It's the balance of the side that seems wrong to me at the moment.
We look less coherent as a side at the moment than we did during the first three games of the season. We're playing without balance and are massively vulnerable to sides counter-attacking us. Why? I think because we have tried to adapt our style of play from last season but we're currently trying to do far more than many players are comfortable with. In many ways, yesterday looked reminiscent of some of Keane's early sides here; even when we did the right thing, it was too slowly to really trouble opponents.
I didn't think we were far off in the first half yesterday, just a bit slow, and a goal just after half-time should have given us the platform to see out the win. That way we could have been talking about the minor changes we need rather than dozens of fans deciding everyone is crap and we should start again as seems to be the case. Mick, however, does have to make some firm decisions about his preferred defence and striking options. Trying to shoehorn players in is a partial cause of our current problems.
We’ve been poor defensively all year, but rarely as calamitously so as in the last few weeks. I thought, Brighton were excellent and outplayed us but Reading and Bristol City had far too many straightforward opportunities; at times it seemed like either might score with every attack – indeed, that’s almost what both did.
The individual errors of last season, now seem superceded with a collective malaise that brings back a few too many bad memories of where we were three years ago. We aren’t that bad, but do need to go back to defending properly as a unit starting with next weekend.
Personally I think Chambers is ok at right back, not the attacking threat that, say, Fabian Wilnis provided but reasonably comfortable defensively unless against a fast winger but it does give us fewer options when we’re trying to build play from wide. Knudsen did the basics well and set up a goal but won’t have the attacking threat that either Cresswell or Mings brought.
Berra had a poor game yesterday to compound his slip against Birmingham; did we rush him back from injury too quickly? He remains our best defender when fit and in form but is well below those standards at the moment.
I really don’t know what the 4-2-3-1 yesterday was trying to achieve, it effectively took Sears out of the game and saw AMN intermittently involved. I think it contributed to our slowness of play as well – play two wingers as outlets and the central players know where to play the ball early. That Fraser was still probably our best player was in spite rather than because of how the midfield played.
Murphy is quite high up on the scapegoat list too it would seem; he wasn’t very good yesterday but is still getting back to fitness after a truncated season. He’ll get there though, although it’s safe to assume he won’t match last season’s goal tally. The shot just past the post at 1-0 might have made for a completely different game had that gone in.
With four good strikers, we should be playing two and having the other two on the bench not trying to fit them all in; I thought Mick had decided to do that yesterday but then we jumbled things up with the 4-2-3-1.
Overall though, we’ve tried to be less direct this season. That builds on the good periods of last season – notably the late Autumn – when we played some very good football on the floor. That doesn’t mean we won’t play it long, especially with Murphy in the side it remains an effective and viable tactic for us.
The problem comes though when we go long for the lack of other options like we did when we started panicking yesterday. As mentioned above, the full backs reduce our outlets and a midfield with players constantly changing position caused us more problems in the second half than it did the opposition.
So, all a little bit of a mess really and yet, on another day, we would have won comfortably yesterday and against Birmingham. That we won neither and this follows heavy defeats to Reading and Brighton suggests that we do need to revert a little bit more to basics, start with a simple side set out to be solid and build from there again.
If we have wingers then the basis of how we set up should be a 4-4-2; again that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t mix things up at times but that we need to avoid what happened yesterday.
As others have pointed out this is the Championship; it will remain erratic and we’re still capable of finishing comfortably in the play-offs. The odd crap game isn’t a problem as long as we don’t keep repeating the same mistakes week in week out.
The Brighton game seems like it was ages ago now, even last week's debacle far longer than a week back. I think Tuesday helped with that but I'm looking forward to tonight. It still feels a little odd with a match at PR on a Friday evening, I can't remember too many over the years outside of Christmas and Easter.
There was the Barnsley game a couple of years ago which I (fortunately) missed due to going on holiday early the following morning and I remember good wins on Sky against Charlton and Norwich on Friday nights in the 90s but any others?