Despite their lowly position in the league table, Solihull should not be underestimated. They climbed off the bottom of the table with a 1-1 draw at Maidstone last Saturday, and would have been very pleased with their performance.
They showed real character to recover from the early blow of going behind after 45 seconds, and went on to be the better side, perhaps deserving more than one point from their performance.
Solihull are a physical, direct side, who made it very difficult for Maidstone to get the ball down and pass it around. They work hard within a basic 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 shape, closing down quickly and trying to force errors and loose balls.
They don’t tend to play long balls to an aerial target, but instead play balls in behind the opposing defence, looking for Thomas and Afolayan to run onto them. Neither striker is particularly threatening when give long balls in the air to challenge for. Thomas, on debut, scored at Maidstone, and Afolayan has posed an intermittent goal threat this season, usually by running at defenders on the break.
Set pieces are Solihull’s greatest means of posing a threat to the opposition. Their full backs both possess long throws and are eager to use them, both to propel the ball into the box and to gain distance down the flanks from defensive positions.
Against Maidstone, Solihull won an impressively high percentage of headers from set pieces. They are a big team, and their centre backs are particularly threatening targets from set pieces. Any midfield free kicks will be launched into the box, where both centre backs will have been sent, and although they are both the usual targets, there is height across the side. The central midfielder Richards has a terrific spring when jumping for headers and Carline is a tall player on the left flank.
In the second half, Carline became a more regular target for set pieces, and most notably won a couple of headers on the edge of the box from free kicks, one of which was against Maidstone’s stopper. He has been a goal threat in previous games, arriving at the far post to attack crosses.
However, Solihull seemed particularly vulnerable to counter-attacks when their set pieces broke down.
Solihull quickly drop into two banks of four when they lose the ball, with Afolayan dropping back from the attack to sit in front of the midfield four. This makes them hard to pass through, and their wide players are disciplined in the way they tuck in when their opposite number pressures the ball on the other side of the pitch.
At the back, Solihull clearly have issues to resolve as they’ve conceded more goals than anyone else in the division – they went into the Maidstone game having conceded exactly two goals per game. However, they looked more compact in Saturday’s match. Looking through the goals they have conceded throughout the season, they have often looked stretched and out of shape when they conceded, but that wasn’t the case against Maidstone.
However, their more compact shape came at a risk: the centre backs look potentially vulnerable to balls in behind them, particularly as Solihull’s desire to restrict space means the defensive line is set fairly high to compress play.