Well, on the face of it, our first game of the season bore no little resemblance to so many games last season – some inventive attacking, some well-taken goals, some infuriatingly poor defending. But no – let us try to believe it is different this time. A 2-2 draw against Southend is not a championship-winning result, nor was it a championship-winning performance, but there were some real positives.
City began the game missing the injured Appleby and Alexander, fielding: Glennon; Edwards, Strong, Anderson, Smith; Ashbee, Greaves, Green, Williams; Elliot and Dudfield. Immediately we tore into our southern visitors, attacking a sparsely populated away end containing around 300 of the 10,449 crowd. The goal we knew would calm our nerves was always on the cards, and after eight minutes it arrived – a lovely ball from Dudfield sent Green haring towards goal, and his finish from ten yards was impeccable. It set the tone for most of the first half, Green, Elliot and Dudfield combining quite beautifully on occasions. The amber tide was relentless, chance being created at regular intervals, Dudfield and Williams coming close.
Then it all got rather daft. The referee was a Mr Eddie Evans, officiating his first ever League game. We can only hope it is his last, for a man more hopelessly out of his depth has not been seen since Carlton Palmer pulled on an England shirt. That bloody stupid moustache only made things worse. Seven bookings in ten minutes rained down on a game free from any bad feeling, save for a rather girly squaring-up between the two sets of players. Our shortarsed hero was in his element, waving his fluorescent yellow card with gay abandon, enjoying his moment in the limelight. It was during this period of play that the match would take a decisive course – a red card was sure to follow (Mr Evans was determined it would), and those dark forebodings were proven right.
Yet they were banished as City continued pouring forward, some clever moves not quite coming off. It was masking some worrying signs down our left flank, where Shaun Smith was very far from convincing. As half-time approached, City decided to relax a bit, and the break arrived with us comfortably on top and eagerly awaiting some more good football and goals in the second half.
Quite why it never happened is a mystery. City were a suddenly torpid, second to every challenge, unsure, of how best to proceed. You could almost sense the relief in the visitors that the anticipated second half drubbing was not going to materialise, and they tentatively began pushing forwards themselves, suddenly aware that a shock point was in the offing. And it looked likely when Jenkins crafted an equaliser on 62 minutes. The visitors had been on top for some time when a corner was half-cleared out to our left flank, increasingly the source of Tiger angst. It was returned high and over Glennon’s head into the far corner. A cross? Who knows. Jenkins will claim it, and he may well have a point. A piece of skill for sure, yet not an unpreventable goal.
Did the expected panic arrive? It did not. City immediately wrested back control of the game. Green shot just over from twelve yards, before marvellous through ball on 68 minutes from the same player sent Elliot scampering towards goal wide on the left. His pace took him past his tormented marker, and a sweet shot from an acute angle flew into the corner of the goal. 2-1 to City. The next fifteen minutes were largely equal – Southend huffing and puffing without creating much, while City continued to craft good chances, none of which were taken. It would prove costly when on 85 minutes the referee, clearly upset at being deposed by the footballers in the attention stakes, elected to send off Ian Ashbee for a harmless challenge. A very poor decision by Mr Evans, who you just know was bullied at school, and there was a sense of the inevitable of what came next.
Southend equalised. City had retreated to an absurd degree, choosing not to continue attacking or using our pace up front, but simply withdrawing every man into our box. Tes Bramble’s 92nd minute shot took a heinous deflection, totally wrongfooted Glennon and went in. Gah. Poor defending, bad luck and bad refereeing yes, but why did we suddenly panic?
Negatives first – Smith was poor at left-back, and the defence in general looked less than convincing, save for the ever-excellent Mike Edwards. Bringing on Philpott for the industrious Williams on 89 minutes was not a very good idea. We could concede a fair few this season.
Positives – we’ll score a fair few this season. Green looks every inch the class act Carlisle fans raved about last season, Dudfield was back to his best, Elliot looks a cut above this division, Ashbee was omnipresent in midfield, ably supported by Williams. We still have Alexander to return from injury, who will no doubt score at a regular rate with such excellent service on offer. Appleby too will bolster the midfield.
A frustrating opening and only a point, but perhaps with more positives than negatives. We shall improve.