Again and again the chairman, manager and captain repeat clichés like “We must take the positives from that game” or “We deserved a better result” or “On another day we’d have won”, which is shorthand for saying no-one has any idea what the problem is.
Well this was “another day” and, once again, we didn’t win. Neither did we get anything more nor less than we deserved: a solitary point, at home, against a team that weren’t even particularly good. Nor were there any positives. Our play was dismal at times, and uninspired virtually throughout the ninety minutes. We once, six minutes from time, showed evidence that we may have been practising set pieces (or may simply have had a lucky break). But at no time did we show any evidence that we can defend against the other team’s set pieces, and this was very nearly our undoing again.
The first thing noticeable as the match prepared to kick off, apart from the greyness of the sky that we hoped wasn’t some sort of omen (at least there was no sign of the forecast heavy showers), was the small crowd. We later learned that it was 5200, but with all those empty seats – especially in the North Stand – it looked no more than 4500. We lined up 4-5-1, which is probably our best system, with Pugh back for Malone and Cooper in for Gregory. Given how anonymous Gregory had been in the previous game, no-one would argue about Cooper’s inclusion – except for the question mark over whether he’s fully fit yet. And it was good to see Pugh back too, though perhaps Fogden rather than Malone should have made way.
Well the start was almost as disastrous as last week. Carlisle’s first shot came within three minutes, but Flahavan saved it at arms’ length in front of the North Stand. Within a minute there was a virtual ‘replay’ of this move, perhaps for anyone who’d missed it first time round, and this time Flahavan unnecessarily gave away a corner; the subsequent cross was itself only half-cleared; and Lee Miller managed to score from a very tight angle. To make it worse, this was from the player Daniels should have been marking, as were two goals last week; surely if Malone’s fit and evidently not required in midfield he should now be given another chance in the left back berth he controlled so well, early in the season? So, four minutes on the clock and we’re already chasing the game. To be honest, the rest of this half was pretty dire. McDermott was mostly playing deeper than Fogden and Pugh, leaving Thomas totally isolated up front. ‘Captain’ Flahavan’s distribution was appalling throughout the half, most goal kicks finding the East Stand; and on at least one occasion he came much too far out of his goalmouth to meet an advancing Carlisle player – but somehow got away with it. Daniels meanwhile, perhaps trying to make amends for his defensive errors, turned into attacker and managed a shot – on 11 minutes – which, despite being missed, was arguably our best scoring opportunity to date. Seven minutes later a good cross from the right found Wes Thomas – and he fell over! Just after the half hour mark, the best opportunity yet presented itself to Daniels (again!) when a Pugh corner was headed by Addison into his path. Daniels was in a perfect position, with all the time in the world to pick his spot. All action seemed to ‘freeze’, and then Daniels placed the ball – well wide of the target! A minute before half time Daniels was again involved as he won a corner, from which MacDonald passed to Thomas, who was clear on goal. But he gently tapped a ball that he should have struck with more venom. It did briefly appear, from our angle, to have crossed the goal line before being saved, but it hadn’t. That was the last chance of the half. 0-1 at half time, and audible boos from the home crowd as the team left the pitch.
We began the second half with Stockley on for McDermott, so switching to 4-4-2. Oh, and the sun had now come out – so perhaps there was cause for optimism? Well, no; Stockley worked hard and seemed to want a goal more than anyone. But nothing significantly changed until a double substitution on 66 minutes. Arter came on for Cooper (still recovering from injury), and Fogden was replaced by Malone (with Pugh switching, now, to the right flank). The wing play became more balanced (Fogden’s hardly a ‘winger’!) and central midfield looked livelier too with Arter there – though, true to form, he did almost immediately get involved in a scuffle with a Carlisle player! (Neither player was cautioned in the end; but the Carlisle manager, who had something to say to the fourth official about it, got banished to the stands for his trouble!)
The equaliser came six minutes before the end, when a Pugh free kick was tipped over the bar for a corner, which Pugh himself took. The resultant ball found Addison at the back stick beyond a crowded goalmouth, and he headed it home for his first goal since joining the Cherries. (Unless you count his own-goal last week!) The jubilation was totally over the top. The way all the players ran to Bradbury and collapsed on top of him, you’d think we’d won a cup final! Carlisle responded almost immediately and very nearly scored. Certainly Carlisle dominated the remainder of the game, with the solitary exception of Arter’s long run plus shot one minute into added time, that sailed over the crossbar. The applause from the home fans, both at Addison’s goal and at the final whistle, was more relief than anything. Our team had gained one point; but we hadn’t been entertained. And the final straw came when we learned that Michael Symes had scored a hat trick for Rochdale…
For the record, my ‘man of the match’ was Simon Francis. Not only did he defend much better than his opposite number on the left flank; but he got in some good long darting runs and crosses, almost like a wing back, and never stooped working.
AFCB: Flahavan, Francis, Cook, Addison, Daniels, Fogden, MacDonald, McDermott, Pugh, Cooper, Thomas
Subs: Zubar, Gregory, Stockley (on at HT for McDermott), Arter (for Cooper, 67 mins), Malone (for Fogden, 67 mins)
Graham Pearcey, Walton-on-Thames