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Friday, 11 March 2011

Where Have Things Been Going Wrong?

Following our dip in form all sorts of fingers have been pointed in all sorts of directions about why this is so. People point to a lack of new faces in an injury stricken squad, fatigued as it is without having to cover for injuries too.

Some blame a longer view of the same thing, that we should have signed other better players back in the summer and have a larger squad, but a better squad that can ride out crises like we have been having.

Lets just point out the players who have recently been out through injury. Moussi, Tyson, Blackstock, Lynch, Findley and apparently Wilson (who if you believe some sources is being frozen out for having the temerity to sign a deal with a new club.

OK Moussi prior to injury was in majestic form, that's granted. Blackstock is missed, but we bought in a like for like change with Tudgay to cover for Dexters time out. Findley is an unknown quantity so we can't really comment there and Lynch is at best a reserve. Tyson is very hit and miss, but like Moussi had played well in certain games, but as his good old moniker of Mr Glass shows he is always prone to an injury.

What I will try and do here is illustrate with the help of formation builders where some of the issues have been. Also is a much bigger issue of motivation.

I mention motivation because look at the teams we have been struggling against. Preston, Sheffield United, Scunthorpe. All teams fighting for their lives. Hull was a different example and I will point this out this shortly as to why I believe that was always a disaster that was going to happen. What is also apparent is that the essentially the team has been the same.

So do we lack motivation against smaller teams, a sense of complacency, or are these teams just more of a challenge than we give credit for? Well remember one basic mantra always repeated about this division, anyone can beat anyone on any given day. This has been shown time and again this season. However, Preston, Scunthorpe and Sheffield United have done this less over the season, a lot less hence why they are where they are. Admittedly the week before we drew with Preston, QPR drew too. If this whole thing of anyone beating anyone were to be true, then the whole division would surely be tighter. However I take it that yes on a one off most team are equal.

The problem becomes when teams set themselves up a certain way to play at City Ground. Lower teams pack the middle of the pitch,leave a man up front and basically make it very hard for us to break them down. And we often have no plan B to do this. Hoping instead that a gradual war of attrition will see us break through this defence. Until recently it worked. Teams once we score have to come out their shell and attack us, and then we can find those gaps when they release those midfield shackles of footballing oppression.

Preston really shouldn't have been mentioned. That really should have been a win. Lets not forget we didn't lose either, though this fully illuminated the problems that manifested themselves against Hull. That 96th minute goal though I think may have affected the confidence of some of the players however, and coupled with the Hull game where we had an unfamiliar setup for the team and a lucky deflection giving the Tigers a win has seen this team panic somewhat. Me and my fellow writer of this site were both unable to attend Tuesday night at Bramall Lane, but the familiar signs of old appear to have been there. Lack of concentration.

In 4 of our better recent wins, and I take the Derby home game, the Coventry away win, the Cardiff home win and the Watford home win for this, the teams only showed subtle differences. forced in part by Moussi's injury, and an inspired change in the team to bring in Tyson v Derby to harass Leacock. The core of the team remained the same.

By the same token I have taken the teams against Scunthorpe, Preston, Hull and Sheffield United to look at. The team v Scunthorpe is largely the same, as it is almost v Preston, Hull enforced changes bought about that defeat, and Sheffield United was as much player confidence.

In this the formation against Derby, you can see essentially its a 4-4-2, but slightly skewed for positional sense. Ramsey was picked on the right but he switched with Majewski somewhat on this role. Unusually for Billy both wingers didn't swap as much as usual. Tyson hallmarked for Leacock at right back, to rip him to shreds. Moussi with the role to sit deep and break up play and create new attacks. A Lassana Diarra type role, or Alex Song.

Its not a 4-1-3-2 in the sense that That implies a more central attacking midfield trio. Tyson was unashamedly a winger here. Make no mistake this was was a team tailored for the in. Cohen had been dropped, and McGugan and Anderson also on the bench. Those 3 on the bench was pretty much a one off.

If compared with the team v Coventry,Cardiff and Watford,the same basic structure exists, but the personal used were wielded in slightly different ways. There is moe fluidity. Instead of Tyson rigidly on the wing, McGugan is encouraged to come inside more often, and Cohen push out onto the left. Similarly wingers may switch. What is rigid is the role of Moussi, or McKenna in later games to sit back and cover. Provide an outlet to switch play if stuck in a channel and act as abridge between defence and attack.

The defence and attack have remained rigidly the same. In fact for most of this period they have stayed that way. The defence seeing on occasional enforced change at left back, and the attack mainly staying Earnshaw and Tudgay, only being changed for knocks,with Adebola being unleashed as a late weapon to try something different.

Indeed this exact same shape was used against Preston with nigh on the same personnel. Preston however are fighting, and perhaps there was an under estimation. There feels at times like the team are sure they will break the others down, it's just a matter of when, and in Preston that was borne out. We did eventually grind them down, and then fell asleep at the back thinking the job was done and conceded a sucker punch of a goal (that was no more than Preston deserved) Scunthorpe again was a similar team with Tyson playing the Anderson role.Tyson however as most of us know has no right foot worthy of speaking about.When he's on the right wing, he has to switch inside every time. Defenders and mangers will know this if we can notice it for sure. What was mentioned that day was the fact the pitch was seen as a great leveller. We couldn't play our game on a surface less like a carpet, but the battlefields of World War I.

Against Hull it all went wrong.

The same basic idea. But as I've tried to show Cohen is not a player who sits deep. I could have arrows pointing everywhere, but I will leave it basic. His was the McKenna/Moussi role of sitting deep and breaking up play. That is not Cohen's game,he is a box to box midfielder and that is what he will try and do. No matter how you try to shackle him to that role, his natural instinct is to get forward to assist the strikers. To change that role is to take his best attributes away. His game is not defensive. OK, he may well be asked to play that role, but he can't do it as effectively. Then we have 3 other players all busting a gut to be the scorer. So now instead of Cohen who plays box to box next to a deep lying midfielder, we have 3 others trying their damnedest to get forward,with little or no inclination to get back. It's a double loss to the midfield. Cohen who has boundless energy is no longer rushing back and forth, his role as support at both ends is gone as Majewski doesn't pull back as much, and so we have situation like their goal where the defence is suddenly opened up, with no support in front to stop that (albeit deflected) pass getting through.

All our best periods of the season have this set up. A defensive midfielder designed to break up play and give the ball invariably to the other central midfielder whose role is to break forward, and create attacks. We have broke this mould on rare occasion. The win against Swansea as good a model of what we changed.

Two midfielders sitting deep to nullify threats. Cohen played a wider left role, and McGugan encouraged to join Blackstock as much as he can, but to play a midfield role. More of a 4-2-3-1 formation. And by golly it worked.

Finally, when we went on that wonderful run through December,January and into February, we had been more rested. Decembers fixtures had been decimated by the weather. So the players were fit,and they were eager to get on that pitch. Now we are in a rut and the next game is always right around the bend. It sticks in the memory. We worried a long break may hurt our form and lethargy may creep in. Well now we could do with a break. When on good form, games can't come soon enough, when in a dip, the next challenge is right there.
Luckily there's an international break creeping up.

By then Moussi may be back, perhaps Findley. And we no longer play teams at the bottom, who seem to be our achilles heel.

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