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Question of the WeekWho will win the National League?
Striving to be Fourteenth
By: Andrew Doherty
THE last time we were in Hertfordshire's answer to Milton Keynes, we suffered an abject defeat. 2 - 0, no inspiration and symptomatic of Town's inconsistent performances over last season. Stevenage meanwhile kicked on and rose to the play-off positions before collapsing at the end.
This year we're playing a team who have managed two draws, while after a good away win, our performance last week was awful with a lot of poor quality play, misplaced long balls, not a single shot on target and an air of defeatism in the last twenty five minutes. This wasn't helped by the introduction of two new players, who weren't familiar with the system, when heads were down. Our main goalscorer Sam Jones looked lost. We needed to be smarter on all levels. At least Mr Slade and his team have had a week to re-assess tactics and inject some purpose into our play.
Town's line up today was: McKeown - Mills, Clarke, Collins, Dixon - M. Rose - Dembele, Summerfield, Sam Jones, Kelly - Hooper. Town, in blue this afternoon, attacked away from the 770 Mariner fans for the first half.
The first action for the crowd of 2,793 came at the Town end on 5 minutes when McKeown bravely repelled a cross with Stevenage's Samuel advancing. Five minutes later Rose was booked for a robust tackle on Newton. Collins then blocked a shot by Samuel, conceding a corner from which Franks headed over. Stevenage were by far the brighter side, with Town struggling to make an impact. Kelly was fouled on 15 minutes but the referee allowed play to continue as Jones pressed forward but Jones's shot was weak and unconvincing, like Town's performance in general. "It's not a team, it's 11 people who have just met each other", commented the spectator behind me. Town had tried unsuccessfully to pass the ball, so it was a surprise on 20 minutes when a lofted ball from Clarke found Hooper. At last Town had a shot on target but Hooper's effort had no power. Town's principal contribution seemed to be stray passes. Good work by Kelly led to a surging run from Jones who was fouled by the ubiquitous Newton. From 25 yards out on the left edge, Summerfield curled his free kick towards the bottom left corner. Stevenage's Fryer fumbled the ball and for a moment it looked as if he'd let it go over the line but the goalkeeper retrieved the ball before it crept in. A poor Town corner on 30 minutes led to a breakaway by Newton but Town's defence averted the danger. Clarke then put McKeown under pressure with a back pass as Town seemed intent on causing their own downfall. Jones had a run on 32 minutes, supplying Summerfield on the left but the Town midfielder's low cross led to nothing as the Stevenage defence smothered the advancing Hooper. Of the two sides Stevenage looked the more dangerous with their crisp passing and interplay, and on 38 minutes a high ball from the right found Pett, whose cross found the unmarked Newton on the edge of the box. Newton curled a shot up and over McKeown into the corner of the net. Stevenage 1, Town 0. Stevenage won two corners. First Newton beat the defence but fired over, then Godden tried an overhead kick. Town seemed incapable of dealing with corners or any sort of set play and were slow to respond. More indecision by Town's defence on 45 minutes let in Stevenage's Smith who pounced and struck a sweet left footed shot low into the right hand corner. Stevenage 2, Town 0. "This is embarrassing", sang the Town fans. Stevenage had another corner two minutes later. Town's defence was static but escaped.
The first half was awful. Town were lethargic and lacklustre. Stevenage on the other hand showed energy and flair. Town's star player Dembele barely touched the ball, the distribution was poor, ideas were non-existent and there was an evident lack of responsibility in defence.
Mr Slade responded by sending on Bolarinwa and Cardwell in place of Kelly and Hooper. Rose moved forward, and Town now operated with Jones, Cardwell and Dembele up front. This seemed a positive move, and Town reacted by showing more purpose. Dembele was unable to curl a shot round Fryer on 52 minutes, and Bolarinwa had a low shot on target after a run. Town won a corner on 56 minutes after some confusion in Stevenage's defence following pressure by Cardwell. Town pressed and were about to take a throw-in deep in Stevenage's half when the referee stopped play on 57 minutes, having spotted contact by Jones on Gorman who was lying on the ground. The referee sent Jones off and so the mountain became higher. Stevenage came back into the game with their busy passing style, and Kennedy was stopped from advancing on 65 minutes. Two minutes later, the same player took possession in Town's half and unchallenged, curled his shot round McKeown to make it 3 - 0 to Stevenage. What was obvious was that Kennedy is a left-footed player and Town's defence failed to either challenge him or push him to his weaker side, suggesting either a lack of preparation or a lack of discipline. The only positives for Town were the battling Rose and the speedy Bolarinwa who won a corner on 70 minutes after an attack. But these were crumbs, and Town's next meaningful opportunity happened six minutes later when Dixon swung a cross to Cardwell who connected well but headed well over the bar. Many of Town's fans left in disgust. Those who remained were just reduced to silent frustration. Stevenage continued to look more dangerous, and Town were lucky on 80 minutes when McKeown made a good save from a low shot by Pett. A minute later Town won a free-kick after a foul on Dembele. As the ball came in from the left, Wilkinson and the goalkeeper got into a mix-up and Collins back-headed the cross into the empty Stevenage net. Stevenage 3, Town 1. This wasn't the first time Stevenage's defence had shown signs of vulnerability but Town had been incapable of exploiting it. Jaisyemi replaced Dembele on 84 minutes. Town's 10 men floundered around like lost souls, showing no purpose and misplacing passes routinely. Stevenage on the other hand played the ball around neatly. Town won a corner on 88 minutes and Cardwell had a shot but this resulted in a breakaway by Stevenage, which Town were able to repel. Town's last act of any significance happened on 89 minutes when Dixon was booked for obstructing the advancing Kennedy. The game ended with Stevenage as the deserved 3 - 1 winners.
If last season's performance at Stevenage was abject, this was just as bad. There was no team work or evidence of tactics, the understanding between players was poor again and the skill level was way below what you would expect from a professional football team. Frankly, this was shameful. Stevenage aren't a bad side but we made them appear like world beaters, as they showed us up in work rate and flair. Town simply didn't play as a unit. The general view in the outside world at the start of the season was that Town would end up in fourteenth or thereabouts. On the early season showing, fourteenth would seem to be a major achievement.
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