“Most goals aren’t as straight forward as they first seem. If they were then Linekar, Shearer and Wrighty would have a lot more time on their hands on a Saturday evening and would probably be slamming 2 for 1 shots in Snobs instead of sitting in a London studio watching Dele Alli roll around on the floor like a newborn foal for 20 minutes”
Cricket’s a funny old game. It’s billed as a team sport and many aspects of it certainly are team oriented. However as a batsman, when you’re out, you’re out. Assuming that dismissal wasn’t the result of a misjudged run-out on your partner’s behalf, that loss of wicket is down to you. When fielding, if you drop an easy catch, that’s on you too and if you persistently bowl no-ball after no-ball then you only have yourself to blame for the increasing run-rate. Cricket is a team game made up of individual performances and when one player is out of form, they stand out like my nan at a rap concert.
Football on the other hand, is a team game full of team mistakes and team successes. Mistakes are made by individuals and can change the game in an instant, but there is often a chain of smaller mistakes that led up to the glaring error. Yes, Gardner should have made that cross instead of taking a shot, but what options were open to him at the time? Sure, Stockdale should have saved that shot, but how did the centre forward find himself with so much space? These are non specific examples, but at times there is a distinct inability to look at the bigger picture in football. This tendency to blame the last guy that touched the ball, rather then the team as a whole results in the creation of undeserved scapegoats and crushes morale.
Last season’s prime blamees were Jacques Maghoma and Jonathan Grounds. Though the latter took the brunt of criticism from fans, Mags was often accused of poor decision making and running aimlessly. As for Grounds; fans were calling for the arrival of a replacement left back for 3 straight transfer windows and attributed the lion share of last season’s defensive mistakes to him. Where are they now? Well they are both in the running for Player of the Season, and Grounds had been INJURED for weeks.
Have the two suddenly learnt to play football over the summer break? Have the rest of the team been so bad that we’ve started to see the pair in a more positive light? Or were they not actually as bad as some fans claimed and is it the case that once someone highlights an issue, it’s human nature to be drawn to it? I’d argue its the third one.
Mags may not have set the world on fire last year, but I don’t think he had a bad season. As for Grounds, the reason it looked as if he was responsible for goals was that he spent most of his time covering for Nsue and Keita as they went gallivanting up the pitch, pretending to be wingers and leaving us wide open at the back. Grounds was always likely to make mistakes when he was trying to cover 2 defensive positions at once.
Now I’m not naive enough to claim that neither made mistakes over the last couple of seasons. Hell, I’m not even pretending that they’ve both been perfect this year either, but perhaps a break away from the spotlight allowed them to rebuild confidence whilst the mistakes faded from fans’ minds.
Fast forward to this season and both players have been star performers in a team that has under achieved as a whole. So who do we blame for our poor position in the league now? Well Michael Morrison was first up to the scapegoat hot seat.
If I’m honest, I like the thought of Harlee Dean taking the captain’s armband. The short stint he had in charge was our most successful under Cotterill and I thought he led the team from the front. I agree that Morrison has the ability to speak up when needed, but Harlee has a fierce tenacity about him.
Was Morrison to blame for our poor start to the season though? Of course not! There were 10 other blokes on that pitch missing shots, mis-timing tackles, making poor decisions and passing the ball to N’Doye (I joke, I love that big beast of a man). Fans need someone to blame and it’s natural for them to single one or two guys out but did anyone really think the losses could be pinned solely to the captain? I hope not.
The irony of the scapegoating of Morrison is that he was replaced by Marc Roberts, a man that has since taken the term scapegoat to the next level. If Morro was turned into a scapegoat, then Robert’s has become a Mecha-Scapegoat. From what I could tell, Marc was a decent replacement for Shotts and the former Barnsley man had a pretty solid start to the season, all things considered.
Of all the things that went wrong at the beginning of the season, I think our inability to score was the bigger issue. When I wrote my assessment of the new recruits back in November, I remarked that “Roberts is a tall, strong guy and is reliable when defending set pieces. When looking at how our defence has performed this season, it’s easy to find faults but one aspect they cannot be faulted for is their organisation during corners and free kicks. We’ve only conceded one goal from a set piece this season, which is quite remarkable considering our league position.” I continued; “An argument can be made that Marc has been our most consistent centre back, he may become the replacement for Shotton that we so desperately need”
At the ripe old age of 31, my memory may not be what it used to be. However, the few mistakes that I remember Marc taking the blame for were the result of numerous other smaller errors made in the build up of play. Again, I’m not saying the lads are beyond criticism and that poor performances shouldn’t be highlighted, but to ignore a larger sequence of errors in order to focus on just one man is disingenuous.
Marc is fully aware that he may have under performed at times, as he admitted in his recent interview with Brian Dick. Which member of the squad can honestly say they haven’t made as many, if not more mistakes this season though? Following Deano’s red card and subsequent suspension, Roberts was brought back into the starting line up to face the Blades. Some fans aired concerns but for many, enough time had passed for his supposed blunders to be forgotten. And how did he play? Brilliantly. And he scored. And it was my birthday so I reckon he did it so that I could have a day to remember as the special birthday boy.
There’s one more scapegoat that some fans have created this season and he’s in the position of most scrutiny. David Stockdale is the footballing equivalent of our opening batsman. He’s all on his own protecting his stumps whilst a bunch of blokes charge towards him firing balls at 80mph. See, the cricket thing was relevant after all, I wasn’t just rambling back there!
Stockdale, and goalkeepers in general, are all alone at the back and are completely at the mercy of those around them. Stockdale is our solo performer in a team sport and is more open to criticism than anyone else on the pitch. When an outfield player messes up, another can run to cover for them and inevitably the ball must go past 3 or 4 more players before a shot is taken. In Stocko’s case though, he’s the last line of defence and is more often than not the last person to interact with the ball before it hits the net. As I said earlier, too many fans watch the ball instead of the game and it’s always easier to blame the nearest player than the blue shirt that gave the ball away 2 minutes prior.
David knows that he hasn’t fulfilled his potential this year. He knows about every little mistake he’s made and he’s received some absolutely appalling messages regarding them. However, most goals aren’t as straight forward as they first seem. If they were then Linekar, Shearer and Wrighty would have a lot more time on their hands on a Saturday evening and would probably be slamming 2 for 1 shots in Snobs instead of sitting in a London studio watching Dele Alli roll around on the floor like a newborn foal for 20 minutes. Stocko has indeed made a couple of silly errors, but it needs to be remembered that the ball made its way past 10 other blokes before it reached his net.
We have had a season of team errors. It’s the team as a whole that have provided us with a relegation battle, not one or two individuals. When things go wrong, it’s human nature to target the weak link but we must ask ourselves if these scapegoats are REALLY to blame, or are they just that month’s figurehead for an overall disappointment?
Stockdale is easily one of the best keepers in the Championship and on his day, Roberts is as solid at the back as anyone else in this league. J-Mags and Groundsy are both having their greatest season in a blue shirt and Morrison is our captain for a reason. It takes a whole team to win a game and a whole team to throw one away.
Strikers can miss shot after shot and be forgiven because “at least they’re having a go”. I agree with this for the most part, but perhaps a similar amount of leeway could be afforded to the boys at the back too. Mistakes can and will occur, but it’s how the guys deal with them as a team that matters. The greatest teams cover for each other and appreciate that things can and will go wrong. It’s what you do immediately following the error that makes a successful team.
At this stage of the season, we’re looking pretty safe. A win against QPR would seal it for us and any positive result against Fulham would be the icing on the cake. As we head to the summer break, the season’s errors will start to be forgotten. Hopefully we’ll continue into next year’s campaign as the tight-knit, positivity-led, family unit of a squad that Monk & Co have created. If we kick the season off with a good run of results then maybe we can single out players for all the right reasons instead of the wrong.
As for those that need to create scapegoats in order to satisfy their blaming needs; it’s the World Cup soon and there’ll be about 23 under achievers to choose from.
By Mark Watson