Limp defeat to league leaders
The usual output from the usual suspects
We finished in 14th place with a final tally of 58 points last season. We currently sit in 16th place with 51 points and five games left to play. Given that a lower mid-table finish should never be acceptable in this division for this club, questions should be asked why we’ve had a virtual repeat of the same campaign for two years in a row (disjointed performances, a dismal home record, a small flirtation with relegation and absolutely no hope of challenging the top six); is it the owners? No, we’ve changed them. The manager? We’ve had three of them. So it falls to the players who were here last year and are still here now, inexplicably still getting a regular game. By now it should be evident that:
- Conor Coady has virtually nothing in terms of technical ability
- Matt Doherty cannot and never will be able to defend, and perpetually displays the body language of a 13 year old being dragged to Freeman Hardy Willis on the hunt for some sensible shoes
- Dave Edwards frequently disappears from view for entire 20 minute spells at a time as if he’s allergic to footballs
- Danny Batth is ponderous to the point of being beaten to loose balls by renowned speed merchants such as Glenn Murray
I can’t pretend to be surprised when any of that happens, as it does far more often than not. Add in a couple of the newer arrivals and their own foibles; Jon Dadi Bodvarsson looking as threatening as Alan Carr would in a sequel to The Football Factory, Andy Lonergan possessing the same hologram genes as Claudio Bravo…these are players that are not fit for anything other than a lower mid-table Championship slog. A state of affairs that isn’t anywhere near what we expect. If these players remain mainstays then we will keep getting the same results. When you have multi-billionaire owners who don’t mind chucking £20m on a couple of exciting new attacking players, it’s fair to assume that said results are not the limit of our ambition. There’s only one way to fix that state of affairs.
Full back woes are a recurring theme
You couldn’t have asked for much more of a contrast between Brighton’s Bruno Saltor and Sebastien Pocognoli, and our full back pair of Coady and Doherty. It’s borderline incomprehensible that we have gone through an entire season and our most used players in those positions are a low skilled midfielder and a terrible right back playing on the wrong side. While Brighton’s pairing provided a constant threat going forward and did their defensive duties with the minimum of fuss, we were treated to a display of regularly ceding possession, failing to track runs, pressing at the wrong time to leave opponents completely open, getting far too narrow and generally looking seriously substandard. Signing full backs shouldn’t be a difficult task. How we’ve gone so long being so undermanned in those areas boggles the mind. Doherty has been playing on the wrong side – he doesn’t have a left foot and he isn’t going to acquire one now – for 16 months. As a stopgap, emergency, “we don’t have anyone at all so this will have to do until we get round to signing someone” option, you might tolerate it. Not an entire season and a half of it. We even tried to sign Nicolai Boilesen last January and Ryan Haynes this year, so we’re well aware there is an issue…but we leave it unchecked. Silvio played 90 minutes in the U23s on Monday and if he is anywhere near match ready then he should be given an opportunity to prove his worth in the final five games; he does at least resemble someone who knows roughly what he’s doing in that position.
Romain Saiss is struggling to find a role…
It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that Saiss is comfortably our most accomplished midfielder. Confident on the ball and with a decent range of passing, he offers something that no-one else (in the absence of Connor Ronan) in the squad can give us. And yet…we aren’t really getting much in the way of impact from him. While in his recent substitute appearances he’s pushed a little higher up the park and been used to press the opposition, when we start him (as today) he sits far, far too deep. It might look very nice for him to spread a few crossfield balls but when he’s parked five yards in front of the centre halves, those passes aren’t going to hurt the opposition, they’re going to reach one of our players on about halfway at best. Furthermore, when playing so deep, you would expect that he’d be able to protect the back four…but despite his physical attributes, this doesn’t seem to be an especially strong part of his game. He lacks mobility and the ability to sniff out danger, leading to opposition midfielders and deep-lying forwards running rings around him as he lumbers around in a fairly cumbersome manner. If we were able to employ him 20-30 yards further forward, then we might be able to make something of his ability in distribution. As it is, he remains a man of one or two decent moments a game (to go along with at least one or two casual losses of possession in horrible areas) rather than a player who dominates games. His Wolves career might not have long to run.
…While Andi Weimann is paying for his versatility
Weimann has started up front against Rotherham, Fulham and Cardiff during his loan spell here…three games, three wins. So it’s a surprise that in the absence of Helder Costa, we’ve shuffled him back out into one of the wider roles. While he is diligent enough when he plays there – his defensive work cannot be criticised – he offers us relatively little in terms of attacking threat. He rarely takes his man on, doesn’t link up enough with the rest of the front line and doesn’t offer anything in terms of delivery from the flanks. He is on record as saying that his preferred position is as a central striker and he is indeed the only player we’ve deployed there all season who looks a credible goal threat. It would therefore surely follow that his status in that role should be sacrosanct and it should be left to others to fill in out wide in Costa’s absence. Morgan Gibbs-White or the returning pair of Jordan Graham and Michal Zyro would certainly be preferable to deploying Bodvarsson there as has been mooted recently, though we do of course hope that Costa returns sooner rather than later (conspiracy theories about his impending sale notwithstanding).
Paul Lambert’s in-game management remains questionable
It would be fair to say that thus far, Lambert’s strength has not been his use of substitutions and in game changes. Frequently any switch is left far too late and is often merely like for like, offering us fresh legs and little else. With us struggling to have any kind of impact going forwards today deep into the second half, it was left until the final 15 minutes before we saw the introduction of Nouha Dicko and Donovan Wilson. As has been the case on previous occasions when we have tried to play two up front in an attempt to chase the game, it didn’t appear that we’d done any work on how to play a different shape from slight variants on the theme of one lone striker supported by two wide forwards. It is an element of his management that requires significant improvement next season; plans aren’t always going to work and it is often the managers who have the ability to spot flaws mid-game and change the tactics around who find the greatest success.
Today illustrated how far we have to go
Chris Hughton’s Brighton are an admirable enough outfit yet for all that, are fairly workmanlike and identikit in terms of Championship promotion teams; a decent keeper, a solid back four with two physically imposing centre halves, one tackler, one passer in midfield, a bit of flair out wide and a collection of handy strikers. It’s a well worn template, underpinned by a manager who can get his team to both dominate games and grind out results; nothing flashy, not a team that grabs the headlines week in week out, but they get the job done. We are so far away from that at the moment that it’s almost embarrassing to compare the two teams. We have gaps all over the squad in terms of quality and depth, we only really have one way of playing which has been proven to work (and it is one that is by definition invalid for the vast majority of home games in this league), we don’t show enough of a reaction when we go a goal down, we miss key opportunities at one end and give away soft goals at the other. Fosun might well have looked at the game at Anfield in January and decided that they fancy a bit of that every week; they’d do well to have a look at Brighton and see just how much work we need to do to match that standard.