Sunday, 7 September 2014

Bringing some sunshine

As every game passes, and we keep up this unexpected unbeaten record, and with it this promising start to the season, the more people start asking how long it can go on for.
I have been telling myself not to get carried away. Let's face it, it is inevitable we will lose at some point and then we will really learn about the character of this team.
I just hope people don't over-react when that day does come and return to last season's negative mindset.
I do get the impression still that some are waiting for the bubble to burst and we all know that five games into the league season is not the time to be calling this team play-off or promotion candidates, or to be making wild guesses about where we might end up - good or bad.
We have seen promising starts before, been flirting with top spot at various times in recent seasons only to see it all ebb away disappointingly.
This is still a new squad, very much an unknown quantity, but the early signs are promising. However, that is all it is. Early signs.
Already they have surprised us with resilence, commitment, determination and some quality at times, especially on the road at Bury and Tranmere.
We have also seen that the squad might have more depth than we initially thought after the JPT win over Oxford in the week, achieved without key men Lee Vaughan, Steve Elliott, Matt Richards and Byron Harrison in the starting line-up.
So this was another test against a Morecambe side who like us had made a decent start and would be full of confidence as they were coming off a good JPT win at Fleetwood.
They are always tough to beat the Globe, but we too could go into the game with confidence after our last few weeks, and as it turned out we did learn a little bit more about this squad of players.
Without Vaughan, we switched Jordan Wynter to right back with Joe Hanks coming back into midfield and John Marquis given the nod ahead of Terry Gornell up front.
It was the side I would have chosen and the first hour was up there with the best we have seen from the team this season.
Once again, we were led by Craig Braham-Barrett, who was having a lot of joy down that left-hand side, and could have bagged a couple of goals himself as well as setting some up for others.
He was linking well with Marquis, who overshadowed Byron Harrison performance-wise up front and was a right-royal pain for Morecambe defence - just the sort of front man we have been crying out for.
There are comparisons to Neil Grayson with the non-stop work-rate, chasing of lost-causes and all-round physicality, but also he is a Jimmy Spencer-type with his 'edge' and the walking of the disciplinary tightrope at times, which eventually led to a booking.
Byron however does need to step up. At times, he was effective, but at others he was brushed off the ball too easily. He doesn't seem to share the confidence of his team-mates at the moment.
Whether he is not fully fit, or whether he just needs to get himself a goal I don't know, but with Koby Arthur and Gornell sat on the bench wanting to get into the side, he needs to buck it up a bit.
Hanks slotted seamlessly back into midfield, and in that first hour Joe, Jason Taylor and Matt Richards bossed it. Taylor was breaking the play up, and Richards and Hanks were distributing the second balls with authority, mainly to Wynter and Braham-Barrett, who were delivering better crosses than in recent games.
What Hanks also brings to the side is another set-piece option, and he delivered some great ones. Steve Elliott and Matt Taylor got on the end of a couple of them, but headed over.
As the half went on, we got more confident, and at times there was even a bit of a swagger about us. I am not going to claim we were up there with that autumn of 2011 when we were steamrollering sides.
That sort of authority is still a way away I think. But there was some great passing a moving stuff in that opening hour - my favourite bit was a one-two between Wynter and Hanks, which led to a backheel from Hanks to set Wynter away, and a cross which set up another chance.
Such was the domination that the BBC 5 Live reporter's notes at half-time, on a divided page of an A4 pad, had one line for a Morecambe corner, and a whole page full of chances and remarks for us.
So that was the only drawback - that we hadn't taken at least one chance. A Morecambe fan I spoke to at half-time said we deserved to be at least two up, and that ruthlessness in front of goal is something we need to find.
In most games this season, we have created chances - 12 on target shots at Tranmere but no goals until the 67th minute, for instance - and not taking them will, sooner or later, come back and bite us on the backside.
The fact we were not out of sight was a combination of great saves from Barry Roche, especially from Braham-Barrett and Marquis and in the second half from Richards and Taylor - but also some wastefulness with the Elliott and Taylor headers and a weak Harrison effort when he was in on goal.
After the break, I was waiting for the Morecambe rally and it came from the hour mark onwards after Jim Bentley put Paul Mullin on and they went a bit more direct to ask more questions of us.
So it was now that we were going to learn even more about our team. We came under the cosh, with Morecambe now effectively playing 4-2-4 and we coped with it.
Just about, and it was a bit hairy at times, but we coped with it.
Morecambe stopped Braham-Barrett's supply, won the battles in midfield which we had dominated for an hour, and asked questions of our back three with Mullin, Jack Redshaw, Jamie Devitt (and sub Padraig Amond when he came on for Devitt) along with Kevin Ellison all dropping off at times, and running at us.
Redshaw and Mullin especially were a threat, and although we had to block the odd shot and saw a few go wide or over, Trevor Carson still only really had one save to make, from an Ellison free-kick.
We needed to change it somehow, and I have to say I didn't agree completely with Yates' substitutions.
I appreciate that Arthur and Omari Sterling-James have been effective off the bench and that Yates wants to be positive and win the game. I have no problem with that but their arrival did nothing to stem the tide.
In fact, it partly helped it as the withdrawal of Harrison - although he wasn't having his best game - meant we had no real pivot in the side to use as some sort of target and hold the ball up.
OSJ didn't get into the game at all and I wonder whether Andy Haworth might have been a better change - not so positive I know, but he might have given us a bit more in those closing stages.
But we kept Morecambe at bay, and took the point. Another of those games, much like the Carlisle one, that we would have lost last season.
However, let's be honest about it. We should have won, and we need to start taking these chances, and while three clean sheets in a row and only three goals conceded in six league games is great, we have only scored seven times.
All the neat build-up play is all well and good, but it is not so great if there is no end product to it, so that is now the coaching staff's job to try and get that ruthless streak.
We are looking solid and organised, and the back three gives us a decent backbone to work from, so now the forwards (Harrison especially) need to fire if we are to start grinding out wins.
The wing-backs and midfield are doing their part, and those pre-season worries that we wouldn't create very much seem unfounded.
But is it a bit of a nit-picking moan of mine perhaps. The point will prove to be a good one I am sure and Morecambe are usually a tough nut to crack at the Globe.
A win would, I think, really have made League Two at large sit up and take notice, and we have to maybe stop being happy with a point from games like this, and be disappointed that we didn't have all three.
We'd have taken a point at 9.30am as we left home, but at 5pm we know we missed a chance to make it five wins from six.
It is a constant frustration of fans that we don't get the recognition and credit many feel we should get.
Maybe it is typical of this that we go top of the table for less than 24 hours on the day with no Football League Show, while Burton get a game on Sky in which to return to the summit.
But I am not really worried about that, or about losing top spot. Let Burton have it (for now anyway !!).
They can have the early pressure. They can be the ones everyone wants to shoot at.
For now I am happy to keep my feet on the ground, and stay under the radar and hopefully just continue to be surprised by this team and squad we have.