Mossley 0 - 2 Leigh Genesis

During a quiet period at work (we have rather a lot of them at the moment) a conversation about football turned into how we’d describe the teams we support to someone who wasn’t particularly au fait with the sport or additionally in my case, someone for whom the non-league aspect of the game is an unknown quantity.

After giving it plenty of thought (like I said, time for such things is very much in abundance at work these days) I realised that there wasn’t a suitable frame of reference for Mossley in not only football but other sports as well. It was only much later that it dawned on me that the perfect comparison was not another team - football or otherwise - but a figure from literature.

What best embodies Mossley AFC to the layman more than anything else is a small piece of 19th Century prose by Henry Longfellow. We are his little girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead because when we are good we are very good indeed, but when we are bad we are horrid.

And horrid is what we were against Leigh.

There would be some debate amongst Mossley supporters as to which was the last truly dreadful performance by the men in white shirts. Some would argue that it was the 5-0 defeat at Clitheroe in August, others would point to the slightly more recent game against Darlington and a few may even go back a season or two. After this game though I think all disagreements will be put aside and a unanimous decision made on this being the latest absolute stinker of a performance from the Lilywhites.

It wasn’t a case of things starting well before gradually getting worse or even starting badly and deteriorating from there. From the first whistle to the last Mossley never rose above a level that was shambolic and inept; a performance during which even simply being mediocre was an aspiration beyond anything we could ever hope of achieving.

Straight from the outset it looked like they thought they only had to turn up to beat their bottom of the table opponents and not even going behind to a fifth minute goal from ex-Lilywhite Marvin McDonald (the latest in a long line of players who couldn’t hit the proverbial cow’s bum with a banjo while wearing a white shirt to score on their return in another club’s colours) could instil any urgency into the home side.

After it took some speedy backtracking by Peter Collinge to stop a wildly mis-hit 25 yard back pass doubling Leigh’s lead a few minutes later, the Mossley manager made the first of what turned out to be many positional changes on the night. Changes that the idiom ‘like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic’ could have been invented for and ones which added to the ramshackle nature of the Lilywhites evening.

To give you an idea of how ridiculous the switching around got, the team line up after 70 minutes was as follows: at right back we had a player who began the match at centre half. The person he’d replaced was now playing left back after a brief spell in his favoured position in the centre of the defence. The third person to fill that gap in the back line was a central midfielder who in turn had his role in the middle of the park taken up by the starting left back. And to round things off a substitution saw an attacking role on the left wing filled by a right back.

I hope you managed to follow that but if you didn’t and it doesn’t make any sense then don’t worry: you’re not alone as there were quite a few people at the match who couldn’t figure out what was going on either. And not just on the terraces.

The ‘who’s doing what?’ conundrum wasn’t being helped as well by the decision to start the game with four central midfielders, all of whom seemed to be desperately trying to occupy the same small area in the middle of the pitch, unsure of the role they’d been asked to fulfil judging by the arguments about who should be where.

The lack of width in midfield meant that once again the onus was on the full backs to push forward and provide Mossley with an attacking option that wasn’t a direct ball to two forwards who, like the midfield, were making identical runs into identical positions. It’s not a role that full backs with no cover in a flat back four should be asked to play but Aaron Chalmers, much like Ben Richardson did to increasingly visible levels of frustration before his departure to Woodley, did his best to give Mossley an attacking edge and was one of only two players (Collinge being the other) to come out of the debacle with any credit, even after taking into account that it was his unforced error that led to the visitors opener.

It would be unfair to say that the Lilywhites didn’t create anything in terms of goal scoring opportunities but what they did fashion could hardly be classed as good or even half chances. There was a goalmouth scramble midway through the first half and a couple of shots from distance but nothing that caused a defence with the second worst record in the division any real trouble.

Conversely the attack with the worst record in the division by some considerable distance (a 0.77 goals per game average) were posing a constant threat and Mossley could count themselves fortunate that it took until the 79th minute for the game to be over as a contest, even if it effectively never was one. A mere four passes, starting from the edge of Leigh box, opened up what passed for Mossley’s defence and on this occasion they couldn’t rely on Collinge sparing their blushes; Connor Millington netting for the visitors and sending a sizeable chunk of the home crowd heading for the exit, a decision which many will wish they made much earlier.

I’ve no doubt that at this point anyone who’s reading this and never saw the game is probably thinking that I’m going overboard as to how bad things were but the sad truth is that I’m not. Actually I'm not entirely sure if I've really managed to convey just how poor it was from a Mossley perspective or even mentioned half of the other problems which conspired to make the night memorable for all the wrong reasons. If you don’t believe we were that bad I recommend check out the opinions of other Mossley supporters here and here (if you’re a member of the forum). Even the official match report which usually gives proceedings a rosy hue is pretty forthright in its condemnation of Mossley’s performance.

It was one of those games that you hope is a one off but my fear, and I know it’s shared by others, is that it isn’t. The problems which plagued us in this match (on pitch arguing, poor body language, strange team selections and formations) have been ones that have caused us trouble to varying degrees in other games and show no sign of being addressed.

The best we can wish for is that this game was not one suffered in vain and that it acts as the catalyst for some improvement because at the moment we don’t seem to be heading anywhere other than down. However if it’s an example of what we can expect over the remaining 16 games of the season then it’s going to get very lonely on the terraces come April.