Groundhog Day - Knee Jerks
Wednesday, 19th Apr 2017 09:41 by Antti Heinola
For the sixth time since early December we forlornly chased an equaliser at home, in front of the Loft, while 2-1 down, and for the sixth time we failed. Antti Heinola says it was more fun when Bill Murray was trying to nail Andie McDowell.
Ollie – part one
I don't think I've ever run through so many feelings with one manager in such a short space of time. I've gone from shocked that he would get back in the game because he looked so broken at Palace and Millwall. To invigorated by his enthusiasm. To envious I missed his bloody first game. To a real fear he wouldn't last past early January and, after Burton, a genuine terror of relegation. To belief again, and admiration that he'd made such a difference to the squad, with genuine joy at superbly-executed game plans in certain games, as well as new-found resilience in others. To real hope for next season. And now, back to that sinking feeling once more.
We probably won't go down. We shouldn't. But these fairly crazy ups and downs, this rollercoaster ride, this feast and famine simple can't be a good sign. And his post match interview after the game betrayed that. Gone was the force of nature we'd seen weeks ago. Back was that tired, beaten up look we saw at the end at Palace and during that miserable time at Millwall. Maybe he was just exhausted. But it felt like more. Self-doubt rising again. Anyone who's read his book knows Ollie is an extremely complex person. He's far from the mad old bugger we saw on Soccer AM. He has deep insecurities, he can drive himself crazy with his worries. And now I fear for him again. Even if, when, we stay up, I wonder whether he really feels he's got the fight left in him for another season, let alone the ten plus he rhapsodised about when he came back.
Ollie – part two
In many ways, Ollie is an innovator. Always ready to try stuff, looking for new things, searching for an edge. Clearly, he's thought and thought and thought about how he could have kept Blackpool up. Why it went wrong in the second half of that season. Possibly he's been tormented by it. And his answer was predictability. Teams learned how to counter them, just a few weeks too early. So the key is to stop teams working his teams out. Change it. Keep it fresh. Have players who can play in multiple positions. Different forward lines, three at the back, four at the back, five at the back. Even Chris Hughton admitted Brighton had no idea how to prepare because they had no idea what team they'd be facing. All well and good.
But it's not working, is it? Six changes one week, seven the next four or five the next. Some enforced, many not. Washington's brief flurry stopped in its tracks by playing one week, not playing the next. Perch and Furlong sharing a position. Mackie out the squad one week, starting games the next. Multiple formations, when we haven't really nailed one.
I think one reason we failed to get the equaliser on Monday was that after each substitution there was about a five minute period of the whole team trying to work out where they were supposed to be playing. Mackie, causing problems up front, was negated, much to the delight of Wednesday defenders, by having him shift into a midfield three, and then finally to right back. Manning, one of three to play at left back during the game, was making good traction in that position before being hauled off. Lua Lua, willing, but dreadful, played in at least four positions in 45 minutes. Utter, total confusion. Chaos. And yet our main tactic remained the same for the whole game: hit it long and hope. And for all the tinkering and the changes and the pointing, and the signs involving holding two fingers up and a third finger bobbing between them, we made one chance of note despite a half where we dominated possession.
We were always going to concede in this game, with no defence to mention against some good strikers, but still: this was a mish-mash. A hodge-podge. A mess. The opposite to Reading away.
I found it odd to see so many complaints on here about the defensive line up when I got back, though. Ollie clearly had very little option - we didn't even have a defender on the bench. It didn't help that Lynch, Bidwell and Perch hardly had their best games. And so it was tough on young Petrasso, asked to play as a wing back and, I'm afraid, despite the odd nice touch and no lack of willing or endeavour, looked well out of place, until he was eventually shunted as far away from right wing back as it was possible to be... apart from the bench, where he inevitably headed at half time. I felt really sorry for him, but if he's going to get a run it needs to be as a winger, and yet I've still seen nothing, other than the great YouTube goal for Canada, that suggests he'll be a Championship footballer.
Freeman and Luongo
As others have mentioned, they were two bright sparks amid the grey ashes of the fag end of our season. Industrious, mostly tidy, winning more balls than you'd expect, never giving up, adding rare bits of class, particularly after the break. With Manning, they offer real hope for our midfield, but they need more support: a less brittle defence, and strikers who can put their chances away more regularly. And both need to chip in with more goals - Luongo especially, obviously.
One mark against Freeman was his constant look for the short corner. I'm not as dead against them as almost everyone else in the world, but when you have Freeman's delivery, it's crazy when you try a short one when you need a goal and when two players have followed Manning out. By all means do it if the oppo is asleep - but if you do it as a two-on-two situation, you deserve what you get.
Let's take them as a whole, because it would be harsh to single out one. They were all so poor. Even Smithies has lost his sheen in recent weeks. Defence is about organisation and teamwork. You need to be well-drilled. You need to know where everyone else will be. It's the one place on the pitch you don't want to be altering every week. And yet we do. And the results show. We constantly look vulnerable to: balls over the top; balls out wide; shots from distance and set pieces. There isn't on aspect of defence we look comfortable in, in other words. Are Lynch, Perch, Bidwell, Furlong, Onuoha, Hall and Robinson bad players? No. None of them are. But at the moment they are not a unit, partly because they're being changed around every week. Too many reckless, silly fouls, too easily caught on the turn, often not strong enough. I honestly think we probably only need one new centre back, but whoever plays there next season need to be settled and to become a proper rock.
At the moment we're stuck. Ollie likes the security of Hall, who has had another very good season, as the libero, stepping up into midfield when required to give us height and strength. But the problem is, if he has that, and we effectively have three centre backs, we have no width. One of our most dangerous players, Wszolek, either has to play in a midfield three or is left on the bench. And our two main strikers thrive on good crosses, which don't come if we play three centre backs and therefore no proper attacking wide players.
You can see Ollie wrestling with this. And it's ok to wrestle with it. But preferably after we've got 53 points.
Ten goals now in just 14 starts and 17 sub appearances. But signs are he's the new scapegoat. Now, he's far from perfect. But I think he's trying hard and he's trying to adapt his game. And, for a first season in English football, ten goals from that number of minutes is pretty noteworthy. It was a good goal on Monday that showed his awareness while everyone else on the pitch had stopped. He also played a main role in setting up Freeman to cross for Smith's missed header, and was extremely unlucky that his one-two with Mackie didn't come off to give him a clear run at goal.
There's a player there. Maybe not a regular starter, but someone who can change games, who can be a matchwinner - and we have very few of them at the moment. No, he doesn't win tons in the air, he can be wayward with passing and he doesn't chase like Mackie, but I like him. And at least he gets goals. Something we desperately need.
Players you had almost forgotten, part 8: Harkness. Liverpool. So forgotten, can't even remember if his name was John or Alan.
Pictures – Action Images
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