Not wishing to hijack the Movember project at all, which is a worthy cause raising awareness for men’s health issues, I would like to propose “Move-ember”. Move-ember is a cause designed to raise awareness of playing your players in the right position thus facilitating said players to move into the best positions to score a goal or defend the goal as a team.
Since my last blog in September, I like the team have taken a short leave of absence due to various problems. Unlike the team, however, I have not headbutted / kneeded anyone in the short and curlies to give me a 3 match suspension, I was not taken out by my own player, I did not dislocate my shoulder nor has my wife given birth to a child. I am back now and hopefully hot on my heels, so is the team.
After last night’s display against Derby, unlike a large number of fans who disgracefully boo-ed the players off the pitch, I was still strangely calm in the face of such adversity. If we had scored another goal just before half time, if we had continued playing in the second half as we had in the first and if we hadn’t gifted both those goals away, it would have been ok. Plus, there are no excuses for the shoddy effort from the referee and the linespersons in that game (how anyone could give a penalty for that is pitiful). There are flashes of brilliance in our team, the problem just seems to be exactly that – there are flashes of brilliance but no consistency. I don’t mean thick enough to coat the back of a spoon either (Chef reference there!)
It isn’t as if Lasogga cannot score. It’s not as if Saiz cannot make a decent run at players. It isn’t as if we cannot close anyone down effectively in midfield and peg them down in their end. It isn’t as if we cannot defend our goal. Simply put, we can do all of this, just not consistently throughout an entire game, let alone lately, string a few wins together. After all, we are still 7th in the league. We can get to the play off positions if we beat Brentford. It’s not even Christmas yet!
I can see how some fans are a bit despondent, especially those whose interests were only recently rekindled by the new era of Radrizzani and Orta et al. You were fooled by our fantastic start, the first 6 games where we looked unbeatable, and everyone was calling TC the Messiah. More fool you, dear Hector, I still remember Sutton. The season is played and won across 46 games, and it doesn’t really matter where you are until after Christmas, as we all know well from last seasons monkfoolery!
So, where do I start? Good question? Let’s start at the defence.
In the first seven league games we looked unbeatable. Everyone said we were going up as Champions ( including me). The defence looked rock solid and Felix – Felix didn’t concede a goal in 6 games! Cooper looked a changed man from last seasons (Sutton) debacles and the team picked him as Captain. Many ate their words in a 2016/17 Chris Wood -esque turnaround with a massive helping of humble pie and despite Beradi dislocating his shoulder at Bolton, our back four looked pretty darn good. Whichever combination of Ayling, Cooper, Pennington, Shaughnessy, Jansson, Borthwick-Jackson and Anita, TC picked, it worked! It worked so well that Ayling turned into a right winger and started flinging in some seriously good crosses.
Then Millwall, and reality hit, and it hit us hard, right in the balls. If the bottle that got chucked on the pitch that day, which was ignored by the referee, the linesman, the EFL etc.etc. had hit the ground as hard as our team got hit, there would have been a meteoric hole in the den, and I don’t just mean in our defence either. Felix tried his best, and to be fair, had he not pulled off some cracking saves, we would have been 5 nil down. The goal wasn’t his fault, the blame for that goes to Jansson for hoofing the ball into the air in the penalty area rather than clearing it. There was a school of thought that it was offside, but the ref having already risked life and limb for disallowing that Morrison goal, caved under pressure. Jansson then went off injured and we were down to 10 men for the rest of the game.
Since then, our defence has been a bit of a mess. But not without reason. Multiple injuries have seen off a regular back four, Anita picked up a knock and got subbed at the Ipswich game, Pontus carried the injury he got from Millwall into the next few games. The relative inexperience of Shaughnessy, Pennington and B-Jackson (all who had already picked up niggling injuries) was exposed as Ayling and Cooper tried to take the strain. It seemed to take ages for Beradi to get back after he dislocated his shoulder, and with the inconsistency of the back four, Felix suffered the most. Felix, unfortunately took the brunt of the abuse from the fans, which frankly doesn’t help anyone’s confidence, and subsequently his dip in form has put Warhorse Lonergan back between the sticks.
So, you would think that TC would just stick to playing a flat back four until his defence shores themselves up and gets a few clean sheets under their belts, wouldn’t you? Well, I would anyway. Sadly not. Ayling has been caught forward so many times lately, it seems inevitable that any team that makes even the feeblest attempt to trickle the ball down our right flank, is going to put the ball in the back of our net. Even O Kane was coming in to cover last night, and before anyone starts this whole, “midfield should be able to drop back” rubbish, this is what Bridcutt did last season, and look how well we did with that!
The fact is that there is no point us having a 40-goal-a-season goal machine up front if our defence leaks in 50 weak shots. I would much rather us win 1-0 keeping a clean sheet, after all if we keep a clean sheet for the rest of the season, that’s play offs a cert, isn’t it?
Anyway, the long and short of it is, we need a stable defence.
Secondly, our midfield, or whatever configuration we are playing vaguely in the middle of the park in front of the big guy Lasogga. Even he doesn’t know who is playing in the middle, so who is he looking to to get the ball off? That’s right – the keeper! Seeing as all we are doing is getting the ball from midfield, passing it back to the defence, who are giving it to the keeper to hoof up. Or is that too simplistic? This is of course, when we are not trying to walk the ball into the back of the net. I am a bit frustrated about this, as you can tell. We have the potential, we don’t utilise it.
At times, our midfield has resembled something from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, four hobbits and some bloke with a pointy hat (ok – no pointy hat) trying to get past a load of orcs to get the ball in the goal. It may seem a bit harsh comparing Saiz, Alioski, Pablo and Roofe to Mr Frodo, Sam, Pippin and Merry, as they clearly don’t have massive hairy feet and pointy ears, but we are dwarfed (no pun intended) by just about every team in this league. We are muscled off nearly every ball (with the help of the refs) unless we make a break for it. It worked in the book and the films, but these particular set of skills are just not transferable to a football pitch unfortunately. I am not saying most of Division 2’s midfielders are disfigured, slobbering, cumbersome, oversized goblins (I think) , but you get my drift – right?
Like all good battle formations, use the flanks to draw the foe and then deliver the killer blow. Players attached to the touchline on a piece of slinky which pulls them back when they get near the penalty box, just can’t cut it. If and when, we get the ball to Saiz, draw the defenders away, the cross goes in and Lasogga scores or Phillips gets the second ball from the flick on. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.
No Formation + No Movement = Headless Chickens
Mind you, at least there isn’t some weird, creepy creature hovering around in the background, wringing his hands and muttering “My Precious” under his breath. He’s gone to Boro
Don’t start pretending like you never thought of that either!