We went into this game on the back of a poor defeat looking to bounce back to winning ways and thankfully we managed to put in a shift and get the win. It wasn't pretty and we were maybe lucky to have won the game as our opponents had a lot of chances to score, especially in the first half.
From kick off it was a pretty even affair. It became clear pretty quickly that EG were playing a rather unorthodox formation with a few players seemingly roaming around between the lines. This caused us quite a bit of trouble to defend against, with a lot of pressure/blame being cast on the midfield (as is usually the case) for not picking up their men. The problem was our opponents weren't really playing an out-and-out striker and whoever was up there was often dropping deep, meaning the defence were calling the central midfielders back to pick up men, which in turn left the opposition lots of room to get on the ball from deeper and start attacks.
A few times EG managed to get through the middle of us quite easily with an overload situation, and it seemed like we were unorganised and no one really knew what they were doing. There was a lack of command coming from the back and it was often a case of people expecting others to do something without actually communicating what they wanted them to do. We were getting exposed on the flanks, with both Lee and Karl still not showing the defensive capabilities that they showed so well for most of the game in week 1.
To add to the defensive frailty, we were sometimes too rushed on the ball when we had it, time after time trying to force it forward for Lee, Karl and Luis to run onto. Will was able to pick a couple of passes to put Lee in down the left but was not having as much effect on the game as I'd have liked and still hasn't quite found the form he showed during some of the pre-season games.
It was not all doom and gloom. We did put some nice moves together when we got it down and played. One moment in particular stands out where we picked the ball up in the middle just inside our half, and after 3 or 4 crisp passes Karl was in down the right, he cut the ball across the box to an unmarked Will who could only hit the underside of the bar from inside the box. It was a lovely team move and Will was unlucky not to score.
Both teams had chances to go into half time ahead, with EG putting it just wide on more than one occasion when perhaps they should have scored. I put in a slightly overhit deep cross that almost caught the keeper out but he managed to tip it wide. Luis had a weak shot in the box easily saved by the keeper and there was what looked like a blatant handball waved away by the very poor referee. He was the worst ref we've had by far and the only consistent thing about him was that he was completely inconsistent. A highlight was giving Luis offside, when running from his own half, because the linesman who was 20 yards off the line of play flagged it, even though the ref was himself standing a few yards away. The mind boggles...
Half time came and we knew this match was there for the taking. I wanted us to focus on getting the defensive duties sorted and asked the centre backs to come out with the 'cheating' forward that was dropping into the space between them and the centre midfield, explaining that Rich and I were finding it hard to cope with the numbers we were being expected to track. I stressed that the reason we were all over the place was because no one was communicating to each other and that we needed to improve that in the second half. There was mention of the weakness out wide and the full backs not being protected - I reiterated that if you spot someone not doing their job then it's your responsibility to let them know and get it sorted between you. I can't see everything unfortunately and when I'm playing I have my own game to concentrate on as well.
I brought Matt off the bench for Lee who I felt wasn't putting in enough effort to get between the full back and our goal to give us some protection. The second half was much better in terms of defensive shape, we seemed a lot harder to break down and EG's attacks mainly ended with a shot from outside the box that didn't trouble Tom in goal. Ryan and Craig were handling things well and getting on the end of any over hit through balls and made some nice blocks when needed. George, who had taken a knock and was struggling with a dead leg sustained in the first half, seemed to be struggling a bit and got caught in possession a couple of times to put us under pressure. In fairness he wasn't given much of an option to pass for at least one of them which didn't help. Rob on the right was getting forward as much as he could and putting in another assured and energetic performance.
We managed to break away a couple of times without troubling their keeper. They were quite well organised and had some good ball players at the back, although we did manage to catch them in possession a couple of times when they overplayed it through good pressing play from our forwards. Their suspect linesman work continued when he flagged as Luis got put in from an unintentional pass by their own player, unfortunately Luis could only shoot wide when one-on-one with the keeper. More clinical finishing required in a game as tight as this!
I brought Karl off for Lee as he seemed to be having a bit of a temporary 'mare and looked like he needed a rest. It was nice to be able to rotate the wide midfielders in this game as I know how physically demanding that position can be. Around 10 minutes later Will gave way for Karl to come into the centre, I felt we needed more energy in the middle to try and press and win the ball back and from Karl's performances in pre-season I knew he was more than capable of doing so.
Around the 65 minute mark the deadlock was finally broken and it was us that did it. We were fouled and awarded a free kick around 25 yards from their goal and Ryan shouted at me 'Al, hit it!'. I didn't need telling twice and immediately claimed the free kick. We had 4 or 5 players hovering around the 6 yard box and I knew that I had to hit the target and if I could try and make it awkward for the keeper then we might be able to get something out of it. Luckily I hit it quite well and it bounced just in front of him, he couldn't hold onto it and spilled it into the crowd of our players who had thankfully all gambled and Karl was the one who was there to blast it in from a couple of yards. GET IN THERE MY SON!
The goal gave us a renewed sense of vigour and encouraging, positive shouts were heard from the whole team as we trotted back to our half. We knew EG would be pushing for an equaliser but I was quietly confident that we'd be able to manage the game and see it out as the problems we'd shown in the first half seemed to now be taken care of and EG were unable to carve us open any more. Their closest moment to equalising came when a tricky little rascal hit a lovely strike from around 25 yards that flew just past the post. Apart from that they had a chance when Tom could only parry a long range effort but was fouled when bravely diving at the feet of an oncoming attacker who kicked him in the face.
There was more ridiculous refereeing when he overruled Will who flagged for something obvious, shame he didn't know how to do that in the first half when Luis would have been through on goal. I was getting on his case quite a lot, justifiably so as I was continually being fouled when trying to win headers. I know from experience the more you complain to a ref when you feel you've been wronged the less chance they are gonna give you a decision. At the time though it's hard to hold your tongue in the heat of the moment. I was lucky not to get booked to be honest.
Matt and Rich both had headed chances that failed to work the keeper and we looked just as likely to score the next goal as they did. I brought Will back on for Luis who had worked tirelessly up top again, asking Will to drop a bit deeper than a striker would be and try and help us ease the pressure by keeping the ball at his feet a bit longer. To his credit he did this well and offered us a route out when we regained possession and allowed us to move out and regain some shape.
The ref blew for full time and we'd fought for another hard earned victory. It wasn't pretty at times but we definitely gave as good as we got, it could have been 4-4. We showed that we are more than capable of protecting a lead and that is very encouraging. We didn't just shut up shop and hope they couldn't score, we were measured and calm and at no point seemed off the pace in the second half.
We still seemed determined to rush attacks down the flanks when perhaps the better option would have been to get a foot on the ball and look backwards to supporting players who could then join the attack as reinforcements. It's something we all need to work on over the season I think as so far we often seem too keen to get it forward when it's not the right decision. Yes, we have scored some counter-attacking goals and have the players to damage teams, but I think we need to be a bit more selective about when we try and launch a quick attack and when we keep hold of the ball to give us a chance to settle and move up the pitch together. This also gives the wide men a chance to have a breather instead of constantly being expected to chase onto a through ball and then run all the way back to offer protection if we lose it, but that is something they will need to dictate by dropping deeper to offer a lateral pass instead of hugging the touchline and looking to run beyond all the time. I guess it's a case of being selective and intelligent about when to commit to making that run.
My man of the match goes to Rob who again showed great energy to get up and down the pitch, especially in the second half after the marking became more organised. He is a talker and that is a characteristic that is vitally important for a successful defensive unit. Good work lad. Special mention to Craig and Ryan who both had solid games at the back and were under quite a bit of pressure in the first half. A bit more constructive communication was needed from you both at times but I'm sure as our confidence grows as a team that will come.