Despite putting together some highly encouraging periods of play against Rochdale, it was hard not to feel a little concerned about the nature of the defeat. The goal conceded was avoidable while we struggled to test the opposition keeper even when we were playing at our very best.
With just one win from our opening six league games, this team is now in a position where there is pressure to pick up wins and points over the next few weeks to relieve some pressure while players are still trying to figure out each others’ games and build confidence.
At both ends of the pitch, the performance against Rochdale could be characterised as careless. From the decision-making and shot-taking in the final third to the nature of the goal that we conceded to lose the game, the players didn’t seem aware of the importance of taking individual chances or maintaining defensive focus would have on the outcome of the game.
At the back, it wasn’t just about the goal conceded coming from the team being caught cold from a quickly-worked short corner routine, it was that Rochdale could easily have made the scoreline more comfortable, with further chances coming from avoidable situations such as thrown-ins and our attempts to play out from the back. Without playing particularly poorly, we could potentially have been on the end of a drubbing.
Of course, this game felt more defined by our inability to convert promising situations into clear-cut chances. The key period of the match was during the first-half when we realised there was space to be exploited out wide via Brandon Mason and Jack Grimmer making enterprising runs from full-back. Not taking advantage during that period allowed Rochdale to re-organise and nullify the threat we had been posing.
While it’s a positive to see your team have sustained periods of dominance, games are decided via key moments and not the overall pattern of play. That is why players need to be ruthless in taking chances, they might not come again.
Stepping Up The Gears
The system that we played seemed to work well while the game was even, however, it appeared to fall apart somewhat once Rochdale went ahead. The team didn’t appear to know how to step up the tempo and intensity of the game to put Rochdale under sustained pressure as we sought to salvage the game.
It has been a consistent problem under Mark Robins that we struggle to even take points after falling behind in games – we are yet to win at home after falling behind since Robins returned to the club.
Recovering points from a losing position is not so much about instantly switching to a plan B as it is maintaining a level of composure while the team raises the level of intensity to turn the screw on the opposition. Especially at home, it should be difficult for teams to hold onto the lead against us, instead, Robins has a tendency to make changes which completely alter the structure of the side which does more to unsettle ourselves than our opponents.
Crumbs Of Comfort?
We saw at times in this game what this team would look like if it played to its very best. Even though Luke Thomas didn’t score, he was our most likely goal-threat and is potentially very exciting, Jonson Clarke-Harris on top form is someone who can both lead the line and get comfortably into double figures for goals, we are already aware just how good Tom Bayliss and Tony Andreu can be as creative midfielders.
While there has been talk that maybe the blend of attacking players in this side isn’t quite right, I think we saw during that first-half that the front four and Tom Bayliss, with Brandon Mason and Jack Grimmer getting forward from full-back, could form a very effective attacking unit. Tantalisingly, there is Conor Chaplin, Reise Allassani and Jodi Jones waiting to come into the mix.
The concern is whether we could find ourselves struggling at the wrong end of the table, and the pressure that puts on some very inexperienced players to produce the goods, if we continue to fail to take maximum points even when we play close to our best.
When we went down from this division two years ago, we also had some very talented and exciting players in Ruben Lameiras, George Thomas, Ben Stevenson and Gael Bigirimana, however, it can be hard to distinguish between players who need minutes and patience from those that aren’t quite ready to play regular football.
Having someone who can be relied upon to score goals would go a long way to relieving the pressure on others that may currently be restricting them from pulling the trigger or playing the right pass in the final third. If not, there is an argument to be made for a more pragmatic approach over a short-term period to give this side a breathing room to grow into the campaign,
It is still very early days to be considering sacrificing our better players purely for the purpose of grinding out a few results, but that time could soon be upon us if this streak continues into late October/November.