Monday, 5 August 2013

Off and running

So there we go then, one down and 45 to go - and it certainly cannot be described as a boring start.
A (hopefully not too bad) injury, a penalty that was not given and one that wasn't that was (hope you are keeping up), some good debuts from our new boys, but, ultimately, two points dropped.
The team Yatesy picked didn't differ from the one which was expected - the 10 lads who were rested at Kidderminster on Tuesday plus Jermaine McGlashan, who had played an hour.
After a scare inside the first 20 seconds - I am still trying to work out how Alex McDonald missed, and also imagining the internet hell Jamie Cureton or Terry Gornell would be getting if the chance had fallen to them - we dominated the first half.
Matt Richards and Russ Penn were scrapping away to good effect in midfield, Gornell was linking the play superbly just behind Cureton, and we were getting joy down the left with McGlashan and Braham-Barrett's pace and overlaps causing problems.
It seemed inevitable that a goal would come, as the young Burton keeper Jordan Pickford, on his debut, looked extremely jittery.
The goal did come, partly thanks to those jitters as he made a right Horlicks of a long Scott Brown punt which nearly sailed over his head, but he clawed it back for Cureton to tap in.
Instant dividend for the poacher extraordinaire, but also the end of his afternoon, and the last we will see of him for about a month at least as he dislocated his shoulder.
But there was a silver lining. Enter Byron Harrison, much-maligned in pre-season (deservedly so in some cases), in dire need of a confidence boost. Here you go Byron, this is your chance, it's over to you.
I don't think I have ever wanted a CTFC player to score more than I did when Byron came on. I was willing him to get on the end of something, to answer his critics in the best way possible.
And so he did. He was there, in the right place at the right time, when McGlashan's shot rebounded to him.
Now Byron... head down... get a good contact... and in it went. Fantastic.
So 2-0 up and cruising. It could have been more. Gornell had two shots well saved by Pickford, then there was the moment when he went down in the box.
He was through. Would definitely have tested the keeper, but down he went. Penalty, surely. Nope... yellow card for diving!
It is the old question. Why would the forward go down in that situation, when he could score his first goal on his debut for his new club?
From my view, it looked like he was caught. The referee was behind it, on the edge of the box, and I can only think he didn't give it because of the 'way' Gornell fell over.
He did seem to stumble on his way down, but if you are tripped, you are tipped and it is a penalty, end of story.
It is a debate which will rage on and on, but no doubt that decision and the one in the other box on the stroke of half-time cost us. From 3-0 up and cruising, to 2-1 up and hanging on.
The other decision re-opens one of those great footballing cans of worms - the deliberate handball.
In recent years, the lines on this offence have become so blurred it is ridiculous. Some of the so-called handballs that are penalised can in no way be described as deliberate.
The Derby-Blackburn game on Sunday saw a player jump for a cross in front of a striker and nudge the ball away. Penalty, clear as day.
Saturday's one saw a cross flicked on into Russ Penn's hand from close range, with him having little or no opportunity to get it out of the way.
He didn't move his hand towards the ball deliberately - it was there, by his side, and the ball hit it. The referee was a good distance away, and didn't think about it, he just gave it.
Our lads didn't complain vehemently, not that it would have done any good either, and Billy Kee put the penalty away, and immediately changed the complexion of the game.
It definitely affected us, as we were a bit flat for the majority of the second half.
We stopped using the left-hand side, where CBB and McGlashan had a lot of joy in the first half, and instead tried to make inroads down the more clogged-up right, where we didn't have any natural width.
Sido Jombati and Sam Deering tried their best to provide it, but we had lost our grip on the game.
In midfield, Rory Delap came more to the fore and Burton looked dangerous on the break, as they changed to a 4-5-1 which caused us a few problems.
Set-pieces too were a an issue, with the Delap throws, some corners and free-kicks not always being defended well by us.
The equaliser came from a corner, as Delap used his nous to make an intelligent run and sidefoot into the net. Clever by him yes, but not great defending by us. No one seemed to track the run.
We had chances to win, with Deering hitting the bar, Harrison having a shot blocked and another effort saved, while CBB got the byline and pulled a cross back which evaded everyone.
But we didn't really stretch the young keeper in the second half, and while Scott Brown wasn't really tested either, of the two sides if I had to name a more likely winner from 2-2 onwards, it would not have been us.
Gary Rowett deserves credit for changing the formation, and stifling us effectively. But we have to find a way of overcoming things like that, a different way to play.
We have to get a bit mentally stronger and stop feeling sorry for ourselves if we concede a goal or decisions go against us.
Too often we have seen this trait - a bright start, get in front, then lose a goal in some fashion or other, and back into the shells we go, instead of staying on that front foot and carrying on what we had been doing.
There is the argument that Mark left the changes too late, in bringing on Ashley Vincent and the teenager Zack Kotwica, but it is a difficult balance.
Changes can be of benefit with fresh legs and impetus, but they can also disrupt the side as it takes time for players to bed in.
But looking at the bench on Saturday, it did not have the strength in depth and options that were there last season - no Carter, Harrad or Duffy to call on with their experience to change the game.
With Harrison on early, instead, it was two defenders (Lowe and Inniss), a defensive midfielder (Taylor) and the ones who came on, Vincent and Kotwica, who, with the game in the situation it was, were the only options.
Kotwica had a chance, and it was shame he couldn't keep it down, but that is the impetuosity of youth - he rather snatched at it and the chance was lost. But he will learn.
All in all, it was frustrating. There were plusses - CBB, Richards, Gornell and Troy Brown all had good debuts, Jamie got a goal, Byron got the lift he needed, and we saw young Zack for the first time.
But the bottom line is that we lost that lead, and ultimately the chance to get off to a flyer, and that's costly even at this ridiculously early stage as our starting games are, on paper, very tricky ones.
By the end of September, we play Burton, Chesterfield, Plymouth, Bury, Portsmouth and Oxford - all sides who have been mentioned as promotion candidates, so a good start is important.
While a draw is not a disaster, from 2-0 up we should have won the game, but a combination of the refereeing decisions, good tactical decisions by Burton and our inability to combat them ensured we didn't.
It is disappointing, therefore, to see comments flying around about a perceived use of 'hoofball' in the second half.
For some CTFC fans, this term seems to be a generic one, meaning 'we didn't win, and we struggled to break the opposition down, so we will say that we started playing a long ball game'. It always pops up after any defeat, or a draw at home like Saturday.
I didn't see much, if any, evidence of any 'long balls' on Saturday. This mythical 'hoofball' must seemingly apply to any pass which is more than a foot off the ground.
It seems that as soon as anyone tries to play a pass down the line, into a channel, or diagonally into a striker looking for a flick-on, hold-up or knockdown, this is immediately classed as us 'playing hoofball'.
Other clubs do it - the ball through from Burton to McDonald for his first minute chance was a 50-yard pass flicked on - so is that hoofball? Probably not, as we didn't do it...
But anyway... I felt the positives outweighed the negatives, and a draw with Burton at home, however much the circumstances may rankle now, will prove to be a decent result later on down the line.