As a back-four we looked shaky, as a back-three we were positively retarded, but at least there were mitigating circumstances. There are always going to be problems when you change three quarters of your back line.
But that was the least of our problems. We have this nagging issue that we’re actually playing quite well and losing. 17 corners to their three gives some indication of the pressure we were able to exert. In addition, I remember at least two world-class saves from Scott Bevan.
But we were so predictable; it’s a well drilled predictable, but predictable none the less. Branston was a one-man back line for them. He snubbed out each attempt to reach Constable, then advanced to extinguish the threat of Heslop. He was superb, but it was like a training ground drill. He needed to be fit to keep it up, but not clever.
Potter danced across the pitch until he ran into traffic, Deering scurried around like a terrier. Heslop drove forward in the Gerrard-mold, and Craddock sat deep anonymously.
Nobody was changing the shape, nobody was pushing on beyond Constable. Nobody was knocking Branston about, pulling him out of position. Constable cut a redundant figure, suffocated by a lack of supply. Where was the guile?
Which brings us onto Jack Midson. There’s an argument that says Midson and Constable can’t play together, because they’re both target men. But as soon as he came on Midson and Branston went up for a ball that broke to the suddenly freed up Constable. It was big, ugly brutish football, but suddenly they looked much less comfortable.
Now, players always acquire world-class status amongst fans when they warm the bench. Midson isn’t the universal answer to all our problems. But his performance illustrated a key point. You’ve got to win the war of attrition, grind down the likes of Branston, before introducing pace and imagination. Win the right to play, as Ian Atkins used to say.
We’re trying to play a Conference game where our force of personality was overwhelming, we could launch an avalanche of attacks with reasonable confidence that a) the breakthrough will come and b) you’re not going to get hit on the counter attack. You could, therefore, attack relentlessly.
In League 2, we’ve got to look at games across the whole 90 minutes, and if ugly is needed to get the control of the game, then that’s how we should be setting up. It’s a different game in this league. Something we have to get used to quickly.