Here’s my column from last week’s Leader. 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) www.leaderlive.co.uk.
I’m happy. We’re in the top five, playing nice football and I stand by my pre-season assertion that we’ll keep improving as the season wears on and Gary Mills’ philosophy has more time to bed in.
But there’s one thing which is slightly worrying me. Why are we so vulnerable once we score?
It’s an odd thing, and don’t expect to have come up with a dazzlingly clever explanation in four hundred words’ time. I don’t know why we are struggling to build on a lead so often, but I do know it’s happening and it has cost us points already this season.
It really is an odd situation. You’d think that a side which plays a possession-based style of football would relish taking the lead. Once we’re ahead, surely we can smother the opposition by keeping the ball, tempt them into taking increasingly greater risks in an attempt to haul themselves back into the game, and hit them on the break?
Yet too often we’ve got ourselves into the optimal situation and found it’s the point where the game turns against us. The first day of the season was a prime example. We controlled the first twenty minutes at Bromley in emphatic manner, and when we took the lead it felt like the only logical outcome was that we would go on to hammer them. Instead, we lost our grip of the game immediately. Less than two minutes later they were level and within 21 of Wes York’s goal we were 3-1 down.
Against Halifax it happened again. We started quickly, went 2-0 up and looked like we were coasting, but within two minutes we’d again conceded. This time we regained control of the game, but last week we paid twice for such slip-ups.
How we hadn’t put the game at Cheltenham to bed by half time I’m not quite sure, but when James Gray scored nine minutes after the break it felt like we’d made the crucial breakthrough. Yet we let the home team back in the game and ended up empty handed.
At Lincoln it happened again. We took the lead at roughly the same time, then found ourselves under the cosh as Lincoln peppered their huge target man Matt Rhead with long balls. It’s perfectly understandable to struggle with such a potent aerial threat as Rhead, but we were fortunate to only concede once in the twenty minute period that followed our goal. The closing period of the game, after Gary Mills had made some judicious adjustments to our shape and personnel, was a superb toe-to-toe slugfest which probably would have ended in victory if the referee hadn’t been averse to making big decisions.
Still, there’s an issue here, and as I said earlier I can’t work out the cause of it, never mind the solution. Is it quite simply that opponents respond to conceding by upping the ante? That feels like lazy logic to me, but I’m struggling to work it out otherwise. Thankfully, Wrexham have a much smarter man than me on the case.