Wonders continue to fail to cease…
So then. Eleven Men 3 Fourteen Men 1. The type of fixture that has often gone the shape of the pear. The kind that we always should do better in yet manage to fuck up.
Today, we changed that.
OK, we did in the second half, anyway. The first 45 minutes were more or less business as usual after a two week lay-off. Especially one where we’ve had a good run of form.
We lost the services of two players, and for some reason we went with the avant-garde tactic of three strikers up front. It unsuprisingly failed, and it’s never worked.
Why NA persists with this from time to time has always been an issue. Does he genuinely think it will work if he tries it just once more? Is it some kind of tactic from the UEFA coaching manual? Does he do it to prove a point?
It was 1-0 to them, pretty unsurprisingly, and when people couldn’t even be arsed to boo when the half time whistle blew, I think you can guess the vibe.
But then, it was a typical game against Mansfield. They were organised, we weren’t. They got in your faces, we cowered. They knew how to get the goal, we lumbered.
Which makes the second half even more enjoyable to reflect on.
We’ve been making a habit of being fired up for the second half in recent weeks, even in danger of showing legitimate traits of character and team spirit.
True, it helped by yanking Akinfenwa off, putting a proper left back (Kennedy) in a proper left back role, and to apparently quote our manager on the radio afterwards, playing a formation the players actually like.
But that wasn’t the reason for it. I think something has changed – or at least been added – which has helped us in the second half at Newport, riled us up on Boxing Day, and got us wins at Exeter and Cambridge to boot…
I’ll come onto that later, but we won because of a very surreal couple of minutes that saw us equalise.
Taylor scored, and it was eventually given offside. Not so unusual, except that the referee originally gave the goal, put it on the centre spot and then went to his linesman.
Why was it changed? Because the Mansfield bench surrounded him and forced the delicate flower to back down.
That did seem to piss off everyone to the point where it motivated us enough to actually score a minute later. Although it has to be said, everyone did turn around to the touchline afterwards…
I’m not going to say that I knew we were going to win after that, but the bit between the ears that lets us down so often didn’t this time.
Meades scoring and then Azeez doing likewise proved something that this site has droned on about for so long now – most teams are a much of a muchness, and once we got in their faces a bit ourselves, they weren’t all that.
This wasn’t perfect – there was a young Crewe supporting lad in front of me who said our forward line had (and I quote) “no composure”.
But again, we did enough to win, and we’ve actually started to justify ourselves a bit now.
Whether we can now go to Notts County and repeat the same feat I don’t know. But confidence has got to be rising – christ, we’ve now eighth and the giddy-o-meter is starting to rev up again…
Plus points: We won. Second half. Much better with two up top (and no Akinfenwa). Responding to the disallowed goal almost instantly. Azeez’s finish.
Minus points: Three up front failing as usual. The first half. Their goal.
The referee’s a…: There is absolutely no truth to the rumour he went down on the Mansfield team bus. And you can read that last sentence in both senses of the word.
Them: Organised, got in our faces, but as said earlier – take that away and there’s nothing much more to them.
It might be hard to think that we hadn’t beaten them since the Conference days, but is that much of a surprise? We’ve always struggled against the more, ahem, basic of Northern side, and they’ve known this.
I expect they’ll fade (and TBH I think we will as well), but it proves what happens when you have an effective gameplan. Even if it does rely on the ref shitting his pants.
One final thing about our opponents – remember when we got promoted from the Conference South, and we got all excited that we got to play at Field Mill, in a proper looking stadium?
Point to ponder: Whither Akinfenwa? He’s no longer the most effective striker at the club (Taylor is), and even Elliott seems to be as good in the gangly-bastard-up-front role as him now.
The rumour mill which suggested he was off to the States this window is now suggesting he isn’t. Whether that’s the case, whether he really was on the move to begin with, we’re never going to properly know until it does.
But if it has fallen through, it’s hard not to feel that one of his big chances will have gone.
I don’t doubt the guy still puts in 100% at bare minimum, and NA does seem to have a bit of a thing for him at times. But today was the sort of game you would expect him to shine – and we took him off at half time.
We do need four strikers for the rest of the season, given how we always manage to balls up this position in the January window, and it’s no skin off our nose if he does remain in our shirt for this campaign.
But as the rumours of Tubbs never seem to properly go away, if we did have to lose one – would it automatically be Elliott now…?
Truth is stranger than fiction: 1) Did NA shake the Mansfield’s boss hand afterwards? There did seem to be a bit of tension between them, especially as NA was very quick to come over to clap the Chemflow…. 2) Our first win in the League at KM since October. Before you start getting too carried away.
Anything else? Remember I said earlier about something changing at AFCW? Those who read the comments section in the Cambridge writeup will know what HKG said, and I didn’t get a denial when asking the right people today.
We have apparently put in a psychologist within the last month. I say “apparently”, as it’s not the sort of thing that you’d announce on the official site.
But if we haven’t, it’s interesting that in the past 30 days we’ve looked more mentally strong than we have all season. And probably for a good while before that.
We saw that today, where once we went ahead we went up that extra gear. Cambridge was similar, apparently, and we all know how we reacted after Robbo’s Boxing Day dismissal.
That sort of thing doesn’t happen without something changing. And boy, it needed it.
One of the problems of NA’s tenure is that too often, the players appear to be performing within themselves – as though there’s some mental block.
And as a squad, not just for this season either, there’s been that sense that it’s underachieved a fair bit, that there aren’t enough of the convincing wins or barnstorming comebacks.
One could argue that it’s NA’s job to motivate them, and it’s a fair point to make. But if he can delegate that side of things successfully to an external party, then does it matter if we have one?
Needless to say, some will claim our supporters need a shrink too…
So, was it worth it? Indeed.
In a nutshell: It’s nice to be looking up than down.