What had the Mariners been working on during their two weeks off? If it was passing the ball two yards behind their teammates, or drilling it into their feet at literally 60 mph so they’re forced to revive the Lee Ashcroft first touch that we all thought was banished to GTFC history, then the players had clearly been working very hard indeed.
This was the same starting XI that won 3-0 at leaders Plymouth a few weeks back, and if that day was the ying then this performance against Pompey was most definitely the yang.
In Devon our players were praised for their high pressing game – an approach that every ruddy club seemingly has to apply these days – yet here they were the ones being pressed, rigorously.
I mean, on the few occasions when we did find a fellow Mariner with a pass, it was made to look short of pace and a sloppy pass – such was Pompey’s keenness to get in our faces.
Most of the first half action was played in Town’s half, but while the visitors frequently took possession into our final third they didn’t really open us up – although I think it’s fair to say that there were a few heart-in-mouth moments, like when McKeown and Gowling let Pompey pounce on possession in our final third as one of them – we’re not sure who – felt it was a perfect time to experiment with telepathy, while the other preferred a more traditional form of communication.
Summerfield is the new shop you love to hate. From the moment we signed him, he was the boo-boys’ target in-waiting. Cumbersome and clunky, he represents Hurst’s last clumsy York-inspired signing. On this occasion I have to agree with the boo-boys, who are gradually being granted their wish.
Summerfield’s the big lad who used to demand the ball at all times during lunchtime games of football at school because he insisted he was the best player out there – despite not really being good enough – but no one was brave enough to tell him the truth because a) it was his ball, and b) he was shaving by the age of 13, doing handbrake turns in his double-exhaust Ford Escort on the promenade by 15, and rumoured to be nailing red hot Danielle from two years above.
And whether you thought Berrett’s performance was shit or really shit, you have to admire his ability to create midfield roles that I never knew existed before. He seems to have all the attributes for a central midfielder, and appears to occupy the general area of central midfield, yet never actually plays in a bog standard, bona fide midfield position.
So we had McKeown in goal. That’s his position. As is right back for Zak Mills, left back for Danny Andrew and centre back for Josh Gowling and Danny Collins. Omar Bogle is a centre forward and plays as such. That much is clear.
But everything in between was anyone’s guess. It was just a splodge of greyness, shifting, shuffling, stuttering and basically trying their best to remind us what it was like to have Micky Cummins and Mark Hudson in the engine room.
I like the look of Brendon Comley but I really don’t know what his role was meant to be. As for Kayden Jackson, he might say he’s happy to do a job out wide if that’s what the manager wants him to do, but the lines are so wide that you could read between them from two miles away wearing glasses with lenses as thick as milk bottle bases. He doesn’t want to be hugging the left touchline. He wants to be running the channels, scaring the shit out of opposing centre backs with pace they can’t match, distracting them to create a bit of room for Bogle, and hey – maybe even create a chance or two for himself.
And he has zero understanding with Danny Andrew. It was the left back who twice put the ball straight into touch just as Jackson made an inside run, but both have to take responsibility for that sort of shit.
I’m growing ever more certain that Scott Vernon will have his contract paid up in May and leave us without scoring a goal, and we’ll only ever mention his name again when Cod Almighty do one of their Special XI features where the topic is ‘Players who scored more goals against us in one game than he scored for us the entire time he was on our books’. It’s a niche category but he can take his place alongside Simon Ramsden.
I can’t think of many matches where I’ve been looking at the scoreboard in the first half so regularly, hoping that we could make it to half time at 0-0. That we managed to do this sort of felt like the time I accidentally left Tesco with an extra bottle of cordial that I hadn’t scanned at the self-service till. It was a bit naughty, and I didn’t deserve it – but there was a tiny part of me that felt proud.
No changes at half time, which was massively surprising. Bignot says he’s not scared to make changes, but if ever there was a game that needed changes, this was it. To give him credit, he managed to get something different from the same group of players during the second half – plus Tom Bolarinwa. He’s not the headless chicken that Serge Makofo was, but he’s infuriating because of this. He was the only Town player for the entire game who was brave enough to carry the ball and drive into space, and nearly got his reward from a low, 30-yard side pass towards the bottom corner of the goal, which was flicked wide by the keeper at the very last moment.
Earlier, Ashley Chambers looped an effort towards the top corner, which the keeper palmed to safety. In truth, these two chances were as close as we came to scoring all afternoon – and you’ll note that Bogle hasn’t been mentioned. If he’s not scoring then we’re not scoring.
Portsmouth’s winner may have been cruel in how late it came, but it was what they deserved. I haven’t seen the free kick from any other angle than the one I had from the Pontoon, but as soon as it beat a fairly disinterested wall it looked good for a goal. My initial feeling was that maybe McKeown could’ve done a little more, but we may have still been dwelling in negative emotions after we witnessed him spill a cross just minutes earlier.
It’s difficult to see what Bignot’s style is. We’re certainly playing a more open game of football, which means we concede a bit more possession and put our defence under a bit more strain, but other than Bogle’s pre-game instructions being ‘do what you like, mate’, I’m not really seeing us ‘being braver’ or ‘making the right decisions’ that Bignot is so fond of saying in his post-match interviews. They’re a bit woolly for me.
Still, it’s early days. If you ignore that silly cup game against Sheffield United, he’s had five league games to impart his philosophy on a group of players signed by someone else, under some other ambitions, with other styles and tactics in mind, against teams above us in the table.
One day we’re going to win at home, and I’ll know what the Bignot style is. At the moment, he’s teaching a naturally cautious bunch to be more cavalier, and they’re caught between a rock and Blundell Park. Their indecision is there for all to see. Maybe the penny will drop overnight – just like it did for me when revising for my geography A-level – and we’ll give Donny a right good tonking next Saturday.