By JEFF HERNDEN
Lightning struck on Thursday night at Al Lang in memorable fashion as the Rowdies ended both their long goal-scoring drought and their even longer winless streak.
As impressive as the lightning strikes just before half-time were that caused the nearly two hour weather delay, the strikes on the pitch were equally impressive. The first strike resulted directly from tactical adjustment. Coach Stuart Campbell finally adjusted his tactics and switched to a 4-3-3 formation. More important than the change in formation, however, was the change in the play itself. Gone went the emphasis on possession (the Rowdies were held to just 49.9% possession) and crossing from the wings. Instead, the Rowdies emphasized on attacking from the wings to the middle and the endline on the dribble and combination play through the middle.
From this, these adjustments came these welcome improvements: possession with purpose, attacking flair and goals. Forward Alex Morrell was clearly the man of the match and the most dangerous player on the field for either team. Midfielders Marcel Schäfer and Joe Cole kept the Rowdies looking forward, and with three players ahead of them, they were never lacking for passing options. This allowed the Rowdies to get men forward into the attacking third and the penalty area but, more importantly, it allowed the Rowdies to take high-percentage shots. Campbell’s men put 11 of 13 shots on frame. High percentage shots on target from a creative and attacking style then led to goals. TWO of them. Had it not been for the nearly two-hour weather delay, it seems likely that the Rowdies would have maintained momentum going in to the second half, potentially scoring more.
On the defensive side, the Rowdies back four, led by the return of Neill Collins, bent but never broke, allowing mostly low-percentage efforts from long range or set pieces. For those five Cincinnati shots that did hit the target, big Matt Pickens came up huge again, gobbling up the long range efforts with ease, despite the tricky surface following the downpour.
For the first time in several matches, Campbell also used all three of his available substitutions, although two of them were forced, with both goal scorers, Martin Paterson and Joe Cole having to come off with apparent injuries, Campbell made the correct decisions adding the speed of Darwin Jones up front through the middle, and the reliability of Martin Vingaard alongside Schäfer. Kyle Porter also came on as a late 90th minute sub to sure up the defense in the dying minutes.
Clearly the tactical changes worked in this one. This then raises a few questions: Was this victory a result of tactical changes or of better individual performances? Will Campbell continue with this adjustment at OCB next Thursday or will he revert back to the 4-2-3-1? I believe the tactical adjustments allowed our players to play to their individual strengths, resulting in overall better performances. Still, the Rowdies still need to address their seriously depleted squad by bringing in players. Lets hope for some activity in the market. Soon.
Manager rating: 7/10 — Overall team rating: 7.5/10
Matt Pickens (GK): Pickens was again at his best tonight, not only making acrobatic saves, but also securing the ball well on a tricky, wet second half surface. Not giving up any rebounds was key for keeping the clean sheet. Player rating: 9/10
Zac Portillos (LB): Had a solid night for his first league match in more than a year. Portillos got involved in the attack with a majority of his touches in the opposition half. His passing accuracy was a little low at 67.4%. Defensively he won most of his duels and tackles – especially an excellent sliding tackle in the 41st minute. Overall a good return to the starting XI. Player rating: 7/10
Neill Collins (CB): Best defender of the night, winning all of his duels, making 4 tackles, 5 clearances, and 4 interceptions and keeping FCC’s big #9, Djiby Fall frustrated in the second half. Collins came up big in a match where we needed him to. Player rating: 8/10
Tamika Mkandawire (CB): Decent night defensively for Tam. He battled hard and, despite losing most of his duels, he kept pace and chipped in with 6 clearances. Player rating: 6.5/10
Darnell King (RB): With Morrell having the night of his season ahead of him, King wasn’t needed to contribute much to the attack, and thus concentrated most of his game defensively. He won tackles and made some key interceptions and clearances. I’d still like him to get forward more, especially to provide the width for the 4-3-3. Player rating: 6.5/10
Keith Savage (DM): Played well in the lone holding midfield position, winning tackles and making clearances, but more importantly was able to combine well with Schäfer, Cole and Morrell, allowing them to push forward and create chances. Player rating: 7/10
Marcel Schäfer (CM): Excellent return to the starting XI. Schäfer kept the team on the front foot and looking forward. He combined well with Cole and the forward line, completing 89.3% of his passes. Although he did at times drop back alongside Savage, he worked well in this more advanced position. Player rating: 7.5/10
© Joe Cole (CM, Subbed off 84′ – Vingaard): It’s hard to believe that Cole had 26 fewer touches in this match than he did against the Battery, because he was 10 times as effective. The difference here was that Cole was always looking forward and allowed to be creative in the attack. He may have had fewer touches and a similar average position as in the previous match, but the quality of those touches improved immensely. He even chipped in with a goal off the rebound from Morrell’s shot just before the weather delay. Player rating: 7.5/10
Georgi Hristov (LW): Relatively quiet night for Georgi as most of our attack came through Morrell on the right side. Still, Georgi put two of his three shots on target, created chances, and got in to the box. He’d have had a tap-in goal in the 37th minute if Paterson had picked his head up to find Georgi on wide open at the far post. Player rating: 7/10
Alex Morrell (RW, Subbed off 90′ – Porter): Easily the Man of the Match for this one. The only thing missing was a goal of his own. He was dynamic on the dribble (massive credit for not going down when he could have won a foul – instead continuing his dribbles that led to both goals), created chances, put shots on target, provided an assist, and hit the post. On this night he reminded me of a relatively famous player who plays for some little club called Barcelona. Some guy called Messi. You might have heard of him. Player rating: 9.5/10
Martin Paterson (F, Subbed off 65′ – Jones): Had a strong night going up against Cincinnati’s big back line. Fairly limited in his touches, but like Cole, his touches were in attacking positions. Three shots on target got him his goal. Never lacking in intensity, my only critique is that he seems to go down a bit too easily when challenged. Could have tallied an assist if he had looked up to find Georgi in the 37th minute. Player rating: 7/10
Darwin Jones (F, Subbed on 65′ – Paterson): The best night Jones has had in a long while. I was slightly surprised that the stayed int he central position instead of moving out to the left wing with Georgi moving central. Jones had an excellent 25 minutes. His speed provided a much needed outlet late in the game. He looked energetic and dynamic. Player rating 7.5/10
Martin Vingaard (CM, subbed on 84′ – Cole): Late substitute for Cole who seemed to cramp up late. Added some fresh defensive cover as we looked to keep the clean sheet. Player rating: 7/10
Kyle Porter (D, subbed on 90′ – Morrell): Last minute sub wasted some time and allowed the fans to give Morrell a nice ovation as the left the field. Player rating: NA/10