As if we needed reminding, two draws and a defeat in the last three home games have confirmed the Championship to be as unpredictable as it enthralling.
Few could have predicted that, following on from a season of wretched away performances, City would win four of their first five games on the road. Equally few would have seen us eking just two points out of home games against Bournemouth, Birmingham and Rotherham.
Upon arrival back in the second tier we were reminded constantly that ‘anyone can beat anyone on a given day’ and so it’s proved. Proof of this has manifested itself at the other end of the A140.
Having watched Mick McCarthy’s bearded bunch of hapless hipsters surrender so meekly in the August derby, only Nostradamus could have foreseen them go on an unbeaten run that would take them one away win in Nottingham away from pulling level with those at the top of the division. Yet here we are.
But it remains fun.
Even the rain soaked yomp back to the car post-match was free of the angst that accompanied last season’s equivalent. Admittedly being top of the league helps.
But Neil Adams and his troops do need to find a way of grinding out home wins, especially from games where they have massively dominated possession. It goes without saying (although I’m about to) that the majority will arrive in the Fine City and park the proverbial large multi-passenger motor vehicle.
Even more so because it won’t have gone unnoticed that those who have tried have succeeded.
Of course, for all the tactical changes and tweaks in formation that flick though the mind of Adams, and remain the staple of your average ‘canarycaller’, you still need Lady Luck on board. Right now she’s deserted us (perhaps she’s enjoying the delights of that small town to the south).
Kyle Lafferty’s double-deflection that kissed the post was a perfect example. And the numerous goalmouth scrambles just needed a break in a yellow direction.
Of greater concern would be if we were having circa 65 per cent of possession without creating a chance, but that’s not the case. Alas the sight of Bradley Johnson awkwardly blazing that gilt-edged first half chance over the River End bar with his right foot summed up City’s week in front of goal.
As Adams has reminded us, the bigger worry would be if the chances were not being created. They’re not plentiful but they are there.
Lewis Grabban, having mad a blistering start to his City career, is struggling a little in front of goal right now and – while it may be pure coincidence – has looked less dangerous since the emergence of Cameron Jerome.
But his all-round game continues to impress and he certainly puts a shift in. I remain confident it is just a matter of time before the glint in the eye returns.
Adams now has a fortnight to contemplate changing the 4-4-2.
If he were to consider reverting to the 4-2-3-1, in Jerome he has one with perfect credentials for playing the role of lone striker. Grabban, as one of the three sitting just behind the striker, may then be afforded the chance to get ‘between the lines’ as opposed to being slap, bang in the face of a centre-back.
Worth a thought.
Equally that change would enable Wes Hoolahan to revert to a more central role. Wes had a decent first-half yesterday and, although his role in a 4-4-2 is defensively wide left, when City have the ball he’s clearly encouraged to drop inside to get on the ball. At the moment, at home that tactic is not working.
The second he drops inside the width is lost and the central area, that is already crowded with a bank of four supported by a bank of five, becomes even more bereft of space. It’s hardly any wonder there is so little room to find those eye of the needle, threaded passes.
And on that subject, while it was great to see Jonny Howson back – and his performance yesterday got better and better as the game went on – much seems to rest on the sturdy shoulders of Bradley Johnson at the moment.
With opposition sitting tight we’ve become familiar with the sight of Johnson dropping off to collect the ball off the centre-backs in – dare I say it – the style of Andrea Pirlo. Except, however hard folk try and convince us, he is no ‘Norfolk Pirlo’. Far from it.
He has his qualities. Precision passing isn’t one of them.
At the moment it feels a little as if, either by design or otherwise, he’s one City are looking to, to get things moving and looking for the killer pass. Again, neither of which are high up on his list of pros. We need him to be marauding, breaking things up, put in tackles – not being the playmaker.
Perhaps, while wholesale changes are clearly not required when you sit at the top of the league, now is the time for Team Adams to consider delving a little deeper into its squad of proven quality and consider a different midfield mix. One that, when some invention is required, can deliver.
But, for all the frustration, the current crop are showing a desire that befits a squad desperate to return to the Premier League at the first time of asking. On that score Adams and his team have ticked all the boxes.
Those of us who questioned the new regime’s ability to motivate have had the question emphatically answered. While the quality of the final ball may occasionally be found wanting there is little doubting the hunger.
If Lady Luck pays us a return visit sometime between now and the end of the season we’ll be there or thereabouts.
patrick higgins says
Surely two points from the last three ?
Or three from the last four matches ?
Just being pedantic, everything else is spot on !
Would only add that we had a fair share of luck in the way the goals went in at Brentford, Blackpool and even Ipswich.
Now the luck in front of goal seems to have dried up a bit.
One final thought..Rotherham were so much better opponents than the feigning cynical team that visited on Tuesday last.
Sami Laden says
Nice summary Gary – disappointing of course but no need for the clappers to be sharpened just yet.
That Lady Luck is a fickle mistress who has all but deserted us. Pity we haven’t grabbed the division by the short and curlies as no one else seems to want to.
Green and Jerome on the score sheet – dodgy crooning duo from the 90s sprang to mind.
Holt and Wells lead the line for Huddersfield yesterday – bit of a Norfolk influence.
The pressure/expectation of the home crowd and being the home team seems to be an issue for the players maybe? A few sides seem to play with more freedom away from home including us. I’d say it’s a relief to be on the road again next time but as it’s Craven Cottage…
Gary Gowers says
Well spotted Patrick… just my inability to count! Now amended accordingly.
Douglas Millar says
There is much in the article that I agree with. One disappointment yesterday was seeing Jonny Howson staying back around halfway while Bradley Johnson pushed on. If it had been Howson with the early chance he would have done better.
Despite the claims of lack of complacency, everyone seems to be accepting that we have the best squad in the division. In numbers it may be but we still lack quality in some areas which of course was why City were relegated.
We need a pacey centre back – Bennett would fit the bill but is injured. Perhaps some work with Miquel might yield fruit.
Johnson and Tettey do not make the most penetrative midfield pairing. Howson is better but playing Wes, Redmond, Grabban and jerome gives the midfield two a lot to do.
Keith B says
Your description of BJ reminds me of Daryl Russell – how often did he win the ball, wait for everyone to get ahead of him, wait a bit longer, try to carry it a bit further, lose it and then leave Doc and Shackell to take the blame if they couldn’t deal with the subsequent counter-attack with everyone else stranded?
To be fair BJ is a class above Russell, and more likely to pop up with a goal, but you get the gist.
Luck comes and goes. Some referees would have dismissed Ruddy yesterday, not necessarily correctly, but the fact is we could have had more bad luck with that one. Last week an own goal and a deflection set us on our way. Didn’t Russell Martin get away with a blatant penalty not given against him in one of the games? Was it Brentford?
For me the sooner the newest signings, Miguel and O-O in particular can be brought into contention the better. We’ve seen how having Josh breathing down his neck has galvanised Redmond. Having Howson back and O-O in contention should put pressure on BJ and Tettey. O’Neill’s experience hasn’t really been used yet either, but that’s perhaps because we’ve been chasing the game so often, and he’s not really the man for that.
One final observation. I wonder if we are losing the mind games too often. Evans, Peeters, Warburton and Lee Clark all publicly told everyone before their games what a good squad we have and how strong a team we are. I wonder if the players are too inclined to believe it, and not yet good enough at thriving with such pressure rather than buckling under it?
For the last 2 or 3 years many of our squad have been used to being the underdog, knowing that they aren’t normally expected to win but it’s great if they do. Now it’s the other way round and it seems to me they haven’t mentally adjusted for that.
Stewart Lewis says
Everyone seems to be lumping the last two games together, but for me they were two separate cases. The Charlton result really was a travesty: a bizarre coming together of bad luck in front of their goal, even worse luck in front of our own, and unfortunate (I’ll put it mildly) refereeing.
Though we also dominated possession against Rotherham, the result was less down to luck. Rotherham played above themselves with a lot of discipline, while we played into their hands. It reminded me of the game last season under Moyes in which Man U had 56 crosses – but never looked like scoring. We became predictable and too easy to repel.
Clearly we don’t radical change – especially when we’re away. But some tweaking for the next home game is surely in order. Gary’s 4-2-3-1 suggestion makes sense to me.
The Boy Billy says
I agree with Keith B – time to make some changes.
1. Josh Murphy to start in place of Redmond. His corners on Saturday were woeful – and don’t get me onto his (so-called) shooting ability!! And whatever happened to his famous ‘turn of speed’?
2. Vadis O-O for Johnson (woeful passing and shooting from BJ on both Tuesday and Saturday last week. How COULD he have been awarded MOTM on Saturday? The laughter around me was deafening when that was announced!!
3. Miguel to bolster the back 4 alongside Martin, Olsson and Turner.