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Pete Sixsmith, enjoyed his mini break in the country formerly known as the Czech Republic, spending the weekend drinking beer and watching football, but was back in time for last night’s comprehensive victory at the Stadium of Light. He took up his normal seat in the East Stand but we are sharing reporting duties between us this year, with Bob Chapman our third contributor for those games neither of us gets to. So with Pete up and about taking the latest tabloid gossip to the good folk of Shildon before making good use of his bus pass, it is my turn to dust down the old soapbox with thoughts on the 5-0 drubbing of Tranmere Rovers.
Two things always spring to mind when I think of the team from the Wirral.
Firstly, there was that infamous incident in the FA Cup almost 20 years ago, when they were beating us 1-0 and with only a few minutes to go defender Clint Hill was sent off for dissent. While we got sorted for a free kick on the edge of the box, a smirking John Aldridge, sent on substitute Stephen Frail but brought no one off. Amazingly, though all of us on the terracing were screaming at the ref, none of the officials noticed that the home side still had the full complement of 11 players on the pitch. There was talk of the game being replayed, which came to naught and I returned home from a game of Bridge the following Monday to find a message on my answering machine from the producers of a Sky Sports phone in, wanting me to take part in their Monday night programme with my thoughts on the incident. My five minutes of fame missed.
- The other is the hour I spent in the company of Nigel Blackwell, famous Tranmere fan and lead singer with the band Half Man Half Biscuit, in the green room of the Hebdon Bridge Social Club, where he recalled the night he had been chased by a load of Sunderland fans and I asked him if it was true that the group had turned down the opportunity to appear on Channel 4’s The Tube because it went out live on a Friday and clashed with a Rovers’ home game.
When I remarked he bore a striking resemblance to Kevin Ball he went in his broad Merseyside accent “that’s a change – usually it’s Jaap Stam.” Half Man Half Biscuit of course recorded a track on their album Back in the DHSS with the title All I Want for Christmas is a Dukla Prague Away Kit which ties in nicely with Pete’s trip to Czechia.
Anyway, what about last night?
Normally I rail against the social media types who seem to enjoy inflicting their negativity on anyone who can be bothered to read their postings but this morning I am urging a note of caution. It was a good win last night and one we needed but let’s get this into perspective. It was one result against not great opposition and we need many more performances of this type if we are to get out of this division.
The snippets of social media headlines I see on News Now would indicate that some are going overboard but put into context it is only one game. Wait and see boys and girls. Saturday was dire, last night the opposite. I’d like to think that our Dr Jekyll performance against the boys from Birkenhead is the blueprint for the rest of the season but I’m a bit long in the tooth now to think one swallow means a year long hot summer. We may not have seen the last of Mr Hyde I fear.
This is a competitive league and our squad, whilst one of the better ones is never going to dominate it. There are plenty of other sides who we have seen can cause us plenty of problems. Tranmere would appear not to be one of those. They moved the ball around well in patches and retained possession in midfield as you would expect, but their defenders lacked mobility and the forwards never really threatened, with Lee Burge having a fairly quiet night, although he did get down quickly to make one good block in the first half.
Tranmere’s only real chance came in the second half when a corner was met by the head of Stefan Payne which Lee Burge could only watch bounce off the base of his left hand post, (although he might have got a hand on it first) with Lynch on hand to boot clear as it bounced back across goal. By then Tranmere were already 3-0 behind and out of the game.
Maybe it was because we hadn’t played a league game at home for so long, maybe it was the way things have gone in the past few weeks, probably it was the result of the disappointing results at Lincoln and Wycombe but the mood amongst the fans pre-match was distinctly flat. The talk on the P&R bus on the way to the Stadium was muted and focused mainly on the rumours that Ben Alnwick is already lined up as a January replacement for Jon McLaughlin and he had been spotted house hunting in the area. Inside the stadium there was none of the mass flag waving at the Roker End that we have seen recently. Maybe those who normally put them out couldn’t be bothered to get to the ground at five thirty, maybe there was some other reason and all through the game, the home crowd was mostly quiet. The Birkenhead brigade on the other hand, isolated as they are in the eyrie they are forced to sit in, showed good support for their side and kept up a constant stream of noise throughout the game. Fair play.
All of our squad should bring different qualities to the side and getting the balance right may be key to whether or not we can finish in a promotion spot. I made the point to those around who could be bothered to listen, that while McGeady is undoubtedly our most skilful player, sometimes the side plays better without him. Not always, but I do feel there are times when there is an approach that expects him to be the game changer and if he is having a quiet game, then so do the rest of the team.
No such problem last night with him serving a one match ban. No Wyke because of injury so Phil Parkinson, who can’t have seen much of the squad yet, went with Will Grigg, supported by Watmore, Maguire and Gooch. Power and Dobson provided a bit more energy than Leadbitter and McGeouch do in central midfield and with O’Nien’s return to right back and Hume on the left we had a pair of energetic full backs who enjoy getting forward at every opportunity. Lynch and Willis made up the back four with Burge again being the new manager’s choice between the sticks.
We could have been ahead as early as the second minute, when Maguire’s initial cross from the left was blocked and it looked as if the ball was going out for a throw. The defence might have thought so and switched off for a second, but the Scot didn’t and had a second go at getting the ball into the danger zone. It came in behind Will Grigg, but somehow he produced a volleyed back heeled flick which looked destined for the back of the net. We groaned as it rebounded off the post.
Grigg came in a blaze of glory and has for the most part failed to produce, though we have had glimpses of what he can do. The crowd, certainly those around me, are desperate to see him succeed and the general opinion was that his limited influences on games so far is more to do with the way he has been expected to play rather than any lack of ability. Last night he looked comfortable and up for it, with plenty of support around him and players looking to feed him the type of balls he likes. He even won a few headers and got a standing ovation when he was subbed with a few minutes to go. The response was probably a mixture of relief that he had found the back of the net and the hope that it will kick start a return to form. He’s a nice lad and deserves to do well, though if I’m going to be picky he might have come back on at the end to acknowledge the fans.
The miss in the second minute might have produced some feelings of unease as we’ve been in similar situations too often. Though we looked the better side, as the clock on the scoreboard was approaching 20 minutes, Tranmere were appearing to hold their own and were moving the ball well in midfield. They had had half a dozen attempts on goal, though none that created any palpitations, whilst meanwhile George Dobson had been booked for what looked to be a good tackle. There were plenty more worse ones that weren’t deemed worthy of a yellow card and I am seriously thinking I don’t understand the game any more. I wouldn’t have disallowed Burnley’s goal at Leicester either.
But any lingering nerves settled before half time.
Firstly, Dobson slipped the ball to Grigg, 25 yards out to the right of goal. He looked up and spotted Watmore running into space and Grigg’s perfectly weighted pass between two defenders, who were impersonating practice cones so static were they, found Roadrunner who collected in stride and fired a daisy cutter across the keeper. It couldn’t have been more accurate, striking the foot of the post before crossing the line for one-nil.
Not long after Tranmere tried to take a quick free kick in their own half but almost immediately lost possession. After a bit of bobbling about the ball found Watmore, this time just to the left of centre and as he drove towards goal was brought down in the D. Maguire, Power and Dobson were all hanging about as the wall of purple shirts lined up behind the penalty spot. Grigg somehow got himself on the end although I thought the laws had been changed preventing that. Shows what I know. Anyway, he did enough to presumably unsight the keeper and as he spun away Maguire’s peach of a free found the back of the net and we were starting to look comfortable.
It wasn’t long before the third came. This time a bit of untidy play preceded a short pass from Power to O’Nien, then Maguire who chipped it forward to Watmore. He made the by-line before cutting the ball back to Lynden Gooch who was on hand to slide the ball home, with Grigg and O’Nien both in attendance.
We got a fourth before the interval but the ref, who made one or two debatable calls, first appeared to give it, then disallowed it, presumably for a foul on the keeper when it looked as if he had cannoned into his own player who was trying to get an OG against his name, though it was Gooch who got the final touch.
The Tranmere chance came just before the hour mark, then we started playing the ball about and making the visitors work. Gooch went off in some discomfort to be replaced by McNulty and he might have got the fourth, breaking clear and turning his man and beating him for pace, before trying to dink the keeper, being unfortunate to see his effort loop over the bar.
We were so much on top that at one point Joel Lynch found himself in the opposition half where his fancy footwork made me think I was watching the ghost of Johann Cruyff, until an ambitious pass to Denver Hume was hit so hard it made the soft seats in the West Stand. Normal service resumed then.
It was McNulty who was on hand to set up Will Grigg for the 4th. A route one clearance from Burge bounced off the back of Luke O’Nien’s head in the Tranmere box. A bit of interplay between him and McNulty, saw a good effort from the Scotsman saved, but he never gave up on the ball and pulled the rebound back into the path of Will Grigg who tapped home, no doubt much to his relief. It was no more than he deserved for his all round effort.
The fifth came when Maguire’s free kick in stoppage time was met by a diving O’Nien and that was it. Job done. A great result for Phil Parkinson’s first home game in charge.
Finally the opponent who caught my eye was number 14 full back Caprice which makes me wonder – is he a model professional? I’ll get me coat.
Now the million pound question. Will they keep this level of performance up at Shrewsbury on Saturday?
Ha’way the Lads.
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Comment from Dave:
Totally agree about not getting carried away but there were positive signs yesterday of Parkinson not doing some of the things that Ross did and never changed, which was my main criticism of him:
1) Grigg looked much better. I am not sure whether this is because Parkinson got him going or, I think more likely, because Watmore was playing well and Maguire was having one of his excellent days, so he got regular and decent service. I was delighted when he got his goal.
2) We had a balanced bench. 2 defenders, 2 midfield, 2 attackers, rather than 3 centre mids and only ever having Wyke or Grigg to bring on. if we needed to push for a goal we had 2 different types of strikers to choose from
3) 2-0 up with 5 minutes to go in the first half we pressed for a 3rd to kill the game, rather than trying to make sure they didn’t get a morale-boosting goal back.
I think Watmore being available and more match-tuned may have had as much to with the win as the change of manager and in that Ross is unlucky (as well as being a good bloke). However, we had an adventurous formation with basically 4 attackers all the time and he didn’t make the mistake of picking Leadbitter for this formation. Dobson has a number of glaring weaknesses including a lack of vision (at least forwards) but he runs his heart out and if you only have 2 in centre mid then you need that above all else.
We were still outpassed for much of the first half by a poor team but when we got it right we were really incisive and could easily have had 3 before we scored (from memory from only 3 attacks!). When Maguire and Watmore play like they did last night we are going to create a lot of chances.
I also agree about McGeady, though it is not really his fault that when we are not going well the tactic has been to give it to him and expect a miracle. Let’s see if the new manager allows that to happen or makes them all take responsibility. If he comes in for Gooch and we play as if Gooch is still there then we could be lethal. If he is not our only option then he will get more space and probably be more productive