“You have to be able to win football matches in a number of different manners – and today was one of those days,”
Football shouldn’t be painful to watch, it should be a joy for fans who want to be entertained at the end of the working week. Eleven players on one side should be able to, with conviction, pass around leather ball under no pressure to one of their team mates. For 40 minutes I witnessed 11 footballers fail to this and as bad as they were on the ball, they were even more inept in front of goal. Saturday was more painful than Ortis Deley’s presenting Channel 4’s athletics coverage, but Saturday didn’t have the humour.
Simon Grayson’s assessment may have provided soothing words to fair weather fans whose glasses remain more than half full. However, some of the football I witnessed in the first half against a poor Bristol City side did nothing to draw attention away from how disappointing we have been in our last two defeats and how fast we have deteriorated since comprehensively beating Wolves. To be honest, for the first time I can remember, all I wanted was the game to end so I could go home and warm up.
Of course most sides would struggle without their two leading strikers, I mean imagine Burnley without Charlie Austin’s impressive goal tally, but it’s even worse for us as we have failed to win a game without talisman James Vaughan. In fact Bristol City would have to face what some would call a “League One” strike force and I mean no disrespect to Alan Lee or Lee Novak.
The first half was abysmal, no other way of putting it. Oliver Norwood whose ball retention and fantastic distribution has been a catalyst for a fair few of our victories had seemingly vanished and Adam Hammill’s exciting runs flattered to deceive, with a final ball that not even an under 13 would be proud of. In fact no player can come out of that first half with any sense of accomplishment.
Then, as if by magic, a touch of class appeared in the centre of our midfield. Adam Clayton beat two Bristol players with some fancy footwork which can only be seen on Strictly, before putting in a perfectly well weighted through ball for Novak who cut the ball back for the on-rushing Sean Scannell who poked home past Dean Gerken. A game that lacked intensity suddenly became came to life and it took 43 minutes.
Bristol finally attacked with conviction just before half time and Cole Skuse (how many excuse me jokes could I make before it gets unfunny) hit a 18 yard drive which KEEF (Keith Southern to the average fan) threw himself in front of. Half-time thank god, I hope Grayson gave them a bollocking.
Second half, we came out and played much better football, aided by the fact that Bristol finally were attacking in numbers, rather than just relying on our former striker Jon Stead to capitalise on Calum Woods version of “defending”. Clayton once again was the catalyst, first striking just over from 25 yards, before laying a ball to Woods whose shot went straight at the keeper.
Adam Hammill then had a 20 minute period where he went from doing the outrageous to the sublime. Hammill is a very skilful player, but I do wonder sometimes whether he is trying to hard or the end product is not as good as his reputation came with. Some mazy runs with plenty of step overs led to Hammill testing Gerken, shooting narrowly over and then nearly hitting the corner flag with a shot from outside the area.
As Town failed to make the early second half dominance count, Bristol piled on the pressure. We were left to thank one man, Alex Smithies. Poor Alex has come under some unjust stick from our own fans after conceding seven goals in the last two games, even though he was faultless for all of the goals. But there he was firstly to deny Sam Baldock with a terrific last ditch save after some more defensive frailties and right at the end as Stephen McManus’ header looked to be going in at the far post, Smithies leapt full length to palm it away.
I think every fan would have taken a 1-0 win prior to kick off, especially following the last two games and the team sheet before the game. Clayton, Peter Clarke and Smithies were definitely the positives. However, many fans I heard on the walk back to Town from the stadium were all saying the same things and have the same concerns I do.
Calum Woods is top of that agenda. I have been surprised by Grayson utilising him at left-back especially when Paul Dixon has impressed since coming down from Scotland, but with Jack Hunt’s suspension we had no choice but to play Woods and he was crap. We really do lack depth and that is a major worry and I for one can’t wait until Hunt returns as I can see Woods costing us points on Tuesday night, he was very lucky not to cost us points on Saturday.
I also feel sorry for the Brizzle City fans who made the journey up this weekend. They look like a team who will be playing League One football next season and are so far the weakest opposition I’ve seen Town play this season. Strangely, they took their biggest threat, Stead, off with 20 minutes to go which was baffling and despite a final barrage on our goal, they really didn’t deserve anything from the game. What I think is worse for them is that we won and deserved to win even though we were in all honestly quite bad. Ah to grind out a victory, lets hope we can do it against Blackburn
To Tuesday and the “return of Rhodes”. Let’s hope he is as shy in front of goal as Stead was on Saturday