Well, it looks like our one game winning streak has come screeching to a halt. Was the Forest game a fluke? Were Forest just off their game for a week? Did Cotterill make sure the boys in blue all had their Weetabix that morning? Who knows. What is certain though is that the team that beat Nottingham Forest only a few days ago, went AWOL on Wednesday night.
It’s fair to say that we’re in a rut at the moment. Not a rut so deep that we are destined never to climb out of it, I hasten to add, but we’re certainly going to need a big ladder at this point! How did we get here? Well, I have a few theories on this. Many of them start with the letter Z, end with the letter A and have an O and L in the middle, but fingers must also be pointed at the board
Now, I personally back the board. Not when it comes to sacking Gary Rowett of course, but on the whole, I like what they’re trying to do long-term regarding finances and a vision for the future. Unfortunately, the key word in that sentence is trying. TTA are trying to hotshot us into a team that we may be in 5 years time, but we’re far off that right now. My feelings of goodwill towards Trillion Trophy Asia are something to be addressed in a future article though, so for now, let’s look at what I think is the glaring error in their current steering of the ship.
I feel now is probably a good time to point out that this is all strictly my opinion and I appreciate not all will agree with it. And that’s fine, but hear me out first.
The main fault I find with TTA’s vision is that it seems they are instructing our plethora of managers to play a certain way. It’s a way that Liverpool play, a way that Spurs have learnt to play and a way that Fergie’s United perfected. They are determined to make every player in a blue shirt a winger/centre-forward.
I think Zola was most guilty of this, but how much of it is his fault and how much was dictated to him is something we’ll never find out. Zola brought in Keita and Nsue to race down the wings and join the attack as often as possible. Which was great, when we had the ball. But the minute we lost possession, we were suddenly outnumbered at the back. Looking back at Zola’s tenure, we conceded a crazy amount of goals due to the defence falling apart. My heart really went out to Morrison and Shotts every week as they struggled to form a back four all on their own. This sympathy was projected even more so when one of them was replaced with Robbo who’s more spritely days are over.
In all honesty, Nsue has improved over time, but I’m glad Keita is no longer part of the club setup. I remember looking at the stats 10 games after each had joined us, and ranting about them often of social media. After 10 games, Keita had completed one successful tackle. One. Our left back made one tackle in 10 games. At least Nsue was more clinical. At that point, he’d made 3…
Again, who’s fault was this? Zola? Or TTA’s instructions? I’d have loved to see Keita play as a winger, who knows what may have come of his time at the blues then. The silver lining in Zola’s leaving is he took the mid-match game of “pass it around the back four” with him.
After Zola came Redknapp, and more pacey players. Jota, Dean, Brentford’s kit man, the guy that delivered the milk to Brentford’s chairman, Harry went after them all. Were we in a position where we needed to replace the whole team? Honestly, at that point maybe we were. However, it’s worth noting that arguably our best, most consistent player this season is one that Harry tried to sell on to the Rams. A few new players coming into the club can be great for the atmosphere of the place. But an entire team…?
How much do our new signings really care for the club at the moment? I’m a great believer in the fact that you cannot teach pride and passion. It seems to me that bringing in so many new players has upset the apple cart and I’d wager there’s some behind the scenes resentment going on regarding wages and the love that existing players had for their comrades that have been pushed aside by a new influx of players that in many cases are no better than their predecessors.
Again, who’s to blame for this? Redknapp? TTA? Was Redknapp buying the style of players he wanted or the style the board requested?
We seem to be attempting to play a fast-paced, attacking style of football. A style that fits perfectly in the Premier League where teams have time on the ball and space to run into. But this is the Championship, this is scrappy. In my opinion, those tactics don’t work down here. Your defenders defend. Your midfielders back up the defence and join the attack where possible. Your attackers pounce on loose balls and cause a headache for the opposition.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve sighed and frowned at how far upfield our left and right backs are. We were guilty of this again against Boro. I’m all for a bit of overlapping, but when Nsue finds himself ahead of Jota and Grounds is stood next to Che, there’s a problem.
So, without wanting to state the obvious, we’re facing an uphill battle. The rot is setting in, but how do we stop it?
In my opinion, we go back to basics. As fictional England manager Mike Bassett famously said, “Four Four F***ing Two”.
We were brilliant against Cardiff. I’d suggest that was because it was a game we weren’t feeling particularly positive about. So we defended properly. The boys backed each other up. Grounds was out of position or his man beat him? Mike was there to back him up. Colin fancied a bit of a run? Davis dropped back to cover his position. It was good old-fashioned defending. Goals win games, but defences win championships.
We need to forget wing backs. Forget the fancy cross pitch passes that invariably go straight out of touch. And we need to remember everything that was taught at grassroots level. The chances will come at the other end of the pitch, but first, we must take care of our own end.
We also need to bring certain characters back into the fold. Kieftenbeld has proven that in a relegation battle you need players with a connection to the club. Davis wears his heart on his sleeve and for all his faults against Boro (let’s not talk about those) Tommy K doesn’t stop barking out orders to his defensive line.
We need to look around the dressing room and work out who’s up for a fight and who’s there for a paycheck.
Gardner hasn’t been the same player that left us for the Baggies, but at least you can see he cares! That fire is still in him. Gleeson isn’t everyone’s favourite, but he can do a job and he’ll give it his all. David Cotterill’s come in for some stick recently, but he’s the best set piece taker in the dressing room. Robbo might not be a first team player anymore, but for the love of God just give every player an earpiece so he can shout Braveheart esq motivational speeches at them!
These are the players that worked well under Rowett. These are the tactics that saw us breaching the walls of the playoff positions. Are they the most thrilling tactics and players to watch? No. But it’s a hell of a lot better than watching us play Rochdale next season!
Gary Rowett isn’t a tactical wizard, he’ll be the first to tell you that. But he IS a motivator. He IS a people person. He KNOWS who’s going to play their hearts out for him. That’s the type of manager we need right now, and that’s who Cotterill and his team need to be. No more apologies after every defeat, yet continuing to play the same way. No more running aimlessly down the wing only to get tackled and leave ourselves outnumbered.
Just good, old-fashioned, British football. Lead by a good, old-fashioned, determined, personable manager. Playing a good, old-fashioned, solid 4-4-2 formation with Juke and Che up front causing havoc and the 8 guys behind them defending and supporting as a unit.
By Mark Watson