Matchday 12: Rovers roaring, Wycombe winning, and Southend suspect

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 09 October 2017, 12:03

Matchday 12 is now complete, with our man Gabriel Sutton (@_FootbalLab) reliving the action below in his weekly round-up.

Goals galore for Gaffney and the Gasheads

It was clear in Bristol Rovers’ 2-1 win over Plymouth last week that they are a team that loves to attack. That day, they deserved a more emphatic margin of victory but squandered chances to kill the game off.

This week, they defeated another beleaguered 10-man outfit, Northampton Town, with greater aplomb. Billy Bodin picked up an injury in the process of scoring the opener and his replacement, Tom Nichols, missed his chance to double the lead from the spot. That miss didn’t matter though, as Ellis Harrison put the game to bed with contrasting finishes in the second half. The striker headed home Liam Sercombe’s excellent left-wing cross, then completed a five-minute double-salvo with a sweet strike from range.

His partner, Rory Gaffney, has in the past been described as a selfless runner who lacks predatory ruthlessness. Ironically, he now has the third tier’s best minutes-per-goal ratio, averaging one in 86 with four goals in his last five league appearances. His replacement, Dominic Telford, rounded off the scoring following left-back Marc Bola’s strong run, shortly after Sercombe’s strike.

The 6-0 annihilation means Bristol Rovers have taken 18 points from eight games against teams outside the top six. Their defensive record, 23 conceded in 12, suggests there’s room for improvement at the back, especially during periods when they can’t play their favoured front-foot, high-octane football. Find some organization against the better sides though and a top half finish looks likely.

Southend suspect at the back

The difference between Doncaster and Southend on Saturday wasn’t necessarily the gulf that the 4-1 scoreline might suggest.

The Shrimpers dominated the opening exchanges and they could have been heading back to Essex with three points when Anthony Wordsworth headed home. The 20 minutes that followed either side of half-time however, only served to highlight their defensive frailties.

The south-east outfit have not been helped by injuries at the back this term and depth was stretched again once 20-year-old Harry Kyprianou, an auxiliary centre-back himself, was taken off. That made way for a pairing of veterans John White and Anton Ferdinand, which does not give them much pace. White, along with teenage right-back Elvis Bwomono, was too busy appealing offside for the equalizer, while Ferdinand was guilty of allowing John Marquis to get goal-side at the near-post.

After a Donny free-kick hit the bar in the second half, the duo were then too slow to close down for their second goal, which kick-started a 10-minute treble from Benjamin Whiteman. Not too much blame could be apportioned for the young midfielder’s second, which was an excellent strike from outside the box, but he grabbed his third from a penalty conceded by Ferdinand. That capped a bad day for the 32-year-old, who was red carded in the game’s aftermath, which showed how much the Shakers miss the more reliable Adam Thompson.

Now at Bury, Thompson missed just six league games last term, providing great fitness and stability at the back that made him the base of their play-off push. Phil Brown’s side shipped just 53 goals, fewer than promoted Millwall. They have already conceded 22 this year, more than 23rd place Gillingham and on course to let in 84 at their current rate.

If their defence can’t keep the goals out in games that are relatively even, what chance does it stand when the team has a complete off-day?

Second season-syndrome at Kingsmeadow

Although AFC Wimbledon deserved credit for negotiating a comfortable first term at this level in 2016/17, the sense of occasion helped. As a fan-owned club that had, in their eyes, been written off by the regime, they felt like they were representing not only themselves but also people power. That emotion created a siege mentality that fed onto the pitch.

There is only so long though - perhaps 46 games - before such novelty wears off. Without that sense of adventure, the limitations in their squad are being exposed, especially with key men departed. They miss the hold-up qualities of Tom Elliott, the control of Jake Reeves and to an extent the goalkeeping of James Shea, who was controversially dismissed in the summer.

12 games into the league campaign, they are the second lowest scorers in the entire EFL with just five goals. Only three different players have found the net -¬†and holding midfielder Nadjim Abdou’s only strike came on the opening day at Scunthorpe. Kwesi Appiah and Andy Barcham have bagged their only two league goals since August, the team’s fourth game without a goal coming in Saturday’s 3-0 defeat at Oxford.

They lacked a focal point up top with poacher Cody McDonald struggling to hold the ball up, he and Liam Trotter guilty of missed chances early in the second half. More concerningly, they gave away soft goals: given Wimbledon’s final third struggles, more defensive mishaps are simply unaffordable.

Eze does it for Wycombe

If QPR fans needed a reason to watch the Saturday night EFL highlights during the international break, it was Eberechi Eze’s brace for Wycombe in their 3-1 win at Cambridge.

The 19-year-old is on loan with the Chairboys and opened his professional account in some style. His first goal was a delicate, looping strike from outside the box, helped by Adebayo Akinfenwa’s usual knowhow, physique and hold-up play. Eze didn’t need any help with his second, taking one touch to pounce on a loose ball and another to curl it into the top corner from a similar position.

Another young loanee, Charlton’s Josh Umerah, scored his second in two substitute appearances to make the game safe, completing a deserved win for Gareth Ainsworth’s side. They are sometimes criticized of embracing the combative side of the game too eagerly, but this willingness to battle has been key to their promising start that has yielded 24 points from 12.

Saints and angels might not have been able to keep brutes Jabo Ibehre and Uche Ikpeazu quiet for 90 minutes, for which Anthony Stewart and Adam El-Abd deserve credit. In the last three seasons, Wycombe have rarely looked too far away from the promotion shake-up: early-season form suggests another top seven assault awaits for the league’s top scorers.

Shrimps stuck in a scrap

Jim Bentley remained calm after Saturday’s 1-0 home defeat to Crawley, which saw his side play 56 minutes with 10-men due to Kevin Ellison’s dismissal. The Liverpudlian was happy with the way his side started the game and how they battled in the second half despite their numerical disadvantage, creating numerous openings in the box.

However, their efforts rarely tested the visiting goalkeeper, baring Aaron Wildig’s stinging strike from range. Morecambe are creating a reasonable number of opportunities but to score, they often require many more shots than their League Two competitors, which highlights profligacy in front of goal.

At the back, they are allowing their opponents too many chances. Even in the opening day 2-1 win, Cheltenham hit the post twice and the week after in a 1-1 at Lincoln, Barry Roche put in one of the best performances of his career. The goalkeeper was also key to the 0-0 draw at Cambridge that same month and while September performances against Newport and Luton provided encouragement, defensive imperfections remain.

They were brought to light a week ago at Exeter in a 4-1 defeat, their first notable capitulation of the season. The effort is there at Morecambe, but they must either stop giving soft goals away, or become more ruthless when chances present themselves.

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