I had this bright idea that I’d use this column to give an ‘almost half-way’ report. You know the sort; akin to those brought home by the kids at the end of term.
It seemed plausible enough, until I started to draft it.
The trouble was I found myself sounding like the sycophantic school teacher who makes your child sound absolutely perfect, even when you just know that’s far from the case. So grovelling in fact, I started morphing into that same teacher, when confronted at parents evening by the newly elected parent-governor.
It’s hard to be overly objective about your own team at the best of times, but try it when your team sitting eighth in ‘the best league in the World’ and has just gone ten league games unbeaten. Not easy.
So, rather than list everything that has gone well over the last few months, allow me to attempt to highlight a few of those ‘must try harder’ areas.
First up is the obvious one; goals conceded. It was clear from day one – that gruesome day at Craven Cottage – that some surgery was needed to rid us of the brittleness shown when put under pressure. Hughton’s remedy – which may well have been in motion regardless of the Fulham debacle – was some fresh blood in the form of a cultured left-back and an experienced central defender.
Such has been the impact of Javier Garrido and Sebastien Bassong that both figure highly in the very unofficial ‘player of the season so far’ poll. Bassong’s happy knack of chipping in with a goal or two has been priceless, but it’s his ability to organise his fellow defenders that has been the biggest plus. Yes, both the Spaniard and the Frenchman were indeed part of the back-four that suffered at the hands of Chelsea (Bassong missed the Liverpool game), but I’m happy to write those days off as part of the bedding-in process for the new regime.
So… if one considers that 14 of our 25 goals against were conceded in just 3 games, then Hughton can consider the surgery a huge success.
Has this solidity come at a cost? Almost certainly… but my book of footballing clichés reminds me that when assembling his team a good manager always starts with his back-four.
Not so much ‘must try harder’; more a case of ‘has shown a huge improvement’.
An area of much Canary Call angst has been the issue of the lone striker. Hughton and his team have clearly made the call that, in order to accommodate the magic of Wes Hoolahan, Grant Holt will plough that lone furrow. In my eyes at least, this is no slight on the effectiveness of Steve Morison, Simeon Jackson, or even Harry Kane, but is simply a system that allows Wes to be the hub through which everything flows.
As our own Ed Couzens-Lake and Kevin Baldwin have pointed out recently – Wes is unique; we’re lucky to have him and the manager has found a way that gets the best out of him. If that means a lone striker then so be it. I don’t suppose Grant Holt is complaining… tight hamstrings aside.
Interestingly, with a ‘goalscorer’ likely to be figuring large on Hughton’s January shopping list, one wonders whether he will be on the lookout for one of the lone variety. Or will it be a poacher – one of the, dare I say it, Darren Bent variety? Either way, I suspect he will come with a continental twang.
To have reached the halfway point with at least 25 points at least means that Hughton and David McNally will not be pressured into forking out exorbitant sums on a hunch. It will be measured and it will be clinical… that much we do know.
So, while some of the phone-in brigade may stress over poor old Holty’s workload as a loner, let’s take comfort in the fact that right now it’s working.
Again; less a case of ‘must try harder’ and more ‘keep up the good work’.
The disappointment of the Capital One cup exit was quickly forgotten as City returned to ‘business as usual’ with that gritty win over Wigan; but if we learnt one thing from the Villa game it was that, minus Wes, we lack a little bit of creativity.
Heaven forbid, but if we were to lose our little Irish magician for any length of time, then the Colney boot room would no doubt be scratching around for a plan C – one that perhaps would accommodate a David Fox or even maybe a Jacob Butterfield. We certainly need to find a way of keeping the ball because, as we’ve found; in the Premier League, retention of the football is King.
As the sycophantic teacher would say, ‘you’re doing really well, but with a little bit more revision you could do even better.’
And that’s it… that’s the sum of the negatives that this half-glass-full River-Ender could muster. Poor show I know.
Let’s just hope that tomorrow’s tricky looking trip to the Hawthorns doesn’t throw this all back in my face. Surely we can’t continue our run of 2-1 victories there can we?
With all this talk of mercurial Irishmen, one hopes it’s the Hoolahans rather than the Longs that are making the headlines on Saturday evening. That Shane Long has developed rather too much of a fondness of the City net for my liking.
Perhaps I’m thinking too much… Bassong will sort it.