Frustrating was the word to describe the performance against AFC Wimbledon. Frustrating to conceded so early, frustrating to describe AFC Wimbledon’s approach to the game, frustrating in the chances we created and didn’t take. While the team deserves some credit for plugging away to salvage a point, it was a game that underlined this side’s biggest deficiency, taking chances.
Decisions, Decisions, Decisions
As much as the early goal dictated the flow of the game against a dogged AFC Wimbledon side desperate for the points, the final score was as much about our poor decision-making and execution in the final third as it was about an organised defence throwing bodies on the line.
The biggest crime we were guilty of was overplaying the ball, summed up by the late chance when Tom Bayliss got in behind AFC Wimbledon’s defence and traded passes with Jordy Hiwula with both somehow contriving to miss when one-on-one with the opposing goalkeeper. For much of the game, it appeared that we lacked someone willing to take on the responsibility of shooting on goal – which, despite some promising moments, the new signing, Bright Enobakhare didn’t resolve.
It’s hard to criticise this performance too heavily when we dominated possession, attempted to use the full width of the pitch and generally did all the right things to wear down a massed opposing defence, however, it has been the story of the season that we struggle to convert promising situations into goals.
The hope has been that we’ll learn from our poor decision-making and eventually become a more efficient attacking unit. According to the EFL Analyst, Blades Analytic, we could have had 13 more goals this season than we’ve registered. Yet we’re seeing the same players repeat the same bad decisions without showing signs of learning. Sometimes practice makes perfect, sometimes it reinforces bad habits.
Think Less, Shoot More
It can be the bane of a more analytical fan’s match-going experience to hear constant calls for players to take shots when they’re within visible distance of goal, but the equaliser today spoke to the merits of thinking less and shooting more.
Maybe it’s harsh on AFC Wimbledon to describe them as a side that were completely uninterested in possessing the ball, but they did a good impression of such a side after taking the lead in this game. Their only focus was on retaining a resolute defensive shape.
With an extra man in midfield, it became difficult to play through the centre without finding our route blocked by yellow shirts. Some of our more promising play came in wide areas – particularly down our right – however, AFC Wimbledon’s physical presence at the back meant they were clear favourites to win any crosses into the box.
With those two routes to goal blocked, it was becoming clearer and clearer as the game wore on that we were almost out of ideas. The last resort left to us was someone taking a pot shot from range.
Although it underlines a lack of inspiration, it can cause an organised defence to second guess the intentions of their opponent. Whereas they might otherwise be able to sit back, they now have to consider whether they need to close down players around the penalty area. Whether the shot itself leads to a goal, displaying an intention to shoot can open up spaces in a defence that might otherwise not be there.
Strikers Under The Spotlight
Following on from the previous points, it is apparent that our strikers are probably the biggest weakness in the side. While there were opportunities in this game that would have been converted by a better quality of finisher, we’re also missing opportunities to have opportunities in front of goal due to the quality of our strikers.
Jordy Hiwula came into focus in this game for missing at least two very good chances due to poor technique. The first big chance that he had, in the first-half after being played in by Bright Enobakhare, could probably be excused by the angle of the shot. The one-on-one after Tom Bayliss had broke past the AFC Wimbledon defence in the second-half was harder to defend not only because his eventual shot missed the target but because he passed back to Bayliss beforehand before the chance landed back to him.
However, bigger questions probably have to be asked of Conor Chaplin, who didn’t even have chances to miss – despite attempting to claim the equaliser. Tactically, playing him just behind Jordy Hiwula against a side operating with a holding midfielder made it difficult for him to get into the game. However, his movement, touch and use of the ball provided further evidence that Chaplin isn’t suited to playing the role Mark Robins is seemingly keen to use him in.
The problem right now is that the alternatives in attack are either Jonson Clarke-Harris, who offers more of a physical presence but is another who struggles to get into goalscoring positions and finish reliably, or a change in system. As we saw last month tough, any change in system inevitably takes a forward out of the side and reduces our attacking threat.
With presumably little room to bring someone better in during the transfer window, Mark Robins is going to have to get the best out of what we have right now. As this game underlined, we aren’t a bad attacking unit by any means but the missing piece is the conviction, confidence and arrogance that comes with having a reliable goalscorer.