City claim their third win in a week. Thanks, corner flag.
I can’t pretend I’m too pleased to be left thanking an inanimate object for helping us to victory on Saturday. That moment really should have been confined to a mere footnote of an otherwise dominant 31-0 thrashing. Instead we observed a drop in intensity and a far less impressive 1-0 win.
I know, I know. We only won 1-0. It’s such a shame for us.
I best get the moody points out of the way first, mainly because I don’t want this to be some sort of blog sandwich where the meat is a whinge about being bored out of my brain for much of the game. But in truth, there was a huge portion where very little happened. Crewe weren’t much of a threat either, but we didn’t seem to be too inclined to punish it.
Far be it for me to complain about a 1-0 win (and I’m not really complaining) but the idea that it was an entertaining game – as opined with some vigour by Stuart Linnell in the post-match phone-in – is something I can’t help but offer a counter to.
Sure, entertainment is a subjective notion. There will almost certainly be some people out there who revel in benign football matches, and good luck to them, but that’s not really a traditional viewpoint. I’ve been known to enjoy a 0-0 in my time too, but to say that Saturday was an enjoyable encounter is a real stretch for me.
That being said, in between the nothingness there was actually a start and end to the game that was pretty interesting. They (“football people”) talk about getting the first goal and setting the tone and tempo of matches, and we did just that on Saturday.
While Duckens Nazon was going skill-crazy in one corner, elsewhere Jones was rolling his foot over the ball like a FIFA 98 player incarnate. They seemed to be brimming with belief, and that early goal primed the greedy, demanding fan in all of us to also believe. I thought we were going to witness a drubbing. Somehow that didn’t materialise.
In many respects it was quite similar to the Crewe game from a couple of years back. You know, the one that ended 3-2 for no good reason. You felt that if we really needed to get another goal in either of these games, we would have been able to find it. Ultimately that question wasn’t asked of us at the weekend so we needn’t worry, but I’d much prefer the clinical alternative.
Can superiority be a hindrance?
This is such a tricky concept to address, especially without sounding like a prematurely-confident dickhead, but I think there’s something in it.
Yes, confidence is terrific and leads to better performances. But there’s this hard-to-define lack of care that comes as a result of feeling too superior.
We experienced similar issues in that Murphy/Armstrong/Kent season. We were often the dominant team with better players. We regularly blitzed teams – and while that often manifested itself in multi-goal wins, it also left us choosing flashy options over simply getting the ball in the back of the net.
Don’t get me wrong, I love to see how confidence improves our team. It’s great watching players empowered enough to try something fancy – and it’s a vital component of any winning team. It also strikes me as contributing to a more relaxed attitude, one that often comes when players know another chance is not too far away. For the most part this belief is a positive, but the downside is when it morphs into mild complacency.
Like I say, it’s difficult to talk about it because I’ve not quite figured out how to best to articulate what I’m sensing. The implication that I think we’re too good for the league is also an uncomfortable one. I do think the ingredients are there, but we haven’t reached this level yet.
A lax approach to attacking leaves you at risk of being caught out at the other end – and we’ve even flirted with unjustly missing out on points in recent games. I said it during the pre-game ramble; I’m not worried about our underlying quality, I’m worried about how we’re still leaving the door open for something daft to happen by being only one goal ahead. It’s an unforgiving margin.
The newly-fashionable expected goals (xG) stat certainly backs this up. It’s not so much that we’re a nonthreatening attack, we’re just pretty wasteful with the opportunities that we’re creating. Let’s hope this is simply early season rustiness rather than anything more fundamental.
No ‘i’ in ‘team’
Unless you speak French, in which case that idiom translates differently and you can contest it. In short – Duckens Nazon is exempt from playing exactly like Michael Doyle.
Seriously, Nazon is about the goals and that will naturally annoy the shit out of some people because he doesn’t work at the same level of intensity as the others. But he’s scored 4 in 5 and contributed to each game in his own way.
It’s probably best we get our priorities right with him early on. Everybody accepts Harry Kane is a greedy bastard (cue some lunatic thinking I’m comparing Nazon to Kane) but sometimes you need to identify what style gets the best out of a player, and what seems to work for Nazon is when he’s the focal point of our attack, and has the freedom to express himself that way.
There’s clearly a balance to be found and he has to be sure he doesn’t take advantage of the leniency he’s afforded, but Saturday was fine as far as leading the line goes. He put in the requisite effort, but his focus will always be about making sure he’s available to score goals and that approach seems to be working.
The Jodi effect
Saturday was another example of the utter fear Jodi Jones instills in opposing defenders at this level. Their left back had a particularly rotten first half, solely because of his losing battle with Jones.
Oddly, for an approach that was offering such a clear route to goal, we reduced our use of Jones in the second half. Of course, Crewe also upped their focus too and regularly doubled-up on him, but he’s yet to come up against a League Two full-back that he hasn’t had the beating of. Eleven games in and it’s a telling sign.
It’s easy to become complacent once you have a player like him and our own reliance becomes too great. As long as we don’t hold this early form against him and misjudge it if he has a poor game or two, we should be in for an enjoyable season with him on the wings.
Willis and McDonald are building something. McDonald has enjoyed more of the credit so far, but it was actually Willis against Crewe who drew my praise. The test wasn’t a particularly stern one, but you could argue that was as much down to his and McDonald’s imposing presence as it was Crewe’s inability to muster up any sustained pressure.
In a game that lost its way and served up a non-event for a good 50 minute period, Liam Kelly performed at a consistently robust level. He kept his focus in midfield and frequently prevented any potential Crewe attacks from building.
Doyle and Kelly is a partnership that is developing well. There were a few games earlier this season where one had to be propped up by the other, but this disparity has become less regular. Kelly has really grown into the duo. He’s no longer playing Doyle’s sidekick; he offered just as much of a presence this weekend, adding a nice touch of attacking awareness when it was needed.
He was my man of the match.
So, a fairly standard looking win in a game that offered so much more. I know I started with a slight moan, but I’m also really pleased with how things are ticking on. So long as we’re alert to the risks of complacency and can increase our clinical edge in front of goal, we should now be in a strong position to build that sustainable charge for promotion.