The Home Front

Here’s the extended 12″ version of my column from last week’s Leader, because my initial version was just a tad over the word limit!

It forms part of the paper’s comprehensive pre-match coverage every Friday, featuring interviews, an in-depth look at the opposition and lots of statistical analysis. All content in the column (c)

Andy Coughlin: a victim of our defensive injuries.
How strange to be in second place in the table but fretting about our home form!

It’s true though: if we were as ruthless at The Racecourse as we were for most of last season, we’d be clear of Grimsby by now.

That’s not to say our home form is poor. Grimsby have gained seven more points at Blundell Park than we have at The Racecourse, and both Newport County and Kidderminster Harriers have a point more than us from their home games too, but all three clubs have played more matches on their own patch than we have: if we were to win these virtual games in hand, we’d be ahead of the latter two sides and a point off The Mariners’ total.

So our home record certainly isn’t awful. However, it’s not outstanding in the context of the division either. Dartford have the same points as us from the same number of home games, and Woking have won two more games at home than we have.

It’s the nature of the points we’ve dropped at home which bothers me though. We’ve drawn our last two games 2-2 against sides in the bottom half of the table, conceding a second equaliser in the last ten minutes, for instance. Those additional four points alone would make the table look very different.

We’ve found exotic ways to drop points too: Losses to Hereford and Lincoln were disappointing for carrying reasons: we ought to have beaten The Bulls and suddenly found we’d lost; whereas against The Imps we had to do without Joslain Mayebi, Neil Ashton and Jay Harris and looked a pale imitation of our usual selves. Throw in the draw against Gateshead and there’s another eight points dropped against sides we’d hope to beat: the highest placed of those teams at the moment is Hereford, in twelfth.

Of course, accidents do happen to the best of teams, and forensically picking disappointing results apart can be rather misleading, not to say unfair. After all, even in our spectacular pomp last season we lost at home to Alfreton and Forest Green, and dropped soft points to the likes of Grimsby, who weren’t the side they are now. However, there’s an underlying issue here which we need to address.

We’ve been conceding too many goals at home. A cursory glance at the table suggests as much, as seven sides have been less leaky at home, but it’s not necessarily the amount of goals we concede which is the issue. It’s how evenly spread out they are.

We seem to be conceding regularly, and it’s costing us points. The odd blow-out in the middle of a solid defensive season, such as the seven goals Gateshead put past us a couple of years ago, can be dealt with. However, having at least one lapse every game and struggling to keep clean sheets is a very different matter.

To put this in some sort of context, we’ve been churning out the clean sheets over the last few years. This season began in the same vein, as we shut the opposition out four times in our first six home games. Since then, something has changed. We’ve managed just two cleans sheets in our last twelve home matches, and one of them was against lower division opposition. Our last home league clean sheet was against Barrow last September. We’ve got to remedy that swiftly.

But where does the cause of this problem lie? To be fair, our defence has had to cope with an awful lot of disruption since last season. While Andy Morrell struck a terrific deal in replacing Nat Knight-Percival with Martin Riley, injuries have hit his plans hard.

Mark Creighton and now Joslain Mayebi have succumbed to long term injuries, and Danny Alfei doesn’t look to clever after pulling up at Forest Green. Steven Wright has just come back from missing fifteen games with injury, Chris Westwood missed all of September and the smart signing of Danny Devine unravelled when the player jumped ship. In the circumstances you might argue that the back four have done pretty well!

It’s Andy Coughlin I feel sorry for in all this. It’s not been easy for a young goalkeeper to have to settle into a new club behind a constantly changing back four, and the statistics reflect this. He’s yet to keep a clean sheet and has conceded fifteen goals in his six starts and the half hour he played against Alfreton.

I know it’s unfair to point this out, but it’s a striking fact that he’s been conceding a goal every 38 minutes while on the pitch this season, while for the rest of the season we’ve been letting a goal past us every 113 minutes. Extrapolating that across the season, we’ve let in 37 goals so far, but if we’d conceded every 38 minutes we’d have let in 87!

To be fair to him, it’s not as if you can point a finger at him for the goals he’s let in; he’s a victim of circumstances and an illustration of the problems our back four has had with injuries. The problem hasn’t been with him, but with the fact that often his being brought into the side has been the tipping point, the one change too far to the defence which has made it less able to function effectively.

Hopefully Chris Maxwell’s return might help matters: while Joslain Mayebi has conceded fewer goals per game than Maxwell, the latter has actually kept a clean sheet more regularly. Let’s hope that’s a figure he can build upon for the remainder of the season.

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