After two back to back losses the pressure was on to get a win. Yet I felt very confident. Now that could be seen as delusional but it is the manner of defeat and what you have learnt from it that can fuel confidence for the future. If you do not know why you lost and how you can put it right, or lack the tools to do so - it can feel like the world is falling away under your feet but I genuinely felt we just needed some tweaks to get the side back to winning ways.
Some tough decisions were taken. Mikey and Kurt were dropped from the first team squad, in order to make room for Badri to cement himself as the team's number 9. Faraaz was benched and Emad shifted back to right back. . Jakob and Grady were both available so that strengthened our hand in midfield and George who was due a start, was going to be late because of work so I benched him.
Lamar had served his 1 match ban for lateness and was recalled, despite some reservations from others. He sent me a heartfelt apology before the game and I wanted to give him the opportunity to redeem himself. With no Mikey or Kurt available, I recalled Abdullahi to give him a chance to prove himself and also jeep check on his progression as a player.
The initial plan involved Thomas and Bash flanking Badri in a 4-3-3 but with Thomas arriving late and carrying a slight hamstring injury, Lamar got the nod - having arrived on time for once. In midfield I went with a trio of Meb, Jakob and Grady. Initially I was not too sure if I wanted to start Grady due to his injury issues but the opponent was a strong one and we could not afford to lose three games on the trot. We could not afford to play without a designated CDM.
We started the game relatively well. We looked strong in the challenge and were winning our 50/50's in midfield - Jakob in particular at his combative best. Having said that, I think our side was slightly taken aback with how strong Kingstanding were physically - Badri in particular was having to work very hard to protect the ball and bring others into play and Meb was struggling to impose his passing game.
Before the game we had discussed several patterns of play in respect of building up from the back. It was nice to see that the players at times tried to implement it and actually do a good job with it - though there were also occasions when instructions were completely forgotten and players went off script - for example, longer goal kicks being hit down the middle (I hate this).
Bash soon started to influence the game and was starting to find pockets of space. Badri found himself in the right wing position by the halfway line and he spotted the run of Bash who lost his marker. After a beautifully hit through ball by Badri, Bash found himself in on goal and slotted it calmly with his weaker foot to put us 1-0 ahead. We then had a period of sustained pressure, with plenty of set pieces won but not many clear cut chances on goal created in open play. Having failed to take advantage, we then let Kingstanding back into the game and they began to flood forward in numbers.
I instructed our wingers to sit deeper and help the side through this period of pressure. During most games, even if you are winning or going to win - there will be periods of pressure that you need to survive and manage in order to secure the victory. Fortunately we held firm and then counter attacked, with Badri playing in Lamar who finished calmly past their keeper 1 v 1 to make it 2-0.
Half-Time Score 0-2
I was pleased that the team had gone 2-0 up but there was still little sign of that passing chemistry and control that I wanted to see. If this team wanted to go to the next level, we needed to be able to put together passages of play and not just score goals from counter attack situations or moments of quality. I wanted us to score well-worked goals from back to front.
I instructed Badri to go deeper, as a false 9 to give the midfield a passing outlet. I told Lamar and Bash to operate more centrally, as wide strikers operating in the half spaces. With greater numbers in midfield, I hoped we could keep the ball more and play passes through for the faster forwards to get onto along the floor. I also gave the players a heads up about the subs who would come on second half.
After 10 minutes, I had taken Meb off - who had a decent game - in order to bring George on and start controlling the midfield. His impact was immediate, as he wriggled around any attempts to press and kept finding green shirts. I also brought on Thomas for Bash, and he too looked very sharp. He switched flanks with Lamar and kept twisting defenders in and out only to miss the target narrowly three times.
Emad pulled his groin, so I gave Callum his debut at right back. His preference was to play as a winger but as Faraaz had been out of form, I thought it would be better to gamble on a player who had the pace and engine to play for more than 30 minutes. As the game wore on, we created several counter attacking opportunities and quite frankly should have been 5-0 up but the players were not being clinical.
With the game drawing to a close, I brought on Abdullahi to take on Badri's mantle of helping out the midfield whilst providing a physical presence and I also brought on Faraaz for Daniel to help us deal with Kingstanding's aerial bombardment. Jamie and Ryan were solid as granite and were not in a mood to give away their clean sheet and that is how the game remained until the end. There was a sour note in that Thomas ended up pulling his hamstring - a lesson learned for both him and manager in not rushing a player back to soon.
Full Time Score: Kingstanding 0-2 KHR 'B'
A solid result which I believe justified some of the tough calls taken during the week. In order to win football matches, you have to be able to upset people. You have to motivate people to want to change and improve themselves... if you put your fingers in your ears and put it down to bad luck, you are not going to be able to change your situation.
I was happier with the chance creation in the second half.... we opened up their defence with ease and George helped us keep the ball better but our use of the full backs in possession was poor. I also felt both our full backs could be more efficient in possession.... they needed to think quicker with the ball and feed the ball to the wingers/midfielders with quality. This is something I am looking forward to us implementing in the future.
Key lessons learned
You have to break eggs in order to make an omelette
Trust your players to execute patterns of play, but do not expect them to master it in just one game. Patience is needed.
Coach is responsible for managing injured players... players rarely have the self control to rest when they are injured. Do not abuse their bodies.