August 15, 2014

As I Seen It - Stevenage (a)


NOT A GOOD START

STEVENAGE 1 - POOLS 0   League 2 Saturday 9th August 2014

Match report by ALREET at Broadhall Way

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The first day of the new season was heralded in with a pleasant afternoon (at least before the match began!), a blue sky being punctuated with light clouds and a gentle breeze that was in sharp contrast to the remnants of Hurricane Bertha which had unleashed a constant downpour in the vicinity throughout the previous night.

The first task of the afternoon was to try and identify all the ‘exciting’ new players we have acquired recently. Having been stumped by the young lad with the topknot, I was even more confused by seeing a new-look Compton wearing No. 11 and then discovering a tall, bearded lad among the subs who also seemed to be sporting a No.11 on the leg of his shorts. Double- checking, the latter still seemed to be wearing No.11 and by a process of elimination, I discovered he was Lewis Hawkins. Was this a clever ploy by Pools to try and convince the opposition that Pools were keeping their most dangerous attacker on the bench?

Stevenage kicked off attacking the away end and an early foray was shepherded out for a Pools goal kick after they failed to control the ball. At the far end, Harewood laid the ball off to Compton who, despite getting his feet in a tangle, still managed to put in a left-footed chip which caught the bar and deflected to safety. Flinders produced a save from a sharp chance which went out for a corner but the resulting header looped harmlessly over the bar. Miller was flattened on the half-way line but the culprit went unpunished.

A spot of head tennis on the edge of our area was cleared long upfield by Austin but ran directly through to their keeper. Duckworth took a free kick on our right but he hit it strongly and it bypassed everyone before harmlessly crossing the opposite sideline.

Their No.14, Adam Marriott, was becoming heavily involved, running strongly and looking lively up front. No.9, Charles, received the ball unmarked outside our area and flashed in a low left-footed shot which only passed Flinders' right post by a whisker. Pools were showing a lack of cohesion with aimless passes to no one in particular and were being overrun in midfield as a result.

Walker lost the ball twenty five yards out after beating three men and their No.7 picked up the loose ball before he whistled it just over the bar. Duckworth then clattered an attacker on the edge of our box; three players lined up to take the kick but, despite making a complete b’lox of their effort, the ball still ran kindly and fell to them but a combined block from Collins and Flinders kept it out from about four yards.

James, escaping his marker for once, went on a run into their box but his resulting shot was blocked. He again picked up the ball and cut in from the left only to see his effort deflected high for a corner on the right. The dangerous Marriott received dogs abuse from the Poolies for going down rather easily under a challenge and then exaggerating the situation by rolling around on the deck. Parnaby was finding space on the right of midfield but frequently wasted possession by firing his passes too long. Flinders and Collins both blocked shots before James won a free kick after being wrestled to the floor. This was just a loosener because he was then crocked and was down for about thirty seconds before limping off and returning to the fray shortly before the half-time whistle blew.

"Which just leaves the ubiquitous Luke James. Having been asked to fill the role of two players in the past, the poor bugger now seems to have doubled his workload."Stevenage started the second half on the front foot and soon had us producing a last-ditch tackle which went out for a corner that Flinders subsequently collected. Compton managed a decent run and centre only for the ball to sail harmlessly out for a throw-in on the other flank. A neat movement involving Miller near the left corner led to Walker firing across goal but the end result was a home goal kick. James was ‘leant on’ twenty five yards out but  the resultant free kick was overhit before Collins, in attempting to chase the ball , ‘had words’ with their No.19 after the latter had run into the back of his legs and brought him down from behind.

At the other end, Flinders made yet another great stop from a powerful shot. Harewood held up the ball from a decent pass and fed Walker who put in a powerful drive which was, unfortunately, blocked. Flinders was then called upon to make another fine save from a shot hit at him from his left. The loose ball rebounded out to the right but we were too casual and failed to clear it (Miller?), allowing their attacker to nip in front of him, win the ball and feed the onrushing Whelpdale who cut inside to the edge of the area and fired in a hard, low drive which the retreating Flinders was unable to keep out.

It has to be said that the home side had amassed a healthy total of shots up until this point and the law of averages decreed that one would find the back of our net sooner or later. Collins got himself laid out and hobbled off the pitch but was able to return and take his place back in the centre of defence. Walker picked up a loose ball and was brought down just outside the area. He took the kick himself but it struck the wall and the danger passed. On seventy five minutes, Parnaby and Walker were replaced by Brobbel and Franks and we suddenly looked as if we meant business, retaining the ball, moving it on the floor and playing further upfield.

Duckworth gained the ball and went on a pacy run but his cross was cleared to safety. Harewood won a corner on our right and the cross was met by Collins who, under great pressure, could only direct his header wide of their right post. The fourth official announced six minutes of added time.

A lofted Stevenage clearance found Compton on the edge of their box but he could only slice the dropping ball well wide. The home team went close at the other end before a neat Pools move found Franks raiding down our left and his ball across their box ran to Brobbel who appeared to be felled as he attempted to retrieve the ball. The ref showed absolutely no interest in the appeals although I felt it would have been given had it occurred in one of the games shown on Saturday night tv.

So, a One Nil defeat to start the season with and a fair reflection of the game.

I suppose that Flinders would win the Man of the Match award for a string of very important saves but Big Sam ran him a close second for his tackling and the blocks he made, plus his forays upfield.  Bates looked classy on the ball although he was beaten for pace on occasions.  Austin produced a trademark gutsy performance and Duckworth made a few decent runs but he was more occupied in a defensive position as the system played doesn’t afford much cover ahead of him. Miller kept things neat and simple while Walker had a mixture of good tackles, runs and passes before he was replaced.

Parnaby was asked to play out wide in right midfield and the game seemed to pass him by. He tried several long crossfield passes which generally were overhit. If it had been a certain Mr.W, well…

Compton managed a shot or two but too often runs into trouble and seems to have lost the ability to beat his man. Harewood held the ball up well and laid it off on occasions but he is pedestrian and generally seems to be loitering without intent. I seriously cannot see him scoring a goal as long as I have a hole in my fundament.

Which just leaves the ubiquitous Luke James. Having been asked to fill the role of two players in the past, the poor bugger now seems to have doubled his workload. Trying manfully to make something of long hopeful balls knocked up to him, he also has to try and make chances for himself while covering every blade of grass in the (supposed) attacking half of the pitch. And what impact does he have for his troubles? Unfortunately, the only impact he has is when he is on the receiving end of the ‘rough treatment’ handed out by the opposition on a regular basis.

In summary, Stevenage are the epitome of everything we aren’t. They have a side filled with rather large gentleman who play a game full of power and pace and aren’t afraid to run at the opposition from deep and have a dig at goal. They move the ball quickly all over the park, not necessarily a great spectacle but very effective at this level. Pools, conversely, look ponderous and seemed content to lump long aimless balls upfield which invariably came straight back and when we did try to play possession football, we moved it so slowly, Stevenage were already back in position and licking their lips at the prospect of hitting us on the break.

I haven’t seen the lad Woods but, from the description of his style of play, some enthusiasm is exactly what is missing from our midfield and the spot is up for grabs. I still think that losing Monky (and, to a lesser extent, Walton) has robbed us of the tiny element of steel we had in the side.

Up front, the strikers aren’t getting a decent service, mainly having to battle for long punts and then trying to produce the goods. It was really noticeable on Saturday that we rarely put a decent ball into their box which would, at least, provide a chance to create something for the attackers. This is a bit of a conundrum for Pools, however, as there is a distinct lack of movement up front for the midfield to exploit. Perhaps Franks (or a new signing?) should be given a run as it can’t get much worse.

Towards the end of the game, I saw their keeper having yet another glug from his bottle and wondered if he was thinking to himself, ”I don’t really need that as this has got to be the easiest game I’ll have all season”.

On my way into the ground, I was handed a freebie Stevenage FC newspaper which included an article by a certain Simon Walton. Among his views were the following:-
...“When I came in and saw the training ground with the set up and how professional it is, it surprised me a little bit in getting out of where I’ve come from. ...Obviously the start of my career I started at the top, the Premier League, and this is a similar set up to that; from how the club is run, the help you get given, the facilities, the little things like supplements, and details on opposition teams which I’ve not had for a couple of years now.”

...Walton’s skills on the ball as well as his quick thinking means his game is more suited at a higher level than League 2, and this gives him the inspiration to help Stevenage aim for promotion at the first attempt.

...“I said when I signed I’m not comfortable in League 2, I don’t want to be in League 2 and I don’t like League 2, so my aim personally and from a team point of view is I want to get out of here as quickly as possible and stay out of here.”

Hmmmmmm.

My only compensation from a very disappointing afternoon was a quick run down the A1 and I was home in just under an hour.