We were up against a team who were level on points with us so it was crucial that we got something out of this game to keep pace with the top of the table. After a couple of squad members requested some drills to be implemented before the game, I got the trusty cones out and marked up a couple of activities in the hope that it would be a bit more interesting and productive than the usual run-across-the-pitch-a-few-times and smash the ball at the goal for a bit. Not sure how well it was received, heard a couple of disapproving moans and the lads who were doing the shooting drill seemed not to understand how to do it properly, but at least I tried!
The team was the same as the previous week with the exception of Tom Eke who came in to replace the absent Craig and Perry in goal to replace Tom Sommerville. I'd named four subs to give us a bit more of an option to change it up as well as give some more people a chance to play who hadn't made the squad so far this season. This unfortunately meant I had to let a few of the lads down and not include them in the squad, but there's not a lot I can do about it if I want to remain fair and give everyone a chance to show what they can do. It's something everyone is going to have to get used to as the season progresses, try not to get upset about it if you or your mate aren't selected.
The first half was quite even, with Dacian having a few good technical players who looked comfortable on the ball. They did not give us much time at all with some good pressing and all across the pitch we were struggling to get the ball down and play if our first touch was not spot on.
There were periods where we looked quite disconnected as a team going forward, with balls being played to feet while the receiver was expecting it in behind or teammates not giving a shout of 'man on' when someone was about to be challenged from behind.
We weren't much better at the back, with numerous occasions where we were caught on the ball leading to a chance for Dacian to capitalise. Fortunately they were not particularly potent up front and most of their chances were long shots, one of which nearly caught Perry out but he managed to stop it going in after mishandling the effort.
Despite the lack of real quality, we did create a fair amount of chances to score, with Luis having a couple that he really should have done better with. Lee and Will both got in behind a couple of times but nothing came of it. We often seemed to have a lack of options in the box and were heavily outnumbered by the Dacian defenders. It's hard to get those numbers in there when we attack quickly as it requires some gut busting runs from supporting players to try and catch up with the play.
I had to sub myself off after around half an hour. My groin was feeling a bit weak on the left side and I was struggling to adapt to the pace of the game in the middle, kudos to the opposition who weren't prepared to give me the time I clearly needed at that point.
Daz came on who had shown some quality in his last appearance and I knew he was more than capable as he is very strong on the ball which was definitely an area we were lacking. It's quite a contrast as in previous seasons I have got annoyed with him for hanging onto the ball for too long, but now when he plays I want him to hang onto it and slow our play down a bit so he can pick the right pass instead of moving it on too quickly when the pass often isn't on, which is something I highlighted in the team talk to work on.
Another thing I mentioned was that I wanted the defence to push their line out quicker than last week and I was happy that they were doing it. It certainly didn't feel like there was the huge amount of space to cover in the middle as there was in the previous game and that allowed the midfield to close down more effectively and the team as a whole to be more compact.
Dacian's biggest threat was their number 11 on their right side, and he was causing a lot of problems for George who seemed to be struggling to adapt to the pace of the game as well. This was even more apparent when he chopped someone down with a pretty reckless challenge and was booked. There was a bit of handbags after the challenge and I think I saw Ryan get an opponents phone number at one point but I can't be sure. It has to be said that some of Dacian's players went down far too easily and not only that they screamed out in agony at the slightest touch.
Unfortunately for George he capped a half he would rather forget with an own goal not long before half time. Dacian had got in behind down our right and put a dangerous ball across the face of the goal between Perry and George, who had an attacker lurking behind him, and in a moment of indecision he stuck out his boot to divert it past the stranded Perry.
We got to half time and the mood seemed to be quite negative. There had been a disagreement between Rob and Ryan after the former had commented to the latter about not getting caught on the ball. Ryan seemed to take this quite badly, I can only assume he was still a bit riled up after the scuffle over George earlier. I get it and sometimes it's hard to take it on the chin, especially if you know you've done something wrong and then someone points it out to you. At least it shows we care and I'd rather this than it not being pointed out at all.
I made two changes, bringing Pete and Adam on for Luis and George respectively. Lee moved up front, Will out to the left, Daz into the central attacking midfield and Pete into centre midfield. Despite being a goal behind I could tell everyone knew this game was there for the taking, so we trotted out for the second half with a point to prove to ourselves.
The changes had certainly made an impact, with Pete offering a calming presence in the middle, able to get the ball into his feet and find the right pass at the right time on numerous occasions. Dacian didn't seem as effective with the press as they had been and we were able to play quite a lot of triangles around them. Lee seemed to be thriving on being given a chance up front and was moving into the channels to offer out wide and getting across the pitch to close down when we didn't have it.
There definitely seems to be an understanding between Will and Lee, if we kept stats over the season so far for who Will passes to the most I reckon it would be around 80% Lee! The good thing is it appeared to be working pretty well in this half. I was a bit worried about Will's defensive work rate in previous weeks meaning Adam would be exposed at left back but thankfully it didn't seem to be an issue, with Adam's energy being enough to cull any attacks down that side when it looked like Dacian may have got in.
That Will/Lee combination was to prove fruitful after around the hour mark, Lee got in down the right after beating their full back, not for the first time I might add, and delivered a lovely low ball across to the oncoming Will who arrived in the centre of the six yard box to expertly guide the equaliser home with the instep of his right boot. It shows you don't always need power to score goals and it was a superbly deft finish.
We were well on top now and seemed destined to go on and get a winner. Dacian still managed to have a few attacks, most of which didn't trouble us but there were a couple of hairy defensive moments and Perry made a crucial save to stop us going behind again.
There was two back-to-back sin bins which scuppered my substitution plans, meaning Matt didn't get on when I wanted him to and I had to wait longer to bring myself back on. I wanted to inject a bit of fresh legs into the game, my groin was now feeling ok after some stretching. Despite playing with 10 men for 20 minutes we were still the team that looked like getting the win. Karl had a chance to put us in front with a header from a few yards with an open goal at his mercy that he put agonisingly wide. It looked from the sideline like the ball was slightly behind him meaning he had to wrap his head round it a bit so wasn't as easy as it first appeared.
Matt did finally get on for Will and I came on for Rich after more sin bin confusion where the ref made him come on for a few seconds before I could sub him off. There was a real urgency about us and we were pressing them hard and winning the ball well in the middle.
I had a chance to score the winner when an awkward ball across the box made its way through a cluster of players, I took a touch onto my left ready to drill it into the corner but the defender got enough of a block onto it to kill the power and it span across the face of the goal where Lee appeared to come from nowhere to tap it in. Celebrations were quickly muted by the Dacian linesman who raised his flag for offside on Lee. I thought the ref was going to give it because as far as I and everyone else could tell, Lee had come from behind the ball. Unfortunately the ref decided to go with the assistant to deny the goal. I was pretty incensed as I was convinced the goal should stand but managed to wind my neck in enough not to become the fourth player to get booked and removed for dissent.
Despite the feelings of being hard done by we didn't let it affect us and kept on pushing. We forced a few throw ins down the left and for the last one we had there was about 3 minutes left. I made my way into the box to try and get a flick on it. We had numbers in there and I knew if we could cause some panic there was always a chance we could nick one, especially as every time the opposition keeper had been tested he didn't looked confident at all. I didn't manage to get a flick on Adam's throw but I did enough to unsettle my marker and the ball bounced and found Daz who got a shot away that was blocked, the rebound came straight back to him and after some nice control and a step to the side he was able to blast a low shot past the sprawling keeper into the net! GET IN!!
We comfortably played out the final few minutes and the ref blew for full time. Back to back victories and 3 wins out of 4. It's always a buzz to win a game late on and this was no exception.
Whilst we haven't played consistently amazing football so far this season, in all the games we have won it's been because we have pulled together in the second half and put in maximum effort with a belief that we can win, showing the determination it takes to turn games in our favour and hold onto it and it's really pleasing to be a part of. Everyone contributed to this victory and it shows the benefit of having a squad of players willing to come off the bench and play their part, as they all certainly did in this game.
Credit to Dacian who certainly played their part, stopped us from playing for large periods and took it all the way to the end, we all know how hard it is to lose so late on in a game so they have my sympathy and I look forward to playing them in the return fixture.
My man of the match goes to Darren who came on in the first half and did what we needed him to - Got on the ball, didn't let them take it away easily and used it intelligently to find the right pass. He even tracked back quite a lot to win it back which is something I have been trying to get him to do for quite a while! Of course, popping up with the winner plays a part in the decision too. Well done mate!