Phoenix Sports 0 Bury Town 3

by Steve

Sunny day for Phoenix Sports versus Bury Town

Charles Reep has a lot to answer for. Excuse me a brief and rather shaky history of the long ball game. Retired RAF Wing Commander Reep was an amateur statistician, who from studying football in the 1950s came up with a number of concepts. There was the “3-pass optimisation rule” – that a higher percentage of goals come from three passes in the build-up, as opposed to more passes prior to a shot taking place. He also came up with the concept of “9 shots per goal”, that on average there is goal for every nine shots on goal.

These ideas led to the popularity of the long ball tactic. The quicker you get the ball up the field and have a shot on goal, the better. I think most of us now acknowledge that is a flawed theory.

Phoenix Sports and Bury Town seem to agree that the long ball isn’t best. It was refreshing to hear both benches implore their players to get the ball down and play. However, both sides showed just how hard-wired the long ball can be, hoofing the ball away at times when far better options lay closer by.

Bury took the lead in the first-half with one of those calamitous goals where the ball seems to pass through the whole defence before an unattended Tom Debenham headed home. Bury picked up another two goals in the second half with some good counter-attacking, Bradley Barber and Josh Mayhew scoring and showing Bury as a side who are capable of creating and taking chances, once they realise route one isn’t the best route.

3-0 isn’t the whole story. This wasn’t a one-sided game. Well, at times it was one-sided, with Phoenix being the better team. Bury’s counter-attacks could have just been part of a a rope-a-dope strategy, soaking up the pressure until their opponent tired out. Or it could just be the oddness and randomness of one particular game.

Phoenix played some excellent football at times. There were some fantastic passages of play, players comfortable passing the ball about or taking defenders on. Christie Pattison showed real power and pace on the wing. Jason Goodchild played the part of captain to a tee, spraying the ball about but also ready to charge half the length of the field for a lost cause, always willing to make a decisive challenge (admittedly he probably did well to stay out of the referee’s notebook until the 90th minute). There were plenty of chances. Following the “9 shots per goal” theory, Phoenix probably should have scored, and probably got something out of the game.

But the stats don’t always work out over 90 minutes. You can’t always legislate for an opposition goalkeeper, in this case Neil O’Sullivan, making a number of outstanding saves. Or an opposition defence who, to quote someone in the crowd, appeared to have brought along their own trampoline. They won everything in the air.

Which brings us back to the long ball game. When Phoenix passed and ran, they created chances. When they hit and hoped they just gave possession away. It is demoralising to lose 3-0 at home. It is even more demoralising to lose 3-0 at home when you’ve played some great football. But the important thing is to not lose faith.

If there is any truth in the “9 shots per goal” theory they are due a hatful soon, providing they keep playing to their strengths. Charles Reep may have got the numbers right (although the“3-pass optimisation rule” has a lot of flaws, which is another tale for another time), but the tactics wrong. Phoenix have the personnel to play attacking, but intelligent, football. And this match was clear evidence that in this league that sort of football wins matches, not the long ball. When Bury played proper football they looked excellent.

Phoenix might benefit from a little more movement up front, or composure in front of goal, even just some plain old luck, but if they keep doing what they doing they should start winning again.