Date: 9th December 2007 at 1:05am
Written by:

It may be the season to be jolly but Steve Holland’s tactics are wearing thin rapidly. Yesterday’s performance against Walsall was about as negative as it got this season. We knew before the season started that Holland was to work on the defensive aspect of the team after conceding on average 75 a season in the past three years, but why it has to completely stifle our attack needs explaining.

We’ve seen wins, and we’ve seen comfortable wins so far this season but can anyone name a convincing performance – one where we played a team off the pitch and out fought them? I would say the first 45 minutes at home to Yeovil were about the best we’ve seen, in fact the best we’ve seen for a few years… but it was only 45 minutes.

Yesterday, like most match days recently, felt like groundhog day. We sat back, we soaked up pressure, we counter attacked, we lost the ball, we sat back, we soaked up pressure…. There’s no entertainment value at Gresty Road anymore, even wins aren’t fun to watch. So 0-0 draws are absolute murder.

It was a game of so few clear cut chances that you’d struggle to make a top 10. Clayton Ince on his return had little to nothing to do all afternoon whilst Ben Williams was forced into two good saves and several routine gatherings. The first of Ben’s good saves was from a well worked free kick by Walsall in the first half, about 35 yards out they positioned as if they were going to cross it in but instead fired it at the near post. Ben managed at full stretch to parry it out, although it was a good height for ‘keepers.

His second point-saving save came not long after when the ball fell loose behind the defence for a Walsall player in space to hit first time from just inside the box. It looked a certain goal but Williams’ lightening quick reactions saw him get down low to get a hand to it.

For us, well, our attack was a little less flowing. It took 5 passes to get past the half way line and another 5 to get into the last 3rd. In the last 3rd we stood still or ran into traffic; Simon Church can’t ever seem to avoid the biggest huddle of players once he’s running with the ball and Mark Carrington, who was in the team due to a late ‘injury’ to Ryan Lowe, was having a nightmare down the left.

We hit the post though through Elliott Bennett, who was impressive yet again. The little winger from Wolves adds directness to the side and seems to be the only midfielder you can rely on to create something. His confidence on the ball, his pace and his tricks are all something the rest of the team lacks. It was his run and beautifully struck shot from the edge of the area that had Clayton Ince beaten but rebounded off the foot of the left post.

Maybe Steve Holland should have remembered that when he (or Dario?) decided to take Bennett off in the 58th minute. They say he was tiring, but I saw no evidence of that, and it doesn’t sound like Bennett was exactly complaining to come off either. The decision to take Bennett off was met with angry booing and chanting, although I’m sure a few would have done it for any Ben Rix substitution anyway. Rix played well though, he got stuck in and created chances… if only he replaced Carrington, then maybe we’d have had two creative players on the pitch.

The second half was probably the dullest 45 minutes of the season, half down to the fact Walsall virtually dominated without ever creating a worrying situation. Ok… maybe one, where Tommy Mooney had a header from a corner cleared off the line by Gary Roberts, but what Roberts knew of it wasn’t clear. Their best chances were all from corners and crosses where the likes of England international (my arse) Michael Ricketts dwarfed our entire side. It was actually Mr Worst-Ever-England-Player who squandered Walsall’s best chance when he somehow headed a free header, and gaping net 3 yards wide. It’d have been funny if it wasn’t so bad.

At least they created the chances though. Our complete lack of urgency, directness, passing ability and all round attack play was embarrassing. We had to wait till 48 minutes into the second half because we could climb to the edge of our seats – but even Nicky Maynard volleyed wide past a half-empty net.

Are we just whinging because we’re not in the Championship? Not really. I’d just like to see some intent on a match day, we seem to go out for a 0-0, anything else is a bonus. As long as that 0-0 or win happens then the performances can be substandard, but take a look at Walsall message boards… ‘Worst Crewe team I’ve seen’, ‘Relegation fodder’.

It’s frustrating because I think on paper we have a decent side at this level. Julien Baudet was a wanted man in August, Danny Woodards is one of the best defenders outside the Championship/Premiership, Elliott Bennett has caused every side he’s played against problems, Nicky Maynard can score for fun… there’s a good spine to the team there. We could also count Lee Barnard, a player who Championship sides wanted on loan when he joined us (according to various scouts and footballing people).

So why are we playing with our backs to goal? Why are all passes sideways or backwards? Why does it take so long and so many passes to get up the pitch? And why do we give the opposition so much space to run into and only ever close them down in the final 3rd?

If Steve Holland wants us to be defensive then defend from the back. There’s no need to field 11 defenders out there.

Player Ratings

Ben Williams

Danny Woodards

Julien Baudet

Chris McCready

Billy Jones

Gary Roberts

Neil Cox

Mark Carrington

Elliott Bennett

Nicky Maynard

Simon Church