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.
We’re starting to shape up as potential promotion candidates, perhaps even title contenders. Let’s just hope it doesn’t rain again this year.
Appropriately, Gary Mills poured cold water on talk of the rain-sodden defeat to Macclesfield last Saturday representing some sort of catastrophe. He was right to do so. After all, it was just one match and the conditions were a major cause of our defeat. It was a shame we weren’t playing in normal conditions, because we looked like we’d be a far superior side if we had a level playing field, or just a dry one.
However, there were certainly lessons to assimilate from the match. We failed to learn from our mistakes leaving me with a desperate yearning for a dry winter. If we don’t cope better with the conditions, soggy pitches could pose a greater threat to our ambitions than the other promotion contenders.
The problem doesn’t lie in our match preparation. There’s no way any management team could set a side up for freak conditions – it simply wouldn’t be a useful way to spend their time on the training pitch. You can’t expect Gary Mills and Darren Caskey to drill a Plan B into the players for use when it rains.
However, the players need to look to adapt more quickly to the conditions. The ball wasn’t rolling normally in certain parts of the pitch, and trying to pass the ball around at the back was risky. We simply had to play the ball forwards earlier.
I’m not advocating Route One football, even in those conditions, because we’re not set up to play that way. However, especially in the second half when the wind was mostly against us, clipping the ball over the other side’s back four for the likes of Connor Jennings, Danny O’Brien and James Grey to run onto as it stuck in the pitch was a better percentage option than moving the ball around at the back.
Passing across the back four became a game of Russian Roulette: every time a pass reached its intended target it merely felt more likely that the next one would stick in the pitch. Macclesfield’s crucial second goal came about that way, and many of their other opportunities did too.
It’s ironic really. For the last two seasons we’ve had issues with the drainage of the pitch in front of the Mold Road Stand and it was only the magnificent efforts of the groundstaff which made it playable on numerous occasions. Now the pitch is looking really good, and there clearly was nothing anybody could do about the downpour which hit us on Saturday, and yet the underfoot conditions cost us a result on Saturday.
I wonder what would have happened if the pitch still had issues this season? Would we have been similarly unable to think on our unsteady feet? In the season we finished runners-up in the Conference we massively adapted our game plan as the pitch deteriorated. Let’s hope we make similar allowances when necessary this season.