You can play football way better than your opponents, but if you don’t do the basics, you can lose out...
Sunderland were more than respectable against Blackpool, much like the Charlton game performance. They had over 60% of the possession, had more shots on target than Blackpool, and they ran the game with a very composed midfield, with decent width and attacking intent for the grand majority of the match. If you watched the game without the goal and were asked to call who won, most viewers would have guessed at Sunderland.
The issue is, if you don't do the basics well (not even as far as delivering ‘world class basics’, as Johnson likes to say), the chance that the opposition can go up the other end and spoon one in remains. Yesterday, we did a lot of the basics well, way better than at Wigan, but we made one crucial mistake – and we were punished with what may well be the scruffiest goal we have let in for a very long time.
Despite the enforced absence of Sanderson the majority of our defending was OK, and we nullified and at times totally outplayed a team who are described as pacy and attack minded, for probably 80% of the game. This makes it even more difficult to accept losses like this. You know you are good enough, but you cannot prove that due to momentary lapses of concentration for the most basic of things, like clearing a low ball into the box, or catching it between your legs at your front post. Maybe it took a slight deflection, we will never know with the dearth of camera angles right now, but it was stoppable for me, both in defence and by the keeper.
I have no doubt that the line about world class basics will again be part of the comments aired by the players and the coaching staff as we dissect this loss and see how we can change things on Tuesday at Hull. The key question is, how can we resume points scoring in this league? If we don’t do that soon, losing the automatic spots may not be our only disappointment as this season closes out.
You can create more chances than the opponents, but if you don’t take your chances you can lose out...
Yesterday was another case of issues at both ends of the pitch, though we did improve a fair bit in the middle with Grant Leadbitter really showing his abilities, class and composure for large stretches. As well as basics at the back, we suffered severely from a lack of killer passes and crosses, and there was no real clinical finishing at the front.
Charlie Wyke had another very quiet game, after I hoped the well-taken goal in the loss at Wigan may get him back onto a scoring run. O’Brien was industrious and did show short bursts of good options and quality, but was equally mediocre in the main. Jones and McGeady both played well at times, though I think it is fair to say that none of these four players had their best game. As is the case with the basics at the back, it doesn’t matter if you create twice the chances that your opponents do, if you don’t put the ball away.
The creative side was arguably decent, with a good handful of chances created.
Leadbitter started things by trying his luck (and forcing a save) from half way in the first 15 mins, and innovative pot shots like that are welcome – we ended up on the wrong end of one after all. Jones took one of the better passes from McGeady down in the box but did not manage to get his shot away from a tight angle on 22 minutes. McGeady created a great shooting option with his side step, and after totally beating the keeper he hit the inside of the post on 57. Even O’Nien had a go, getting forward and pouncing on a goalkeeping error but having his shot cleared off the line on 71.
All of these opportunities that we created could and maybe should have got us back into the game, and could have even seen us take all three points, keeping the hunt for the top two very much on the table. But they didn’t.
We have taken one point from 12, in part due to the forwards and supporting players not being good enough at taking chances we work hard to create. That isn’t good enough for a top two team, and we are where we deserve to be partly due to that.
If the subs you bring on don’t make a tangible difference especially when you are behind, then you are screwed
The substitutions made felt more refined than in recent games, but they still did not have enough impact.
Let’s be honest, we were very lucky not to go down to ten men when McFadzean should have seen a second yellow just after the hour, but Hume failed to make as big an impact as I hoped in the last 30 mins plus when he came on to save Callum from an early bath he very narrowly escaped.
The face Hume isn’t starting is one of the main talking points out there for me. If he can form a partnership with Geads and get us some quality balls whipped in to grab a couple of goals, then by all means get McFadzean on to close the game out. It confuses me why Johnson is taking on teams like Blackpool with our left backs the other way round in priority?
On the other subs, Jack Diamond was many fans’ man of the match in the loss at Wigan, but he failed to make a huge impression too when coming on for Jones. I would have preferred him to replace someone like Scowen to be honest, who was hard working but hugely wasteful. By keeping Jones on and somewhere in our midfield and putting Diamond on out wide we may have pushed through to get at least one back, but we will never know.
Stewart was just Stewart, and is starting to demonstrate why as a striker in Scottish leagues he was far from prolific. Gooch was industrious but forgettable, which seems to be the situation in a number of games.
The elephant in every room in the red share of the north east, and around most social media platforms for most of this week is the ongoing absence of Maguire. Yes he made it back onto the bench from the 23s for our trip to Blackpool, but one of the most renowned impact players in our squad didn’t get on. Just looking at late chances for Scowen alone, he put one laid off shot straight at the keeper, and blazed another high and wide when we were trying to get back level. Chris, for all his faults, would have put one of them in the top bins. No mistake.
Now more than ever we need to get our experienced players ready for the play offs, and not getting Maguire back into the groove was an oversight.
Do we have anything left to be positive about?
While it is very disappointing we are now (all barring mathematically) out of the top two race, we do have a few things to stay positive about.
- We are eight points clear of 7th, so even with these 11 points we have dropped, we should still have a chance to play off for a promotion berth. When we were languishing marginally above mid table in the worst of Parkinson land late last year, we would have taken that. We have come a long way from there, and still have a route to go up.
- The most likely teams to make the playoffs with us are Lincoln, Blackpool, Portsmouth and Charlton. Although recent results haven’t favoured us, we should have beaten Blackpool and Charlton a week ago, and we have beaten both Lincoln and Portsmouth convincingly. This is very doable whoever we are drawn against.
- We are no longer scared of Wembley, and have won there once this season. This counts for a lot too.
Keep the faith lads and lasses. Our future is bright whatever happens in the coming weeks, as if we don’t go up through the playoffs this season, I have no doubt whatsoever that we will prevail next season. We have the ownership and coaching staff in place, they just arrived a little too late to make up for the dross of a start made by the soon to be Doncaster manager.
Keep smiling, and FTM.