the lead and subs impact, Phil said...
We got the goal, had other chances without taking them, then Gooch came on scored a wonderful goal and just when we needed a lift, I think the subs gave us that. Enormous credit to them for that, subs are so important.
3-4 balls flashed across the box, some excellent deliveries, improvement in that today, need to look into how we can do better to take those chances.
Lads out of the team are disappointed, you expect that, they got to show/do their talking when they get on the pitch. That’s what the lads have done today, they’ve made a difference.
It’s difficult (having strong but disappointed players on the bench) but it’s a long season, like I’ve said so many times the games are going to come thick and fast. It’s the first month and everyone is going to be needed, it’s very important, and what a great goal. When that gets shown on TV tonight I’m really looking forward to watching it. There won’t be many goals scored around the country better than that.
Again, let’s put that into context. We have invested in two attacking players, one of which missed at least a couple of very good chances from between 11 and 6 yards out. How are we going to fix that, Phil, if we don’t recognise that isn’t good enough?
In the initial minutes, a centre half hit the bar with a header from a distance farther out than (arguably) both O’Brien’s efforts combined. We simply have to get more clinical, as at times we won’t get the two good goals we did, and we will lose due to missing what we should convert.
His comment on game density isn’t really as valid as it was in my view. We are out of one cup and not interested in the other Phil, which I for one am totally okay with.
We benefited from Oxford taking Watford all the way to pens and losing a couple of injured players. You need to rotate the players for our key benefit areas, and not to manage a fixture list which is now lesser than many have to come.
On the subs... yes they did a decent job, but we still only gave Gooch 12 minutes to make a difference. Thankfully he did (as he did away at MK last season, with one moment of brilliance giving us three points in an otherwise very even game).
When are we going to start changing things sooner and proactively rather than reactively? We have great talents available, several that didn’t even make the bench... why give them less than 15 minutes when the player they then come on to replace clearly had not had his best day?
Granted, O’Brien’s time may come, but why are we risking a possible draw and two lost points as far as almost 80 minutes if we have talent like that sat watching?
I’d include Grigg in that too. We really want to see you make changes that change or at least reassure the best outcomes - let’s see more of that please!
Regarding the clean sheet, Phil said...
Yeah, very pleased with how we defended today. Burge was solid, the back three won important headers, Oxford surprised us playing a little bit more direct than we expected them to, but I thought we dealt with it well.
The wing backs were great, they did their job, Luke’s got his goal, Denver created the goal, both sides of the game were good, all in all very pleased its us off and running.
While I agree that Denver had another good game, and once Luke got his goal he was a changed man, I find it a bit rich to suggest that the defence was “solid”.
Burge for me still looks apprehensive and doesn’t command his box anything like (to be fair either he or) McLaughlin did last time out. Yes, we hit the bar from Wright early on, but soon after, Oxford hit the post due to the indecision of Burge in not taking a high ball near 6 yards out, in windy but hardly gale force conditions.
Again context is key.... that Barnsley game on my birthday in 2018 which we all probably recall (the 4-2 home win) - that was windy. The ball was leaving the pitch when the keeper hit it bang up the middle. We still scored 4 goals but conceded 2. Last weekend was blustery, and we are playing to the same conditions as the opponents. Stop making excuses Phil, Burge needs to step up his game, and we may need another keeper option. Unless we are happy to give Patterson a chance, we have issues we need to address.
On the performance of the centre backs, yes they won headers, and while Wright got MOTM for many (O’Nien should have for me), the first half demonstrated that we need to be more effective in passing from the backs through the midfield to the attack. Too many times we lost the ball due to an ambitious punt badly disguised as a cross field pass, either from the centre backs or from Leadbitter (who in the early minutes wasn’t great, but improved) or by Power (who had a “nothing” game from his standards throughout in my view).
From my perspective, and I know I’m not alone, we need to get “Arby” fully up to speed to add his aerial and passing ability to the back line. Of the centre backs, Flanagan is likely the one to be dropped, but if we do as we should front and back, and rotate players in when others need to improve, this will only make our squad more competitive, deeper and stronger.
On balance, is big Phil saying it as it is? In simple terms, no.
He’s being a politician like most football managers have to be these days. He is stressing the positives and hoping to take away the negatives to improve them for next time.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating though Phil, and not in the language about it. You are an experienced manager at this level and we need to see you demonstrate through actions if not words that you see the issues we have, and that you are going to use all the significant resources at your disposal to improve, and lead this league from the front.
I’ll keep an eye on Phil’s post match comments across coming games and lets see if he changes his tack and rhetoric based on our performances.
Best of luck against Peterborough Phil and the lads. We are watching you, and yes we are listening to what you say...