They say that November is a month for sombre reflection.
There were a fair amount of sombre reflections looking back at me as i hastily exited Seaview Stadium at full-time yesterday. At the going down of the sun Crusaders had surrendered a lead at Seaview for the fourth time this season. Draws with Coleraine, Cliftonville and this latest one and the criminal 2-1 defeat to DC.
Any dropped points are hard to take, but it was the manner of the performance and the imbalance of the team selection that caused the most consternation. Lest we forget, the team had come into this game with a great showing of form. The draw at the Oval and the wins at DC and on Wednesday night against Carrick had been the best football of the season and picking a starting eleven on current form was never going to be easy with so many knocking the Managers door for selection.
A Dallas dead leg and Morrow feeling a strain in the warm up hamstrung selection somewhat creatively , but the decision to start Rainey on the left at the expense of Hazley who had been chief architect in tandem with McBride on Wednesday night in that seven goal demolition against an albeit weakened Carrick side was bizarre. At this stage of his career Davy Rainey is as poor an imitation of a left winger there’s been since Tony Blair was in office. Yet he laboured gainfully for the cause as we have come to expect.
The contrast between the football played in the previous week and yesterday was stark. The fast zipping ball to feet and excellent delivery was replaced by an almost without thought, aimless punt up the park brand of lower league football that is unbecoming the stature of the players we have at this club and is as unappetising to our supporters as the result.
When Stephen Baxter purrs about the great delivery feeding his strikers in midweek in post match interviews , why abandon it for the percentage game of punting the ball into the box? Michael Halliday chested the ball more than he kicked it and Timmy Adamson just can’t cut it with his back to goal. His withdrawn role is better suited to the game of Rainey or Owens.
Credit to Lisburn Distillery. They came to frustrate and win their personal battles. Once Thompson grabbed their equaliser they played the better football. Rainey when moved back into the middle almost nicked it with a sublime piece of skill , but an even better stop from Brennan kept honours even!
Football is a simple game . Pick your best player in each position, at that position. accommodating players in unaccustomed positions is counter productive.
We have three massive games on the bounce now, starting with Coleraine away next week. If we don’t get some positive results , the epitaph writers will be in business and there’ll be very few paying homage.
The Referee was awful, the tactics were awful, Morrow’s tackle was awful, the standard of play was awful, the burger wasn’t bad and the result was par for the course!
I often say to my Blue-nosed chums, “we’d have no luck , if there wasn’t bad luck”.
This is something I roll out, time, after time, after time, when we’ve been on the receiving end of another sour-tasted defeat to our greatest rivals. The bitterest pills are always the hardest to swallow!
Yet, the long line of excuses are only papering over the cracks. The truth is we are our own worst enemy, architects of our own downfall, prophets of our own doom!
The buck should stop here.
I alluded to it in the match preview on Friday. Beating Linfield , has as much to do with matching them mentally , as it has to do with matching them physically.
All the pre-match talk on the Crusaders forum, was of fearing the worst, getting humped , another bend over session.
When the fans are being so negative, it soon filters down to the players and definitely filters down to the Manager. We all know he reads them.
This 4-5-1 tactic , it’s just so negative. Why only play it against Linfield? It clearly doesn’t work. Is it a psychological effect from the 8-1 drubbing? We are more than a match for Linfield , Big Davy know’s it only too well.
Why, when you have the physical advantage up front , do you retreat Owens into a wide right role? Why have Adamson ploughing a lone furrow up top, when the ball sticks to him like wet cellotape? Why then have your centre-backs hump long balls up to him all day? When Douglas was struggling to make one clean header all day, why not revert to 4-4-2 to at least make a challenge for the dropping second ball?
Even in the 4-5-1 formation, both wide men had poor games. Why leave it so long to make a positive substitution? Ask yourself, who would the Linfield full-backs rather have faced? The immobile Owens? The out of sorts,Dallas? Or the trickery and elusiveness of a Rainey or McMaster?
Referee, Arnold Hunter , was poor. He made a lot of bad decisions. The big decisions went Linfield’s way, but I wouldn’t put it down to bias. Perhaps he was more influenced by the crowds oohs and aahs than by what was blatantly obvious to those watching.
Both sets of fans will claim they should have had penalties.
Several players on both sides got off leniently with bad challenges.
He got the Morrow red card right in my opinion. No place in the game for two-footed challenges , regardless of intent. Of course it was a game changer, but the letter of the law is quite clear on the outcome. Anyone crying Linfield bias would do well to remember they have had Hanley and Garrett both red carded this year for similar tackles.
For a game with the top two sides in last years league, the standard of play was awful. To watch hoofball on such an expansive pitch is soul-destroying. Can’t recall one cross from the bye-line by either side. There was the odd flash of creative play from Morrow and Carvill , but until Garrett’s sublime drive dipped beyond the diving O’Neill , there was very little quality. It was a top finish , from a top player.
We are now eight points off the pace and only seven games in. We have the little matter of a North Belfast derby to contend with next . If we don’t start playing to our strengths, with in form players, in their preferred positions, then it’s going to a long struggle to salvage a season that promised so much and thus far has delivered so little.
On the 14th July, Crusaders took to the field against Premier League superstars Fulham. They came within a lick of paint of causing a major upset on the Shore Road. Our players Hustled and harried at every opportunity and made Fulham work harder than they wanted to.
Fulham Manager, Martin Jol, paid them the ultimate compliment , by fielding a full-strength XI for the return leg at Craven Cottage. Although suffering an aggregate 7-1 reverse, they had done themselves and the Irish League proud.
Fast forward seven weeks and the team that played last night is a poor shadow of that side. The confidence and swagger of the early season has long gone. Passing is wayward, movement up front is predictable, our touch has escaped us and defending has become lackadaisical .
I’m not going to single out individuals for criticism, collectively it wasn’t good enough. The second and third goals conceded were basic schoolboy errors.
The substitutions were eyebrow raising to say the least . Rainey and McMaster were probably our two best players up to the point they were withdrawn.
The least said about the penalties the better. I feel for Sean O’Neill, for he was good on the night and can definitely give Grobbelaar a run for his money in penalty shoot-out histrionics!
Currie Mulholland, one of Crusaders greatest goalscorers , once had the ignominy of hitting a passing bus and a passing train in the same match at Seaview. If last nights attempts from our strikers are anything to go by , the feat could soon be repeated.
We can have no excuses of a weakened team either. Bar Matthew Snoddy, these were all experienced Irish League players. Snoddy was one of the bright lights on the night. He strode around the pitch with a glide of elegance , reminiscent of a Young Stephen Livingstone, always seeming to have more time on the ball than anyone else. With a bit more experience and an added directness, he will be some player.
Lisburn Distillery , for their part, came out of the blocks running. As predicted in my preview, Jordan Hughes and David Cushley gave us no end of problems with their directness. Hughes opener was a stunning goal, pity we hadn’t the cameras to witness it. He was worthy of his hat-trick. The Crues, Blues and Glens all had a wee look at him after his release from Portsmouth in January. Our loss is definitely Distillery’s gain.
Billy Brennan looked shaky when put under a bit of pressure, but in fairness to him he was definitely fouled for our third goal from Adamson. He more than made up for it with his second successive spot-kick triumph over us in two years.
Not only have we missed out on a semi-final place, but the financial reward that goes with it. With Glentoran, Linfield and Cliftonville all progressing we have missed out on a bumper split gate, the added prize money and the possible bar takings , as first drawn gets home advantage at the next stage. Our treasurer is predicting frugal times ahead, all this could have helped mitigate it.
On a side note, it was good to see gentleman Marty Quinn taking in the game from the Director’s box, resplendent in his Glenavon bench coat. Well he may as well get the wear out of it while he can!
With no training planned for tonight, our skipper hobbling after the game and morale taking another bashing, Stephen Baxter will definitely earn his crust lifting his players for the visit to Windsor Park and the might of Champions Linfield FC! There’s little we can do , but try to keep the faith!
The old ‘Binlid’ is hardly at the top of the list of any Manager or supporters priorities, but then again any one that ever won it will tell you they enjoyed it.
Jeez , ‘Unsteady’ Eddie Patterson has gone done in Cliftonville folklore as their greatest ever, yet he only ever won two ‘Binlids’!
Of course , with it only needing three victories to win the thing, the prize money , especially in our current financial straits is another added boost to do well.
Managers tend to use this competition to give game time to squad players and promising youngsters. Stephen Baxter is no different.
I fully expect to see most of Saturdays starting XI rested and game time given to debutant Matt Hazley, Jordan Owens, David Rainey , Niall Murphy, Chris Morrow and the returning Declan Caddell. Throw into the mix some of the promising youngsters like Ian West, Kyle Owens , Matthew Snoddy and Thomas Robinson , then the bulk of the first team squad can get a breather before the big test at Windsor Park on Saturday.
Lisburn Distillery have been a thorn in our side in League and cup , as of late. Who can forget our inept display in last years League Cup game, where we finally succumbed in a dismal penalty shoot-out!
They haven’t been in the best of form themselves, with their only win to date coming in the controversial 3-2 win at Coleraine. In Gary Liggett and Jordan Hughes they have attacking options and David Cushley has made a habit of coming off the bench and scoring against us.
We haven’t won a home match this season yet, it would be nice to do so against our old favourite Tommy Wright!
Bad is never good until worse happens.
After battering Glentoran for long periods last week , yet yielding no points for our efforts, it was imperative that all three points were garnished this week.
From that point of view, this game was a success! The fact that Stephen Baxter kept the players in the changing room for 45 minutes after the game, tells another tale!
On the positive side:-
Leeman and Coates looked solid as a central defensive partnership, eating the long ball from Carrick with ease. Leeman’s challenge broke to Owens for Carrick’s goal , but that was more to do with McMaster losing the ball too easily when we were on the attack.
O’Neill looked more assured in goal, great tip over in the first half from Owens and his handling from the few crosses that came into the box were first class.
Dallas and Watson as a central pairing made us far more creative than we were last Saturday. They linked well together. Running through on straight balls got Dallas one goal and almost another.
Where we need to work harder:-
Gargan worked hard, but wasn’t as direct or positive as he should have been. Rather than bursting for the bye line and throwing a cross over, he tended to slow the play down and play the ball backwards.
Up front, we still haven’t clicked as a unit. Adamson created Dallas’ goal , though wasn’t overly threatening himself and Rainey blotted last weeks copybook by forgetting football is a team game. Halliday and Owens (bar that first touch) linked better together, held the ball up better , yet didn’t really threaten Keenan’s goal.
From Carrick Rangers perspective, they worked hard as a unit. Still playing Championship style football, throwing themselves into the challenges and perhaps too many long balls. They could easily have had a penalty for handball, referee Hetherington judging it to be ball to hand, and not hand to ball. I’d have been upset if it had happened in the other box and we’d been denied.
Chris Keenan had a good afternoon between the sticks for Carrick Rangers , with a great one-handed save from Gargan late on. I’m sure he took pelters at the Railway end, but was enjoying the crack with some old mates in the social club afterwards.
I have a lot of respect for Stephen Small , but I feel he has a hard task ahead of him. Their style of play will limit the damage to their scoreline , but will only allow for nicking games by the odd goal. Being brave and playing a more expansive, creative game, may lead to some heavier defeats , but may also reap a greater points reward come the end of the season. Has he the confidence or type of player to change their system? Time will tell, but we’ll wish them luck on their endeavours.
Now to the questions about next weeks game at Ballymena.
Will Baxter replace Gargan with Dallas on the left to get Morrow or McCann in the midfield slot?
Will he ditch the natural wide men altogether?
Who gets the nod to start up top ? Halliday/Owens, Halliday/Rainey, Halliday/Adamson, Owens/Rainey, Owens/Adamson, Rainey/Adamson?
Will Walker , Moore, Baxter and Spiers all end the game in the dug out?
When you are in any contest you should work as if there were – to the very last minute – a chance to lose it.Dwight D. Eisenhower
34th president of US 1953-1961 (1890 – 1969)
Don’t you just love football.
The World’s game.
The game that when Saturday comes , runs your body through the mill of emotions.
The highs and lows come thick and fast. Delight, despair, anger , joy , whizzing in front of the assembled throng , like a 90 minute rollercoaster ride that none of us want to get off.
Supporter expectation had reached fever pitch in both Camps, buoyed by impressive European adventures and new signings.
A bumper crowd of 2425 packed into the shiny new Seaview stadium, its compactness made it seem like more. Though questioned, the decision to have designated home and away ends also added to the spectacle , with each gambit of play being greeted with a cheer or a groan from either end of the ground.
Much of the pre-match talk was about Paul Leeman and his apostitising of Glentoran for the red and black of Crusaders. “Paul Leeman, Glentoran Legend” read the banner in the Wavin Stand, but it was another Glentoran Legend Colin Nixon and his goalkeeper Elliott Morris who stole the headlines.
The new look Glentoran , were more impressive in the first half than I thought they would be. They were very competitive and dominated a feisty contest, as challenges flew in on the greasy plastic surface as the rain fell relentlessly. Crusaders play wasn’t helped with two ‘dogs of war’ occupying the central midfield berths. Competitive, though not creative.
Chrissy Morrow, playmaker supreme , was on the comeback trail , coming through 90 minutes in the reserves 5-2 win at the Oval and getting on the score sheet.
Getting to half-time at 0-0 was a blessing, but bums were barely on seats when Nixon rose unchallenged to nod a Carson cross into the Crusaders net and it looked ominous for Crusaders.
Introducing Rainey and debutant Snoddy gave Crusaders impetus and a thus far lacking creative spark.
When McMaster rattled the Glens bar from 35 yards , an equaliser looked unlikely, but Coates powered home a header with twelve minutes to go and from then on Crusaders looked like the only team going to win. Morris excelled with two world-class saves from Rainey and had a bit of fortune when a header was cleared off the line.
As the draw looked the likely outcome , Glentoran snatched the win . Crusaders looked like luck was on their side as Coates headed off the line but the ball broke to the following in Boyce who cartwheeled away to his Manager in delight as his effort nestled in the Crusaders net and the three points burgled their way to the Oval.
League titles aren’t won or lost in the first game, but we now find ourselves three points behind all our major competitors for honours.
The big questions for next week?
Will Stanley compromise competitiveness in the middle for extra creativity?
Will the Big man partnership of Owens and Adamson be broken up or given time to gel?
Will he jettison some of the squad to accommodate the watching and impressive on trial, Johnny Black?
Coates/Leeman or Coates/Magowan?
Answers on a postcard. the winners will be revealed next Saturday!