With the 1-0 defeat at Port Vale fresh in our minds, potential changes for the visit of Wycombe need to be considered.
Although a win isn’t a ‘must’, it would be a huge step towards the play offs if we could turn over Gareth Ainsworth’s side and secure three points. It would put Mansfield back in their place and give us a leg up over Coventry ahead of our trip there. We must be in a position of not needing to win there to stay in the top seven, and only by taking four points from our next two games will that be the case.
There’s been a lot of discussion about tactics with Danny believing we now have three set ups that work well, 4-3-3, 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1. All require different personnel too, meaning in any one formation, some else misses out. For instance, if we go 4-4-2 there’s no place for Elliott Whitehouse, whereas a 4-2-3-1 could incorporate him, but then a tough decision needs to be made around Rheady or Matt Green.
Similarly, Harry Anderson misses out if we go 4-3-3, but in a 4-4-2 his orthodox wing play becomes all the more important.
Obviously, we must tailor our approach to that of the opposition, part of our success has been built on nullifying their threat whilst using a relatively simple approach ourselves to break the opponents down. Sometimes we ‘sacrifice’ players on the field for the good of the team, for instance at Wembley Matt Green was asked to cover a lot of the pitch, but not expected to be the goal scorer. If you watch the game back you’ll see his running pulled apart the centre halves creating spaces for the midfielders to run into. Whilst Elliott scored from a set piece, it was always likely that him or Lee Frecklington would get the first open-play goal.
To a degree, we tried the same against Port Vale and it leaves Matt open to criticism as, to the untrained eye, he looks to be doing very little. Sadly it didn’t work on Saturday, epitomised in a moment where one of the forward’s excellent runs in to the channel resulted in him pulling the ball across the empty six-yard box. If the tactics work out, Elliott or Lee are there to slam home. Instead, we don’t get on the end of the ball and lose 1-0.
The change to 4-3-3 came in the wake of the embarrassing defeat at home against Crewe and although many have criticised it as being one-dimensional, there can be little doubt it has worked. We had gone eight unbeaten prior to Saturday’s defeat to Port Vale, a run which, if eclipsed between now and May, would see us finish in the top seven. Is there value in remaining focused on the 4-3-3 or switching back to a 4-4-2 for the visit of Wycombe?
We know the Chairboys will be going direct, that is obvious. Up top they have the single biggest footballer I’ve ever seen, eighteen odd stone of pure muscle, Adebayo Akinfenwa. He shouldn’t be a good footballer, his mobility is poor and he’s older than me (I think), but he’s been incredible this season. That is because Gareth Ainsworth has used his strengths, just as Danny has done with Rheady. It could be argued Akinfenwa has been better for them, but then Wycombe perhaps have a slightly deeper squad.
One of the disadvantages of going with the big man up top is the need to lay 4-3-3. Our problem with 4-4-2 was Rheady not being able to join the second phase of play quick enough after a flick on. The same is the case with Wycombe, so they play 4-3-3 and get two around him, usually Scott Kashket or Nick Freeman. Neither are prolific, but after a Bayo flick on they hold the ball up long enough for their big man to get in the centre, where he usually grabs one of his 18 goals this season.
This will mean there’s space out wide for us to exploit, if we go 4-4-2, unless their full backs push on. However, if we do switch to our tried and tested method, their three-man midfield could overrun our pairing. If that happens, we see less of the ball and that causes major issues.
In the opening game of the season we were much better than them for large periods of the game, but defended naively at times. This time has to be different, but how do we approach it? Danny will have a firm idea but here at SW, we’ve decided to suggest a set up that could work. It’s okay, it’s not over eleven pages, but on the next three pages are my suggestions for the Imps starting XI tomorrow night.