A cold easterly breeze chilled us like lollies in a freezer; the wind from the Steppes more direct than a Watford pass. Unfortunately much of the play wasn’t enough to keep our spirits warm. A George Pilkington penalty was the only goal to separate the two teams.
Felt a bit sorry for Alfreton, we were promised a big bullying gruff Derbyshire team hell-bent on defending. A little time wasting aside, what we got was a team with one or two promising players keen to pass it where possible and with an eye to cut defences open with neat moves, in the first half at least. They tired as the game went on, and in trying to snatch something from the game presented us with an increasing number of opportunities; not that we could do anything with them. We wouldn’t have scored in open play if we’d doubled the size of the goals. Mind you – neither would Alfreton.
My first look at McAllister playing for us, that is. I was warned that he didn’t win many headers for a big man, but set up plenty of goals. Strange that Newport let him go when they are in a bit of a fight for survival. Does he cost them too much? Are they confident of survival? Or was it that he’d not scored a goal in 25 games for them? Not sure you decide. He was presented with one clear cut and two pretty good chances this afternoon and missed them all. That said he worked hard, did win one or two headers and looked as if he could pass and cross the ball. That’s a start at least.
Perhaps it is a new direction for the club? We normally take in-form strikers and turn them into toothless tigers. Perhaps with McAllister we are going to be doing the reverse?
We made three changes from what was a dire 0-0 on Wednesday. We started with 4-4-2 seemingly for the first time since Brabin had hair. Willmott and Howell were the lucky wingers with Watkins and Lawless in midfield. Crow started up front with McAllister. Crow was replaced at half time with the lively Fleetwood keen to get his place back. Whilst his passing was sometimes a bit wayward, he did seem to get in some good positions.
Which brings me back to the reason for the headline. For a team lacking confidence, the ideas were often right, other than perhaps not get wide enough or overlap enough down the wings. The attacking design was there, certainly in the second half. The trouble was, on occasion, the players looked as if they had never played with each other before, let alone playing this new-fangled strange formation. I can see why Brabin might be concerned that Watkins and Lawless might get overrun as part of a midfield two. Nicholls and Robinson they are not. Watkins was certainly less bright than usual today. and when he was replaced by Poku there was more bite in the midfield, if less creativity. I was keen to see how on fire’ he was. He looked okay a few good passes, some good tackles and seemed to be haring around in a good way, rather than the rough n’ ready headless chicken last time I saw him.
O’Connor replaced Willmott with 18 minutes to go in the second half. Before he’d had a chance to hit his straps he got a bad knock and wasn’t quite himself after that. Personally, I think O’Connor fits better on the right of a front three, rather than a winger. Felt a bit sorry for him as he has been popping up with plenty of goals recently.
Dan Gleeson, with Andy Burgess removed from his Christmas card list, was a real mixture. He combined his usual efforts of escorting the oncoming winger to the byline, with a couple of good tackles and at one stage a lovely move forward where he overlapped and crossed.
Greg Taylor resembled the other Taylor who has recently played at left back for the Hatters. Not in his overall quality, heavens no, but the fact that he was much more likely to be seen in the offensive half of the pitch than defending. I find it refreshing and really like him as a player. He didn’t have his finest game, but I love the fact that he is up and down that side of the pitch so often. If all left backs spent as long up the pitch as him, their scoring reputation would be far superior.
Good to see Tyler back between the sticks. I don’t think I’m alone in thinking him a better keeper than Kevin Pilks (ahem). Kevin Pilks is good, but Tyler is better all round. His distribution was quick and was keen to roll out to a defender. There were plenty of clearances to McAlister down the pitch, but not unreasonably so. I can only remember seeing him make one proper save. So he must as been as cold as I was. Poor love. Bizarre though that Tyler was back a couple of days after GB continued to justify Pilks’ selection ahead of Tyler’s. Perhaps his continued omission was being a bit too personal.
The other Pilks, George, got man of the match. More for the fact that he cooly scored the penalty than for any great defending I think though his defending was sound enough, as was Kovacs. Kovacs’ distribution was poor in the first half, too often he was the only defender in space when the ball came to him. He would launch it forward and wide, but not to a man in orange so often. I know no one was making any space for him, no movement but surely it is more important to retain possession than to play a hopeful ball forward only to lose possession. I’d rather a square pass than a poor pass.
So the game was far from a classic. For me it had more the feel of a pre-season friendly (played in Iceland I hasten to add) where the players were getting to know each other and the formation. It’s a damn shame that next week it is February and we are aiming for a play-off victory come May-time. Today, there was much effort, and lots of huffing and puffing but there was barely a shot on target, or for that matter many shots at all.
York drew at Darlo and we are now five points clear of them, which is nice. So even though we are bumping along, not at our best, with two draws and a win in the past week, we are still making third our own. Seems odd doesn’t it? We’d be bloody dangerous if we actually started playing well. Perhaps that’s our lot from now on? However mediocre we are, or this awful division is, perhaps we’re just going to be perennially third; doomed to play-off stress, heartache and misery for all eternity?
It really doesn’t have to be so. It really doesn’t. This can’t be it. Someone do something to wake us from this nightmare.
And on that positive thought I’ll leave you until next time! Come on you Hatters!