Tactics – the options assessed

The finest in League Two? (Courtesy of Graham Burrell)

Danny Cowley once told assembled media types that he felt there was too much emphasis put on tactics in football, certainly in terms of how a team lines up.

That may well be, but there’s still interest and value in understanding how a team plays. A fan might not understand the role a certain player has, leading them to condemn his performances rather than laud them. Matt Green / Raheem Sterling suffered from that last season, both asked to do jobs that didn’t immediately endear them to fans, but both crucial to how the rest of the side played.

With the big kick off just days away, I wanted to look at the different set ups we might use, with a couple of points about each. I’ll deal with the actual line up in a later post, but firstly, how should we set up?


There’s been lots of call in the summer for a 3-5-2 formation, similar to the one above. It would effectively rule out the use of traditional wingers, placing much emphasis on the attacking qualities of Eardley and Toffolo as well as the arrangement in the centre of the park. Whilst the graphic shows two ‘defensive’ midfielders, it could be altered to one holding and two in an advanced role.

Danny’s reticence to splash out on wide players this summer has led many to assume this is where he’s going against Northampton, as did the set up against Scunthorpe this weekend. It’s certainly a bold formation, one I feel points to a change in style, away from diagonal balls in and towards balls into feet, especially those of the advanced midfielders, likely to be Freck, Tom Pett, Bruno Andrade and Ellis Chapman. Ahead of them there’s room for two forwards, but Danny started with three on Saturday.

Whilst this would certainly be a move away from Danny’s comfort zone, it would also be a little nod to Keith Alexander’s set up of 2003 onwards. Those tactics placed little emphasis on the midfield and tended to be more of a 5-2-3, but it still employed three in the middle of defence with two full backs providing width.

One advantage is the flexibility to switch the midfield players for different sides, going perhaps with a Bostwick and O’Connor away from home, offering more protection for the back four, whilst perhaps Andrade and Frecklington play at home, with one in the holding role. It could be switched fluidly during a game too, protecting a one goal lead by bringing off an attacking midfielder and shoring up in front of the back three.

What I think counts against this set up is the lack of central defenders, if we’re pushed. Playing three at the back would mean just one sits out at present, although Wharton, Waterfall and Wilson could play with Bostwick in midfield. That doesn’t leave much cover if things did go awry.

It also puts a question over the head of Harry Anderson, a player who got plenty of pre-season game time. I wouldn’t class him as a wing back, but more a traditional winger which this set up just doesn’t accommodate.


Over the years I’ve been wrong about a great many things, but I believe I’m safe in saying we won’t use this formation in the new season. It was one Danny liked for many reasons, it allowed us to switch quickly to a 4-4-2 if required, but with Woodyard and Bozzie holding it gave a real solidity to the side.

Rheady played ’10’ and looked to get the ball into Green’s feet at ‘9’, but in truth the experiment didn’t work. The two wide players played as wingers looking to cut in, but when a team played deep in killed our threat. Fairly early on last season the frailties of the set up became clear, not least in 0-0 draws with Luton, Cambridge and Crawley at home. Now, a draw with Luton was a good result, but this line up didn’t give us what we needed to break teams down.

If we did go with this, why load up on forwards? This is a three-forward squad set up, because only one will play. We wouldn’t sign McCartan along with our other players if we intended to play this, unless maybe he played with Akinde, but I can’t see Matt Green being dropped either.

Also, do we now have the right midfielders to play this? Bostwick could play in one of the holdings roles and maybe O’Connor in the other, or perhaps Ellis Chapman, but where would Freck play? Maybe Andrade and Pett could occupy the wide spaces, as could Harry, but if teams dropped deep again it would make us draw kings once more.

No, I don’t think we’ll see this formation. Danny first tried it away at North Ferriby in 2016/17 and I think we’ve seen the last of it.

Three more assessed and your chance to vote on your preferred set up


  1. The above post should read 3-4-3 not 3-5-2
    3-5-2 Smith
    Wilson Wharton Shackell
    Eardley Frecklington Bostwick Chapman Toffolo
    Akinde Green

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