That’s the question on Blues fans’ lips today, following yet another embarrassing performance at St Andrews. Not quite 6 – 1 against Hull levels of embarrassment, but pretty damn close.
Wolves lived up to their moniker and attacked us as a pack in the opening minutes and looked set to punish every mistake from then on with blistering counter strikes. Though things certainly improved in the second half, the boys in Blue were never really at the races and it would have taken a touch of individual brilliance the break through the wall of orange protecting John Ruddy.
It’s been tough down the Blues recently. Well, if we’re honest, it’s been tough since this time last year when the slide from the playoff qualification places began. We’ve seen players come and go, managers come and go and owners come and go. The question is; is it time for one more departure?
Should Steve stay or should Steve go? If he goes there could be trouble… If he stays it could be double…
Reasons To Go
At times, Steve Cotterill’s looked tactically inept. I still have reservations over whether the style of football that we’ve adopted is Steve’s idea or an ideology pushed down onto him by the powers that be. Either way, it needs to change.
As I’ve talked about before, we seem to be insistent on playing fluid football where everyone’s encouraged to leave their positions and push forward as often as possible. We’ve currently got Boga and Jota who are essentially clones of each other, attempting to fulfil identical roles. Against Wolves, they seemed to spend more time getting in each other’s way than creating chances. Another glaring issue with our front three, is the positioning of Juke. According to the Sky Sports coverage, Boga was on the left, Jota in the centre and Juke on the right. Our tallest, oldest, slowest, most immobile centre forward, was playing as a right winger. Why? I have no idea. Surely if Cotterill wants to pick the aforementioned front three, then Juke’s role HAS to be that of a big target man, encouraged to hold the ball up and feed the two pacey wingers either side. Isn’t that common sense? Apparently not. Failing that, if Cotterill’s determined to play Jota in the centre, then why not swap Che for Juke? Such a simple, basic, misunderstanding of tactics and the players at his disposal is quite frankly worrying.
In addition to this, Nsue is still adamant that he’s Cristiano Ronaldo in disguise and regardless of his assigned position, by the end of the game he’ll be on a first name basis with the opposition goalkeeper. I sometimes wonder if Nsue has simply forgotten which way we’re shooting and is attempting to line up in the enemy’s back four. As for Grounds; he made a mistake. It was a terrible attempt at a pass that cost us a goal and ultimately the game, but I have to wonder if being played out of position may have panicked him a little. In my opinion, Grounds has been decent this season. Like Davis, he’s another player that gets a lot of undue flak, but he knows his role and has performed well recently. However, he certainly is not a midfielder. Why Cotterill chose to play three at the back and a left-back in midfield is beyond me. Many fans at St Andrews don’t even rate Grounds as a defender, yet Steve proved once more how little he understand the players in front of him and threw Jonathan in at left mid.
Ultimately I think Steve Cotterill’s loose grasp on tactics are really putting his job at risk. I understand that there may be pressure from the board to play a bit of sexy football, but we need a firm foundation of basics before we can even dream of competing in any beauty pageants.
I also see flaws in Cotterill’s man management. Is he a manager? Yes. Is he a leader? No. There is a big difference. Look at Nuno Espirito Santo, that’s a leader.
When Cotterill first arrived on the scene, I watched him on the touchline as he delivered a non stop flow of instructions to the boys. It was great to see and a refreshing improvement on Redknapp’s stoicism. Unfortunately this exuberance seems to have waned and one only needs to look at his most recent post-game press conference to see the fight has started to leave him. When asked his opinion on the Blues performance against Wolves his answer essentially boiled down to ‘at least they didn’t thrash us’ adding, “our boys find it difficult to score”. Though defeatist acceptance may be an honest reaction, it’s not really the tone the fans want to hear. I think Cotterill can learn a lot from managers like Sean Dyche and Big Sam. They’re great after a defeat because they give the fans an honest, non-BS account of the game, but if you look into their eyes you KNOW the players will have been verbally assaulted in the dressing room. Dyche in particular always has a look of defiance. Steve Cotterill has a look of desperation.
As for Cotterill’s comment about our guys finding it difficult to score, maybe they should be advised to take a shot once in a while instead of trying to walk the ball into the net all the time. Wayne Gretzky famously said, “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” and we’ve missed a hell of a lot of “shots” this year. We are the lowest scoring team in the entire Football League this season, that’s never going to change unless we have a few more cracks at goal.
Reasons To Stay
The main reason Cotterill should stay is stability. Can we really judge a manager on so few games? I know the board did with Redknapp, but to be honest ‘Arry never REALLY wanted to be here. Anyone that listens to TalkSport knows he was on air putting himself forward for every management job that came up throughout last year, it just so happens that we took him on.
We’ve already had the boat rocked too many times since TTA took over. Rowett went. Zola came, grossly overstayed his welcome and left. Redknapp came for a cup of coffee then moved on. Carsley took a turn in the hot seat. Now Steve’s the man supposedly with a plan. This must be unsettling for the players and coaching staff. Each new appointment forces everyone around them to question their own job stability. When a new manager takes over, the coaching staff are typically changed too. First team starters suddenly find themselves in the reserves and in extreme cases almost get sold to Derby. Do we really need another wave of worry to crash into a ship that’s already struggling to stay afloat? Team moral is a powerful thing and its importance should never be underestimated.
Another reason to stick to the status quo is that Cotterill hasn’t had a transfer window yet, so an argument could be made that he’s working with players he may not have chosen himself. I could also make an argument that we didn’t need to buy ANY players at all right back when Zola took over, but I’ll save that for another article in the future. Should Cotterill be given a transfer window and the company credit card to see what he can do? Or will it just make things worse? We’ll never know unless he’s given the opportunity.
Even if Cotterill were to get the boot before January, who would we get in his place? Pulis might be a good shout and Bilic has suddenly got a lot of time on his hands. Maybe Pearson’s had his fill of Belgian beer and chocolate and is secretly longing for the milky taste of Cadburys and smooth texture of Banks’ Bitter?
It’d take a brave man to take control of the reigns at this stage of the season though. It’s doubtful that a big, reliable name would appear at our doors, which leaves us with a never ending pool of failures to choose from. It’s also worth noting that TTA chose Zola because they wanted some star power. Following that, they listened to fans and advisors and appointed two English, “proven” managers. Who knows if they’d listen again or just snap up another ‘name’. Sometimes, the devil you know is better than the one you don’t.
There’s definitely a debate to be had, both within the fans and in the boardroom of TTA. So come on and let me know, should Steve stay or should Steve go?
By Mark Watson