The weekend saw the arrival of our second game of pre-season, as we travelled to The Hive, Barnet. Having been away for a week in Portugal on the now annual pre-season trip, it was the first chance for the senior players to get close to a full match under their belt.
Before the match Harris revealed he would be splitting the squads for the two games against Barnet and Stevenage, in an attempt to maximise minutes per game for all senior players. The starting XI was complete with senior players and the bench had only Under 23 squad members.
The game itself played out to a disappointing 1-0 defeat. Goal scorer for Barnet through always the handful Jon Akinde. I know, it is only pre-season and results are not a priority at this stage as I always say myself. However, looking on whilst at the game, the performance was equally as bad, with Barnet the better side for the majority of the match.
With the XI we had out there, we should’ve been able to create an abundance of chances and offer our forwards the chance to get off the mark in a game. Looking back now, you’d struggle to pick out those moments where we carved apart our League Two opposition.
Harris himself after the game was quick to mention his disappointment in the performance, and also mentioning a couple of the players would be lucky to get near the starting XI when we travel to Nottingham in less than two weeks’ time.
Anyway, having witnessed the 90 minutes at the ground, here are five points that crossed my mind at full time:
McLaughlin and Meredith look at home
Albeit the negative start to this post, let’s start on a positive point from the game. Both full backs Conor McLaughlin and James Meredith started the match Saturday with the latter completing the full game; McLaughlin was replaced with 10 minutes remaining for youngster James Brown.
Completing the back four with Byron Webster and Shaun Hutchinson, there was a sense of having a defensively sound back four. With both full backs also offering their qualities going forward in the wide areas, their ability to get up and down the flanks was very evident.
Left side taking shape
Keeping with the wide areas on the pitch, the combination on the left hand side with Shane Ferguson and Meredith was also impressive. Both offer the natural balance to the team, however what stood out most was their understanding of each other’s game. If Meredith was to kick on into the final third, Ferguson offered the cover to the full back, and we know Ferguson is more than capable of covering in defence.
The build-up play between the two also stood out, dragging Barnet players with them out of position and creating space for each other. The usual defensive choice for Harris is to play Ferguson instead of Aiden O’Brien, and with a step up in opposition this season, it would not be a surprise for Ferguson to get the nod in more games this time around.
Lack of midfield presence
Starting with our tried and tested 4-4-2 formation, Saturday we had Calum Butcher and Shaun Williams in the middle of the park. I have never been one to be over critical of players like Butcher, who on paper are the backup options available to Harris in our squad. However Saturday was glaringly obvious the absence of a typical box-to-box midfielder such as Ben Thompson.
With Williams playing the role of the midfield playmaker, the job of the player next to Williams is to bring the physicality and win your teams 50-50 tackles, or bring the energy and provide something of a nuisance to the opposing central players. Against Barnet, I felt Butcher didn’t provide either, with the Barnet midfield offered too much time on the ball, and able pick out players in more advanced positions.
Perhaps a lot to do with Butcher’s performance was lack of match time, often miss timing a tackle and when having the ball at feet, Butcher was failing to pick out a pass to set the attackers on their way further up the field. Perhaps I’m being over critical, however the absence of a Ben Thompson was clear viewing.
Lack of creativity
With Jed Wallace, Aiden O’Brien and Fred Onyedinma giving the game off and likely to feature tomorrow at Stevenage, an opportunity was presented to players like David Worrall to stake their claim for a place in the first XI. Having lost his place thanks to the arrival of Wallace, it looked like an opportunity Harris wanted to give to the wide man with both Morison and Gregory starting up top.
However as I mentioned in the intro to the post, the game played out with hardly any chances created, especially down the right flank. It opened my eyes to how much I think we rely on Jed Wallace, due to Wallace’s pace and directness on the ball, he brings a constant threat in the wide areas. Players Gregory know where the ball is likely to end up with Wallace playing, beating his man and producing a cross that seems always causes havoc in the opposition area.
Worrall provides a steady back-up to the team, but it won’t be a shock to any if he doesn’t feature on the first game of the season. Up next in pre-season, a trip to Stevenage…