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Cockles and Muscles

Ah, another weekend where we didn’t lose. I could get used to these.

No, your editor wasn’t there, but two people stepped up to the plate and supplied some copy. Just substitute “yesterday” for “Saturday”, as they both wrote it on the Sunday and I can’t be arsed to change it.

The first is Tom Hutchence…

This was the first time I’ve seen our January recruits live, and I thought Reeves was the main driving force for our lively start. He wasn’t great after that (who was?), but in that period he looked like the attacking midfielder we’ve been missing.

Other than the goal, it looked like he could have had a penalty just before their goal, but regardless, his direct run into the box which was met by a tackle was promising for things to come (hopefully).

I’ll start with the defence and work forward.

I brought my mate, an Arsenal season ticket holder to the game, who thought Oshilaja was our best player on the pitch, especially in the second half when we came under pressure he seemed assured on the ball didn’t put a foot wrong all game.

“Our own” centre back looked like he was being consoled by Neal at full time. He got a hard time from Barry after their goal who obviously thought he could have done more with the delivery, which seemed harsh to me.

Barry Fuller knows more about defending than me if he thought that then it’s true, but nevertheless bollocking a young centre back (who by all accounts has done little wrong since breaking in to the team) seems a bit counter productive.

Hopefully, his confidence won’t have been knocked too much, it could’ve been a lot worse if the ref had given the penalty against his apparent handball, but that would’ve required him actually giving a decision.

It is such a hard position to break through in at any level, which is something that Carragher has spoken about on Sky; he was played in virtually every position before his manager trusted him in the middle of defence.

Managers seem to want a quick fix nowadays (Lovren springs to mind) which doesn’t really work there, and it’s such a high risk game now, which is probably why at the highest level there seems to be a lack of quality centre backs.

Any young defender will make mistakes if we keep him in the team, which will probably cost us goals in the short run, and it’ll be interesting to see when Goodman comes back who starts.

Personally, i’d keep Nightingale in, or else in the summer we’ll be back to square one when the other two go back off to their own clubs.

It will be odd to have a young centre back of the quality of either Goodman or Oshilaja on the bench, but we’ve got to service our own interests first and foremost.

After being well on top in the first half, we came out a different team in the second, and not in a good way. How many times has that happened this season?

We could barely string 2 passes together. Bayo I thought had a bit of a shocker yesterday, but how hard must it be for him, when at times we’re just lumping it up to him, and he’s getting the ball 10 yards outside the box, with no-one around him?

We seemed to just resort to that tactic in the second half, which just doesn’t work if he’s either playing badly or doesn’t have enough support if we’re tiring.

Whether it is a fitness thing that makes us consistently drop off massively in the second half we can only speculate but with the teams we’ve got coming up, we can’t afford to keep doing it. Especially as we find it hard to score the second goal in games when we’ve taken the lead, which we should’ve done yesterday.

Regardless, we are 7 points of the playoffs, with a game in hand, with 4 games against teams in the playoffs next. Easy 12 points then.

And a second report from Warton St Anne’s Womble:

A long trip oop-north for some (pretty much up the road for me) to Morecambe, and a ground where we’ve I’ve seen good performances and not so good. Yesterday’s match had both, in the proverbial game of two halves.

In a bitterly cold wind, even for Morecambe, both teams had to contend with awkward conditions. We certainly got the better of it in the first half, and indeed in the first 10 minutes we were playing some good football, creating chances and looking confident at the back.

That culminated in a well-worked corner routine which saw Jake Reeves score his first goal in a Wimbledon shirt. At this point, confidence was high, and after we’d managed to avoid gifting an equaliser straight away, the travelling fans were in buoyant mood.

We continued to work the ball well in the last third, particularly when Akinfenwa and Tanner linked up. The centre-back pairing of Nightingale and Oshilaja looked strong too, playing confidently and calmly, which was pleasing to see. At this stage, neutrals may well have assumed we would go on to win it.

But 3 minutes before half time, a well delivered cross was met with a glancing header, and Morecambe equalised. Heads didn’t drop though, and you felt like the game was still there for the taking if we played the same way.

The change of ends meant we were playing with the wind in the second half, and a tendency to rely on longer balls to the Beast ™ made us predictable.

To give him his due, Bayo looked great, held the ball up well with some great touches, and was most likely to be involved in any noteworthy chances. Morecambe, for their part, stepped up a gear too, and didn’t give us quite the same room in midfield.

Towards the end, we were holding on a little, and it took some good defending to keep the scores level, so a draw was probably the fair result.

Plus points: We didn’t lose. Oshi and Will looked fantastic – both could have been MotM. David Connolly. Callum Kennedy did quite well too.

Minus points: The midfield seemed to lack a bit of quality – too many loose passes from Reeves for my liking, and in the second half especially, an unwillingness to try and create anything other than route one.

I know we do well with it, but if it’s our only game plan, we’re so easy to mark and defend against, scoring becomes less likely than a nerd in a nightclub.

The referee’s a…: cracking example of just how bad officiating can be at this level. But at least he was consistently bad. They could have been reduced to 10 when Fleming scythed through Callum Kennedy, who was on the end of a few rather agricultural challenges. I wouldn’t mind, but he didn’t even book him!

We could have had a penalty in the first half when Tanner was brought down in the box as well, but I’m sure there were a couple of decisions that went our way too, so I guess complaining’s pointless.

Them: Meh. As a Morecambe lad, I’ve never really liked them – and I hate Ellison with a passion, the dirty fouling nob. He’s also the only one I’d sign though, as he does a good job in this league. Doesn’t mean I have to like him though…

Point to ponder: This was my first game since the 0-0 at Oxford and I thought we looked much, much better, especially in defence. We still need everyone to have a good game to get a win though.

Yesterday, Shaun Rigg looked ineffective, Reeves passed to no one far too often, and even George Francombe looked unable to deliver a quality ball in to the box.

We’ve seen how well we can play when everyone is pulling in the same direction, but why isn’t that happening week in, week out?

And why put Azeez on with only 9 minutes to go? I think Neal could have been a bit braver there, because when he came on he looked lively, and certainly gave something different.

Anything else? When you don’t get to go week after week, being a football fan can be a weird experience. I heard three songs I didn’t know – someone should start publishing lyrics! And it was third draw in a row – I want a win!

So, was it worth it? Better than a kick in the balls.

In a nutshell: We’re closer to the playoffs than the relegation battle.

Not really much else to say, but a cupple o’tings that sort-of jump out…

If Nightingale is being bollocked by Fuller, he simply has to man up and take it on the chin. Despite some evidence to the contrary on occasions, football is indeed a man’s game and he won’t survive if he keeps blubbing.

Compare and contrast to when Ben Harrison was making cameos. It might have been the cockiness of youth, but he was certainly dishing out instructions here and there to two centre backs who were one teenage pregnancy away from being his dad.

Nightingale needs to be like that, centre back is a very important position, and with the lack of experience in that position, he needs to justify his starting…

That might seem a bit harsh, especially as he’s played twice now without being a liability. But as we’ve got a horrible looking February coming up, we can’t afford to slacken.

What is clear is that we’re going to need the likes of Phillips to justify why they should be kept on beyond this season. You shouldn’t expect too much from the likes of Nightingale, Harrison and whoever else has come up from our yoof system – although expectation on them will certainly rise.

That we’re talking about at least two of our own products playing regularly this season – not next – is credit to all concerned, but they won’t do it on their own.

But at some point we’ll need to play Phillips. Or Sammy Moore. Or another “senior” player who isn’t getting game time right now for whatever reason.

If you assume NA will be here next season, he may already be making the first notes about who will be in the Great Summer Cull™.

The likes of Phillips and Moore need to make our current manager’s decisions a little more difficult when it comes to it. If they come in when they get their chances, and do well, then fine.

If they don’t…

Unless we absolutely fuck up beyond belief this next two months, we’re looking pretty much the mid-table mediocrity you dreamed about when you were a kid.

As you saw above, we’re closer to the playoffs than the drop zone, although come back to me next month to see whether that is still the case.

But teams down the bottom are poor. We’re just inconsistent.

Like most of the division, really. Morecambe have similar points to us, are two places above us in the table, and look as like to go up/down as we are.

If we did finish 13th, it would be the highest ever in the AFCW era of FL football. Granted, that’s not saying a lot, but it would be progress.

And as said on here before, this is our fourth season at this level, and it’s time we started showing a bit of that.

If we do have a good February, people really would start getting giddy about a late playoff run. We’ll wait and see about that when the time comes, but it would be nice to have something to aim for this season.

This being League Two, a club can come out of nowhere and end up with an extended season. If the Conference is a bottleneck, with two teams going up, L2 is like a laxative in comparison.

That four sides go up to L1 is one of those abnormalities that I’ve never fully understood why, but it does give sides like ourselves something to aim for.

I doubt if we’ll do it, but we’ve had cup runs in two competitions, the big game (Liverpool) and we even beat Franchise. So maybe it could turn out to be that kind of season after all?

Hell, since we went up we’ve had three shitty ones.

Finally, does it really matter that Matt Tubbs still hasn’t scored for Pompey? He’s gone, get over it. It does start coming across as a bitter jilted lover who can’t quite accept they’re not giving blow jobs right now.

He’s good enough to score for them, and chances are he will do just that. Yes, he scored for us a lot, but it was mutually beneficial for all concerned – he got in the shop window, we got the benefit of him for about 5/6 months, and if anything we’ve ended up stronger in attack.

I don’t blame our former partner to BMO for moving to pastures new. Maybe you can blame the club for leading people to believe he was here the whole season, when it was increasingly obvious he wasn’t.

But you know where all this current gloating will lead. To the 21st March at KM, where Tubbs breaks his vow not to celebrate as he nets his hat-trick up the Noodle Stand end…