Matt Orton – @MattyOrton1
They say the journey home after a loss feels longer, but on the back of a 6th straight defeat spare a thought for those who witnessed that and then had to make the 614 mile round trip to and from the Westcountry yesterday.
You have to wind the clock back to 1995 (30th September – 18th November, Division 3) to find the last time we equalled the club record of 8 consecutive league defeats. The prospect of not only equalling, but breaking that record, has suddenly become very real. And yet, just 5 short weeks ago, we had just smashed 7 wins from 8 and flirted (albeit briefly) with the bookies as being favourites to win the league.
So with the rot taking hold, an early December away trip to North Yorkshire to play on an artificial surface probably wasn’t the ideal place to try and put a stop to it. And it turned out that the long journey probably took it’s toll.
To summarise the game briefly we were non-existent for the first 20 minutes. We had a short spell of mediocrity for the second 25 minutes. Were extremely poor for the first 15 minutes of the second half then shored up somewhat for the final half hour.
After only 10 minutes Cundy was beaten in an aerial battle and the ball was unwittingly deflected past Covolan, after Cameron only half cleared the danger. 1-0 to Harrogate. This week Johnson spoke about us not taking the lead in a game for a while. That continued as we did it again and set ourselves up for 80 minutes of battling.
Johnson and Downes were becoming frustrated with the fourth official and the Harrogate technical area early on as we were getting ‘nibbled’ and ‘clipped’ all over the pitch. Harrogate were quicker to second balls, they worked hard for each other and played the triangles well. It felt like they wanted it more.
We huffed and puffed for the rest of the game until Harrogate’s second goal in the 55th minute. It came from a break and a good move from them down our right side. Bansal-McNulty, unfortunately slipped as the ball was played just behind him on the edge of the area and John Stead swept the ball past Covolan. 2-0.
The triple substitution in the 62nd minute changed the game and we started to create a bit more. Whitfield was fouled in the box, which gave us the penalty that was dispatched well by Reid and it was game on. With a more spirited second half (to the second half) we were unlucky not to come away with a draw. Whitfield failed to capitalise on a chance at the end and it was game over. We had suffered our 6th straight defeat.
Lucas Covolan – 5: Average. Couldn’t do much about the deflected goal. A couple of moments that may have caused slight panic but nothing particularly bad that stood out for me apart from (once again) the potential for a second of miscommunication. There was a heart in the mouth moment where the ball may have gone through his legs after making a save.
Ben Wynter – 5: Didn’t really do anything wrong all game. But then didn’t really do anything. Was fairly solid. Could have perhaps found a bit of quality and composure with his final balls.
Kyle Cameron – 4: I’ve seen worse and better performances from him. Stead and Muldoon were causing him (and Cundy) problems all afternoon. He only half cleared the ball which led to their first goal.
Robbie Cundy – 3: Very much on par with Cameron, although not as affective. The pair struggled to cope with Stead. Beaten in the air for the first goal.
Joe Lewis – 5: Slotted in at left back and did ok there. A position I don’t think he’s played for us before (Solihull Away – Ed.). Although noticeably the colour of a beetroot for most of the game as he worked hard.
Kalvin Lumbombo-Kalala – 4: One of Kalvin’s ‘off’ games where he didn’t really affect anything. Kept getting muscled off the ball and running into dead ends. Found himself in a couple of good positions on occasion but overall ineffective.
Amrit Bansal-McNulty – 4: Nullified for most of the time he was on the field. Looked lightweight against a physical Harrogate side and slipped just before Stead curled in their second. Not the best afternoon for him.
Connor Evans – 4: Failed to get a grip on the ball and the game, which we know he can do. Not back to full sharpness yet and worrying limping at the end of the game. Still needs time to get up to full steam.
Jake Andrews – 5: Jake did ok. He needed a little bit more quality at times on his set pieces, but was better once he’d come into the middle after the triple substitution.
Ben Whitfield – 7: Another Ben Whitfield performance, giving everything you’d expect to see from him. Worked hard, caused problems and asked them questions. Although he missed a chance at the end where a shot come cross would have been perhaps better than a shot at goal with full conviction.
Jamie Reid – 5: I’m going to have to give Reidy a 5. He dispatched the penalty well, worked as hard as he could but you can only utilise what you are given and that wasn’t much.
Ruairi Keating – 6: Made a difference when he came on. Ruffled a few feathers and showed the classic battling spirit you know you get from him. Made himself some chances and got a couple of good shots away. I think he needs to given more of an opportunity at the moment.
Jean-Yves Koue Niate – 6: Shored up the defence and imposed his strength and physicality on the game. Harrogate felt less threatening for the last half hour.
Jared Lewington – 5: Didn’t look out of his depth and showed a few moments of what he’s potentially capable of.
Man of the Match: Ben Whitfield
Might have been something in the water but the Yorkshire lad was the shining light on his home patch. Worked, fought, battled and showed creativity and quality at times. Just a real shame he didn’t manage to capitalise on the chance at the end
The travelling support who once again showed their loyalty and dedication to the cause and turned out in numbers (294). They stuck with the team at the end after a slightly more spirited second half.
The team selection raised a few eyebrows to say the least. Asa Hall not warming up and no Janneh looked ominous from the start. No Medford-Smith meant trying to work out who would start in a recognised position of left back. We went with a 4-4-2 with Kalala and Andrews out wide, CLE and McNulty in a midfield ‘two’ and Whitfield playing up just in behind Reid. It’s all been about the defence in recent weeks and I have to say we were poor again. Another keeper change, a change at left back and a substituted centre half on the hour. It’s all over the place and I doubt anyone in that defensive setup will like it. Centre backs and goalkeepers aren’t a tactical change, it needs some resolve to try and bring it some sort of stability.
Everything you would expect from a solid National League side. They played a back 4 with what looked like a front three at times, with one man dropping when needed. They completely sussed us out and exploited our wide areas. They won second balls, got a ‘foot in’ when needed and got the right side of us. It felt at times like they were playing with an extra man and were snuffing us out everywhere. They’ll be fine this season, no problems for them.
Good overall in my opinion. Played advantages, made sensible decisions, used common sense and got most things right. Didn’t make it all about him. The only gripe is of course how he tolerated time wasting, but that appears to be generally accepted amongst officials nowadays and is rarely sanctioned (had it been us time wasting it wouldn’t have been mentioned). Although, he should have been sent off after taking out Whitfield out with a blatant elbow.
The general feeling was that John Stead being sent off at Plainmoor back in September was a key moment, with many feeling like we wouldn’t have gone on to win the game had he stayed on the field. This time round I felt it was him staying on the field that made all the difference. A wiley and crafty old pro who has seen and done everything at a very respectable level of the game. He continually outfoxed Cameron and Cundy for the best part of an hour (until the triple sub).
Also the triple substitution, it changed the last half an hour of the game and meant that we could have easily been coming away with a draw.
Player Spotlight: Ruairi Keating
He should have started. He should have also started after his goal against Eastleigh which I though was unjust. He brought something to the table when he came on at Chorley and caused Harrogate some trouble yesterday in his breif appearance. I think with current form as it is, he is exactly the type of player you want in there from the start. I would have picked him ahead of Kalala. Always committed to cause and a Dog of War type character you want at this moment in time.
Defensively we continue to be frail. Only two teams in this division (Chesterfield and Ebbsfleet) have shipped more goals than us. We have now conceded the same amount of goals as bottom club Chorley. When you consider only Barrow have scored more and we are equal with Bromley for goals scored it becomes obvious where the problem is.
I’d go a long way in agreeing with last week’s verdict that we simply cannot go on rotating our keepers and centre backs. This was felt when the question was raised to Johnson many weeks ago about the rotation of Covolan and MacDonald. Without trying to throw too many clichés out there teams are traditionally are built from the back. At the moment we don’t have a back to build from. Are the ‘answers in the building’? Perhaps, as the option of a different centre back pairing is available.
The bizarre thing has been the rapid rate of the decline, especially after going on such a rich vein of form. What makes it all the more frustrating is that we know what this team are capable of and we were so close to summit just 5 weeks ago. It feels even more like a kick to the stomach.
That said, this is the first real test of metal of the Gary Johnson era. We are in crisis, but we have a good squad of players and an exceptionally good manager for this level of the game. Stick with it and let’s not lose perspective of how far our club has moved forward in recent times.
Aldershot Town (H) – 14th December 2019, 3pm Kick Off