So City struggle to a 1-1 draw with the Macc Lads on a crisp and sunny afternoon at the Park. City lined up: Miller; Hiley, Virgo, Pilkington; Pettefer, Thomas, Walker, Cronin, Bazza; Flack, Coppinger.
The players appeared to have grossly overindulged in the Christmas pudding, and then went back for seconds when the Boxing Day game was called off (incidentally, I don't go with the conspiracy theorists' view that Torquay had the game called off due to suspensions and injuries - it's the ref that calls the game off, not the home team), such was their lethargy and inability to run more than a yard or two. Not that Macc were any better, and the two combined to produced possibly the least attractive half of football seen at the Park. Macc, however, possess a striker who, unlike Flack who had to not only win the ball himself but then chase after his own flick ons due to his increasing isolation, is given support from team mates and decent service too. And so it was from a free kick on the left with the ball swept in that Lightbourne rose highest to glance the ball into the corner of the net in the only place the despairing Kev couldn't reach.
Half time couldn't come quickly enough, if only to provide the 3000 hardy soles a respite from the staggeringly flaccid attempt at football they'd witness beforehand. The second half got underway and City quickly settled in to a rhythm slightly less energetic than that of a three toed sloth who, after a particularly busy day, was feeling a bit tired. Ho hum. The half time introduction of Moor for the utterly anonymous Bazza changed little, as he decided (probably under instruction) that the best place for the most naturally gifted striker at the club to affect a positive change on the game would be to play deep in the midfield and again leave Flack totally isolated. However, twenty minutes in and the Christmas miracle was proved not an isolated one all those years ago when we actually scored. A long ball (the umpteenth of the game) was banged in high and hopeful in the general direction of the goal from Hiley, Flack was alert enough to challenge the keeper who missed it by a country mile to allow him to crash a thunderous header against the bar (shame, he deserved better after his afternoon's solitary confinement upfield) to rebound kindly for Coppinger to guide into an empty net from about five or six yards out. Suddenly, City woke up. They began to pass. They began to tackle. They even began running. Suddenly, we almost had a game worth watching. The introduction of Sheldon for the liability (despite the goal) that was Coppinger upped the stakes a little, but it looked as though for all the better football in the last twenty minutes a second and undeserved goal wouldn't come. But then, it would have been very harsh on a hard working but agricultural Macclesfield if they'd journeyed home without a point. Just to finish things off, in the dying seconds a badly limping Cronin was taken off to be replaced by Brezza.
So unbeaten in December, something we could have only dreamed about in November, but a shambles of a performance today. Hiley might have deserved MOM if he hadn't mugged himself to let two attackers through late on to nearly snatch a winner, Pilkington was assured but insisted, particularly in the first half, on Viney-esque hoofs (or should that be hooves) upfield to no-one in particular at every opportunity and Virgo looked very match rusty and will surely make way for Rivaldo once he's back to full fitness. We started with a midfield five today, which seems kind of strange seeing as the defenders had no intention of including them in the game and continually banged the ball hopefully in Flack's direction. Flack, however, did his best. With Coppinger seemly having little or no interest in the game, the big man had to do it all himself - and with no midfield support either. If they're going to hit it long all the time, then at least get the midfielders up supporting. Cronin looked awful in the first half too, more interested in clattering opposition players instead of winning balls. Pettefer ran up too many blind alleys, and Walker just ambled about occasionally offering some form of token involvement. Not so Thomas, who in my mind ran Flack close for MOM. It's just a shame he's so short, as a little more height would have seen him seal a hat trick (incidentally, listening to Radio Devon on the way home, the bloke summarising the Plymouth game said the same thing of sub Buster, except he opined that 'if only Phillips were longer in the trouser department').And onto Kiddy. I would have thought that at the very least Rivaldo, Sheldon and Moor had done enough to replace Virgo, Bazza and Coppinger, who didn't do anything. I suspect not though. McNab has a thing about Moor - he's desperate for a striker yet here we have a lad itching to get a game and is, despite his meagre amount of appearances, our second top scorer this season. Play the lad with Flack - both know where the goal is and both could certainly build an understanding. Coppinger is flagging badly with no sign of turning his own dismal form or goal return around. Put him on the bench or give him a couple of weeks off first team duties as at the moment he's holding us back. Not that I've got anything against him, I just don't think he warrants a starting place at the moment.
As I say though, unbeaten in December is no bad thing, although we really ought to have done Macc today, they weren't special by any means. At times this afternoon we struggled and flapped more than a guest at a Michael Barrymore swimming party, when we know we can do so much better. Footy wise, 2002 was nothing really to write home about, so let's hope 2003 brings a
little more cheer starting with Kidderminster on Wednesday.
See you there.