Opinion: January Review and February Preview by Mitch Cook’s Left Foot

Me writing for utmp feels a bit like when some random odd band gets on the telly at tea time cos they’re playing Glastonbury. I feel like it’s a proper football blog with readers, heatmaps, stats, a proper header logo and everything so it’s all a bit daunting when my analysis generally consists of a barely decipherable stream of consciousness on a notepad site I’ve never got round to putting a picture at the top of.

Like when Mark E Smith sang with the Gorillaz, I’m not going to change a thing. I’ve got my lyrics in a carrier bag, an ill fitting leather jacket and I’m gonna churn out the same old shite. That’s probably half the link clicks who’ve left already. Nevermind. Here goes…

What about the Mighty in January?

We started with Bristol Rovers away. Cast your minds back this far if you can. Jordan Thorniley was still locked in the cellar in a big chest marked ‘do not use in any circumstances (contaminated scrap)’ and only two of our players had Covid. Innocent days. We lost 2-1 in a mad game that could have ended up 5-5 but didn’t. There wasn’t snow, we didn’t use an orange ball and we lost. Bad, bad and bad. Basically, we didn’t score enough when we were on top and then they were a bit more clinical when they were on top, Critch made some mad subs, Bez ran like a madhead and missed a few times and the final whistle went.

West Brom then turned up with all their Premier League swagger (actually, that was really lacking, they didn’t look very ‘Premier League’ at all) and we played brilliantly. You probably watched this game, so you don’t need me to explain it. Let’s just share the memory of *that penalty* one more times.

Now super Gaz… He just puts the ball down, takes a couple of steps back and smacks it. Actually, ‘smacks it’ doesn’t do it justice. He launches it right down the middle with the force of a V2 rocket. It nearly takes the keeper’s head off and almost breaks the net in the bargain. The look he gives the terrified keeper suggests he enjoyed it very much. That’ll teach you to fuck about like that skinny Tyson Fury… We lead 3-1 and Gary Madine is king of the world.

Onwards we marched to Big Fleetwood (Hull). I found this game oddly empty. I don’t know why, but it all seemed a bit cagey. We couldn’t apply consistent pressure, they didn’t really put us under for long and it seemed a bit like a practice match, both sides keeping each other at arm’s length. A point at Hull though isn’t a bad result at all but there was just something hollow about the game, maybe the big echoey stadium and distant camera, maybe just two decent teams cancelling each other out. Woodburn did ok though. Nice to see him show a bit of form.

So much for Woodburn showing form. He’s been packed off back to Liverpool by the time we reach Brighton and Hove (I’ve decided to give Hove the equal billing that most of the rest of football denies it). The team sheet is the shocker. EVERYONE HAS COVID! – That means that JORDAN THORNILEY IS PLAYING! – The defender is pale and malnourished after his life underground, but he puts in a decent showing. In fact, Pool put in a decent showing full stop first half and weather a bit of a storm and bounce back from conceding a stunner with a beautifully worked goal of their own. Not just a goal, but a GARY GOAL with shirtless Jerry and fragile Luke involved in a great move. Second half, it’s all too much. We’re patched up and MJ Williams’ (remember him?) batteries run out. Critch hasn’t packed any spares and we can’t hold Brighton off or summon up the energy to respond after they score. Ellis Simms comes on and runs about a bit, but it’s no use. Brighton do look much more ‘Premier League’ than West Brom. In fact, if they could score, they’d be dangerous.

Next up it’s Wigan. Everyone still has Covid so it’s another comedy line up that leaves me thinking ‘it all looks a bit lopsided.’ Wigan have also provided a pitch that looks like someone’s dad just went to B+Q and bought a load of turf three days before the game. It doesn’t look promising in all honesty. After 40 minutes it feels as if we might be huffing and puffing and not blowing the (heavily remortgaged and in risk of repossession) Wigan house down but then we strike twice in quick succession. All is good. All is even better as we go on and take them apart. Ellis Simms comes on and scores twice, shirtless Jerry gets a tap in again and Madine is so good I decide he’s a playmaker and a target man in one. Even Marvin scores. The performance is full of character and desire and the cobbled together side of rejects and second choices have put a marker down for the rest of the squad to live up to. We needed that sort of win.

Finally, we face Northampton (ok, that’s a February game, but fuck it) in a rearranged fixture. It pisses down again but the pitch is lush carpet. Sadly, there’s not a lot of great football on show to do it justice with Northampton definitely out to spoil and get it forward as fast as they can but happily they’re not very good at either. We’re still patched up and thinly spread but we make fairly light work of the win. An early goal from the new goal machine (wor Marvin) and Yates’ moment of genius late in the day does the trick. We’re faced therefore with the unusual feeling of having just won against a team we should win against and it all being fairly straightforward. Thorniley and Big Marv are excellent, the former is by now the new Bobby Moore, the latter just gets better and better. Maxwell is superb and new boy Stewart is starting to show a few signs of being a bit tasty. He’ll be ace when he’s had a few games.

It’s been a month of turmoil, but we’ve come through ok. Thorniley not being shit is a big bonus, Stewart and Dougall have the potential to be an awesomely combative midfield. Sullay has flickered into life a little bit in the last match and even did a trick or two. Virtue is fit and doing a job, just grafting as he does and the players we knew already were good (that haven’t been out) have continued to do well. Chris Maxwell in particular deserves the plaudits. When Sam Walker saved a couple of penalties, there was a bit of rumbling that cos he’s big, he must be therefore be better than Maxwell. Since returning, our No1 has been magnificent – a hat trick of saves from the spot in the cup, virtually faultless in every game and his distribution and general play with his feet is miles ahead of what you’d expect in League One.

Upcoming games:


I’m gash at previews cos I don’t really care about the opposition but here goes. Ipswich absolutely caned us. In retrospect, what the fuck was Turton doing in central defence and Thorniley sitting on his arse? But bygones are bygones, hindsight is 50/50 and we’re a different team now with spine and some confidence and they’re out of form so let’s take revenge. Ideally 5-1 please.

Then it’s Burton who I thought didn’t look that bad against us (but have been woeful at times elsewhere). We’d just switched to 4-4-2 and were wearing it like a new haircut that is good, but needs to just grow a little bit to really suit. Now we’re much more confident in our look, we should have plenty. Never quite works like that does it though? It’s a game we should be confident that if we match them for effort and show intent, we will come out on top by a margin. (I’d take 1-0 though!)

Peterborough should be good, but haven’t been so against us recently, We seem to be able to play against teams that play and so we can win that too cos they will play. Rochdale *should be* more than winnable but I always fear them and have a feeling that might be the frustrating draw that throws a spanner into the works a bit. In fact, scratch that, we’ll batter them. Portsmouth at home was possibly the best pure Critchball performance of the year. We went back to 4-3-3 and for once, it really worked as planned. We were really good that night and it will be a test to see if Jackett has learned from that (it’ll also be interesting to see if he tries to repeat the trick). Again, they’ll come at us, so we’ve got every chance cos generally, when that happens, we do ok.

Then it’s Doncaster. Arguably our most positive half of play up till Wigan was the first half against Doncaster. Aside from Ipswich at home, our worst half of play was also Doncaster away. This one I am anxious about. Donny are in good form, have made some good additions and I think offer a blend of style and physicality that makes them quite adaptable. With Stewart and Dougall though, we should be able to at least hold our own in midfield and not get overrun again. If we can get at them like the first half, we’ll be ok. If we let them bully us like the second half, we won’t.

Finally – Charlton. This is again one I’m concerned about. They’re probably the opposition I was most impressed with this year. They seemed to blend youth and experience, play nice but purposeful stuff and have a few players with real ability. Oddly, that’s not really shown overall so maybe we got them on a good day. I’d take a draw. Actually, again, fuck that. 10-0 to Pool.

Conclusion

If and when CJ is back, that will add another dimension to our play. We’re so much more solid than when we’ve played these teams before and in our last two games, we’ve scored almost 25% of the league goals we’ve scored all year (see – a stat!) – We’ve got a leaner squad now and that’s a good thing. We finally have a third striker (who looks handy) and I’m confident that with a fair wind and us not over complicating things, the squad is good enough to challenge.

We’ve seen some of the fringe players do well and that ups the value of the shirt for everyone – that’s probably as valuable as any signing we could make. Put it this way – if every single player puts the effort of Matty Virtue in (who has played out of position but just scrapped, grafted, kept his head up, kept having a go, even when he’s not got it right) then we’ve got every chance of points in all of these games. We can dissect signings, tactics and attributes forever, but team spirit is a thing that’ indefinable on paper – if you get it going though, it’s worth its weight in gold and by overcoming some tough situations, we might just have found it.

I have no idea if we’ll go on a mad run, I’m not nostradamus or owt but I fucking hate February, so it would be very much appreciated if we could. At least, lets not lose 2-1 at home to Rochdale if we can avoid it.

21 points and some Gary Goals goals please.

For more rambling shite – twitter or facebook (@cooksleft) and Mitch Cook’s Left Foot (blog)

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Published by Mitch Cook's Left Foot

Football blogger. Use too many words.

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