|What Have We Learnt?|
Written by Pabbingtons on Monday, 29th Apr 2013 20:20
I had originally planned to pen this blog last week before the Birmingham game. It was to be full of praise for Mick McCarthy and the team, but that, looking forward, my original slight concern with his appointment remained, how would Mick develop our football, would we just be hoof ball but with better players?
The team lacked attacking verve and seemingly the personnel to do it, they should be extremely proud of the points they’ve picked up (and don’t get me wrong, I’d have been happy with any style of play if it kept them up) but it looked like the personnel would need to be changed to get the results next season. We surely couldn’t get promoted sitting back for 80 minutes, and then scoring a late winner?
I know people pull out these great stats that Town would be fourth if the season had started with Mick, but I think it’s safe to say that you couldn’t play this way if you had serious promotion ambitions, as the opposition would sit back against you. You suddenly find yourself with lots more possession and not the technicians in the team to unlock defences.
I do wonder if that’s why teams set up to defend better each season in the Premier League, like Wolves, struggle when they come down. Their personnel’s strength isn’t to dominate possession, it is to chase and harry, break up play, and counter.
But Saturday changed things. Optimism grew inside me for the new season, and that in Mick and TC we really might have something. These were 10 of the same 11 that had ground out a 1-1 draw at Hillsborough the previous weekend, albeit with the massive pressure on them not to lose.
Here this XI, including two ball-winning midfielders and quite defensive wingers, suddenly came alive. These players have more to them I thought, a different dimension that had not been apparent. Jay Tabb produced his best performance by far, popping up behind the front line from various positions, Carlos Edwards again looked better, Guirane N’Daw finally produced his first performance in ages, being a man-mountain in the centre against the ineffective Hayden Mullins.
Frank Nouble and Daryl Murphy linked excellently, and I thought that was one of the clearest signs yet that we should finally go out and get Murphy properly this summer. Looking at Nouble, he’s the type of striker that has terrorised us in previous seasons and something we probably haven’t had since Shefki Kuqi.
When Colin Kazim-Richards came on the opening day, and James Vaughan for Huddersfield soon after, they caused us great difficulty; good in the air, pacy, solid on the ball and chased and harried putting fear into the defence. Curtis Davies and Paul Robinson were very clearly rattled by this combo on Saturday, unclear whether to go tight on Nouble, and with youthful full-backs near them, they hit lots of aimless balls forward when the young lad put pressure on.
My only fear is that he’s very much a form player, and we are seeing the best of him at the moment but there may be times when he’s not on the money, the first half an hour against Palace for instance, that’s why we need Murphy as he’s another physical option. Though in terms of strikers a cheeky punt on Kevin Doyle wouldn’t go a miss!
It is on this note that I make my main point on ‘What have we learnt?’ as the longest-serving Championship team. I think this league has shown us that team spirit is key, yes one team might run away with it, Newcastle did for instance. But it is team spirit rather than the expected quality of a team that makes the difference, as we have all seen anyone can beat anyone, and team spirit is the key to getting up that table.
Southampton and dare I say it, the team from up the road, had this in abundance after coming from the league below and it propelled them all the way through the division. Last year, Reading finally got their act together and produced a second half run that sent them up.
To emphasise this point a little further Wolves have a wage bill estimated at £27 million, Peterborough £3 million, if the two were to play each other tomorrow, who would you back to win? Money is not a guaranteed route to Championship success.
So, though we would all like to see Town linked with various ‘bigger’ names in the summer if it affects that balance we currently have then leave it alone. Mick will sign players that fit into his work ethic approach; he is quite clearly no mug. Signing Richard Stearman and keeping Aaron Cresswell, who more and more looks a class above in the latter part of the season, would be enough to start with.
It’s strange before Saturday I did not share the optimism that Town could really challenge next season, they’d be on the fringes I’d imagined, but when they were fearless as they were on Saturday and the confidence was flowing you suddenly have hope. Do we dare to dream? As we did under the player with the ‘win-at-all-costs’ mentality of Roy Keane, or in the manager who had a track record of success in the Championship? Mick McCarthy actually has both of these traits, and I do hope he’s not snapped up in the summer, otherwise we’d be back to square one.
So, in essence, all we have learnt is that next season Town’s fortunes will probably be as hard to predict as ever. But that's the Championship for you. And at least at the moment it feels like we’ve got our club back, one we can be proud of!
To stick my head above the parapet I think Town will flirt with the play-offs for the majority of the next season but finish just outside, based on the fact that I think that to change that mentality from defensive to dominating will provide difficult with the same squad in one season, but I hope Mick proves me wrong! And this would still be extremely encouraging.
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