|So Close, Yet So Far?|
Written by radiogaga on Sunday, 14th Feb 2016 14:49
Fifteen games to go and we sit in eighth position, three points off sixth. Looking in with a pragmatic point of view, we are in a good position to kick on and push for a play-off place between now and May. We can only hope that another play-off campaign can be achieved.
Town started the new year sitting nicely in fifth position on the back of some excellent results against QPR, Brighton and Burnley. We were three points off the top four and perhaps looking up the table more so than behind our shoulders, as a comfortable gap between the top eight and the chasing pack had emerged.
We fast forward seven weeks, three defeats and no clean sheets later, and much of the hard work put in over the Christmas period is now looking like a distant memory.
We currently look like a team that is getting somewhat left behind by our rivals (and caught up by the chasers) since the January transfer window.
So what has changed? An Anthony Knockaert-inspired Brighton have rediscovered their form in recent weeks. The goals of big money signing Gary Hooper and the recent arrival of Aiden McGeady have propelled Sheffield Wednesday closer to the Championship summit and they look set to go from strength to strength.
Birmingham have more than filled the void left by Demarai Gray's departure by reinvesting on Will Buckley and Diego Fabbrini (whose former loan club Middlesbrough, for all their big names, have not won a single game and have struggled to score since his departure).
Wolves supplemented the loss of Benik Afobe with a big money move for Joe Mason and the shrewd signing of Poland international Michal Zyro, both of whom have made an immediate impact.
Cardiff's sale of Mason and Kenwyne Jones freed up money for them to bring in Lars Immers from Dutch football, and he too has made an instant impact and fitted in well to a squad that has been on the most part retained from their Premier League campaign and post-relegation rebuild.
We have been rocked by injuries to key players Ryan Fraser and Cole Skuse. It was disappointing to hear that the unsettled Tommy Oar and Jonathan Parr's Town stints were ended, leaving us even further short of reliable strength in depth.
David McGoldrick (fast becoming our Daniel Sturridge) is in danger of becoming our forgotten man with the Blues having played without him for so long.
The January arrivals of Barnsley fringe man Paul Digby and 31-year-old Kevin Foley, who has not played regular first team football in England for a number of years, have done little to ease concerns about the strength of our squad, nor has the needless suspension to Jonathan Douglas.
Whilst we did not spend big last season either, we got through much of the season with a settled squad that was rarely disrupted by injury or suspension. It was also boosted by the shrewd January signing of Freddie Sears, whose incoming contribution proved invaluable based on the six-figure sum paid (successful investment does not necessarily require big sums of money, as proven in this case).
I have little reason to believe our January business will push us on this time around, and the lack of depth in our injury-hit squad has been brutally exposed in our recent defeats to fourth-bottom Bristol City and a QPR side who had yet to register a home win in Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink's two-month tenure prior to our visit.
We are not the only team going through a difficult patch. The recent chaos at Derby has seen them dragged into the mix also, despite their embarrassment of riches. It goes to demonstrate the importance of having stability at a football club. Without it, no investment can flourish to its full potential.
Spending isn't a guarantee for promotion, nor is it my intention to portray that message. We all saw Derby go big to bring in Tom Ince, Darren Bent and Jesse Lingard last season and still nosedive out of the promotion race. But as is proven more often than not, it does give you a massive chance to push on if you spend wisely.
I accept that Mick McCarthy has his critics. I cannot say that recent performances home and away have given me a lot of hope for the coming months of the season. Certainly at QPR last week, we looked nothing like a team aspiring to be in the promotion shake-up come May, and it has not been our only poor performance of recent weeks.
But what should the aspirations really be? We continue to look like a club that is punching above its weight compared to big-spending rivals. In that regard, we should applaud everyone at the club for getting so much out of the resources available.
But is that really acceptable for the fans, given the cost and dedication of our core who follow on a frequent basis home and away? Forget our fluctuating home attendances, our recent 1,400 at Ashton Gate yesterday, 3,500 at Loftus Road, 2,500 at St Andrew's, and the close to 900 at Fratton Park shows the club still has a strong core support who have stood by despite some dour times.
In the interests of perspective, three points off the play-offs with 15 games to go is not dour. This season has so far had many twists and turns, and hopefully Mick can continue to get all he can out of the group to keep that happening.
However, where can we expect to go long term with our current model in such a rich man's game? If we did make the play-offs, could we actually believe we can go head to head with a Hull, a Brighton, a Burnley, and win promotion?
With such minimal investment to the squad, could we soon find ourselves more and more left behind? How much longer can Town really continue to sustain our upper table trends on such inferior budgets to our rivals in years to come? Time will tell. Our fingers are crossed.
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