Beaten but Unbowed
In spite of our dismal performance on Saturday and the awesome display of MC`s fire-power the following day I was looking forward to this match. Not only were no points at stake but it would give fringe players the chance to force their way into the side.
If I was also pleased with the line-up, which some of us have been advocating for weeks, I am under no illusions that it will resemble the one that turns out on Saturday, no matter how well they played. And several of them deserve to be chosen in the starting eleven. In an answer to a direct question, MM admitted that they would be considered for the game. I will hold him to that promise.
Having roundly criticized our performance on Saturday, a match we drew, it`s a little ironical to praise the team for their efforts in a game, which we lost 2-5. But, there were genuine positives to be taken from the team`s performance. The players looked sharp and eager and fought for every ball. Even after going 1-5 down, they never gave up.
Even better, we engineered a number of good chances and netted two of them. We should have earned a penalty too. Moreover, we actually looked dangerous coming forward and, if we maintain an aggressive cutting edge, we will score more goals. Hunt missed a glorious chance on 47 minutes which, if put away, would have brought the score back to 2-3 and perhaps a different outcome.
Although we started with a 4-4-2 formation, the midfield looked both more solid and creative than the one we opened with on Saturday. I was particularly pleased to see Guedioura being given a proper chance to prove himself and he did not disappoint. He was tenacious in the tackle, eager to drive forward and not afraid to shoot at goal. He adds so much dynamism to our midfield that he has to be selected for the first eleven on Saturday.
I thought that Milijas earned his place in the team too, though it`s hard to counteract the claims of JOH , who scored a goal within a minute of replacing him on the pitch. I would like to see both of them selected and, as we will be playing a 4-5-1 formation at Eastlands on Saturday, perhaps they should. Henry will have to give way but when he came on at 67 minutes he added nothing defensively and weakened our momentum going forward. His passing was poor too.
Even though we let in five goals, the play of the back four marked an improvement on Saturday`s performance. We were unlucky to concede the two goals that resulted from rebounds but, on the other hand, MC could have scored more. On this performance De Vries will not replace WH. In the end quality told and few defences would have withstood the onslaught once they got into their stride. We won two-thirds of the first half but they scored three times to our solitary goal. It wasn`t a game for old-timers like Craddock to make an impression.
Doherty had a torrid time at RB; his failure to cut out diagonal crosses and inability to stick close enough to his man contributed to several of the goals. Elokobi, on the other hand, had a surprisingly good game at CB. He made one superb tackle in the 23rd minute, prompting me to write in my notes, 'A Centre Half is Born`! He also was solid in the air and won more than his share of challenges.
It is good to see Doyle making progress and getting sharper by the game, even if he is still some way off his 2009-10 season form. He is holding up the ball better, is quicker on the ball and slicker with his passes. I have never seen Vokes play better either, his run to the by-line, having nutmegged the FB, created our first goal. Milijas took his chance well. The second goal resembled the ones which MC were scoring. Fine interplay between Ward and Hunt down the left wing led to a cross which JOH converted confidently in a repeat of the one he scored on Saturday.
MC will have a completely different side out on Saturday and, if they play as well as they did against MU, we have to up out game even further. Even so, I think that most of our players who started the match this evening should keep their places. Hennessey and Johnson will return but there`s no obvious partner to RJ in central defence. In midfield I would merely add JOH to the other four, with Edwards in a more forward position behind Doyle. At the moment playing two wide men is not proving beneficial.
Do we have a chance at Eastlands? Well, MM knows the nature of the threat and has a couple of days to devise ways of combating them. Frankly, I think he literally has to park the team bus in front of our goal to keep them out but MC might be complacent after tonight`s result. I doubt it though, because we fought them all the way and looked dangerous whenever we attacked. That`s a good sign for us. Will it be enough ... not if we leave holes in our defence.