The Lads had to settle for their eleventh draw of the season as Maja's opener was cancelled out by a debut-day worldiie by the home side's Hammill. After a pretty turgid first half, Maja's front post header on the hour gave us a lead that we held until the 87th minute, highlighting our inability to finish off opponents.
As we were passing Goole, we called in for the first time since New Year's Day 1990, when, in the aftermath of a 3-2 defeat, we found it dull, damp, and unwelcoming. Today it was fine, we enjoyed some good craic and put the world to rights with the locals, decided not to see Goole Town play Bottesford Town (believe me, there were times over the last two seasons when some would probably ducked out of our game to attend) then piled back aboard the Durham express. At Scunny, they had a bar of sorts outside the away end, which was nice, then the Lads lined up - again in the black kit when there was no colour clash. Nice kit, but we’re red and white.
O’Nien Flanagan Dunne James
...and kicked off away from our fans, with the game setting off at a fair old pace, but with little of real attacking intent from either side. With most of our forward play foundering on the home defence without finding Maja, our best effort was a shot from Power which was blocked, and Jak (sic) Alnwick in the home goal had little real work to do. He even heard his brother’s name sung in less than flattering terms, but it was Scunny who then took hold of the game, forcing McLaughlin into action – and when, as at Charlton, he’s only a few feet from the front row, that gets a bit scary from a supporting point of view. He blocked one at the near post, his left, with his feet, then had to get down well to save another effort as we failed to keep the ball away from our penalty area. Scunny were no great shakes, but they maintained their shape and got the ball upfield quickly – thankfully without the real quality to make that count.
We didn’t resort to hoofing it to Maja’s head, which would have been a waste of time anyway, meaning that he saw precious little of the ball as our midfield wasn’t producing the passes to his feet – and when he did get it, he did well to hold it up and feed Maguire, but Chris leaned back at the crucial moment and fired over the top. There was lots of the usual honest endeavour from Gooch, but he kept running into defenders and being forced back, and the lack of Honeyman in his usual central position – or O’Nien in that position when Matthews becomes available, depending on who gets fit first – means that there’s a big hole behind the attack that needs to be filled in the absence of killer passes from deeper. McGeady tried from the left, but he also needed someone in the centre to bounce off. Thus it was 0-0 after the single added minute, and we didn’t have much positive to discuss during the break other than what changes Ross needed to make. Oh, and their half time entertainment (spin round ten times, until you’re dizzy, then try to hit the crossbar) wasn’t a patch on our Dad and Lad beaut last weekend.
There were no changes for the second half, and we showed a wee bit more urgency from the off. Maguire took a bit of a wallop in a challenge out on the left touchline, and perhaps this was a factor in his being replaced on 53 by Wyke. Perhaps it was tactical, as (like every week) the opposition was well furnished with Big Lads. We tried hitting him with the obligatory ball to the head, but the flick-ons didn’t quite find their target. It did go right just before the hour, though, when McGeady swapped wings and cut in to find Maja on the penalty spot. Josh’s marker didn’t allow him room to turn, but just when it looked like the move had foundered, our goal-machine managed to poke the ball out to James on the left, and then cover the few yards to the front post where he popped a header between Alnwick and the woodwork. Our best move of the game, and it produced a cracking goal, sending us spilling around the seats in celebration – and the hope of a killer second.
Which didn’t arrive, despite us upping our game and creating a few chances – McGeady, back on the left, cut in and fired a shot against a defender’s legs, then Power sliced a shot way off target. We won several corners, and noticed Maja stretching against the post (hamstring?) before one of them, so perhaps his replacement by Watmore on 71 was down to that. If it wasn’t, I think it was wrong to remove our most potent goal threat from the fray – for all Watmore’s undeniable pace, he’s not the goalscorer Maja is. After another save from McLaughlin, Scunny sub Hammill cut across the edge of our box from their left and let fly with the sort of shot most teams seem to produce against us, giving Big Jon no chance as it flew across him and into the far corner.
Only three minutes left. Bugger with a capital B….and another B for good measure. There were four added minutes, in which Watmore gave it a go but couldn’t get through and we ended up with yet another draw – we might not have lost, but it certainly felt like it. Luton and Charlton, our last two draws and our last two games, were good sides. Scunny, and no disrespect is intended here, are nowhere near as good as either and we should have been able to get that vital second goal. For the first time, there’s a bit of a worry amongst the fans that we’re not achieving what we want to. Thankfully, Pompey lost – small mercies and that.
Man of the Match? Baldwin was unlucky to make way for new boy Dunne, who did give us extra height and looked more than comfortable and capable, but he and Flanagan didn’t have much to aim at when they tried to bring the ball out of defence as Catts and Power didn’t really get going – and Gooch, for all his hard work, couldn’t create. There was another goal from Maja, and another solid display from McLaughlin between the sticks. O’Nien filled in nicely once more but would have been better employed behind the attack (see above) supporting Maja and Wyke. For me, though, James stood out as he did his job at the back and provided the cross for Josh – the shadow of Oviedo on the bench obviously lifts his game. So, it’s yours, Reece.
Coincidentally, Wigan from whom we’re trying to prise Will Grigg – who may or may not have turned his ankle in today’s loss to Sheff Wed (0-1, S. Fletcher) - and were James’s previous employers, have replaced him with Reece James on loan from Chelsea. Small world, but I wouldn’t like to dust it.
Keep prising Wigan, Sunderland – our lack of teeth up front, along with the lack of real creativity from central midfield, is the reason we’ve got so many draws. If we’d managed a second goal in only a third of them, we’d be four points clear with a game in hand, but that’s just me and wishful thinking. Once we get the small matter of Man City U-whatevers out of the way on Tuesday, we get a weekend off and thus ten days to draw breath, get some work done in training (copyright every manager ever) and hopefully bring in one or two lads who’ll help convert those single-point returns to three-pointers.