Too many changes, problems brewing at centre half - Knee Jerks
Monday, 16th Apr 2018 16:50 by Antti Heinola
Like a tethered hot air balloon - flying high one minute, back on the ground deflating quickly the next. Antti Heinola reflects on Saturday's defeat against Preston.
I'm not too bothered about changes at this time of the season. I know it angers some, and I can see why, but with our place secure, I don't really have any problem with changes being made. But, I'm very much on Clive's side with this one: not too many.
We're already down to the bare bones at the back, so we are by definition weak at centre half. So, to remove not only two of our most consistent players in midfield, but also the two forwards who impressed the most AND scored three between them a few days earlier is just asking for trouble. I have no issues with giving Ingram a run - no issues at all with any of the *players* he picked. But for me, there were just a couple too many changes. That might not have saved the game and equally playing the same side might also have resulted in a loss. We don't know. Picking the same team does not guarantee results. But Sylla, surely, deserved to keep his place having scored two and been taken off early in the week? Same with Smyth? Sylla in particular must be wishing for the sort of prolonged run Washington has been granted (more than once). He's on form, he's scored two, Smith has played tons of football this year: let the man play!
I do have sympathy for Ollie. We want to see what Cousins can do when he finally gets a run in his preferred position. We all want to watch Eze. But there are a few games left, there's time to tinker and experiment without ripping everything up from game to game. to play devil's advocate, it is worth pointing out that the first 15 mins aside, we were not great against Wednesday (nor did we need to be after going 3-up) - in fact, on another day they might even have come back for a draw. So it wasn't as if changes were ludicrous, but any team will find it difficult having to adjust that much from game to game.
A couple of years back a few chin-strokers were keen to tell us that of our two new keepers, Ingram would end up usurping the more experienced Smithies. Seems unlikely now, although it's worth remembering that some people wrote off Smithies after he came on for 20 minutes when Green had been sent off. It's very harsh to judge any player, but particularly keepers, on just one or two games. But Saturday did show the value of a settled, confident goalie. In the week, we'd seen Smithies outshine the Wednesday keeper; here the Preston keeper had almost nothing to do and Ingram was very much a mixed bag: some confident punching, some nice takes, a couple of well-saved shots. But also some poor distribution, a moment of madness in the first half when he was forced to hack down a Preston player, and some unconvincing handling. So not great then, but we should have a better idea of his skills assuming he completes the rest of this season.
This is beginning to become a problem position - in fact, amazingly, considering our inability until recently to take chances, it's the position that most needs looking at this summer. I didn't think either Baptiste or Robinson were that bad on Saturday, but neither were great either. Baptiste seemed at times unable to communicate effectively with any players around him as he challenged three or four times for the same ball with a different colleague each time. Robinson is decent but in truth was never quite the great player he has been credited as being at times - we were more just relieved he was competent at CB when we had so few other options. Lynch is both inconsistent and injury prone, Onuohs may well to leave and Hall may have to look for new line of work. Even if Onuoha and Robbo stayed, Baptiste should be moved on so we need a new one. If one leaves we really need two, and if both go we may need three centre halves come August - because Robbo/Baptiste at the back next season is a recipe for even less clean sheets than this season, if that were even possible.
Certainly not his best game for us, PNE made sure of that through the subtle use of clever bodychecks that the referee couldn't hope to catch, yet his play was still the most enjoyable thing on show in blue and white hoops. His clever movement, his total calmness on the ball in any situation, his bursts of speed, his vision and most importantly his ability to make the difficult passes when he does see them did shine through - just not very often. Played the pass of the game when releasing a ravenous Smyth down the right wing in the second half - absolutely wonderful play.
Never blame refs for results - chances are, he's made less mistakes than any player or manager, and the narrative of a game where Ollie has changed half the team and we went a goal up cannot be that the ref is to blame. But he was poor. You know he was poor because first half he was getting sarcastic cheers from PNE fans when they got a decision, but at the end of the game he was booed off by home fans. I see Clive reckons the Sylla penalty decision was not much of a shout, but that looked as clear-a pen as I've seen all season. He shielded, held off tight marking and only when he was ready to strike did he fall after being clearly yanked back. I know Sylla is eccentric, but even for him that would've been an odd time to take a dive. But it was the bodycheck on Eze that really took the biscuit - as people called for a yellow card, they were left gobsmacked that it wasn't even a foul.
Sadly, for a man of his size, he seemed to be bullied by PNE players, who took advantage of him at every turn, particularly in the final, trying 15 minutes, when they acted as if it was a tennis match - you know, when you get to stop and have a drink every three minutes, because it's such hard work under all that hot (15 degrees) sun. The issue really is that until you book someone, players will keep doing it because what have they got to lose? A ref who resembles the Terminator could hardly have been more timid. The only thing more timid was our attack in the second half, in fact. So it wasn't his fault we lost. But any game when you come away discussing the ref is a sign he's had a mare. And he had one.
It is bloody annoying to be bouncing around like this: brilliant at Villa; disappointing at Reading. Quiet first half v Fulham, superb second half v Fulham. Take Norwich apart, get taken apart by Hull, demolish Sheff Wed in 12 minutes. But it's not all down to Ollie's eccentricities. Our 4-1 win v Norwich was followed by our loss to Hull and Norwich smashing promotion-chasing Villa 3-1. After beating us 4-0, Hull did also smash Burton 5-0, but then lost 1-0 at home to Sheff Wed, who had just lost 4-2 to the side they (Hull) had just beaten 4-0 (us). This league is a stupid, enjoyable, unpredictable bunfight. For all we know, keeping the same side barring Luongo for Scowen might only have resulted in a heavier defeat. Still, that's why I like it. I'm yet to even feel a tiny pang of longing for the terrible Premier League.
Pictures – Action Images
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