Progress Report - Oct 2012

What a difference a result makes. Had we not beaten Peterborough then maybe the tone and position of this piece may have had a different focus. Returning to winning ways has been key though.

The run of results from the Leeds away game, including the painful Derby defeat saw the club start to slip. With a fairly expensive array of players and with fan expectation renewed it could have been alarming. I had heard the first mutters of discontent at O’Driscoll. Why he was choosing certain players or not changing it up. These usually prove to be infectious amongst fans and spread.

Considering last season we were close to relegation, and considering two of the best players from that campaign are now both at Reading (Gunter and McCleary to the slow today) and that we had a large number of loanee’s and that Lynch too had gone, it’s progress that we even have a team at all, never mind one the fans feel can challenge.

Regard for one that we remain under most of the media’s radar still. Usually in our case there’s a bit more interest and though we have already have Clem from the Football league Show visit it us, they didn’t seem to focus on the renewed belief at the City ground.

So yes, an away victory at Peterborough arrested a run of games with no wins that was in danger of looking like a decline rather than a blip. That will be sorely tested on Saturday by the visiting Blue... oh wait Red Dragons of Cardiff City, who arguably have one of the best squads in the division. If we perform against them, and get a result this will be progress.

Our main problem remains that we still don’t know the best XI for the squad. Hell we aren’t even sure of the best formation. Do we go 4-2-3-1 or stick to 4-4-2. Both have benefits. I’d argue if w stick to 4-4-2 this needs to see McGugan jettisoned to the bench, and play Reid, Gillette, Guedioura and Lansbury, but that’s missing out Jenas who we have on loan and the resurgent Cohen. This is forgetting Majewski, who remains the second coming in some fans eyes for reasons that still remain unclear.

With a 5 man midfield, Cohen and Gillette can take the deeper roles, or Guedioura, with McGugan behind a sole striker, Lansbury and Reid getting wide. It still means players missing out, and I for one am glad this head ache isn’t mine.

What is obvious is Gillette remains key to this team. The most under stated of all our signings has probably had the most impact. He has quietly gone about his task but has garnered positive reviews in most games. Playing as the water carrier, the role and name made famous by Didier Deschamps in France 98, it’s a role many don’t understand as it does all the parts that don’t get attention. The quieter sides of the game. Moussi can’t do this role at all. He plays it more as an enforcer, strong tackling, like a De Jong, or in a Forest context Paul Evans. Like Evans he has terrible distribution once he wins the ball so is forced to tackle back again. Gillette plays it more like McKenna, drop deep, get ball, play the ball, look for the outlet again, and keep play moving, stop any stagnation we often saw last season, when Chambers or Morgan would get the ball, look up, see no options, pause, still see no option and launch the ball forward. Often to the opposition. Now the defenders always have an outlet and we retain possession. It’s a simple difference, but a huge difference.

It does mean that the 4-4-2 we play, is often more a 4-1-3-2. Meaning the 3 play narrower than a usual 4-4-2, so we don’t have the need so much for traditional wide men. This though has seen us get stuck in Cul-de-Sacs up the middle of the pitch, making it easier to defend a single pronged arrow, rather than a multiple pronged attack. The full backs do try and support but often end up exposed. This forced Gillette back more defensively at times, playing as a proxy centre half. And very narrow, meaning we can ironically get beat round the sides, as illustrated by derby’s goal so very succinctly, but also King’s goal for Birmingham.

So in essence, yes the football has been better but there are a few tactical creases that need smoothing out to enable us to get to the top of the table. This is a case of using what we have to our benefits. O’Driscoll might have seen Jenas someone who can do this. We have barely seen anything from JJ yet, but he is starting to get some fitness and form together. Cohen’s return has been a breath of fresh air in the midfield as he too is the perfect foil for Gillette as he can get box to box more than someone like McGugan or Majewski who doesn’t ever track back. Guedioura is a similar role but he has struggled for form. Whereas though Cohen is a ball player, Guedioura has a bull dog like approach, looking to get forward and power a shot in, or splay a wide pass. Cohen is a shorter game player.

Its funny, I have spent this entire article focussing on the midfield. But that’s where this team is going to make or break. Cox has shown he is class, and Sharp has good legacy in this division. Blackstock we know and love for what he can do. The defence, well the only real debate is Ayala in the middle or Hutchinson or Halford rotating at right back or centre half. Ayala had been a little wobbly but he looks like he’s coming good again. Hutchinson has long term injury issues so he is never going to be a long term fixture in the side. What role we will eventually see from Lascelles isn’t clear yet, but at this stage he needs football, so a loan again might be a good option.

All in all I am heartened by our start. There’s enough to be positive on even if there are a few problems with the team. But that’s the same with any team, there are always areas to improve and yes there are a couple of problems with defence and we still don’t know our best midfield configuration. This will become clear now that all the midfielders are fit. The likes of Coppinger look like square pegs here, and there are at least 3-4 surplus players in addition to the players out on loan. Moussi, Greening look to have served their time, Coppinger hasn’t found a role. Majewski to me still stands as a surplus luxury player.

All this said, I do think we will be up in the mix this season. I do think the two years the al-Hasawi’s earmarked might be an accurate reflection. Some said it was to deflect pressure away from the manager, but I think it’s an honest accurate marker of changing this squad into one that can compete and get promoted.