Rotherham At Home – More Of The Same

First the positives. We didn’t lose. David Stockdale was superb. And, in the week my wife put me on a  strict diet I was able to look at Steve Evans and see what would happen if I didn’t comply. We scored a goal, albeit as a result of a terrible first touch. Paddy McCourt briefly lit up the stadium with some genius wing play and the perfect low cross across the six yard box which ALL three of our strikers stood and admired. Paddy went apoplectic. I went apoplectic. My friend Steve went apoplectic (or so he told me, he used the actual word). Half the ground held their heads in disbelief. The other half? They were empty seats.

Yes, it was another exercise in futility, frustration and effing up. To make us look bad this season all you need to do is have a couple of big, physically fit players (and every other Championship side except us does) who are prepared to burst in to the channel at speed. That’s it. That basic. That’s how to counter Brighton.

The players don’t understand the tactics. I don’t think the players like the tactics. The players are all over the place. I’ve never seen us give the ball away so much. Having taken an improbable lead through a poor Joe Bennett first touch, followed by a brilliant Joe Bennett finish, just before half time, we should have come out for the second half riding a wave of optimism. Instead we switched off and, once again, let our opponents straight back in to it. By 85 minutes we were already in the dressing room. Five minutes left of real time plus an implausible four minutes injury time and yet we’d given up already, as had the majority of the emptying ground. It felt like only me, the boy, Best Friend and his boys and the people in the row in front were watching. In actual fact there were other pockets of die hards still there. The Police Box singers. The guys around me at the back of the WSU G and H blocks. The A21 club. Another pocket or two in the North. There is a risk they will be the only ones who turn up next season. At the whistle a chorus of boos rang round the stadium.

Just a week ago when We Are Brighton tweeted the question of Hyypia in or out I was on the fence, mainly because he’d only had a few games and I wasn’t sure who we’d get in to replace him. Two games later it is clear he’s lost the dressing room, or at least split it, since Bennett and Stockdale’s post match interviews contradicted each other. The risk of keeping him is now too great. He has to go now.

I do feel sorry for him though. When I dared to suggest on another forum that there might be something more sinister to the quick and similar departures of Poyet and Oscar I was rounded on as a heretic against St Tony, St Paul and St David. I was even sent a PM briefing about Oscar’s deficiencies. And yet Sami is not entirely culpable here. We’ve spent a summer buying lemons and then given them to a chef who only knows how to make steak and kidney pudding. Yesterday he HAD to start COG. He HAD to put Fenelon on the bench. He HAD to start the disinterested Gary Gardner. However, he CHOSE to play Calderon at wingback instead of in a conventional position. He CHOSE to drop Holla, one of our few decent looking signings (perhaps he has questioned the tactics or gone in to his shell having not understood them). He CHOSE to have Bennett push up, resulting in a goal for us and a goal for them.

I don’t know how many other ways there are of writing this. I will say this to Paul Barber. This is not a moan from someone who doesn’t understand or isn’t prepared to contribute. Aside from my two season ticket DDs, yesterday I bought three rounds of drinks, two pies, a programme and a bag of crisps and I do every game. I work in a financial capacity in a management role and I understand a business plan that shows a protracted operating loss. But while I’m digging in that money not everyone can afford to. That level of spending isn’t viable for anyone who isn’t on a good salary, and I remind you here and now that football is the working man’s game. I would certainly urge every fan to spend as much as they can afford in the stadium but I would also urge St David to stop wasting money on guff like Chris O’Grady, Agustien, Toko, and Gardner. I know which adjustment would see a better result on the pitch and it is now that which is needed to get the income side of the business plan back on track.

I wish I didn’t have to rant. I wish I could dash off a 200 word praise-poem about how great we are and how we’ll be playing Arsenal and Man United next season. However, the reality is, unless Hyypia goes, and unless we adjust the parameters of the famous SWOT sheets we will be playing Colchester, Crawley and Fleetwood next season.

There may be some out there prepared to defend the current set up but none of the people I spoke to were. I talk to fellow bloggers. I talk to people who have followed the Albion and England home and away for decades. Ian Hart was massively critical in the Worthing Herald this week and Adam Virgo was after the match. Loyal fans, former players and fellow writers all shaking their heads in disbelief. Something needs to change.

 

Advertisements

What’s Going Wrong (and Right) This Season?

“Oh good” you think. “He’s doing another match report of a game he didn’t attend.”

No. Not this time. Not really. A point away at Huddersfield, taken in isolation, is a good result. Taken in the context of the whole season it is not. We are 20th with over a quarter of the season gone. We are a point off relegation. We are below Rotherham and Brentford. We have not won since people were wearing shorts, drinking rosé and grilling dead things outdoors. This always makes me ranty, worse in the immediate aftermath, whether I’ve been there or not. I’ve largely resisted the urge to vent on Twitter up to the last games. Last night I vented quite publically. Different opinions were offered as to the cause, however, by different respected Albion fans. So this morning it’s time for some solid analysis. Where are we going wrong? And, just as importantly, where are we going right?

Players

Let’s look at the squad, top to bottom.

Keeper

David Stockdale may be maligned by many Albion fans but let’s take a minute to remember TK’s last season. Poor distribution, individual errors and public, on field spats with other players. This may not be a popular view but I really don’t think we are worse off in this department.

Defence

At right back we are seemingly unchanged. However Calde and Bruno are not getting any younger and are now being asked to do jobs that require pace and fitness. At left back there has been a gradual deterioration with each season. Bridge was better than Ward who was better than Bennett. At centre back Greer and Dunk have done an awful lot of covering and scored most of the goals this season so it’s hard to criticise but neither has the Premier League gravitas and reading of the game that Upson had. Hughes seems to have been bought to warm the bench. Overall we are much weaker here than two seasons ago and it’s showing in the number of times we go behind first.

Midfield

Lots of bodies but more quality? Ok, it really doesn’t help having Crofts and Stephens out. Holla looks a box to box player and a vast improvement on Andrews. Gardner is, well, ok, but I’m not convinced his heart’s in it. Toko and Agustien continue to be paid to not even warm the bench. JFC is improving all the time and I really don’t understand his detractors. A fine passer of the ball who keeps us ticking over. Ince is being under used, reason unknown.

Wingers / Attacking Midfielders / Flair Players / In the hole

The fact that I don’t even know how to categorise this next set tells you all you need to know about how our players are being replaced and then used. McCourt can light up a ground with individual skill but can’t last more than 45 minutes. Lua Lua looks wasted in the middle and is easily marked out of games. Teixeira finds space effortlessly but is too selfish for someone who gets knocked off the ball too easily. Have we strengthened adequately in this area? For McCourt read Vicente. After that think of Buckley in his prime, Barnes chasing all round the field and chipping in with goals. Conway’s excellent crossing. Think of THAT goal against Forest, Lua Lua out wide to CMS out wide, a prefect cross smashed home by a target man’s head. Then think of now.

Upfront

Last season we did not have enough strikers. It’s no good putting on the rose tinted specs, if Ulloa had got injured again we’d have dropped like a stone. This season we have the numbers but we have not replaced Ullloa, nor do we have a different option or a target man, COG looks to have been a rushed buy to get numbers in.

SWOT

From the above it looks like we are weaker. David Burke famously does SWOT analysis (Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, Threat) so here’s mine on the players.

Strength – cover in every position. Good mix of youth and experience

Weakness – too many similar players and too many stars not replaced adequately. Squad strength on a continuous downward curve.

Opportunity – the loan market and the January window

Threat – if we stay where we are it will be our rivals poaching our players in January. Could we attract someone from Charlton this winter?

Tactics

Now take most of the above and throw it in the bin. Put Holla and Gardner in as fullbacks. Put Bruno or Calde, Bennett and one of our strikers in to the “Wingers / Attacking Midfielders / Flair Players / In the hole” category. THAT is our tactics or, at least, that is how our players currently interpret them. Or, put another way, we have taken a mixture of players from when we thought Garcia would stay, to when we were searching for a manager, to when he was confirmed, and asked them to play a system that no one else in the Championship uses. Players who, thanks to our operating losses, are necessarily weaker than two seasons ago.

But, you’ll remember I also asked where it was going right. There have been improvements in certain areas, even allowing for the above. Our set pieces are FAR better under Sami (under Oscar it looked like we didn’t bother practicing them at all and a corner might as well have been a goal kick). We are attacking more and when it comes off (Cardiff but for their keeper, big bits of the Charlton game) it is exciting to watch and creates chances. It is this that needs building on. Should we continue, instead, to concede first and early, to make glaring individual errors and to try to play total football with a hastily assembled and physically weak squad we will continue to struggle. Lose to Rotherham and we could be looking for a new builder to work on those strengths – and this time round Russell Slade’s not available.

 

Middlesboro At Home 2014/15 – Another Omnishambles

In the bar at the end of the game my friend Tim asked me what I was going to write about the game. I replied that I would have to give it an evening’s thought. Another friend had brought his wife for her first game. She looked shell shocked. What had she thought? Nice pies. And that’s it.

I spent my evening “thinking about it” posting negative messages on NSC. Frankly it’s a really good job we don’t have a cat. Having slept on it I feel the same. We have made some awful blunders this summer. We are not going to win very many games. We are in a relegation battle. We are in deep, deep do-do.

The first seven minutes was a microcosm of our season under Sami. We knocked it around nicely. We created (and missed) an excellent chance. We were the victim of some disputed refereeing from a certain Mr D’Urso (though, for what it’s worth I think he brought the free kick to us back when Baldock was clean through because Teixeira had a head injury). We were kicked and bullied off the ball. Then we conceded a massively silly goal that started with a quick break that moved wide in to a gap and ended with the increasingly unconfident Stockdale looking hesitant.

And therein lay our game. Lots of ball, no effective ball at all. ‘Boro kicked Teixeira out of the game and marked Lua Lua out of the game. Shots but not the right shots. The overwhelming feeling that they could break against covering midfielders and a panicking keeper at any time and score again. The most bizarre set of substitutions yet, as if to say the only answer was to have more strikers on the pitch than Gus and Oscar combined. As JFC trudged off the pitch my seven year old remarked “there’s no midfield dad”. The bloke in the row in front gave him a nod of agreement.

I thought about being positive. I thought about Paul Barber’s messages this week and our financial challenges. I thought about how hard it is to criticise someone who puts in a million a month, about how yesterday the “match day experience” was actually pretty good, apart from the football, which is the only bit that matters. And then I thought sod it.

Sami is out of his depth. These tactics are never going to work with the players we have. We’ve signed some turkeys. We miss Ulloa. We have no leadership, astonishing given our Captain had Germany in his back pocket in the week and scored a goal of stunning quality and movement. There’s no point our strikers watching videos of it though. They are too small and weak to repeat it.

I still maintain Stockdale was a good signing but his confidence is shot and the trolls don’t help. A couple of DS games would do him a real favour. COG will never be good enough at this level and why he was signed I don’t know. Baldock couldn’t finish a Mars Bar. Everywhere we are too weak, everywhere we do not understand our own system.

We need wins but we have wedded ourselves to a system that’s not going to produce them. I feel depressed. Sorry, Tim.

Cardiff At Home Season 2014/15

A game without The Boy. A chance to have a proper pint in a proper pub with friends and notice that, well, it wasn’t that busy. Then to our seats to notice that, well, it wasn’t that busy. With the exception of League Cup and friendly games this might have been the emptiest the Amex looked since the final extensions were finished. The stay aways missed a night of true entertainment and they missed the die hards truly getting behind the team. It does have to be admitted that they also missed another draw.

We seem to be inventing new and even more improbable ways of dropping two points. Against Cardiff the way we did it was to pull off some spectacular passes, quick movement and excellent ball retention before making a simple mistake. We did the hard things well and the easy things badly. It made, as I said, for a thoroughly entertaining game but one you had to watch through your fingers.

Under Oscar we always seemed to start within ourselves, almost as if scoring early was one of the things he prohibited. Last night we started like the proverbial steam train. For the first twenty minutes we were unstoppable as the ball zipped round Cardiff who looked perplexed. Bennett made fine runs, Teixeira found space in behind the defenders and created plenty, the centre backs knocked it about handsomely, CMS contributed intelligent, lung busting movement and Lua Lua missed a sitter. One on one in acres of space he put it in Row Z. But if that demonstrated my point a little then minutes 20 and 21 would prove it beyond doubt.

Was it Saint and Greavsie who said football was a funny old game? No one could have predicted the next chain of events. A fabulous raking crossfield ball reached Bruno on the volley. Did he bring it down? Lay it off? No, a cushioned volley floated effortlessly in to the far corner of the net. The Amex went mad. Later he was to confirm that he was going for goal but not, perhaps in that way. So a deliberate fluke then. Never mind, we had a reward for our dominance.

You don’t need to have watched Cardiff much to know that their only tactic is to thump it at Kenwyne Jones. Falling foul of this immediately after scoring would have been criminal and yet that’s what we did. A high ball was pumped at the marked Jones on the edge of the area and Stockdale inexplicably rushed out to catch it and missed. Cue dribbly header in to open goal. 1-1 within a minute or so.

It seemed to knock the stuffing out of us for a while, but not forever. We slowly regained our composure while Cardiff, buoyed by the goal, pushed up on us more in an attempt to restrict Bruno and Bennett. They didn’t succeed all the time and with the score 1-1 at half time the feeling was of an opportunity missed.

The second half belonged to David Marshall. The Cardiff keeper was in outstanding form. He kept out a deflected Lua Lua shot, a brilliant header from Bennett and another header from Dunk from the resulting corners. The stats say we had eight shots on target. I make that one goal and seven great saves.

The theme of silly mistakes sadly persisted too though. Stockdale, having been at fault for the opener, then made a miracle save as we presented Cardiff with a golden opportunity to go ahead through our own defensive ineptitude. Later Lua Lua would earn applause for tracking back before giving it straight back to Cardiff in an even better position. Teixeira reinforced the impression that he is better when we are completely dominant and tends to try too hard for the spectacular when we are not.

But all in all this was a tale of two goalkeepers. That mistake aside Stockdale actually had a good game, claiming everything else, launching two fast breaks with rapid and accurate throws and keeping us in it with his close range save. But it’s “that mistake aside” we now need to cut out. And if Stockdale’s worth £1 million what price David Marshall?