So why did we lose at Fylde? Frankly, the tactical concept was sound, but in employing it we also played to our opponents’ strengths. To put it simply, they were better at playing the sort of game we made it into.
The logic behind our approach was sound: we were clearly trying to get the ball into forward positions a lot more swiftly than we have been. That’s not to say that we were long ball by any stretch of the imagination, but it was obvious that we were trying to get the ball into advanced positions before the Fylde had an opportunity to settle into their defensive block and force us into the sideways passing in front of them which has become frustratingly familiar lately.
Graham Barrow’s body language gave this approach away: he often showed his frustration when a player hesitated and passed backwards rather than looking for a team mate in an advanced position.
The problem was a difference in quality on the transition. As has often happened this season, we got ourselves into promising positions but failed to create a clear opening. AFC Fylde, on the other hand, had the excellent Nick Haughton to carry the ball forwards and deliver telling service to the best striker in the division, Danny Rowe.
That combination alone trumped anything we could come up with, and with the support of Ash Hemmings, who profited from Haughton’s creativity to score twice, and the positive running of Dan Bradley, they showed us how to execute a fast-breaking style of play.
So what could we have done?
Sorry to sound like a stuck record, but to me our best player on the transition, Ben Tollitt, wasn’t even on the bench. I’ll leave that there!
This approach ought to have suited Bobby Grant too. He has been a victim of our slow build-up play in recent weeks, finding himself cutting inside into a crowded central area and unable to threaten. He has really worked hard in those positions, but the odds have been stacked against him, and frankly I don’t really think that’s his game.
For me he’s most threatening when he gets the ball in space on the right and is able to drive inside on his left foot, offering a shooting threat. A fast tempo ought to have allowed him to get into that sort of position, but he started over on the left, and when he ventured centrally it wasn’t with the same threat.
The way we set about things created a stretched game, which in our current, uncreative state, is a good thing as it creates space for attacking players to use. The trouble is, Fylde’s players were far better at ours when it came to exploiting that space. That doesn’t mean the initial idea was bad though, and I’d look to play in a similar manner against Maidenhead. However, I’d want to alter the composition of the front three, with Grant on the right, Tollitt on the left and one of the new strikers in the middle. To avoid being out-gunned when we open a game up, we’ve got to have our best attacking options in their strongest positions.