Yet again, the Rams showed they are capable of playing well for 45 minutes but not the whole 90. ‘Second half-itis’ has so often been their downfall this season. The statistics show that of 43 goals conceded so far, 31 of them have come during the second halves of matches. Sadly, the course of this game against Bootle followed the same familiar pattern.
Starting brightly, the Rams took the match to Bootle in impressive style, pressing and not allowing their opponents to settle on the ball. With Jamie Rother tackling like a demon in a holding position in front of the back four, Bootle found it very difficult to mount attacks. At this stage, the away team seemed to be looking to put pressure on the new, untried central pairing of Michael Fitzgerald and George Wyatt. However, the two youngsters played very well individually and also in combination. Meanwhile, the return of skipper Tom Kennedy to the left-back slot appeared to give greater defensive solidness and also a wider range of attacking options.
The opening goal for the Rams after 27 minutes was well-deserved on the balance of play. It came following an interchange between Kennedy and Flemming down the left, leading to a cross to the near post that Godwin Abadaki, playing his first game in a while, was on hand to tap into the net to open the scoring at 1-0.
Continuing to starve their opponents of goal-scoring opportunities, it remained 1-0 up to half-time. Just what was said to each of the sides during the break in the respective changing-rooms can only be a matter of speculation. However, the performance of the two teams changed dramatically in the second half. Suddenly, Bootle were on the front foot and able to slice through the home defence at will, usually getting round the full-backs with the aim of delivering crosses from the by-line. Tactically, the away side concentrated on spreading the play out wider and, whenever they could, by-passing anchor-man Jamie Rother in his central midfield role. It didn’t help that there were no other midfield players coming back to put in defensive duties either side of him.
The Rams’ defence, from looking rock solid up to then, was on the ropes from the start of the second half onwards. After 56 minutes, Ben Hodkinson ghosted into the box to dispatch the finishing touch to a cross from the left-hand side to level the score at 1-all. Then, after 64 minutes, midfielder Declan McLoughlin was left unattended as he moved into the box to head home a cross from the right to put the visitors 2-1 ahead.
Despite a pair of comical gaffes from the usually reliable Tom Stewart – luckily he was given second bites of the cherry to make saves from attackers unable to believe their luck – the margin somehow stayed down to one goal. In a rare sortie forward, after 72 minutes, a Rammy corner from the right led to a header directed on goal which sub Owen Collinge provided the finishing touch to, levelling it at 2-2.
With fans hoping that the Rams might now press forward to win the game, it was not to be. Instead, it was Bootle who grabbed the fifth, decisive goal of the match when their no. 9, Jack McGowan, in acres of space at the far post, converted a chance coming his way after 78 minutes to put the visitors 3-2 ahead.
As in the recent Mossley game, there seemed little will or effort to impose further pressure on the Bootle goal at this stage, leaving the visitors to celebrate the taking of the three points at the final whistle.
The well-established fact that Rammy rarely play as well in the second half as the first may be down to lack of stamina in the team as a whole (despite marvellous exceptions like Jamie Rother) or being out-thought tactically as games progress. Nor do the constant team-changes, even if certain new faces played creditably well today, help the overall cause. These are undoubtedly factors in the present run of poor results that need addressing with the team now 15th out of 20 in the league.
RAMSBOTTOM: Stewart, Barlow, Kennedy (c), Fitzgerald, Wyatt, Grimshaw (Cooper 84), Flemming (Collinge 69), Rother, Murphy, Rouse, Abadaki (Rodriguez 80).
Subs unused: Hartley, Marshall-King.