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|Yesterday was absolutely gutting|
at 11:53 23 Feb 2020
Really, really gutting. I can't shake it. I am thinking about everything that has been squandered. The excellent start to the season and lead at the top, yes, but also the goodwill and enthusiasm for the task in hand that was – pretty much against expectation – generated among the fanbase. That's right on the edge now, if it hasn't already fallen off the cliff, and I fear it's going to be a very long way back once the mood has turned again. Was reasonably ugly at the end and I don't think any of it was unreasonable.
The game itself? For 35/40 minutes I was happy enough; we probably all were. Seemed as if we could use that performance as a solid platform to go on and win it in the second half. I wonder if subconsciously the players began to think that too as the clock wound down. This might sound ludicrous but I saw their goal coming and said shortly before it that we needed to be careful. In the preceding five minutes our energy had dipped; things had begun to drift for the first time. Lambert and Taylor had both spotted it on the side, you could tell from their body language, but the seeds had been sown. We aren't really a team that can do that and get away with it, and we were duly picked off by a goal that looks worse every time I see it.
That second half was abysmal. Just dreadful. By the end we were playing like a team three goals down; one that had a duty to keep going and trying to salvage something, but with no real hope or belief that it could happen. Oxford are billed as an exceptional passing team but here they just did a job on us, and did it brilliantly under little strain. If only we had different sides to us like that. I never once felt we would score.
Lambert messed it up. At Norwich he would win games for them with his changes and in-game tweaks, time and again. He was brilliant at it; their fans will say as much. So what was that yesterday? Putting Bishop on the left and going to a four made a deteriorating performance worse, actually managed to rob us of any width whatsoever and left us short in the middle. Couldn't Sears have come on as a wide man if that's what we were after? Wouldn't Dobra be an option for those games, which seem to come every week now, where we have zero spark against well organised opponents? Why no Huws or Dozzell given that Nolan, after a good start to the game, shrunk to the extent that I can barely remember a forward pass or run beyond the front men? It was all wrong.
Keane had a good first half but, quite aside from his unwillingness to contest headers, was embarrassingly flat-footed in the second. This would actually have been a good game for Norwood to get under their centre-backs' skin, as he did to an extent in the away fixture. I would like to know exactly what has happened there as it is going to cost us massively. We were clearly aware his issues had not gone away and that there would be the risk of another absence. Why was no striker brought in during January? It's not acceptable.
Don't know what happens now, especially without our two front-line strikers for three massive games. Maybe it will focus us a little and, just as we did when apparently injury-ravaged at the start of the season, we'll pull some results out of the bag. But I make the margin for error virtually zero, the odds incredibly long, and this team well short of what it needs to avoid an outcome to the season that will debilitate us beyond recognition.
|Really big one today|
at 08:57 22 Feb 2020
How many times this season have we backed up one really convincing performance with another? Maybe when we won at Fleetwood post-Tranmere? Either way, we could really do with that today – defeating the better sides is something we are going to have to start doing and a strong display today would do a lot for confidence between now and May.
I've quite a good feeling about it, at this point, and think a win with both teams scoring is not an unreasonable prediction. Norwood's injury is a blow but we still have three decent forwards for this level and if Keane can be managed through the next month safely it should be OK. Let's hope the good things from last week can be reproduced in a slightly higher-octane affair; if they are then maybe we can start looking back up towards the top two.
Not quite sure how I hadn't realised it was rail replacements today, but looking forward to it anyway ...
at 10:25 12 Feb 2020
On a different level to anyone on that pitch last night. The *one* thing I enjoyed was watching him at really close quarters from the front row of the side terrace. His anticipation of situations (in what was a really mucky midfield scrap at times), speed to the ball and ability to shield/drive with it are simply beyond this division. He is by far the nearest thing we have to someone who can really push the team forward when it is struggling. We are going to really miss him.
Sadly we'll lose him for, let's say, £3m if we are lucky rather than four times that. This season is, and I don't think any of us can sugarcoat it now, turning into an historic clusterfcuk that will harm us in many, many, many ways. I'm at a loss really; how can the current setup turn any of this around?
Specific thoughts on last night:
- We'd probably have won that game with Garbutt and a proper right wing-back but that simply exposes the facts that (a) we do not have a competent wide attacker, or refuse to try Jackson as one and (b) other departments simply aren't working properly.
- Taken in isolation you'd probably consider that second-half performance to be OK. But what the hell was that in the first half? I'm not convinced there were many poor individual performances but the setup was wrong. Earl looks a good player actually and I'd put him in that left CB role for the rest of the season, losing Wilson and moving Chambers inside. But he is no wing-back. Either Kenlock needed to start, just to offer a threat and an actual outlet, or we needed to get Judge into that lineup to try and work some space given how narrow we became. Instead we were terribly flat against a team we should have been backing ourselves to take on – Wimbledon are organised and worked hard but we will not face a less threatening opponent.
– Keane should have come on far earlier and showed the value of simply having someone who could drop in and play. I hadn't realised how late it was when he came on and was starting to fancy us slightly when it became clear time was virtually up.
– We are still in the race but by the skin of our teeth really and it's hard to see where any win against a competent side is coming from. We need to start playing to our strengths and going for teams. We look fearful. While we did improve after half-time last night the passivity and lack of tempo, Downes and perhaps Huws excepted, were really chronic.
[Post edited 12 Feb 10:26]
|If nothing else, perhaps tonight might speed up any moves to strengthen squad|
at 22:57 28 Jan 2020
Was told a week or so back that PL wants two more and I can't imagine that's changed; tonight tells you more than games like last Saturday. Badly need some real speed and strength down the flanks and really miss that "Plan B" striker so hopefully we can get something over the line that makes us that bit more aggressive.
[Post edited 28 Jan 22:59]
|Blackpool in for Nolan, says Nixon|
at 10:19 26 Jan 2020
Not the most outlandish thing I have ever heard but I'd rather keep this squad together now. We're only a couple of injuries from looking nowhere near as well-oiled as we currently do. Get up and then by all means reassess each and every player's situation in the summer.
|Would definitely forgive Lambert a couple of changes tomorrow|
at 09:39 17 Jan 2020
Keep the same structure, definitely, but Tuesday night was sapping and unless miracles have happened to Tranmere's pitch this will be too, against a team that eventually didn't have to play. Would be neither surprised nor upset to see Skuse and Nolan come in for Huws and Judge from the start. Maybe Jackson up top if he is fit although the hamstring is a big red flag for me, hopefully the right call is made. Wing-back is an area where it might be good to give someone a rest but I don't really see we have the option for that.
|If you could only keep one of Woolfenden and Downes ....|
at 10:02 14 Jan 2020
... which is hardly an unreasonable scenario given we are a third division club, you'd keep Downes – right? Bad choice to have to make, but Downes is well en route to being this team's heartbeat at a very young age while centre-backs competent enough to get you up the divisions aren't massively hard to come by. James Wilson has done fine from being a trialist who couldn't get a game at Lincoln, as one example. None of that is to take away from Woolfenden's current ability or his potential but it's one way of looking at it.
I suspect Woolfie may go and then be loaned back, as there's little point him playing next to no football for the rest of the season, and if that meant we kept hold of Downes for longer I think we'd just have to be OK with it.
|Another good signing for Oxford|
at 15:27 8 Jan 2020
Liam Kelly (ex-Reading) from Feyenoord to go with the lad Holland from West Ham. They are going for it and we're going to have to sharpen up massively to keep pace.
|Haven't seen a thread about the women's team yet but ...|
at 18:21 6 Jan 2020
... that's a great achievement to get to the fourth round of the FA Cup and just a shame they don't have a home draw, but they'll probably still fancy their chances. At a time when there's plenty to be deeply worried about on the men's side we ought to celebrate a part of the club that is moving very much in the right direction and earning a lot of respect in the right places. Looks very much as if they might be able to rise through the divisions pretty quickly. As long as it doesn't interfere too much with what they're doing it would be great if they could play a match at Portman Road before long.
(Sorry if this has, in fact, been covered!)
at 22:53 4 Jan 2020
I make that four goals in his last 419 minutes, which equates to about 4.7 full games. Takes him time to feel his way into matches and seems to me like the kind of player who's better starting games than coming in for a late salvage effort. But the talent is clearly starting to show itself and he's evidently sharpening up, some really smart finishes there. How do we use him from here?
at 10:39 2 Jan 2020
Just to continue the squad-strengthening theme from elsewhere ... I thought our strikers did well yesterday, Jackson was everywhere and Norwood got stuck into their centre-backs even if he isn't offering enough on the ball at the moment. But can't help thinking we still lack someone we can stick up there to win things, let the physical stuff bounce off them and hold the ball up; would make a huge difference at times and perhaps give the midfield confidence to get around the ball more quickly too. Keane, much as I like him, doesn't really seem to be that man.
Solution: I really liked Mikael Mandron's performance against us for Gillingham a week ago, he's not scored many during his career but thought he won loads of stuff up there and shielded the ball really well. That kind of signing would do both in terms of profile and skill set, just as a useful extra option.
Unlikely of course given the number of players we have although Sears is, as all of us know, best deployed as a wide forward and not a specialist central attacker.
[Post edited 2 Jan 10:41]
|It's a really delicate situation, isn't it|
at 11:45 30 Dec 2019
I like Lambert – there, I've said it and I'll stick with it. What he has tried to do, and by & large succeeded in doing in a short time, in terms of making this feel like a football club again is really admirable and don't kid yourselves that he doesn't really believe in it. He does, he's got football in his blood, he's not some shill spewing out slogans fed to him by the media team; he's giving you what he believes in. The football, until recently, has on balance been decent enough when you consider that barely anyone in the entire Football League plays a particularly consistent tune.
But however this awful run has come about, he has to turn it around now. I hesitate to say it because I think in the modern world the appetite for drama and news can easily obfuscate what's actually going on. It encourages people to get off on strife and the need for change and stamping their feet angrily. It probably hasn't actually helped this club in the past. If all things were equal, there's no way I'd be putting Lambert on a clock at this point.
They aren't though. The stakes are higher for us than anyone else in the division. I've said it a million times but if relegation was a disaster then failing to bounce back at the first time of asking will be even bigger. The financial implications will be huge and, in the continued absence of canny management & structure right up to the very top of the club, we will lose most of the advantages we had over anyone else. We'll become a decent enough top-10 League One club. The crowds will dip again and it will be a case of waiting to see if the stars align in such a way that we find exactly the right personnel to get us going again. I wouldn't hold out too much hope of that based on the last dozen years.
We are fortunate that, bar an Oxford team that seems the real deal to me, there isn't a lot to be scared of in League One. At any point two or three straight wins would change the entire complexion. I still think we can and will be OK. But we can't rely on that forever. Again I'm reluctant to say it but for me I think Lambert has the next two games to show he can get a grip on this. Get something, pretty much anything, at a Wycombe side that will not ultimately finish in the top six and then see Accrington off comfortably at home. Anything bar that and we're on a path to critical – perhaps terminal – damage and it will have been going on too long for a side that wants to finish in the top two.
In short: really not an ideal position because I think, whatever our individual views on Lambert, the need this season is so extreme that we all have to think a bit shorter-term than we'd like. Let's hope he pulls it out of the bag in the next two games, then, otherwise things will start to look pretty dire.
[Post edited 30 Dec 2019 11:47]
|Not sure that Lambert stuff is as significant as it looks |
at 19:46 26 Dec 2019
Those who were in the room will obviously know best. But I do seem to remember him chuntering away along similar lines late last season and can be paraphrased neatly enough with something like "If they don't think I'm doing well enough then I don't have (from either of our points of view) to be here", which is obviously a truism. I find it unnecessarily defensive & very clumsy but it's clearly become a go-to when questioned about his record here and I don't see much more to it.
[Post edited 26 Dec 2019 19:46]
|Very frustrating on many levels|
at 22:40 26 Nov 2019
Firstly, fair play to Wycombe. That's what they are, and what we knew they would be, and it was very effective. Not sure I've seen a team get players around the ball that quickly in some time. Squeezed space superbly and knew their jobs inside out. It was very similar to watching one of Boothroyd's Watford teams last decade; wouldn't rule out similar success, at least in this division, on that evidence.
ITFC-wise, I've seen much better teams than this flounder against sides like that. But I think it's becoming clear that we have issues at home, and we need to sort them out if we're to stay in the top two. Think we missed Downes in there today to win a few more second balls in midfield but the bottom line is we don't move the ball on quickly enough and – for a team with the players we have – still don't really offer enough in an attacking sense. Out wide seems like the biggest issue but I think the strikers need some proper competition too. We didn't do enough tonight even though you couldn't say we were poor.
All that said: if the Chambers/OG goal counts then we all come out saying that we "found a way" to beat tough opponents and what a good sign that is, because that's exactly how it works. The officiating was absolutely diabolical there, from first minute to last, and it's no surprise that some very big decisions were fc8ked up royally. Possibly the worst all-round refereeing display I've seen in years. But as far as I can tell it's happening most weeks and it won't get better any time soon, so the only answer for us is to get smarter – and quickly.
at 09:40 25 Nov 2019
Was talking to a "football person" the other day who turned out to have been at a couple of our games this season (most recently Rochdale) and commented, unprompted, that Garbutt had been head and shoulders above anyone else on the pitch. I haven't seen enough full games to comment, really, but found that interesting. Wonder if anyone in the Champ might fancy a go for him in January.
at 11:34 27 Oct 2019
Looking very good isn't he, very impressed with those assists and particularly the first. I'm definitely not an avid 4-4-2 enthusiast like many here but completely agree he seems a vastly different player in a pair – looks a massive threat at this level and there does appear to be a genuine understanding with Norwood. Wanted us to keep Harrison rather than him, given the choice, but I was absolutely wrong.
|Some interesting prospects in FA Cup first round draw|
at 09:38 21 Oct 2019
I've decided to let the humiliation of being in it play second fiddle to the intrigue of potentially playing some clubs we may never again cross paths with. Wayne Brown's Maldon & Tiptree would be a brilliant, really weird draw. Great to see Kingstonian in there too. And Dulwich Hamlet, I guess. Be fantastic to get any of those. Looking forward, therefore, to Rotherham (a).
|Fleetwood will be very interesting now|
at 20:42 28 Sep 2019
I think they, Posh, Sunderland and Donny look like the four nearest teams to us; I also think there's a reasonable chance they will beat us and it wouldn't be that big a deal due to the credit we've built up in these 10 games. But if we do manage to see them off it would suggest to me that we can really push on and dominate the division. Very long way to go, yes, but it's a real chance to make a statement and show that we might not get drawn into a scuffle for the top four or five spots.
|That paid off quite well for Lambert last night|
at 09:25 18 Sep 2019
Probably had one or two too many players struggling for minutes/match fitness on there by the end (Keane showed some very nice flashes but was never ready for an hour) but that 45 minutes is surely the way forward for us in a lot of these games. Utterly dominant and not just with the ball – Skuse, Downes and Huws all looked strong physically, won headers, ensured not much came back at us. We have such a surfeit of good midfielders that we do need to get as many of them on the pitch as possible and I can't believe that would not be Lambert's plan. Expect a lot more selections like last night's now Huws and Nolan are up to it.
Second half was a chore but there are no two ways about it – 18 points at this stage is an excellent start to the season. There will be bumps along the way, maybe even on Saturday which I suspect won't be an especially pretty game, but we've set ourselves up really well when it could have gone quite differently.
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