Familiarity breeds contempt. It’s a well known facet of human behaviour that a loss of respect will follow extensive knowledge of someone or something. Sunderland drawing 1-1 at home for instance. So it was with familiar contempt that many of us left the Stadium of Light on Saturday; the summer aspirations dashed in 90 minutes as we suddenly realised that it could well be another long season. At ALS HQ we poured over WhatsApp offering explanations and scapegoats which, no doubt, matched the same discussions taking place in pubs and homes across the region.
It’s in my nature to have a knee jerk reaction which is at a negative pole of the spectrum and so I have learned to take some time before assessing things properly. There are some problems; that is for certain. Jack Ross spoke in his press conference of 35 crosses. It’s pleasing to see we are getting in the right areas to provide those crosses. The fact that the statistics show we had just 3 shots on target is a major concern. Either the 35 crosses were delivered with all the accuracy of a game of darts at 3am on a Saturday morning, or we were devoid of any willing recipients for those 35 crosses. Or both. Preseason talk was of a creative linking midfielder and in the end Embleton was tasked with that role. It is harsh to criticise the lad too much; after all, it was the first match and they perhaps all need to get their heads around the formation a little; however, Embleton was fairly anonymous in the creative role. The positive side of me says we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater and perhaps we should give him a chance to develop in the role. The negative side says we dropped two points which we should have secured and perhaps would have secured with someone else starting in that role.
The Oxford goal was almost comical; a quick game of header tennis, a fumble from McGeouch, a dangerous pass from Dobson, miscontrol from McLaughlin a wilting Willis and a flailing Flanagan failing. 1-0. This of course set up the now familiar Oxford routine of sportsmanship after just 14 minutes. The sinking realisation that we were back in the same place we were last season. Having said that, the Oxford goal was shortly after an excellent save from their keeper had denied us the opener. If that had gone in then the game could have been very different and I wouldn’t be talking about a 1-1 draw. Until Oxford scored, we looked pretty dangerous. After the goal Oxford were fluid and finding passes all over the pitch. For a while it looked like we were chasing shadows. Frustration was trickling down from the stands to the pitch and nervousness reared its head again.
The formation is all well and good, but the question remains whether we have the right players for the formation. There were times when Flanagan and Hume looked like it was the first time they had ever played together and neither had been given an instruction manual on how to play in the formation. Three at the back is great if your central defenders can play it to feet. I’m yet to be convinced that ours can and the option for a long punt is all too tempting when you’re perhaps lacking in close technical ability. That long punt invariably produces little as our height disadvantage works against us. Familiar territory.
During the game at any given time we had Grigg, McNulty, Watmore, McGeady and/or Maguire on the pitch and yet we only managed 3 shots on target. That is simply not good enough. If we are to improve on last season we need to find a way to unlock the door and we need to find it quickly. Our next few fixtures are tough ones and if we drag our feet in the early part of the season, we could end up with attendances dwindling and a negative attitude affecting performances at home. A spark would fix that, a glowing ember perhaps. Will Grigg is not on fire, the team need to ignite him.
It’s early days so let’s not write it off just yet, I think we need at least one new addition still to provide balance but I do think we have a squad good enough to win the league; it just needs to be pointed in the right direction.