Standards of refereeing
I don’t like starting on a negative but this issue seems to be cropping up week in and week out. The Whites were once again tormented by the maligned spectre of poor refereeing. Offsides were missed, Gethin Jones was carded for a non-existent tackle and the likes of Dion Charles and Dapo Afolayan were repeatedly impeded illegally without the whistle being sounded.
In previous weeks and months we’ve seen stonewall penalties denied, bizarre penalties awarded and four red cards that irrevocably changed games to our detriment that we have successfully appealed. These decisions have cost us points and will go on to cost us points until improvements are made. One can only hope that this cost isn’t too keenly felt at the end of the season.
Play the ball not the man
Twitter is a great tool when used correctly to share insight, engage with your club and create a feeling of community. Unfortunately the platform also offers freedom of consequence and far too many take the chance to be a Bertie-big-bollocks with their opinions.
If you are displeased with a player’s performance it is fair and right that you can share your opinion on their performance or their selection or the tactics. Instead a sizeable minority seem to just skip any sense of proportion, decency or brain activity and decide to throw insults.
On the receiving end yesterday was Baka who unfortunately saw the insults which almost certainly soured what should have been a joyous afternoon for the big man. Don't expect player loyalty if you’re happy to insult them after one quiet game...or at all.
Our newfound strength and weakness
Declan John has arguably been the biggest beneficiary from our recent change in formation. With the LWB role giving him more freedom to attack and less responsibility to defend he has offered a decent return of assists and two goals in the last two weeks.
Whilst his attacking game is going from strength to strength his less prominent defensive role in becoming a focus for our opponents. Oxford noticeably targeted the left side yesterday and had a fair amount of success exploiting the space behind John. Marlon Fossey seems to be a bit more protected with his insane athleticism aiding him in getting back in to position and the assistance of Gethin Jones who can come across and become a second right back with ease. John is going to need more protection to minimise his vulnerabilities and allow him to maximise his strengths in the games to come.
Rotation becomes Evatts biggest call
The February schedule looked to be a gruelling one when the fixtures were first posted. It was to be a month of two games per week, every week. The prospect of that was a frightening one for a pre-January Bolton Wanderers. However we now have the depth to keep personnel fresh without having to sacrifice quality and the ability to tailor the starting eleven to the opposition.
Tuesdays opponents Burton Albion will present a very different challenge to Oxford United. Burton are direct, strong and their pitch is a sub-par playing surface for our style. How Evatt chooses to react to to this game and future games will be what success hinges on this year. If he can make the correct changes and keep momentum then we have a real shot at being in with a shout of the play-offs. These are tough decisions, make no mistake. Too many changes and it could disrupt the team. Too few and the team will fatigue.
As for Tuesday I’d be looking at who looked a little leggy on Saturday and how to best cope with Burton’s style/pitch. If I was making the call I’d have Aimson for Jones. Dempsey for Lee. And I’d start with a Dadi-Bakayoko attack. Whilst I’d love to see the likes of Dapo, Charles and Sadlier against their defence the Burton pitch will make it very difficult for those lads to play their natural game. Dropping Dion sounds crazy but I did think he looked a bit tired (unsurprisingly) on Saturday and we need to keep him fit. It’s a big call and I’m glad it’s not me making it.
It started as a whisper but it’s being said pretty loudly now. Wanderers are looking very similar to their revival last year and who knows where that could lead us. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking it too but I will confess to still being cautious on the matter. There’s still a sizeable gap and a very congested pack vying for the spots. I don’t think I’ll allow myself to get (properly) excited unless we reach parity with that pack but the chance is there now and it’s absolutely beautiful to experience. We can’t afford to look beyond any game now as there no room for mistakes. Evatt knows this and was able to keep his squad laser focused on ‘the next game’ last year. I think and hope he can again this year.
Roll on Tuesday!