By Chris Slavin
Neal Ardley expressed his disappointment with today's performance at Oxford United and he described the first two goals conceded as "horrendous".
Speaking to our iFollow channel after the 3-0 defeat, Neal said: "As long as my teams play with a high intensity and a desire to win, giving themselves a platform to play, then that is the first point. That did not happen and that is the biggest thing that hurts. In the first 20 minutes we lacked intensity and a lot of the stuff that for the last six games the players had shown in abundance. I thought the game was boring and it suited them. They are a possession-based team and they play at a slow tempo, but we let them play at their tempo. We lost far too many battles, considering we were playing against a team who like to get the ball down and play.
"We had worked hard all week on attacking play, trying to give the players the freedom to do what we want them to do and get themselves a goal. We worked on that and then the first two goals we conceded were defensively horrendous. In the first 20 minutes we were tepid defensively with our work off the ball. As a manager, you work hard on attacking play and then you become defensively poor. These things should be givens and it hurts me to see a team like that. It hurts me to sit here and say to the fans that I am sorry. That is not how I set my teams up and it's not what I expect from them. At the end of it, I am really disappointed."
Neal explained that he kept faith with the same starting 11 selected for the draw against Rochdale, as he felt they were showing signs of moving in the right direction.
"When a team plays really well for six games and does a lot of things right, you think, 'okay you deserve to keep your place'. I get to watch the game back twice and get to have a more educated opinion than most. When I looked at the stats in the last six games they were massively in our favour. When they are not doing a lot wrong, you think that if you keep going it will turn, but then you get today.
"A lot of the qualities that have given us those stats were not there. It has shocked me, I was not ready for it, and it was like, 'wow, where has this come from?' The only people who can make things better are the players. I set the culture, I try to make sure they are aware of the opposition, and give them the freedom to play. I try to give them an identity of what we are about and as a manager you make sure they are fresh and fit, but when they go on the pitch and things don't go well you cannot do anything about it. The two centre-backs were beaten by one player for the first goal and then for the second we gave the ball away from our throw-in, and one cross later to the back post, it is volleyed in. It is hugely disappointing. We have a tough season ahead and we have to get some momentum going quickly."