Sunday, 28 September 2014

All we are saying is...

Another day, another blank - and you don't need to be a rocket scientist to work out why things have gone slightly awry in recent weeks.
Since that heady day at Tranmere on August 27, two goals in six games or 540 minutes or nine hours of football, coming in the 87th and 90th minutes, both from substitutes - and not including stoppage time.
And it is not for the want of chances - look at Morecambe and Luton, where their goalkeepers were man of the match, look at Dagenham, again the goalkeeper made good saves and the bar was hit twice.
Once again, yesterday on our second-half performance, we could have nicked something.
That we didn't was down to one thing - killer instinct in the final third. That real desire to want to get in there and make something happen. We didn't have that.
Yes, we huffed and puffed, put balls in the box, and caused a bit of panic for Burton and their supporters, who were delighted to hang on for a 1-0.
But did we really look like scoring a goal? No, not really.
As usual, the ball bobbled about in the box a lot, and wouldn't quite fall right for us, or a Burton boot or head got there first and was happy to whack it anywhere.
However, that is where you need that desire. That desire to put your body on the line, go in where it hurts, yes, you might injure yourself but you might also get that goal to get a point or a win for your team.
I'm afraid none of our players were willing to do that at times. That was typified when Steve Elliott had a late header blocked. The ball bounced out and for a split second there was a chance for someone to get in for the rebound.
Nobody did. Nobody in red and white reacted and once again a Burton size 9 hammered the ball away. Oh for a Neil Grayson and his weekly bang on the head.
As the manager said afterwards, we needed someone to take the bull by the horns and make something happen in there - to risk that injury, put their body on the line for the team.
They have done it in other areas of the field this season, so why are we not seeing it in that most vital of places - that place where games can be won and lost - the opposition's penalty area.
We were behind to Stuart Beavon's fine finish, and deservedly so, after a first half 'performance' which was comfortably the worst 45 minutes we have put in all season and the first time we have seen echoes of last season.
The 3-5-2 was back - but Burton got straight on the front foot. They were direct, and physical, two things which we could just not cope with at all.
They played diagonal balls to the flanks, and our lack of physicality all over the field was evident, especially in midfield, where Paul Black, Matt Richards and Joe Hanks were swamped, and up front, where Byron Harrison and John Marquis gave no resistance to Burton's strong centre-backs.
Lucas Akins out wide was having a field day, although kudos to Craig Braham-Barrett for sticking at the task, and the movement of Beavon and Adam McGurk was just too slick and clever for our midfield and was just about coped with by our back three.
They, along with Trevor Carson, were the reason why we were still in the game at half-time, thanks to saves, interceptions, tackles and timely blocks. If we had gone in three or four down we could not have complained. In some areas, we had simply not turned up.
But one pleasing aspect of this season has been the manager's willingness to make tweaks and changes earlier.
In the past, we have been left frustrated when a system which many of us can see is not working, or where certain players look uncomfortable has been left, often until it is an unretrievable situation, but this season that has largely not been the case.
For all the virtues of the 3-5-2 system, and how much it has made us a more solid side, it is noticeable that more often than not, Yates and North have had to change it to either get a win in a tight game, or chase a game or try, as yesterday, to unsuccessfully retrieve a losing position.
The formation has made us solid, yes, but a bit toothless at times. Tranmere was the most stark example of that, and again yesterday, 3-5-2 by the end of the game had become 3-4-3 and it nearly paid off.
Black was the fall guy this time, and rightly so I'm afraid. He looks a good footballer, but in no way shape or form is he a midfield player. He looked totally lost in that first half and I hope for his sake that we don't see him in that role again.
Not his fault - he was asked to play the role but it simply didn't work, and it wasn't really a surprise to see him come off, with Terry Gornell coming on.
He brought his usual qualities - work-rate being top of that list and his energy seemed to spark everyone else back into life a bit, and the second half was much improved. It wasn't difficult to make an improvement from the opening 45, but even so, it was good to see us give it a go.
Richards more than anyone typified the change in our performance. At half-time, he was heading for a four or five out of 10 - if that. He gave the ball away several times, and copped some stick from me for his 'effort' to tackle Alex McDonald as he set up another wave of Burton attacks.
But in the second half he was probably our best player, and did as much as anyone to prompt our second-half 'recovery' even if he couldn't help to get us a point.
He and Hanks looked much better in a two-man midfield, and Hanks had our best chances of the game, prompting saves from Jon McLaughlin in both halves.
We were crying out for Jason Taylor, especially in the first 45, and that makes his stupid red card even more annoying. With him and Asa Hall coming back soon (maybe he will play some of the game in the reserves on Tuesday?) we should have real midfield competition.
There is still talk of Jordan Wynter coming back - but with Richards, Taylor, Hanks and Hall, I am not sure we need him - and, let's face it, other parts of the team have a greater priority.
But we can't keep on relying on loan signings to bale us out. Sooner or later, the players we have here need to live up to that responsibility.
Harrison, insipid in the first half, was the same as everyone else, better in the second - but once again did not have a clear-cut, goalscoring opportunity. Ditto Marquis, whose overall display was the most disappointing of his spell with us.
The closest Harrison came was when Lee Vaughan put a great ball across and Harrison and Gornell both slid in but, typifying our 'nearly' performance, failed to get there by inches for the final touch.
Harrison is the one who, more than anyone, has had the bulk of the criticism.
I have seen fans saying he isn't interested or committed but I think that is unfair. I don't doubt his effort, but he needs to do more where it counts. He needs to compete better against centre-halves, and start busting a gut to get into goalscoring positions.
The chances are being created. I don't think he or Marquis can complain about lack of service as we have created plenty of opportunities this season. They are paid to get on the end of them and just need to start doing it.
We had all the play in the second half. Carson was a spectator, and the Burton fans around our commentary position in the second half were very anxious and started getting on their team's back - they were relieved with a 1-0 by the end.
Next up is Harrison's old club Wimbledon, and that should be the inspiration for him to start producing the form we saw at times last season.
But the manager will have a dilemma. Troy Brown is suspended after his fifth yellow card of the season, so will we stay with a 3-5-2 and bring Jack Deaman in for a league debut, or does he change it to a flat back four?
I'd be happier with a back three against Matt Tubbs and our friend Mr Akinfenwa, who will be after his customary goal against us.
But Yates has to think that we are at home, and need to be on the front foot and make the running, so he might opt for a more attacking formation.
We saw Raffaele de Vita for 10 minutes, and he looked fairly lively, setting up a chance for Hanks and forcing a good save himself right at the death.
He will get 90 minutes in the reserves on Tuesday and might be ready for a longer run-out next weekend - but I am not convinced he can fit into a 3-5-2, so a change to a 4-4-2, or 4-3-3 would suit him much better.
Despite our toothless September in front of goal, I don't think there is any doubt we are a better side overall that last season.
We just need someone to step up to the plate and want to score some goals. They are capable of it, but now it is time to deliver. Enough is enough.