Well, we’ve reached January in the Bradford City save, so it’s time to update you on how things are going. In the last update, I went through my plans for the save, and discussed my ideas on player loyalty, squad management and tactics. In short, I’m hoping to remain very loyal to players (until they are ‘past it’ or stop being loyal to me), focus on Home Nation talent whilst not excluding foreign signings, and use a 4-4-2. Of course, I can’t just be simple and I’ve still not been able to use a standard 4-4-2. It’s ended up being a lopsided 4-4-2, with 3 central midfielders and a right winger. It’s extremely influenced by Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest side.
So first off, how are we doing in League One? Well, pretty well actually. I said in the last update that if we weren’t promoted this season that I wouldn’t be too upset, as I usually see the first season as time to get used to the club and evaluate the players. However, sitting 5 points clear at the midway point, I’d now be bitterly disappointed if we somehow managed to not go up, and now automatic promotion is 100% the target for the rest of the season. I’ve also managed to evaluate the squad pretty quickly, and there’s been a few irritations in there, which I’ll cover later on.
You can see that goals scored has been the main reason why we’re top of the table, with 38 goals scored, with only Sheffield United scoring more with 42. However, if you look at the goals against column, we’ve conceded more than the other teams around us in the table (particularly Doncaster, Bristol City and MK Dons), and that is a worry of mine. Those of you that have read my blog will know that I base my teams on good defence, and I’ll look to keep goals conceded down as much as I can going forward.
We did start the season unbeaten in the league for quite some time, until a catastrophic 3-0 loss away at Bristol started a bit of a wobbly patch, which we’ve only just managed to recover from. It certainly hasn’t been a 5 point lead over the weeks before this update. Before the loss at Bristol, we were maintaining a 4 point lead and comfortably top, but following that we dropped to second, and have only just regained top spot over the past 3 weeks.
Of course, there is a reason for our defensive issues, and well, it’s me. With my new found Clough influence, I’ve tried to incorporate a Viv Anderson like marauding full back at left back, and the image on the left indicates the effect of this. We’re leaking goals down our left wing, with 11 of our goals conceded being assisted from our left wing.
Furthermore, there’s also the fact that we aren’t using a left winger, and so it is requiring extra effort by our Central Winger to come over and cover the space on the left side, which he does well, but it’s not a 100% fool proof tactic. Therefore, our weakness down the left side is natural, and something we’re going to have to deal with.
So, why am I willing to put up with this leaking of goals? Well, the attacking full back has its positive as well as negatives, and our left side is also our strength going forward. The 3 central midfielders tend to suck the opposition in (albeit with the Central Winger being slightly wider), leaving acres of space for our left back to exploit, by driving at the defence or putting in a cross for our strikers. I’ve played 3 players at left back this season so far due to injuries, and they’ve all been good despite some having poor attributes for attacking. However, when he plays, Irishman Alan Sheehan is absolutely fantastic here, and sets up a lot of goals through his crossing (his attribute is 15). I have little doubt that most of the 16 assists are from him. So, as long as we’re scoring more goals down the left wing than we’re conceding, I’m happy to keep this as a focal part of the tactic.
What worries me more than anything is the number of goals conceded centrally, because this isn’t a tactical issue. It’s not a catastrophic number, but I’m hoping to reduce it over the rest of the season.
Another thing to cover is how are we doing in the cup competitions? For reasons you can probably guess, this will be a VERY short section.
I’ve somewhat deliberately tanked the cups. I know that a good cup run could have given us a good amount of money, but as it became clear that promotion was a real possibility, I wanted to ensure that we had no distractions at all, especially considering some of the fixture congestion we had to endure at the start of the season. A reserve team struggled to beat Carlisle in the League Cup (I refuse to call it by the sponsor), and by the time we drew Wigan, I knew it wasn’t worth fighting that too much, with a big league fixture only days later. After I effectively conceded defeat in that cup, it somewhat became my policy, and reserve lineups were put out for the rest of the cup matches. Yes it’s cynical, and I’ve effectively thrown the matches, but it’s allowed us to focus on promotion, and I don’t think we’d be 5 points clear if it wasn’t for this decision. For the rest of the season, I can solely focus on the league. The FA Cup and the League Cup can wait.
I’ve now got a pretty good idea of the best players in the squad, and who’s going to be important going forward. I’ll do a more official ‘Best Players of the Season’ roundup at the end of the season, but so far Mark Yeates, Alan Sheehan, Rory McArdle, Gary Liddle and Jon Stead have been the top players. Yeates has dominated from the right wing, Sheehan has been our outstanding attacking full back, McArdle has been an unexpected rock at the back, Liddle has been the calm, controlled CM-D and Stead has been good if not spectacular upfront, scoring 12 goals and working hard as I expected him to. His contract with Hudderfield runs out at the end of the season, and I’ll be doing my best to keep him at the club and get him on a free. He’s been doing well, which is more than I can say for any of his strike partners, who are in no way responsible for our good scoring output. I’ve played Francois Zoko, Billy Clarke and Billy Knott there, and the 3 have combined for a grand total of 7 goals. Stead’s carried the strikers in terms of scoring, supported by the midfield contingent. The rest have just not been good enough. This brings me on nicely to:
How Do You Solve A Problem Like Billy Knott?
Our best player, I guess. Except he’s been absolutely abysmal this season. A 6.61 average really does flatter him, and I really have tried everything. I’ve played him at Central Winger, Roaming Playmaker and Box to Box Midfielder. I’ve tried altering our shape to allow him to play at Number 10, and he was anonymous there. I’ve even retrained him to be a striker, trying to take advantage of his high finishing and composure attributes, and he still hasn’t scored upfront. In fact, he hasn’t scored all season. He’s got 3 assists, but he’s our corner taker and we’ve probably scored about 3 this season. I’m really at a loss for what to do with him, because he’s clearly our best player attribute wise, but on the pitch he’s a clueless mess. He dribbles into traffic and loses the ball, he underhits easy passes, he isn’t creative and he just doesn’t score goals. He doesn’t positively affect the game wherever he plays, and I’ve tried in vain to keep playing him in hope that he regains some form, but it just hasn’t happened yet. I would have dropped him a few games ago, but injuries have kept him in the lineup.
If anyone has any suggestions for something I’m missing about him, I’d love to hear them, but right now, I have no idea where to play him, or if I should even be playing him at all. I don’t want to sell him, but if a good bid comes in for him (unfortunately he’s attracting no interest at all) I’d be very tempted. It feels similar to when Brian Clough signed Stan Bowles for Forest, and no matter what he and Peter Taylor tried, it just didn’t work. Eventually, Clough was forced to give up and move Bowles on. I may have to with Knott.
This leads me to other irritations, and plans with upgrades going forward. As I’ve said above, Stead’s played well, but we desperately need a top ‘finishing’ striker. Stead does very well pressing and attacking crosses, but he’s not the type to lead the line for us. The struggles of the other strikers are only making this problem worse.
We also need a better Central Winger. I’m currently playing Felipe Morais there and he’s doing a decent job, but he’s not a perfect fit for the role, and as a result, he’s nowhere near as dynamic as others have been for me as the CW. Those are the main holes in the squad, but there’s also a need to bring some youth into the team. If you look through the list of names I’ve put as my top players, they’re all on the wrong side of 25, and certainly nearing the end of their careers. I did say that I would be loyal to players though, so I won’t ship them out just because they’re ageing. I’ll stick with them until they aren’t good enough any more. Apart from that, I’m happy with the midfield and the defence, the only worry for me is how they will cope if we get promoted. Of course, I’ll be scouting the free transfer market once the game clicks over into 2015, and aiming to sign players that I can take up to the Championship with me.
Should I fail to sign Stead, or any other good strikers, I may entertain the prospect of using a 4-4-2-0 next season, but that entirely depends on how Bosman signings work out. I’ll update again at the end of the season, hopefully having secured automatic promotion from League One, and waiting for a new influx of young Home Nations players to energise the side alongside the experienced players. As always if you have any questions, please feel free to ask either in the comments section or on Twitter (@JLAspey), and thank you for reading.