I don’t know if it’s just pressure of work or the absence of anything to complain about (or a mix of the two), but I’ve not felt the urge to write much recently. Sir Chris even managed to get the balance right on Sunday, between ensuring no repeat of the Northwich embarrassment and giving some a run-out to some, most obviously Hayes and Euell but also Evina. Perhaps tellingly he kept the central defence and midfield partnerships intact. I assumed everyone saw it for themselves on the telly and with my laundry causing some post-match delays (I don’t own a washing machine so take it to my mother’s – no carping please, it provides regular contact and enables me to do all the necessary and strenuous bits around her place, like changing the clocks) didn’t rush to print.
I guess I don’t need to add my note of sympathy for the Carlisle supporters. A repeat of their recent trip to London probably wasn’t quite what they hoped for. Suffice to say that for the past couple of seasons I really didn’t care about the Cup. The last thing I wanted was to draw Premiership opposition (I gave the Spurs away tie a miss), which would only serve as a reminder of what used to be the norm. This time around, while glad that the Carling Cup and Johnstone’s Paint Trophy are out of the way, I’m actually feeling up for it. While by no means taking the Carlisle game for granted, some luck with the draws and sneaking through to the later stages before a plumb tie would be good, or failing that a home game in the third round against a decent Championship team would be good (I said ‘decent’, so that rules out near neighbours), to get a taste of how the team might shape up against what we hope will be the norm next season.
We are, however, getting a little ahead of ourselves. One thought I did come away with after Sunday was whether – and if so where – we might need to strengthen in January and (honest) whether we might opt for a loan signing or two. The Powell goes and signs one on loan, Ephraim from QPR. Loan signings aren’t ideal, as we have found out all too often of late, but it might not be easy to make the right permanent signings. It’s far too soon to contemplate what we might need for next season if we go up, and anyone who comes in would need to be at least competing for a starting place but probably having to wait as no-one merits replacement. It’s a nice problem to have.
Going on Powell’s comment on Ephraim’s arrival, that “I have two players in more or less every position”, it seems to be a process of elimination. With Francis having departed, cover for Solly at right-back is a possibility. The option of switching Morrison there and bringing in Court is fine if we have to, but breaking up the central defensive partnership isn’t ideal if you don’t have to (Court and Doherty will no doubt get their chance through injury and suspension sooner or later). I know nothing about Ephraim, but from what I’ve read he will be a useful option at least from the bench. Jackson wide-left has worked even better than I’d hoped for, largely because the outstanding Wiggins and when required the exciting Evina have both done excellent jobs of overlapping him going forward. At some point in some games having an outright left-winger will be handy.
With Hughes a real bonus of late, Hollands in excellent form (and scoring goals, perhaps helped by the industry of his recent partner), Stephens waiting for a fresh chance, and Pritchard returning from injury with a bang, we don’t look short in central midfield either. Of the signings, Bover from what I’ve seen doesn’t look ready for the first team, but he undoubtedly has promise and time on his side. The only disappointment to date is Alonso, for so long the invisible man and then he failed to grab the opportunity in the Brentford cup game. Where he stands in the pecking order now I have no idea; but I hope that, like Hughes, if the chance comes along he’s up for it.
It still seems to me that it’s the fourth forward that should be our main concern. I can’t comment about whether Smith, who came on for a debut on Sunday, or even the developing Sho-Silva and Azeez, can be considered ready to make a first-team contribution. Otherwise of course Wright-Phillips is a shoo-in and Kermorgant his current chosen partner. As pointed out by others, the Breton has made a difference, even if it was harsh on Hayes to make way. Hayes can as we’ve seen partner BWP, or at a pinch Kermorgant, but if there was a negative note from Sunday it has to be that, harsh as it sounds, Euell’s usefulness as the fourth striker is questionable. A moment late on in the Preston game stuck in my mind. In a tight space he jinked beautifully past a defender but just didn’t have the legs to take advantage. That of course leaves Benson. I still see him as the natural replacement for Wright-Phillips should disaster strike, and think he can do the job if called on. But if Powell has doubts and/or if he’s going to depart, as looked likely through the summer, I hope it’s sorted quickly in January. If he goes, I think we’ll need the cover – and here especially a permanent signing might not be easy, given the job spec (good enough but ready to wait for the chance).
Of course, injuries could change the picture. What’s nice about our situation as January approaches – in addition to being five points clear at the top – is that it would be surprising were we to lose someone we didn’t want to. All of them have the realistic prospect of playing Championship football with us next season and, excellent as the signings have been, the risk of a Premiership club coming knocking on the door doesn’t look high. Never say never, but I’m assuming the focus in January will be on whether we want to strengthen, not watching the deadline day news with dread.
And I thought it would be a quick, short post as I had nothing to say (I’m not suggesting that I’ve actually said anything, but there’s enough words to be going on with). It’s Lyon for me on Friday (and the possibility of a Lyon Duchere game; after two creditable 0-0 draws they’re looking good in second place, behind OL’s B team), so Brentford will have to be passed on. I’m back (easyjet permitting as before) in time for Huddersfield. By 4.45 that afternoon (if not before) I trust we’ll all be on our feet singing ‘stand up for the champions’. Getting ahead of ourselves? Wny not; just as long as the players aren’t.