Neil Adams has already has some big calls to make in his ten games at the City helm. In the fruitless five he had not only the unenviable task of finding a formula to oversee one of the great escapes but also had a couple of contentious disciplinary issues to manage.
That he made a decent fist of the latter played a big part in him being handed the gig full-time. In hindsight the former was the most toxic of poisoned chalices.
But the landscape has shifted significantly since Adams sat, looking very small and – dare I say – a little out of his depth, in those luxuriant red leather Old Trafford pitchside seats. If, unlikely as it seems, he were to lead his troops back to the self-titled Theatre of Dreams (nightmares Louis?) any time soon we’d see a very different demeanour.
In the same way the City boss is slowly (and quite rightly) morphing from media man to tight-lipped manager with regard to dealings with said media, he is also growing in stature in the dugout. Yes, he may still forget the occasional handshake and still has to refine his technique when it comes to berating the fourth official Fergie-style but for the stuff that really matters he’s learning quickly.
The style of City’s play has been much discussed and Adams has stayed true to his and David McNally’s pledge of attacking football but, just as important, has been the decisive and measured decision-making. Whereas one of the big failings of the last regime was its inability to recognise and redress setbacks, Team Adams has already show a willingness and ability to do just that.
It’s still early days of course – and mistakes will be made along the way – but the signs are good.
And at the end of this week, as we emerge the most tiresome of international breaks, Adams has another conundrum on the horizon: who should start against Cardiff City?
A little obvious of course – that’s what he’s paid for – but assuming those who arrive back in the Fine City after heading to the four corners do so with all limbs intact City have, by my reckoning, 22 outfield players vying for those ten starting shirts.
Naturally, in true footballing tradition, those currently in situ are more than likely to retain the jersey – and nothing happened against Bournemouth to warrant wholesale changes – but Adams is not short of options.
The only positions where there is just an either/or choice is at full-back – a straight shoot-out between Russell Martin and Steven Whittaker on the right and Martin Olsson and Javier Garrido on the left.
Assuming Martin and Olsson (yes, I know…) arrive back unscathed they will get the nod.
It’s when we consider the centre-back options it gets really interesting.
Michael Turner will be a shoe-in – he’s been magnificent of late and is probably the first name on the team-sheet right now – but I confess to having no idea who his partner will be in the Cardiff City Stadium. So much so I’m even unable to trot out the old ‘smart money’ cliche.
With Ryan Bennett unfortunately out of action for several weeks, it looks to be one from three in a frame containing Carlos Cuellar, Jos Hooiveld and Ignasi Miquel. Cuellar’s outing against Crawley suggested he’s still short of match fitness – as one would expect with him having been a free agent – but one suspects Hooiveld and Miquel will both have had a full pre-season.
Whether that gives them both the edge over the ex-Sunderland man only time will tell, but there will be some eagle-eyes at work over the fields of Colney this week – and by next Saturday there are going to be some disappointed new boys.
Given the form of Alex Tettey and Bradley Johnson it’s hard to see either missing out on Saturday but waiting in the wings are a plethora – all of whom can add something different to the midfield mix.
Gary O’Neil, judging by an impressive couple of cameos, is itching to be afforded a chance to shine and has already shown himself to be sharp in the tackle and measured in possession. He’s certainly one who can ‘do a job’ and provides Adams with an ideal option when a cool, calm head is required.
Vadis Odidja-Ofoe has clearly been bought to fill the void left by Leroy Fer and, if YouTube is to be believed, is of a similar mould. He looks to be a box-to-box type with an eye for goal and will not have made a move to the Championship on the premise of being on the City bench. Alex and Brad – you’ve been warned.
Jonny Howson’s pre-season injury was ill-timed and from being a near-certain starter he now finds himself down the pecking order. But the ex-Leeds man’s quality – which will shine in the second tier – will see him quickly force his way into Adams’ thoughts once he has returned to match fitness. He just needs time.
Fortunately, with the aforementioned alternatives at Adams’ disposal, for once that is something he can be afforded and there is currently no necessity to rush him back, as has been the case in the past.
In terms of the attacking third, there are options apenty. Wes Hoolahan has played himself into the starting XI and remains pivotal to all that is good about City, and he too will currently be one of the first names on the team-sheet.
To date Kyle Lafferty and Nathan Redmond have been Adams’ preferred choice of ‘wing-men’ and both have done enough for that to stay the same.
Lafferty has surprised many, not least because of his comfort in playing out wide rather than down the middle (as his height would suggest) and also because of a workrate – which is right up there with that of Johnson’s. But he needs a goal. He was drafted in as part of the solution to the goalscoring problems and, while his record suggests he’s not going to be prolific, he needs to chip in occasionally.
But he’s a character and has already gone a log way to win over the faithful. For those with a Twitter tendency, his banter (am I still allowed to say that?) with Ryan Bennett on deadline day – where they discussed the whereabouts of Gary Hooper – was very amusing.
Redmond – fresh from some time away with the Under-21s – will hopefully return reinvigorated and will certainly benefit from an away day. And with the will he/won’t he riddle now resolved thanks to Jim White shutting that bloody window, perhaps he’ll also benefit from some certainty over his future – for the short-term at least.
Assuming he returns to Norfolk injury-free I expect him, along with Lafferty, to start next Saturday.
It goes without saying that the lone striker role picks itself. Lewis Grabban’s five goals in five Championship games tells us all we need to know and has already set the bar high for those who fancy a shot at leading the line.
Cameron Jerome, Gary Hooper – once he regains fitness – and Jamar Loza are in the chasing pack right now, and while all will no doubt feature as the season progresses, at the moment the jersey is Grabban’s to lose.
So, while Adams may have a conundrum of the good kind moving forward, the team for Cardiff – having gone through the options – almost picks itself doesn’t it? The big dilemma appears to be who to play alongside Turner – and if that’s the manager’s most pressing problem then things must be ticking along nicely.
Now lets’s just get this international lark out of the way and get back to something we care about.
“On the Ball City…”