Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Have We Turned a Corner?

Early indications are that Dean Saunders is able to inject some energy and enthusiasm into the side going forward, and after the rather aimless long stuff we've played of late it was good to hear him say that he wasn't about to criticise Levi Mackin and Andy Fleming for losing the ball in their own half as they tired as he he'd told them he wanted them to pass the ball about.

If you want to see how a long ball side should set itself up, have a look at Histon next Saturday. Any side whose assistant manager is John Beck is bound to play that way,although he has taken a step back from his landmark spell at Cambridge where he took direct football to its ultimate conclusion. Players were instructed to kick for touch when they had the ball, aiming for markers he'd put on the advertising hoardings, rather than pass to team mates on the basis that the more time the ball spends in the opposing half the better chance you have of scoring.

By contrast, if you want to see how a team shouldn't set themselves up for route one, look at what we were like against Grays Athletic. I'd already been concerned at the Ebbsfleet game, assuming that we were launching long balls at Shaun Whalley's head because of lack of passing ability in midfield only to discover Little had instructed the side to get it forward early irrespective of the quality of service. Grays was the apotheosis of this pointless approach. Tom Kearney, a player brought in to link things neatly in midfield, had clearly been ordered to lump the ball forwards early rather than move it around the pitch in one of the most obvious cases of a square peg in a round hole I've ever seen.Sadly we played the long ball game incredibly poorly.

We just didn't observe the basics of such an approach, with our midfielders launching long balls from deep in their own half so that even if Jeff Louis was able to bring the ball down, he was so isolated he had no chance of using it. Take a look at how the game at Salisbury turned around for an example of what route one teams need to succeed. For the first twenty minutes they murdered us; they owned midfield and therefore were able to put long balls into the box from high up the pitch, meaning there were plenty of players in the danger area looking to poick up the bits and pieces from the target man. However, we then got a grip on the middle of the pitch and the game changed dramatically. All of a sudden they were launching long balls from deep in their own half, an it was easy to pick their strikers off. Little did we know on that promising afternoon that a couple of weeks later we'd be doing exactly the same thing!

A look at the Forest Green game suggested Saunders might be able to bring the most important attribute required at the moment; organisation. The second goal was a wonderful example of how the long ball should be played. I've felt all season that players don't really make runs off Louis to benefit from his flick-ons, which is ludicrously wasteful as I'm really warming to the big man; he certainly wins his fair share in the air. When Nat Brown launched a long ball through the middle two runners sprinted into the channels either side of Louis, Whalley down the left and Marc Williams down the right. If Louis got the flick there was a good chance someone would be in on goal, and that was exactly what happened; it fell to Williams who prodded in his second. It was a treat to see Louis being used correctly. Not that it seems Saunders wants to go down that route, but it's good to be able to mix it up, especially at our level, and if you have a target man like Louis you'd be daft not to use him!Saunders still has plenty of work to do at the other end.

We've only kept two clean sheets all season, in our first two home games, against sides that played a good chunk of the game with ten men. Saturday was too early to judge Saunders' defensive impact, as he'd not had time to sort the back four out, and the wind hardly made it an easy game for defenders, but he must be aware of a continuation of recent unacceptable patterns which the first goal represented. It was the third time in our last four games that we've conceded a goal from a straight ball over the top of our defence. That's a basic situation, and we can't let it continue to happen. Furthermore, of the seventeen goals we've conceded this season, nine of them have come from set pieces. That is another sequence we can't allow to continue. Ludicrous as it might sound, if we were solid from set pieces we'd be very well placed in the table-after all, we're only four points off the play-offs. That's an indication of the fact that, with everyone beating everyone else, the Conference is wide open. We've been playing badly yet we're still in the mix, which suggests this division might not be quite as tough to get out of as people think.

Let's hope the new manager effect can kick in and kick-start us!

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