By JEFF HERNDEN
Coach Stuart Campbell again made several changes to his starting XI due to Deshorn Brown heading to D.C. United, and injuries to Michael Nanchoff and Leo Fernandes. Campbell stuck with his familiar 4-2-3-1 formation, with Georgi Hristov replacing Martin Paterson up front, while Keith Savage and Darwin Jones returned to midfield and Damion Lowe to defense, relegating Marcel Schäfer and Neill Collins to the bench.
While the Rowdies dominated possession, they were toothless in attack, taking only three shots on target and creating precious few quality scoring chances. This has been typical of the Rowdies for most of the season and it has been evident that teams have caught on to this. With no fear of the Rowdies’ attack, teams are happy to allow them to possess, needing only to capitalize on the Rowdies’ own mistakes rather than create their own scoring chances.
Against the Battery, these mistakes cost the Rowdies dearly. Throughout the match they gave away possession in midfield and the defensive third cheaply. In the 70th minute, with Lowe tracking back slowly following an attacking run, Keith Savage made an errant long pass and compounded his mistake by not getting goal-side of Battery forward Romario Williams, who went around a helpless Matt Pickens and finished into an empty net. In the 81st minute, Joe Cole was caught dribbling in the defensive third by Heviel Cordovés, who then received a short pass through on goal and confidently converted.
Following seven matches without a win, Campbell’s seat is a hot one. All good coaches should be able to recognize when things are not working and adjust accordingly. In the offseason, the manager must build the squad according to his intended tactical approach. During the season, the manager’s job is to adjust tactics to suit the squad. For several matches now, it is evident that Campbell’s 4-2-3-1 approach, emphasizing wide-play and crosses in to the box, does not fit with his squad’s strengths. At 6′ and 5’10” respectively, Georgi Hristov and Martin Paterson are not target center forwards, like Brown. The Rowdies strength is in their creativity on the ball, and in their combination play. Campbell needs to change his tactical approach to emphasize these strengths. His one substitution against the Battery (Paterson for Morrell in the 76th minute) showed his reluctance to adjust tactically even late and down a goal. Instead of adjusting formation or tactics, he only changed out personnel and moved Georgi to the wing as Paterson went on up top.
Tweaking the formation to a 4-3-3 would provide more support for Paterson or Georgi up top. Adding a second attacking midfielder would free up Cole to join the attack more. Any of the team’s holding midfielders are capable of sitting in front of the back four on their own. Alternatively, my ideal starting XI for Thursday’s match against FC Cincinnati is an even more attacking-minded approach in a 3-5-2 (or a 4-4-2 with a defensive diamond) formation with Pickens in goal, Tam, Collins and Porter across the back three, Schäfer, Cole and Nanchoff (depending on his injury) in the middle, Morrell and Jones on the wings, and Georgi and Paterson up front.
All things considered, the Rowdies have two options: either the club needs to add players to the squad to suit Campbell’s tactics, or Campbell needs to adjust tactics to suit his current squad. The one certainty in both of these options is that it is past time to make changes.
Manager rating: 3/10 — Overall team rating: 6.5/10
Matt Pickens (GK): Another Man of the Match performance. Between punching crosses and making several huge saves, Pickens had another excellent game but was let down by a toothless attack and errors in the defensive third. Nothing he could have done about either goal. Player rating: 9/10
Luke Boden(LB): Unfortunately a questionable yellow card marred an otherwise decent performance from Boden. Being his fifth caution of the season, Boden will be out for Thursday’s match against FC Cincinnati. Against the Battery, Boden had a solid performance defensively, but he was not able to get forward enough. Player rating: 6.5/10
Tamika Mkandawire (CB): Solid night for Tam. He held position well and didn’t make any major defensive errors. Worked well with Lowe as he won three tackles and completed 92% of his passes. Player rating: 6.5/10
Damion Lowe (CB): One glaring error led to the Battery’s first goal. I can’t fault him for going forward following an interception in the 68th minute, but a lethargic return to defense coupled with Savage’s errant pass and poor defending led to the Rowdies going down 1-0 with 20 minutes left to play. Aside from this lapse, Lowe was the best defender of the night, keeping league-leading scorer and Jamaican compatriot Romario Williams at bay. Player rating: 6.5/10
Darnell King (RB): Quiet night defensively for King, but did his job. Aside from a couple early crosses and late forays forward after they were trailing by two, he didn’t contribute much to the attack. No major praise or complaint. Player rating: 6.5/10
Martin Vingaard (DM): Showed glimpses of his early season form and had an overall good performance breaking down Charleston’s counter-attack winning tackles and also completed passes 91% of his passes. A majority of these passes however were lateral or negative. His passing needs to look to transition quickly from defense to attack to put the opposition’s defense under pressure. Player rating: 7/10
Keith Savage (DM): Two major mistakes resulted in the Rowdies going down in the 70th minute. His errant long pass could have been mitigated, but instead of keeping his head in the game, Savage put his head down and failed to get goal side of Williams. These glaring errors belied an otherwise decent performance. Player rating: 5/10
Darwin Jones (LW): A poor performance from Jones. Had lacked the energy and quality of previous performances, giving away possession cheaply on several occasions leading to Battery counter attacks. He seemed to pick things up late in the match, but it was too little, too late. Player rating: 6/10
© Joe Cole (CM): Got caught dribbling out of the the back, which led to the Battery’s second goal in the 81st minute. By the time he got the attack going, the Rowdies were already down a goal late. Credit for his continued effort towards the end of the match, but he did not create enough with his touches and possession, in part due to having to drop deep to get on the ball and a lack of options going forward. Player rating: 6.5/10
Alex Morrell (RW, Subbed off 76′ – Paterson): Should have put a shot on target instead of crossing from inside the 18 in the 24th minute. Overall played as expected, creating a couple of chances and attacking on the dribble. He wasn’t able to get on the ball enough to go forward. Player rating: 6.5/10
Georgi Hristov (F): While he was able to create a couple chances for teammates, Georgi had no shots in the game. And only one touch inside the Battery’s 18 yard box. He spent most of the match isolated against the Battery’s two center backs and his touches were limited to negative passes from the wings. Can’t fault Georgi entirely as this was largely due to a lack of support and service. Still, not good enough. Player rating: 6.5/10
Martin Paterson (DM, Subbed on 73′ – Jones): Came on late and assumed the isolated role up top as Georgi was moved out to the wing. One shot on target from his four touches in 15 minutes of play. Player rating 6.5/10