It must be Boxing Day. We never seem to get the hang of Boxing Day. Yesterday was no exception.
I said in the match preview that this game was a potential banana skin, and so it proved. Fortunately, the result wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Merson started off with a 4 4 2, in the absence of Demontagnac, with Murphy in goal, Pead, Gerrard, Roper and Bennett across the back, Standing, Osborn, Kris Taylor and Leitao in midfield and Constable and Fryatt up front. It just didn’t work.
Kris Taylor had an anonymous first half, rivalled only by the ineffective Standing and Constable, which tended to leave Osborn playing on his own. I left the ground with some Blues fans (God knows what they were doing there) who said they were really sorry for Osborn first half, as he never had a “pass”. The “wingers” weren’t on the wing, I’m not sure where Kris Taylor was, and Constable kept trying to make exactly the same runs as Fryatt, but without the same quality. The result? Continual attempts to try and play the long ball down the channels, where it was quickly gobbled up. The one time someone did get free, it was Constable and he was let down by an appalling first touch.
Meanwhile, at the other end, Tranmere started getting more and more confident once they’d survived the first five minutes and Facey and Greenacre were a real handful. Fortunately, Roper and, especially, Gerrard were quite awesome. Despite pressure, neither keeper had a lot to do.
Changes were needed at half time and Merson made the one eveyone around me was calling for, taking off the little boy lost, James Constable, and bringing on Daryl Taylor on the wing, with Jorge going up front. Immediately, the ball began to “stick” more and we started to threaten. This was countered, however, to some extent, by the fact that Daryl Taylor was having a complete nightmare, as he pulled out every time there was anything like a physical challenge.
It seemed to be just a matter of time before one or the other teams scored, probably from a defensive error, but Tranmere were starting to look the most likely. Merson made another change, with Nicholls coming on for Standing and Jorge moving back to the wing. That was probably an error, as we started losing possession again and Tranmere were coming forward with purpose. Merson, therefore, went for a change of formation, to a 4 3 3, with Jorge dropping into midfield and Fryatt, Nicholls and Taylor going up front. That, at least, pushed Tranmere further back, although we weren’t getting enough quality possession. It also meant that Jorge had gone from left wing, to right wing, to left wing, to right wing, to centre forward, back to right wing and then into central midfield, all in the same match. No wonder he looked confused.
Even after all that, the Saddlers should have grabbed a winner, as first Fryatt had a glancing header well saved by the keeper (I honestly think he was stretching too much to get a proper contact) and Daryl Taylor contrived to miss an chance from three yards out, blocked on the line. It would have been rough justice on the visitors, however, as they were probably the better side in the second half.
Murphy did what he had to well, with a couple of good saves in the second half. Pead had little marking to do, so I was a little disappointed he didn’t contribute more going forward. Gerrard and Roper were simply awesome, especially Gerrard. Bennett made one superb tackle second half (which led to the dangerous Facey going off), but was caught out of position several times. With the best will in the world, he’s not a full back, just cover. Standing showed one or two nice touches, but was mainly ineffective. Osborn? I heard someone say he’d gone back to last season – yep, playing four men on his own. Kris Taylor? Reputedly carrying a knock, but was second to everything and far too lightweight. Struggled all game. Daryl Taylor? Hasn’t looked the part since the injury and just not up for a physical challenge. I’m afraid he’s going backwards if he can’t get over that problem. Leitao was wasted on the wing and it was crying out for him up front. Constable? If he’s the answer, I’m not sure what the question is. Looked like a cheap Matty Fryatt, without the same class. Fryatt? Made all the movement up front, except when Leitao was with him and must have felt as if he was playing the back four on his own. Nicholls? Too inexperienced, as shown toward the end when we were on the attack and, for some reason, he took the ball to the corner flag and then promptly gave away a goal kick.
Tranmere were a basic third division outfit, strong, physical and quick. The most worrying aspect is we were muscled out of the game far too many times. Granted the ref made a few strange decisions, but, basically, we looked tired in the second half and, let’s face it, that doesn’t bode well for three more games in the next week.