|Fifteenth's Right Out of View|
Written by Mullet on Sunday, 9th Aug 2015 17:15
You can learn a lot in 90 minutes of football. Even more in 95 if the season opener at Brentford is taken into account.
A year ago Town began their campaign with a win over a much-feared Fulham side, before eventual defeat in the play-offs.
By the end of August Town were emerging from the bottom reaches of the table with that sole win being scant reward for a torrid first month. In isolation it proved little if anything, that change was probably good, especially if patience is applied too.
The Cottagers were a mess of youth and expense whilst Town were very much experimental - bolstered by obscure trialists Balint Bajner and Kevin Bru the indicators that much can happen in a season. One no longer with the club, the other started yesterday in the heart of midfield and opened the scoring.
For all the doubts over the Mauritian magician, in the 12 months since he signed he's shown he can cut it in the hectic Championship and made a case for being more than a bit part player. The biggest doubt coming when Mick McCarthy had little comfort for him when he lost his footing and head after some rough treatment. "Calm the f*ck down" was the Irishman's counsel before eventually subbing Bru minutes later after he picked up a hamstring problem.
Speculatively his advice might be applied to the game and the side as a whole given how things were balanced at that moment in time. Certainly the flexibility of replacing young runners with old heads looked to be a wise choice for all but the five minutes extra that ushered in Brentford's Hollywood finale.
If last summer's signings were a mixed bunch then this summer's seem a much smoother blend to savour. Six debuts were given at Griffin Park, four in the starting line-up. The fact that David McGoldrick was on the bench might be seen as encouraging, when one considers he was fully fit it's unmistakably illuminating on just how far Mick has dragged us along.
With Daryl Murphy no longer the only outlet, half-season hero Freddie Sears took centre stage on opening day supplying one goal and threatening to take one more than any man on the pitch.
The stats, the simple truth in observation all show that Freddie will be a nightmare for many a defender this time around. With Brett Pitman not even featuring, one can see that four does not go into the two of the traditional 4-4-2. How Mick shuffles and arranges the most promising strikeforce we've had for years, hinges on what kind of delivery his charges give.
Outside the strikers were two loanees both young, fast and dangerous giving Town an unpredictable and dynamic edge not seen for many years.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles might be young enough to still sit A-levels but his education at Arsenal has been impressive. He plays like a lad much older, whether he has the maturity and durability for a whole season is impossible to tell. If potential meant points he'd be a good bet to win matches with his aggressive intent and delivery from all over the pitch.
Left-field options for Town had the Cherry Ryan Fraser starting with a debut goal and the impression he might be just what we need. Quick, impulsive and forward-thinking you feel that the defensive wingers such and Jay Tabb and Paul Anderson were the answer to the old problems of shoring up a side Mick knew could be vulnerable. The fact that we were again when he went off was puzzling. The Scot points to a certainty in style that now we can attack first and let teams try and ask questions of us later.
In the middle we saw two distinct phases of Town's play. Cole Skuse will surely be an ever-present as ever he has been. His vision is impeccable and his steady play and disruption of opposing players so vital and so valuable. It didn't take long for him to pick up where he left off and with much better options around him, you feel that this might be the season where a freer, more fearless brand of football reaches maturity.
As the game drew to a close Mick sought to close out the Bees with their old face Jonathan Douglas and before that Giles Coke. Both look to be useful if subtle additions, unlikely to take centre stage.
A long track record in the lower leagues, there seems to be no shortage of confidence amongst the two older additions but equally little flair. Simple footballers, who put in a foot and a shift in the trademark McCarthy way is not the insult it may sound at first.
Coke especially appears comfortable with either foot - there is reason to believe if both can be relied upon then others can be played around them to get what they must restrict from other teams - namely goals and possession.
When Town were leading and indeed still chasing both of their goals, you felt a sense that no longer would we risk the scarcity of January's drought of goals and points. So many chances and so much will to win the ball and move it forward is the most striking change and most encouraging. It's imbued right across the side.
As good as Brentford were last season and this one so far, they were one of the strongest teams to give us so much room to play. Stiffer tests will likely come in the form of those more limited and limiting. However, as much as we saw sketches of this year's club and the extension of McCarthy's culture of togetherness and toughness, we learnt much by studying what was missing.
With brilliant Teddy Bishop currently sidelined with shin splints, Luke Hyam with a longer-term knee injury and last season's ever-ready Jay Tabb all absent - there is richness in flavour and design to the midfield options that Town lacked through injury in the difficult start to 2015. With all things being more than equal to that dismal run of results and injury this time around, Town won't struggle to draw on the depth of the squad and suffer quite so much this season.
Luke Chambers in the middle is a decent defensive option at any level of Championship football but very few hold a candle to the missing Christophe Berra right across the division.
Next to Chambo the young veteran Tommy Smith is everything you presume Mick must adore. Physical, game and tough as a hike across the Dales, Tommy's biggest contribution was cutting out clear goalscoring chances in the first half when all around had let Brentford in. The pairing relied on their combined experience to compensate for their lack of familiarity working side by side. If Berra was to be absent again, no matter how long, it's clear over time that these two could form a decent enough partnership.
The two biggest issues to begin with being that most of the captain's Town career has been spent on the right of the defence and the wrong side of those with more orthodox tastes. With no Berra and injury to versatile Norwegian Jonny Parr, Mick's hand was forced to turn to the academy and blood young Josh Emmanuel.
As far as debuts go, he can't be anything but pleased. Targeted and unbloodied by the early skirmishes, understandable nerves were succeeded by the youngster's own belief. Indeed he did so well at the back, he got forward to assist Bru in opening the scoring.
If he looks anything but the finished article, there's enough to suggest a bit of time from Mick's kid gloves will polish him into a complete and competent option. In the interim will Mick still look beyond him and Chambers with weeks left before the window closes? It couldn't hurt.
At left-back we have Jonas Knudsen who came from nowhere (well Denmark actually) but to pretend the young international was high on Town fans' wish-list to replace Tyrone Mings would be stretching the truth to breaking point.
While the £8m received for Tyrone might be buying a better quality of free agent and loan, the thrifty nature of securing Jonas suggests money and value are not the same thing in Mick's mind. Athletic but not the imposing presence of his predecessor, the stiff test of Jota and Judge never look to phase the new left-back or find him guilty of any major errors.
Much more akin to Cresswell albeit with a bullet throw and sturdier left foot harking back to Neil Thompson, I felt it was not the occasion likely to showcase everything in his arsenal and hopefully there will be much more to come. If there is, be excited. If Fraser ends a long run of having no traditional left wing threat, Knudsen represents a continuation of tradition in developing excellent young left backs.
Defence has been the biggest worry for as long as anyone may care to remember. Mick has tinkered with very few options since being here and last year the staleness told. An inability to rotate and rest arguably left us too exposed too often. Consistency may well have been the key to many of Mick's successes here, but when it comes to the rearguard one wonders if it allowed teams to unlock weaknesses at the most telling of times.
For all the defensive debates, the most controversial issue of all seems to be the keepers. Starting with Dean Gerken and overall preferring Bartosz Bialkowski for much of last season, Mick seized injury and mistakes to drop both men at points. Bartman again got the nod but proved to be equally brilliant and baffling - a first-half save of sheer reaction and reflex denying Jota one can't feel that both of the late goals conceded bore the handiwork of a keeper happy to rush out and be rooted to the spot at just the wrong moment, once or twice too often.
We saw Gerken make brilliant saves as his hesitancy necessitated, but also it allowed teams to seize the advantage and opportunity to turn points their way and not ours too many times. Those who believe we can do better might need to put names out there if Marcus Evans is to put his money where their mouth is.
A frustrating double jeopardy of Bart being the slight favourite to remain our number one shirt, but some way off Premiership pedigree illustrates the widening gap between the top two leagues and the small margins dictating where a team plays each year.
Winning your home games and taking as many points as you can on the road might be a sensible formula for success, but not in the way we did it first time out. You can't hide from such disappointments no matter how familiar they become each passing year. All they breed is contempt.
However, with so much not seen from the squad and undoubtedly more additions to come there is every reason to believe the mix might be right this time. If being unfancied can see us make the play-offs, then improving upon that can't be unthinkable with the changes made. This league might be unpredictable and cruel but courting the play-offs is the least we should expect based on what we've seen.
Mick's biggest worry will be the culmination of lots of things. A marathon season, without being so light across the whole the squad should see us fare better. A repeat of January would plunge us astray as it would any side.
A longer December at any point this season would put promotion well within reason. I don't think we can expect to leave the division this season, but there's enough hope and omens already to let us chase the thought for months to come.
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