Dom Ball appreciation society - Knee Jerks
Thursday, 27th Feb 2020 17:49 by Antti Heinola
Antti's six talking points from the win against Derby on Tuesday focuses on Dom Ball's form, and the difference Yoann Barbet has made since returning to the side.
I've been doing unusually well in the Prediction League this year, even topping the table for a brief few days the other week. But how on earth WokingR managed to predict 2-1, Grant Hall first scorer is well beyond my powers of prophecy. If he claims he knew it was going to be spanked in with his wrong foot off the underside of the bar as well than I fear it may be time to burn him at the stake.
The Walking Yellow Card himself has had to be very patient this season, waiting first behind Amos and Smith, then Amos and Cameron, and only really getting games when someone was injured. His form then, I felt (perhaps because he was picked sporadically) was a bit up and down - good one week, but looking a little out of his depth the next. But since Warbs has paired him up with Cameron, he's turned in a string of decent performances, leaving Amos to watch on from the bench. There's a lot to like about Ball. He's strong, determined, he loves a tackle, he points a lot. He points a lot even when he's running to make a tackle. Pointing as he's tackling. Loves a point. But he's also decent on the ball. Not in the way of Eze, of course, but he seems to have huge confidence in his ability to receive the ball, even in a tight area, and has a good little trick where he can get his massive frame in between ball and oncoming opponent and roll past them before moving it on quickly. I do like how he doesn't dither on the ball, and also isn't afraid to play a difficult pass. Will be interesting to see how he develops. I always had a theory that Alex Ferguson built his teams around about 4-6 really great players, but the rest were players who weren't necessarily brilliant, but could be relied upon to do exactly what he wanted them to do - these players subsequently never looked as good anywhere else (apart from Phil Neville, who really flourished at Everton) - Ball is a bit like that. Not brilliant, but he will do the exact job he's asked.
But apart from all that, he took down Keith Stroud 'accidentally'. And that, for me, gets him man of the match. That and the immense pleasure I have in shouting 'Great ball, Ball,' when he completes a pass.
The Eze Chair
It's such a shame that, assuming Ebs will be on his way to somewhere nicer next season, we only have 11 games left to watch these two play together. Of course, they also play really well with Bright and Ryan Manning too, but there's clearly a special understanding between these two (another bonus of promoting from the U23 side). Not only did we have the fabulous winning goal made by one and scored by the other (keeper may be at fault, but the Chair hit it so hard it seemed to be past him before he could move) but we also had one moment of sublime football between the two when they played less a one-two, more a one-two-three-four-five-six before Rooney snuffed out a final ball just as it looked like Chair would break into the area. Glorious stuff - while Pugh has certainly earned his place over the last few weeks, I do hope the Eze Chair combo gets as many minutes as possible before the end of the season. Then next year, Ilias is going to need to step well and truly into the breach as we adjust to life without our Player of the Season and chief creator for the second year in a row.
The volume of people complaining about the loaning out of my beloved Toni has drifted into something approaching silence. Let's be honest, we've all been a little bit sceptical about The Beard. We all miss Aziz Ben Askar and wish he could have stayed longer, but at the same time he set a high bar for French central defenders. And Barb's early season work was not exactly reassuring as he went on a personal crusade to give away a penalty in each match he played in, just because. When he was injured, no one minded too much because Hall's ok and Toni fought his way back into the side and did what Toni does - head it, kick it, sometimes hoof a monumentally incredible diag that makes you gasp - but only occasionally.
But now the Barb is back and while he's not perfect there's no doubt he has helped move the team on quite significantly in a number of ways. Firstly, he's left-footed, which I think tends to help out the left back a bit - it may be no coincidence that Manning's form has come back since the Barb has been back. The fact he has a left foot gives us a bit more natural balance. Secondly, he's obviously very comfortable on the ball - yesterday he was even taking it off Kelly two yards off the six yard box and looking to play a pass, and because of this, it takes pressure off the keeper too. Thirdly, there's his passing, which is far superior to any other CB we have - not that all his passes come off, but he does have the ability to not just play the raking diags, but also the quick-along-the-ground eye-of-the-needle passes 20 or 30 yards up the pitch that you have to spot and execute in a split second. Thought he had a really good game last night. If he had taken out Keith Stroud with a 40-yard exocet diag, he would have got it for me.
It was a bit odd that while Clarke did little of real note (although also did little wrong, contrary to the outcry on here in some quarters), his introduction did change the game. I'm not quite sure why this was. I suppose for a start he stayed very, very wide - chalk on the boots wide, which stretched Derby a bit. Also, there was the by-product of BOS moving into the middle, which immediately panicked their slow defence and forced them to sit deeper in fear, creating a bit more space for Eze in front of them. And then I also think he must've come on with the message that our whole team needed to shift another 5 or 10 yards up the pitch. When Clarke came on we were struggling a bit to gain any sort of possession, but afterwards we started to take control and the goal was really the result of a period of decent pressure.
I probably go on about him too much and have done for the last year, so I wasn't going to include him on here, but I changed my mind because of the last ten minutes (including the baffling five minutes of added time). Before that, I thought the poor guy was knackered. Clive mentioned in his preview that Bright's been struggling to complete games and I thought from about 75 mins onwards that Oteh might be pushed on. But from somewhere Bright gained a second wind, and the period around the 88th minute where he sprinted from full back to keeper to other full back to keeper to other full back and back was testament to incredible conditioning but also genuine desire. Absolutely superb. He must be a monster in the bleep test.
Ooh, people were excited to see Rooney! There were Aussies near us who I think had come just to see him. Just to see him move very slowly around the centre circle, sometimes spraying a lovely pass, sometimes executing a beautiful turn, but often lolloping about waiting for there to be a free kick he could take. Still more mobile than Jamie O'Hara ever was and who did the same thing, but there you go. The Aussies left after 70 minutes, sad he hadn't scored a bicycle kick. I hope they come back though - they'd enjoy seeing an Eze heel volley rainbow flicky thing. Anyway, I thought Rooney was all right, nothing more. If you had no idea who he was he barely would have stuck out, but we dealt with him well - far better than we did when faced with a similar customer in Charlie Adam at Reading a few weeks back. I always remember Rooney generally tearing us apart when in his pomp, so it was nice to see him redressing the balance by passing to Eze for the winner - although, let's not forget, Eze got that ball on the halfway line. It was hardly Nahki Wells against Middlesbrough.
Pictures – Action Images
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