Monday 22 October 2007

Don't Like Down To Earth

Have to say I don’t particularly like this back down to earth place; smug and complacent land is much more cosy. Two disappointing results in a row have at the least reduced the chances of us being able to dominate this league (and while play-off finals etc provide wonderful memories I would be much happier getting promoted by Christmas).

Such hopes were probably misplaced in any event, and nobody’s panicking over a season that was always going to involve setbacks. We still stand higher than I expected us to be after 10/12 games at the start of the season. But there’s no doubt you can get an edge when teams are a little apprehensive about playing you. Norwich and Leicester gave no indication that they really expected anything out of the game; both would have been happy to go home with a 0-0 (no, I’m not forgetting Weaver’s save against the former).

So far this season we have leaked goals and if I was putting out a team against us I would make sure they put the defence under pressure. It’s nice to think that we would outscore the opposition in an open game, but at the moment we’re not taking a high enough percentage of our chances to be confident of doing so.

It’s a fine line between an aura of invincibility and complacency, but such thoughts are off the agenda for now at least. It’s back to basics for the next two home games – six points and sod the style. Plymouth are at present in a play-off place, as are we. We have to treat this match as an opportunity to beat a rival at home and to show the necessary determination to do so.

I wasn’t at Molineux, so can’t comment on the game or individual performances. But there are some general points to be made.

Seems that someone else beat me to the first. Our record against teams in the top half of the division sucks. Played six, won none, drawn four, lost two. Against the bottom 12? Played five, won five. It is too early to draw strong conclusions, and we have only played two of the six against the top 12 at home (in both cases getting ahead but conceding late equalisers). But it’s obvious to say that if we continue in that vein we’re not going up.

Second, the two league games we have lost both saw our defence disrupted by injuries to full-backs. At Stoke it was Yassin getting clattered just after we scored, with Pardew deciding to put a cold McCarthy into the centre of defence. At Wolves it was the other side and Powell, with Sodje coming on to patch things up. As New York Addick has pointed out, the subs bench has to serve two functions – covering for injuries as well as having options to change tactics.

When Yassin was out his back-up, Sankofa, was also injured (I see he was back for the reserves against Brighton), so McCarthy was asked to do a job before Mills was brought in. Now, with Powell seemingly out for a while we have Thatcher and Gibbs(!) also in the treatment room (and let’s not forget Kelly Youga out on loan). There really is no legislating for this. It’s not that the squad is too thin, it’s just bloody unlucky and these things happen (well, to Gibbs they happen all the time).

What is less impressive is getting 19-year-old Grant Basey back from his loan spell seemingly full of confidence only to find that we have tried to bring in a 17-year-old Arsenal reserve (and one with a name to send shivers up the spine of all Charlton supporters). I’ve no idea if Basey is ready to step up. Fact is at his age he should be, in this division at least. If he doesn’t get the nod on Tuesday there will have to be some alterations in other areas (Mills to left-back and Yassin in? Semedo to left-back and Racon in midfield?). It will be disappointing all round if Pardew decides Basey is not ready.

Perhaps surprisingly, given the pecking order at the start of the season, the player we have missed in the past two games has been Sam. It’s becoming a mantra for me, but having Reid and Ambrose as the two wide men (or indeed having one central and one out wide) doesn’t work. Neither is a genuine winger and their inclusion leaves us short of pace.

There is an element of needs must, with Sam suspended and Thomas’ behaviour of late meaning an inclination to leave him in the reserves to sweat (hopefully). But with hindsight Reid should have been rested against Wolves (he now faces the prospect of two internationals and three league games in no time at all). Having Thomas and Ambrose starting wide looks to me like a better combination in the circumstances, albeit one without options from the bench – unless Christensen is given a place on the bench (here too I’ve no idea if he’s ready).

Given the above there’s no point in outlining ‘my team’ for Plymouth. These are the sort of situations where a manager earns his corn by getting the combinations and options right from what is available. Let’s just hope they go out in the right frame of mind – and that the fans get behind them, all of them.

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