Thursday, 30 January 2014

How Does The World Feel Tonight?

So, how does the world feel today? No question better. 24 hours ago it was hard even to take pleasure in the kids’ superb victory away at Southampton, given the feeling that the best we could hope for is that those making the grade would end up pulling on the shirt of Standard Liege (on loan, or for undisclosed amounts). With the potential departures of Kermorgant, Stephens, Wiggins, Morrison et al, there was the impression that anything to cut costs was being embraced and that Sir Chris was being sidelined and excluded from any footballing-based decision-making process to such an extent that it wouldn’t have been that much of a shock had we woken up to find he had decided to walk.

For me, the three most encouraging things have been first, his reported comments (regarding potential sales and incoming players); second, that it seems possible that Kermorgant won’t go (and that Powell expressly wants him to stay); and third, the possibility that we will bring in a player not already on Duchatelet’s wage bill (ie the Polish striker). The news that Wiggins has signed a new contract in that context is really the icing on the cake. Confirmation of the departure to Brighton of Stephens is hardly welcome, but within the context of the day’s overall developments it is at least understandable.

Irrespective of who has and might come in, I still very much hope that Kermorgant decides to stay with us. Progress comes in different forms. When Sir Chris (and the board) created a new team more than two years ago it was to get rid of the sense of failure that hung around the place as there was no prospect of progress through tinkering. That isn’t the case now. Progress involves building on and adding to what are strengths. Kermorgant, as Sir Chris said better than I, has been and is a real strength for us. All the signs are that with reassurances about direction he still might decide to keep faith with us and stay. My mind is wandering back to the Nicky Bailey song about a certain offer involving a spouse. Well Yann, if you are out there and still weighing up the pros and cons, my French partner Suzanne I’m sure won’t take it amiss if …. (it’s OK, she won’t read this and I’ll deny everything, some problem with translation). So come on Yan, keep the faith and a place in Suzanne’s heart.

If Monsieur Duchatelet isn’t yet convinced of the need to secure Sir Chris’ position it ought to be enough to know that whether he stays or goes remains the acid test of our belief in your intentions.

Looking at actual moves, good luck to Stephens at Brighton. He’s a more than decent player, one who with the right players around him could well emerge as a very decent player. But for me the game is all about partnerships in key areas. I’ve been less impressed than others with the Stephens/Cousins combination in central midfield, not because both aren’t good players but because paired together we seldom had the drive to stretch teams. Neither is a box-to-box player and the end-result (for me) is that opposition defences were seldom pulled out of position through pace, passing and movement. It was the best pairing we had, but not enough, especially with the departure of Stewart, who was capable of making things happen when supplied and in the mood.

That does rather beg the question of what’s best now, barring fresh blood. The suggestion that Pritchard might go out on loan (along with Pigott, who does need more time to develop) indicates that our prevailing options for two central postions are Jackson, Cousins, Gower, Hollands, and Hughes. It is time for the skipper to step up and re-establish himself in the role, especially as accommodating him of late has led to the unsatisfactory options of pushing Stephens or Cousins out wide, into roles that don’t suit them. It’s been a difficult season to date for Jackson, with injury, but barring a fresh signing for this position it seems to me he plays and is accompanied by whoever offers the best combination.

Up front, we have to wait for developments, ie whether Yann stays or goes and whether the Pole comes in or not. The sale of Smith and likely loaning out of Pigott means that as things stand we have Church and Sordell, plus the incoming Gucci. Church has many qualities but here too as a partnership him and Kermorgant didn’t have the necessary devil in the box to really unsettle defences. There can’t be any question that the hope at the start of the season was that Kermorgant and Sordell together would be a potent force, with a poacher alongside a guy who creates and contributes his fair share. Clearly that hasn’t happened to date (they have only been paired at the start for the first two games of the season and since then one more) and if Sordell doesn’t return to Bolton it’s up to him to prove his worth.

Last night I feared that the Tintinometer was already redundant, but the decision to merely place the rating on watch for a possible downgrade rather than take it to zero seems justified. Let’s hope we feel the same way come Saturday morning, because once the window has closed there’s a fight to be won.

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