With a daunting late October/November on the horizon (Derby, Reading, Burnley, Leeds, Wednesday and Middlesbrough), Town’s home game against likely fellow strugglers MK Dons assumed significant importance and it was essential that 3 points were secured.
The same 11 who had battled dourly at Portman Road for a well earned point took the field, but, on the bench, Vaughan, Dempsey and Carayol were replaced by Holmes, Bojaj and Boyle for varying reasons; while the changes were enforced, it was a fitting reward for 3 players instrumental to impressive u21 results of late.
Town’s offer of a £10 admittance was rewarded with another poor home crowd – it was slightly above average and probably made a difference of around 2,500, so it proved reasonably worthwhile without convincing that the townsfolk were suddenly enamoured of a team which tends to lack personality or an efficient but pragmatic manager who rarely encourages expansive football.
A bright start saw Scannell skin the veteran left back Lewington (we seem to have been playing against him forever), but his decent cross narrowly evaded Miller’s “leap”, brushing harmlessly off his head.
Miller’s next, and best, contribution was a shot smartly saved 25 minutes later as Town struggled to make any impact on the visitors whose possession stats were as impressive as they were pointless.
One low cross evaded a striker on the far post and an attempted lob following a lucky deflection was easily gathered by Steer – otherwise, Town’s back four were to have a relatively easy night with Lynch and Cranie barely putting a foot wrong.
Although Hudson generally did well, he looks a much better player away from home, which has been the case for all of his career with the Leeds Roaders so far. Davidson fared much better again, but still needs to truly recapture the early form he showed.
In the face of the over passing of their opponents, Town soon descended to launching balls up to Miller which were rarely won and sometimes not even competed – the constant looking for non existent fouls is reminiscent of our erstwhile non scoring centre forward, Alan Lee and he is not getting the crowd on his side with such antics.
It could be said that MK Dons simply played in to Town’s hands – their ineffectiveness was pretty to watch at times but they lacked the pace or guile to fashion opportunities as the home side did, at least, keep a good shape without the ball for all but a few fleeting, unpunished moments.
A spectacle, however, it did not make, and with the forward players wasteful – Bunn in particular but he was far from alone – no momentum was built and a drudge of a first half was epitomised by some terrible corners and free kicks by a well below par Huws.
With the second half following a similar pattern, goals seemed unlikely and neither keeper was unduly troubled as both teams struggled to exert meaningful pressure and whatever atmosphere had existed in the ground fell flat once more. Even the dedicated North Stand found it hard to muster much enthusiasm for what had become an ugly pastiche of a game.
The visitors insistence on trying to play their way out of every situation while never looking quite good enough to achieve anything was to bite them very hard on the arse. Under relatively mild pressure from Miller, McFadzean mishit an intended back pass in to the path of Wells who finished his chance very well.
The gift was undeserved if welcome and may provide a boost to Wells’ confidence on a night where he had struggled to make much contribution. Just two minutes later, Wells was found by a good first time ball from Scannell and the striker’s turn and thrust towards goal opened up space for a ball through to Miller. Characteristically, the subsequent shot (hit after taking one too many touches) sailed over the bar when composure would have sealed the points.
With a lead, Town could rely on the ineffectiveness of their opponents, though the rearguard action became increasingly nervy and possession was conceded far too often. As ever, the driving force – and pretty much the only one – was Whitehead, who got through mountains of work up and down the pitch. He is proving to be a shrewd and massively valuable signing and easily took the man of the match plaudits, again.
While it won’t get the crowds flooding back, Town can at least be commended for swamping their opponents in the last half hour, forcing most of the passing to be in front of them and the visitors’ ineffectiveness was bordering on tedious.
Jake Forster-Caskey tried to liven proceedings up by aiming a head butt at Davidson and, remarkably, stayed on the field with a yellow card. If Vaughan was at the game, no doubt his head was in his hands at the inconsistency of referees.
Town made some forays forward down both flanks but decent approach work by Scannell and Bunn was let down by poor delivery and though another goal didn’t seem vital given the limitations of the opposition, and the game had barely deserved one goal never mind two, a second would have eased nerves considerably.
We were treated to a rare glimpse of loanee Paterson (on for Wells rather than the increasingly comical Miller), and he showed one or two signs of flair without altering the pattern of the game as the visitors tried to break through without the luxury of anything resembling a plan B.
Powell’s next two substitutions were transparently time eating – Scannell wandered from the far side of the pitch with all the urgency of molasses to be replaced by Smith and Miller made way for young Bojaj, illustrating the manager’s faith in youth (!).
The Albanian’s first and only 2 minutes of senior football were quite eventful. He was immediately in the action and managed to extricate himself from trouble under pressure on the right wing with a back pass before latching on to a poor pass from the Dons’ keeper intended for the wretched McFadzean and feeding Paterson to seal the points with a flattering second goal.
Consecutive clean sheets, two gifted goals and 3 important points made it a good night for Town, though the entertainment starved crowd had little else to cheer from a game devoid of excitement and lacking incident. Nevertheless, and regardless of the manner, this was an important win with the significantly more difficult challenges laying ahead.
After a worrying first 6 games garnering just 2 points (somewhat harshly), the next 6 have seen one defeat and 11 points – we can always hope that Town’s recent tendency to play well against more illustrious opposition is maintained; they will play much better than this and come away with nothing.