No, your eyes are not deceiving you.
This really is a proper SW19 update on a Saturday evening, and from an away game at that. This might be happening a few more times this season, at least until things start to settle down again.
And come to think of it, that last sentence could also apply to AFCW.
So, Cash-Strapped 1 Crash-Strapped 2. And I think more than a few hunches were confirmed today, not to mention a few points were proved. If the game-of two-halves cliche was ever applicable, this was it.
We played 3-4-3 in the first half. We played 4-4-2 in the second period. The only stats that ever properly matter in football will tell exactly which half we played best in.
The first period was the first time your editor has seen this new formation in competitive action. And it just simply doesn’t work.
Not in terms of a few tweaks here and there, or even just “give it a few games and everyone will work it out”. It’s fundamentally flawed in League Two where the defenders aren’t good enough to play it, and forwards are sufficiently better at exploiting it.
We looked disorganised and fatally bereft of confidence in playing it. And if you (reasonably) assume that it’s worked on virtually all the time in training, it makes its failure even worse.
Their goal was inevitable, and it could have been even worse had their player got their shooting boots on. I’ve been to enough games to know when patience starts to run out, and believe me – it was happening today…
So, what changed? Or more accurately, why did we have to change it from Tuesday to begin with? I would have loved to have been the proverbial flying insect thingy on the wall in our dressing room at half time, because it sounds like a few home truths were dished out.
It’s quite a big bit to quote, but here’s NA on the OS:
“First and foremost, I wanted to find out once and for all whether this group could execute the 3-4-3 formation we played in pre-season. I looked at the first 25 minutes of the Plymouth game and that was how I imagined us causing problems for teams. We did not do it in the first half and we were all over the shop. You can talk about systems, but we lacked energy and we were second to a lot of things. Five minutes before half time I made my decision and unfortunately Tom Elliott was the player to make way. It could have been anyone at that point.
“There was a tactical change at half-time, but I also challenged the players and really laid it down to them. I think a few of them were not happy with a couple of things I said. They responded in a big way. In the second half the pace, tempo and good moments that we created got us in front and we ended up with a win. I have learned now. I was brave to play it (formation) again away from home and brave to make the substitution, but the boys responded brilliantly. They are the ones who deserve the credit.”
Bold bits mine. So, has his beloved formation been put on the back burner, preferably for good?
I just hope NA feels that “brave” is the wrong word to use in trying to employ it – “fucking stupid” is a more accurate term – but he can feel happy this evening at getting a reaction.
It doesn’t matter whether it was player power, or tactical flexibility, or simply just facing up to the bleeding obvious, but if nothing else the players know what works and what doesn’t.
You can’t even call it a fine margin. Once Akinfenwa scored, we weren’t going to lose that. In fact, when Barcham put us ahead from about 2mm out, we weren’t going to even get a draw – it had that vibe about it.
If we had just got one point instead of all three, that would have hurt more than even Plymouth last week. The fact is, we didn’t, and we can now bask in this until Cambridge come down on Tuesday.
And it’s nice to see them pay homage to our 4-4 at Carlisle last year by getting the exact same result today…
Plus points: We won. The second half. Whole team improved immensely with a proper formation. Akinfenwa scoring. Ditto Barcham. Never looked like losing after going ahead.
Minus points: The first half.
The referee’s a…: Happy to blow up whenever Crawley players decided to play “spot the worm”, especially when we were attacking. Missed plenty of shirt pulling on BMO while booking Taylor for similar on their keeper.
Apparently, he was bad even for a L2 referee…
Them: Have a touch of the Graham Westleys about them on the field, at least some of their players were from St Evenage anyway.
Couldn’t believe their luck in the first half at how we set up, deserved to go ahead, but just couldn’t cope after the restart. Doubt if they could really complain about losing.
It’s off the pitch that makes you think they could be the first basket case in a while. This happened yesterday, apparently down to said three individuals asking some awkward questions about where they got the money from to go from Conference to L1…
How true any of that is, I don’t know. What is easy to prove is how bad their attendances are – there were 2988 in the ground today, of which 1297 were ourselves.
So, 1691 home fans, for the first home game of the season. I shudder to think what would have happened had they got Morecambe instead.
It’s pretty much a case of when, not if, they go out of the Football League. There seems a slow element of decay and disorganisation around that place – even getting in felt more like an ordeal than it should have been.
You can find stuff written about them during the summer which suggests the bottom could truly fall out of them. And while their natural level is, and always will be, a top ten Conference side, it might start getting nasty for them.
I did see a banner behind their goal saying “CTFC – Tinpot and Proud”. Probably them being defiant, although perhaps they shouldn’t be…
Point to ponder: If the 3-4-3 experiment finally got put to rest at half time today, I wonder if NA has learned something that will make him a much better manager?
Not so much the dogmatic adherence to an ideology that would make even a Jeremy Corbyn fan blush, but that a successful manager is one who wins games.
I’m (very) reliably informed that during his press conferences at Cardiff on Tuesday, he seemed to hint that he would jump at the opportunity of being in South Wales again. He’s undeniably ambitious, and I certainly don’t blame him for that.
But he won’t do that when his current team constantly finds itself bouncing around 16th in the bottom tier of English football.
NA will not be considered a failure if he plays 4-4-2 or another formation that wins more than it loses. He might want to paint himself as a sophisticate, a student of the game, but he’ll only be considered for higher level jobs if he proves his flexibility.
He could say in an interview for, say, the Cardiff job that while he would love to play 3-4-3 or whatever, the culture of L2 meant he has to be more pragmatic.
If he continues to ram through 3-4-3 (which it appears he’s going to hold off on it), then he is going to fail, because it doesn’t get results and just makes the “Win” column look dire.
So, whatever happened at half time to apparently make him come out five minutes early worked, but may have repercussions beyond this weekend…
Truth is stranger than fiction: 1) Our first away win since Boxing Day 2014. Chew on that stat for a little while. 2) The programme hut selling WFC programmes before the game, including some 1970s ones. Hope they don’t get them out whenever Franchise visit. 3) Anyone see why there were a few more coppers outside our exit after the game? IYSWIM.
Anything else? This whole formation thing has really got to people, and sitting here typing away this evening, it feels that a weight has been lifted.
I think the players feel that way as well, if their post-game reaction was anything to go by. NA’s ego might be a little bit bruised, deep down, but as said earlier – it won’t make him a bad manager by changing to something that works.
But it was a bit surreal to listen to a section of the crowd sing “4-4-2” at the beginning of the second half. Supporters may not know the intricacies of formations, and some try to but sound completely nerdish and/or stupid.
They do sense whenever something is wrong, and if we now go on to have a good season – which this lot are capable of – we could say 1500 to 1545 today was the catalyst for that. It won’t be like the second half today every week, but at least we’ll be giving ourselves more of a chance.
As for everyone’s most hated formation, I think it’s like zonal marking – something that is often talked about being good, but only ever works if you’re Barcelona or you play a computer game.
If 3-4-3 was a family member, it would be the drunk uncle that inappropriately touched his niece at a Christmas gathering. No mention must ever be made again…
So, was it worth it? Hell yeah.
In a nutshell: Four four fucking two.