There will be a lot of soul-searching this week as Danny dissects the abysmal showing from his side at the weekend. I suspect many of the regular players will have an awful lot of thinking to do, with only one coming out of the game with any real credit.
Many fans feel there has been a down turn in performances ever since January, some erroneously putting it down to the cup campaign. I can’t agree that two cup matches have damaged us I’m afraid and I won’t blame the EFL for disrupting our flow. If you look at the form of teams up and down the country, you’ll see many who have suffered similar to us. Bradford are another prime example of a side flying up to January and then falling apart.
Yes, we were third at the turn of 2018 and we’re not now, does that indicate a cataclysmic collapse? Not entirely, but the last seven days will concern Danny. His sides are built on strong-willed players working hard as a unit. It seems over the last couple of weeks we only get 45 decent minutes out of the team, usually after the break. Last weekend at Crawley we got twenty, against Crewe I don’t think we got more than five minutes dominance at the start of the game. The fact we scored was not down to us enjoying a spell, we had been terrible.
There are a wide number of reasons people point to, but for me the essential thing now is to find a settled and balanced starting eleven, one to get a run of five or six games and try to build up confidence. It means some difficult decisions have to be made, but that is football I’m afraid.
I don’t work with the players every day so I am merely a layman offering my opinion, but here is the starting XI I’d be tempted to go with over the coming weeks.
Ryan Allsopp – He’s not been to blame for the goals, he was left completely exposed by his defence this week and cannot be held responsible. On Saturday his distribution was poor, but he did pull of a tremendous save to prevent further embarrassment. I’ve seen lots of talk of players being dropped after conceding four: Farms probably got dropped on the Mansfield Town home defeat, but was given the county game as a cushion, Josh Vickers was injured after Luton and not dropped because of the goals. Ryan is a decent keeper, he commands his area well and isn’t at fault for the Crewe debacle.
Neal Eardley – When he’s fit, a no brainer. I don’t doubt for one second if he’d played on Saturday we wouldn’t have been beaten as heavily. News of his injury will be interesting, our season’s aspirations hinge on it.
James Wilson – He’s out with grade 2 ligament damage at the moment, but we need him back as soon as possible. Danny says he doesn’t point to injuries as a factor on Saturday, but Wilson is a big loss. With him in the defence you can afford to have Bozzie in midfield, something we really lacked against Crewe. James Wilson will be a key player for us and his recovery is almost as important as that of Neal Eardley.
Luke Waterfall – The captain didn’t have a good game against Crewe but let’s be honest, he wasn’t alone. Luke is a good defender, valuable going forward and hard as nails, but in terms of positioning and organisation he works better with certain partners. James Wilson is experienced enough to be that partner, Scott Wharton isn’t. If we need to we could rotate Luke and Scott, but not play them together as it is an accident waiting to happen.
Sam Habergham – Steady seven Sam has been more like a flighty five recently. He looked well off the pace on Saturday, a completely different player to last season. Dave, the football critic who sits next to me, thinks he’s been in steady decline for a few weeks. That is up for debate, but the choice here is whether you play Sean Long right and Neal Eardley left, or Neal right and Sam left. Sam just edges it, for now. I would say we need to find a new free kick taker though, we’ve been woeful this season. The only player I’ve seen hit a decent one is JMD.
Michael Bostwick – I like Bozzie in defence, but when he’s there we don’t have him in midfield. His bite was lacking in front of the back four this weekend and it was one reason we looked so shabby. We’ve been done a few times by giving attacking players too much possession in front of our 18-yard area, and he goes some way to preventing that. Having said that, he did play midfield against Swindon when we did exactly the same, but we still missed him on Saturday in the centre of the park.
Alex Woodyard – Some have said Woodyard has looked off it since the Luton rumours, I’m not so sure. He’s not been his usual self, but neither have the rest of the team. We still need his industry and running, or as Luke Waterfall put it his ‘ratting about’. Many are questioning his ability to play with Lee Frecklington, against I’m not so sure about that either. The two didn’t work on Saturday but that doesn’t mean that they can’t play together. However, I would give Freck a week or two off and get his fitness back to 100% as I felt he clearly struggled on Saturday. I can only think it is a fitness thing.
Harry Anderson – Harry came on to little effect but he seems to have spent a bit of time on the bench recently. He didn’t start against Crewe, Cheltenham, or Barnet and I think we missed him. against Cheltenham he came on after 36 minutes as Danny Rowe was injured and changed the complexion of the game. In my eyes if he’s fit, Harry starts every game.
Danny Rowe – Danny is too much of a talent to keep on the bench, but we have to get the best out of him. His jinxing run in the first half on Saturday almost provided us with an opening, maybe more by luck than judgement but it was one of the few moments that got fans on their feet. The one thing we haven’t had from our wingers this season is the overlap and the full back interaction. Last season we looked sharp from out wide, but we’ve seen too many changes in the wide areas for any cohesion. If fit I’d like to see a pairing given a run for a couple of weeks.
Matt Green – No brainer. He’s the only player to come out of that shambles with any credit. His work rate in superb and he cut a lonely figure up front this weekend. At one point he won a flick on and then spun the defender to chase it himself. There’s only so much one man can do and without this one, we’d be heading down stream without a paddle.
Jordan Williams – Okay, bear with me. You know I’m a fan of the big man, but he’s been figured out again, for now. He’s one-dimensional and good at what he does, but when clubs prepare for his threat we struggle. Much of the video analysis teams do is based on recent games, so when Rheady burst back into the squad before Christmas teams weren’t as prepared for him as they might be. Now he’s been playing a few weeks you can see his threat being nullified. We need another approach for a few weeks, something different that teams are not expecting. With the greatest of respect, that isn’t ever going to be Ollie Palmer. Danny has been working on Jordan Williams playing as a striker, he’s done it before in his career and we need an unknown quantity. Okay, I don’t spend time around the team so it might sound ludicrous, but surely it has to be worth a try?
On the bench
Obviously we need the sub keeper, leaving six positions on the bench. With my formation not including Rheady or Lee Frecklington, I’d have them both involved. Freck might be fit, but is he ‘starting eleven’ fit? I’m not sure, but we could decrease the pressure on him by having him on the bench. I saw someone mention him as this season’s Tom Champion; that needs to be nipped in the bud. I’d obviously have Sean Long on the bench too and Scott Wharton. The final two places would be Tom Pett, a player I feel is going to be on the receiving end of a lot of stick very soon and Elliott Whitehouse.
I have it on very good authority that Danny was looking for a striker even after the transfer window closed. We were possibly interested in Barry Corr who ended up signing a short-term deal with Cambridge, but that tells you Danny knows he could do with another up top, just as we know. When Rheady is handled well we’re piling too much on Matt Green’s shoulders and as a result, his effectiveness is being diluted. If there is a striker out there, even one who might not be ‘better’ than we currently have, we must look at a short-term deal. I know I’ll get laughed at here, but Carlton Cole is still without a club, surely he must be worth a look? I’d almost (I said almost) be tempted to have a look at Nile Ranger, even if he was told one wrong step and he’s out.
Yesterday, when we went 2-1 down (and 3-1 and 4-1) there was no way back. We didn’t look to have an attacking threat, our wingers weren’t providing the bullets, our midfielders weren’t breaking up play and we just kept pumping long, inaccurate balls to Matt Green. I really felt for him, everything we tried to do involved a long lump into space for him to chase, half of the balls weren’t even near him. I was openly gutted when we didn’t sign a striker but also defended Danny in the days afterwards and I stand by that. I know the players we tried to bring in, some I can say such as Alex Revell because they’re in the public domain and some I can’t. He’s a thing: we were after a league One striker who has started the last three of his sides most recent games and another who scored on his last League One appearance earlier this month. Neither player is in the bottom half of the division either. Do not think Danny was flippant about our requirements, nor that he didn’t try hard enough to bring the right player in.
I think the way forward, certainly for the next couple of games, is a slightly different approach, especially as Coventry will have planned for the big man. The long balls into Matt Green are not working at present and we’re struggling to find another route to goal. It will come from our skilful wide players but we need to shake things up a little and add an element of surprise. That is in my opinion as a writer, not a football manager or coach.
THANKS TO GRAHAM BURRELL FOR ALL THE PHOTOS. TONIGHT’S TITLE PICTURE IS DANNY AND NICKY ON THE TOUCHLINE THIS WEEKEND