A LOT OF HUFF AND PUFF
IS NOT ENOUGH FOR UNITED
You know that feeling you get when you are really looking forward to something but, somewhere deep down, you just know that it probably not going to be anywhere near as good as you hoped?
Saturday afternoon was a case in point!
For the first time in more than 6 months, Coggeshall United Football Club returned to their West Street home to take on Newbury Forest in the first match of the 2020/21 season in the Thurlow Nunn Eastern Counties First Division (South).
A sense of anticipation hung in the air among the home support after a testing preseason where manager, Cliff Akurang had lined up a number of games against teams from higher leagues that the team had actually acquitted themselves well in.
Unfortunately, that sense of positivity was soon quelled pretty much from the outset of this match, as a seemingly disjointed side struggled to impose themselves upon their opponents. In a lot of ways, it seemed like a team that had been together for a large proportion of what has been an extended preseason, as a result of the staggered relaxation of restrictions related to the Covid-19 pandemic, were little more than strangers, such was the lack of cohesion.
Speaking to manager, Cliff Akurang in the weeks leading up to the big kick-off of the new season, he had spoken positively of a desire to “play more football” this season. Akurang believed that there was the possibility of getting the players at his disposal to pass the ball around a bit more and, whilst they were not looking to move into the realms of ‘tika-taka’, at least look to show a bit creativity and thoughtfulness in possession.
Unfortunately, there was a distinct lack of evidence of this new approach anywhere to be seen on Saturday afternoon.
Possession was all too easily squandered so many times in the first-half alone that anyone that was counting could soon lose track, such was the lack of care that was taken by the man on the ball with too few exceptions. The majority of efforts to even attempt to breakdown Newbury Forest’s defence faltered before they even got going, due to the man in possession picking the wrong ball at least as often as they were crowded out because of their failure to spot the options that were available to them.
It says a lot about the problems that the team were experiencing trying to get forward in this first competitive game of the season that, aside from debutant Patrick Campbell’s goal, Ricky Loveridge’s effort late in the second-half was the only time that Newbury Forest’s goalkeeper was tested.
And yet Coggeshall United did, in fact, take the lead in the first-half.
A corner was swung in long from the left around the middle of the penalty area and, although one of the Newbury Forest defenders tried to clear with his head, the ball found its way to Campbell who rifled the ball low and hard back towards the left-hand corner of the goal with conviction. To say that the goal flattered United would be an understatement!
Despite the home side adopting a three-man central defence, Newbury Forest had a number of breakaway chances through the centre of the pitch throughout the game that, with better finishing, could have punished United’s deeply unimpressive showing going forward.
Nevertheless, for a time at least, things seemed to be going United’s away. For, along with the goal, Newbury Forest lost one of their players deep in the first-half for use of industrial language that the referee was left with no option but to show the red card.
One would have expected that the loss of a man so early in the game would have altered the two teams approach, particularly in the second-half. However, nothing could have been further from the truth. Newbury Forest continued to look the most likely to score and, if anything, it was United who looked like they had to play out the match with a man down. It was only surprising that it took a shot direct from a free-kick for Newbury Forest to finally get the equaliser that their performance deserved late in the game.
Nevertheless, that is not to say that there is not hope for a brighter future.
Aside from his goal, Campbell looks like a good presence at the back with great powers of recovery and an astute reading of the game and his own ability that more than complements Hussain Jaffa’s effectiveness on the other side of the three-man defence. Speaking of Jaffa, his working relationship, at least from a defensive perspective, with his wing-back, Matt Knowles looked more than promising. In the weeks ahead, as they learn more about the way in which one another plays, Knowles should be able to express himself more confidently going forward for the benefit of the team from an attacking perspective.
The captain, Jamie Dobkin, was imperious as ever in breaking down Newbury Forest attacks in front of his defence and was his usual inspiring self in encouraging and directing his teammates. This remains something that many of his teammates could still look to bring into their own game. For some, it is still all too easy to blame someone else for the team’s failings when the reality is that they should be looking at themselves every bit as much.
I have said this before and I will say it again, Lewis Soraf could be the best player in this league if he wants to be. It is completely down to him. If he wanted to, he could have taken this game by the scruff to the neck and really imposed himself on the game in the second-half in particular with the man advantage. There is a big difference between knowing that you are good and showing it from one game to the next.
Ayrton Coley also showed himself to have the potential for more positive performances in the future with a busy display that at least asked questions of the Newbury Forest defence. However, question marks will have been raised about his attitude to being substituted in the second-half. Whilst it could very easily be argued that he was unlucky to have had his number called since he was at least as threatening as anyone else on the pitch, the petulance that he showed to his manager, Cliff Akurang and his teammates is not something that he should be looking to repeat any time soon.
Reflecting back upon United’s blunt attack, based on the names on the teamsheet, one would think that, as the home side, there were three predominantly forward thinking players in Mwetsi Matangi, Coley and Loveridge that would be working together for the benefit of the tteam. However, the reality proved to be somewhat different. All too often Matangi found himself isolated up front and, despite his size, he failed to impose himself on the game by either holding the play up for the other players to join in with him or to flick the ball on for others to run on to.
Nevertheless, Matangi is not the only one to blame for United’s failings in attack on Saturday. The problem is that for him to be able to fulfil his role in the side effectively, other players from his team need to be close enough to feed off of Matangi’s hard work, but this was all too often not the case on Saturday. As a result, he looked to be ploughing a lonely furrow against a Newbury Forest defence that was happy to just swallow him up.
Roll on the next game . . .