So it’s into (yet) another international break on the back of that most unwanted of hat-tricks: three Championship reverses on the bounce.
Consensus amongst most of us of the yellow and green persuasion is that, for once, this break is welcome, if not only because this depleted squad has been running on vapour ever since the Carabao Cup defeat at the Emirates.
Daniel Farke said afterwards that he never wishes to give a game to any opponent as a present but right now his decision to field a full-strength side at the Emirates is not looking too clever. Extra time and the manner of that defeat can hardly have boosted tired limbs and jaded minds. Derby, Wolves and the minor disaster that was Bolton surely go a long way towards emphasising this.
Farke has also told us many times that there will be blips as we continue our “new approach” under the new structure, but three knockbacks in a row is a bit more than a “blip”.
Of course, there are mitigating factors.
The seemingly never-ending saga of Nelson’s injury complications, which vary from teeth to groin to calf. I’ve been known to acquire all three on a single walk with the dogs, so as frustrating as it is for player, club and fans, it’s quite believable. I’m not sure about the link between his fangs and his fetlocks, but hopefully the Portuguese specialists know more than me and will sort it out right quick. Because…
Cameron Jerome is looking tired, lacking in confidence and frankly is not producing. Two goals in 15 matches in all competitions is simply not enough for even a lone (nominal) striker. He plays the role unselfishly, works tirelessly, runs the channels until he drops… we can all see that. But he rarely looks like scoring.
Marley Watkins remains an enigma to me. In my opinion he is hardly a striker, so a harsh critic right now could justifiably claim we don’t have a fully functioning hitman. And if I know that, so do the Rowetts, Espirito Santos and Parkinsons of this world. Shut down (or kick) Maddison and the toothless yellow and green tiger is tamed.
Alex Tettey is sorely missed. Possibly originally not deemed technically adept enough by Farke because of his lack of close control and passing ability, it is no coincidence that his recall to the side coincided with the excellent run we had in September and beyond. When it comes to breaking up play and laying it off simply, few seem better at this level.
Tettey’s absence seems to have affected Tom Trybull, who is not the force he was a short couple of weeks ago.
And then there is the continuing absence of Alex Pritchard. I don’t believe James Maddison and Wes work too well together, but Maddison and Pritchard may well slot into the same side in a very effective fashion. It is a pity we have not had a chance to see them on the pitch at the same time.
I won’t dwell on the Bolton game (mainly because I wasn’t there and I don’t like to comment on games I haven’t seen in their entirety) but the way Gary Madine got in front of Christoph Zimmermann was far, far too easy. Good anticipation from Madine, so why not equally so from Christoph?
Neither will I remark on the Binners’ result, but it has pushed a few of the regular detractors on social media and elsewhere into a minor frenzy as they temporarily leapfrog us in the table.
So what happens between now and Barnsley – surely something of a “must-win”?
I guess Farke has a fortnight with the remainers (Angus Gunn and Maddison will be England U-21 absentees) to see what improvements he can make. Just as he did after the Millwall debacle.
The thing that concerns me the most is that he only has a tired and largely still-adjusting squad – which is starting to look paper-thin – to work with. Tettey and Pritchard will not be available during this period, and it is highly unlikely Nelson will feature either.
It has been said elsewhere that this is likely to be a season of evaluation, building for the future and hoping for a shot at the play-offs. Whoever said that first is bang on the money.
Do not be surprised to see names such as Matthews, Adams, Phillips, Morris, Godfrey, Fonkeu, Cantwell and others increasingly featuring at the tail-end of what I now believe will be a mid-table finishing season. Most of us agreed patience with this developing set-up is a virtue and I haven’t reneged on that.
We must continue to stick with it because we have no alternative. Downsizing is the future. Again said elsewhere, somebody mentioned we’ve gone from Harrods to Poundland in terms of player shopping. To me it’s more like Waitrose to Aldi (a German store, natch.)
My NCFC radar works reasonably well and has yet to detect a “blip” of willingness to listen to proposals of outside investment from the major shareholders.
So it seems “onwards and upwards” has turned into “let’s keep our heads above the water if we can”
Frustrating, I know.