City's form is starting to hit a real rut and letting
in nine goals in two home matches is hard to shrug off as a blip.
Banbury were a reasonable side and deserved their win today, but
for all of that this was a team that we beat on the road two months
ago. Whatever confidence sapping worm is rotting our back line it
is eating very deep. Having fought their way back into the game
with a classy Aaron Wilson strike City's lack of any defensive resistance
was again our undoing as further mistakes and lack of cover allowed
Banbury's forwards to slip in to complete what ended as a sorry
result. How rarely does the T-End boo off their players? It might
be a harsh judgment as the players aren't exactly not trying. It
might not be a supportive, loyal or fair response - but you can
understand that frustration and perhaps the players will benefit
from a reminder of what standards are expected and what wearing
that yellow and black shirt should be all about.
It looked as if it could all be so different and in
the initial section of the game it looked as if City would benefit
from the midfield reshuffle and some greater strength and disciplined
shape to the 4-4-2. City were using the width well and Whitts flashed
an early shot over the bar after Wilko did well to win a knock down
in the box. Even better was to come down the right when a clever
lob from Reid set Thommo clear and the skipper obliged with a wonderful
swinging cross that whipped along the face of goal. That';s the
kind of service a front line as good as Welsh and Whittington will
thrive on, and Jason Welsh won
a header that he was unfortunate to power on to the bar.
Even at the back the danger signs were easy to ignore.
Early Banbury shots flew wide from distance and even when they did
wriggle through and Sykes was caught out by a long ball Matt Bath
was off his line smartly to close down the danger and save at close
range from Andy Baird. That was really a good indication of what
was to come, but with Hamblin winning some good aerial balls and
Mustoe doing some tidy work alongside him most of us were happily
deluding ourselves that we were in with a good shout of ending Banbury's
unbeaten record away from home.
There seemed even greater cause for optimism as our
strikers continued to make good runs, and then a wonderful run from
Aaron Wilson saw him cut inside
from the left wing and unleash a swerving drive from just outside
the box. The ball dipped on to the cross bar, and having hit the
woodwork twice you felt City were sure to take the lead soon. However
this was just when we went to pieces. The defensive clearance saw
us dozing, and Jon Gardner was given all the time in the world to
carve through a gap between Thompson and Reid and arrive in the
box with time to drive his slow shot across Matt Bath and into the
far corner. Thommo and Reid promptly had a heated inquest, but both
players should have been tighter on the player as soon as we lost
possession, and there should have been cover behind far sooner.
If that goal was bad there was worse to come. Whilst we were busy
crying over one lot of spilt milk the whole dairy tanker was leaking
behind our backs. We immediately surrendered possession from the
re-start and within moments Howard Forinton was in space in our
penalty area. He had time to step inside Sykes and with no-one else
close enough to distract him he was able to crash the ball past
a lonely looking Matt Bath.
Not for the first time we'd allowed a setback turn
into disaster, and there were obvious questions about the defence
and again about a lack of any leadership on the pitch. Our confidence
is draining and players who a few weeks ago looked up for the fight
suddenly look to be clinging on for the bell. Things could have
got worse as City made a few rash challenges and lost all faith
in their formation and shape, gaps appearing everywhere as Banbury
sought to fill their boots. Matt
Bath may have a case to answer in the general defensive woes,
but his shot stopping is beyond criticism. He made two great saves
to keep the game alive before the break, one a full length diving
save as Forinton headed goalward from a corner, and a second from
Redknap as he reached a deep cross at the far post only to meet
a scrambling keeper doing enough to gather the ball at close range.
Whatever our problems you can't imagine a manager
more likely to be able to get the players back on track than Tim
Harris and he can hardly have been pleased with City's repeated
defensive lapses. The effect of the half-time rethink was almost
immediate as City went straight on the offensive and within moments
had pulled a goal back with another fantastic strike from
Aaron Wilson. Welsh had done well to win a high Sykes cross
and his header fell into the path of the youngster who twisted his
body to execute a perfect volley and crash the ball into the net.
With City fans flooding back onto the T-End behind the goal we were
attacking it looked as if the match was very much back on. Banbury
have chucked away a few leads themselves this season and you could
sense those doubting voices running through their players' heads.
City had to go for it and while you sense the attack
has also yet to quite click into place we can work teams and clearly
have some real ability in the side when we get forward. The chances
did come and for 20 minutes the Banbury penalty area was far busier
than ours. Fowler went close with a curling free kick but despite
our pressure and greater possession there was a marked reluctance
to put in the final cross or to shoot, despite the 'ahem' age of
the Banbury keeper. It was only once Tom
Webb came off the sub's bench that we found a little more penetration,
his surging run from midfield setting up Aaron Wilson to run in
on goal. His first touch took him wide but his shot still forced
46 year-old Alan Judge to make a smart stop, and then Banbury got
lucky as the ball flew on to Whitts as he charged in on goal, but
the rebound flew off him and just wide of the post.
However, all our attacking is still built on a defensive
platform barely built of sand. Within moments of that attack we
were further behind, courtesy of a wonderful attacking run and shot
by Jon Gardner. It was a great bit of decisive individual skill
and counter-attacking football, but not only did we not get a proper
tackle in our lack of numbers meant he had to really just beat one
man to run clean through. That goal seemed to really kill off the
match, but Ollie Stanbridge did his best to pull us back into the
game, first conceding a free kick and then fluffing his attempt
to get rid of the resulting ball into the box. His keeper may have
a few words for him on the way home as he was forced to tip a steepling
vertical mishit clearance over his own bar with Welsh and Wilko
closing. Hamblin then went close at the far post from the corner,
seeing his header crowded out and forced just wide.
Any lingering hopes of getting anything out of the
match finally evaporated with a Banbury fourth that simply emphasised
all of our frailties at the back. An experienced forward like Howard
Forinton senses gaps, and he simply rolled off Chris Thompson to
leave the right-back yards away and out of the game by the time
he charged onto a long ball. Neil
Mustoe is a fine defensive midfielder, but he's no centre-back.
Under pressure he was outmuscled by Forinton who seized on his weak
back header to get clear and finish with an imperious lob that left
Bath with no chance. That just left Alex Sykes time to shout at
Wilson for trying a shot - well no Syko, our problem is exactly
we spend too much time fiddling around and not enough time getting
the ball across the face of goal and working the goalkeeper.
4-1 and well beaten at home by a side that may just
scrape into the play-offs but really should have been put under
a great deal more pressure than this. City look a little like a
side lost. When Tim Harris
first arrived at City in the midst of a relegation scrap his first
act was to bring in new defenders and try to first make us hard
to beat. It may be time to go back to basics, because we're proving
anything but hard to beat on this showing.
T-Ender Match Snaps
|Wilko and Welsh attack a first half
Welsh makes some
progress down the banbury right flank.
The big news was Tom
Webb dropped to the bench, apparently for lack of tactical discipline
and not carrying out managerial instructions. His absence left Thommo
reverting to right-back and Mustoe dropping in to centre-back. That
left Wilkinson restored to midfield, and Sykes coming in for Noakes.
New signing Jimmy Cox is still recovering from a virus and didn't
make the sub's bench.
Magic moments as conversation at the Meadow Park burger hut slips
into the Banburian triangle.
"Two cheeseburgers and a tea - .... I meant a hot dog."
"Sausage and chips, please" - "Cup of tea?"
We're a way short of
anything as dramatic as tactics at the moment. Our back four included
only one recognised defender, and Tom
Hamblin is a 19 year-old making the step up two divisions to
this level. We can't go on with players who's instint is to attack
filling in at full-back, or with a midfield that doesn't track back
to reinforce the defence. With Mustoe overwhelmed as one of a pair
of centre-backs we also missed out on the one midfielder who can
be relied upon to get back into the box and provide extra cover
in the box. There is a lot of work to be done.
These recent games see
us setting all sorts of unwanted records. This 4-1 home defeat is
our worst league result at Meadow Park this season, our worst under
Tim Harris, and our worst since a 5-2 defeat to Redditch United
back in the dark old days of September 2002. No wonder the vultures
appear to be circling again (hiya Tracy! - an extra £8 through
the gate though no doubt..?).
Where to start, after three home defeats - two of them drubbings
- we're in a slump teetering on the edge of a full blown crisis.
Tim Harris will not be happy - and the fans certainly aren't.
We have a string of tricky away fixtures ahead but we can't greatly
look forward to visiting Merthyr and King's Lynn, and next Saturday's
home game against Cheshunt is now looking a very important game.
What really begins to wrry the supporters is not that we're not
playing well, but that a few of the players are too ready to let
their heads drop and not show the full blooded passionate commitment
demanded from the T-End.
The fans will understand we're having something of a defensive
wobble, and it would be too easy to panic when we had two good
spells in this match when we easily matched Banbury. However,
against a good Banbury attack we folded with a defence that is
suddenly paper thin and all too easily hits self-destruct when
put under pressure. There are rumours of an imminent defensive
signing which can't come soon enough, but you get the impression
some brutal reshaping may be needed to get in some more defensively
minded full-backs. We may not like the fact that we may need to
lose a few popular players to create room in the squad, but Tim
Harris needs our support if he feels the need to prune savagely
in order to see flowers in the future.
After a match like this you can barely care what's happening
anywhere else but while Banbury are up to 5th and a play-off spot
we're now down to 16th and looking anxiously at the wrong end
of the division.
We're even now below Cirencester after they beat Hemel 4-2, Lee
Smith amongst their scorers. The shock result of the day saw struggling
Northwood make the most of inconsistent Chippenham's form with
a 2-1 home win, while Merthyr Tydfil's unbeaten run is now well
in the past after a last minute Clevedon Town winner at the Hand
Stadium consigned them to a second defeat. Bath City stay top
of the table with a comprehensive 3-0 win at home against Halesowen,
Darren Edwards scoring on his Romans' debut as the division's
top scorer marked his transfer from Yate Town.