It’s 5:02 pm on Saturday August 26, and I’m sitting on Club Canary behind Millwall’s North Stand with a half hour wait to get away from the latest scene of away capitulation.
This is not going to be my best article, because I’m equal parts disappointed, livid and frustrated, so apologies in advance. I’m as dejected and deflated as I’ve been for a long time.
Fans are angry. Some are childish “it’s 4-0 so I get to shout aggressively because I’m at Millwall and I want to feel like a geezer” angry. The majority are gritted-teeth-mumbling, bitterly-disappointed angry. Many from both sides are questioning whether Daniel Farke and Stuart Webber are competent.
Tactically we were beaten by a newly promoted Millwall team in the same manner that Huddersfield beat us at Carrow Road last season. We weren’t passed off the pitch. We weren’t undone by a couple of moments of attacking brilliance or a miracle shot out of the blue. We were undone by big strong attackers dominating the space between the defence and midfield and winning EVERYTHING in the air in our defensive third. We were bullied into mistakes, just as Wells, Kachunga, and Van Le Parre did last season, although this time by much less skilled players.
Our personnel may have changed but that soft centre remains, and it was as bad today as it has been in a long while.
I won’t go into each goal individually, but needless to say our defence is an absolute mess. Total shambles. I honestly couldn’t tell you if we were man-marking or trying to play zonal today. And I’d be shocked if any of our players could tell you either. In the first half Franke and Martin played so far apart that at times they were in different postcodes. It was only due to some industrious scampering by Reed, filling in the wide-open savannah at the edge of our box that we weren’t exposed even more.
Millwall, with an old-fashioned front two of Morison and Gregory didn’t have to do anything special. They just found one of them near goal, and the other one ran off them, predicting the flick on, knock-down or pass. And it worked, time and time again; because whichever centre-half wasn’t attacking the first ball had all the intelligence and anticipatory powers of a toddler playing hide-and-seek by sitting still and ducking behind their own hands.
They didn’t look for the space where the danger would be after the flick-on. They didn’t mark another man. They just stood there, like a dog confused by its own flatulence, while a football match happened around them. Zimmermann looked much better after he came on but he could scarcely have looked more inept than the utter carnage that had gone before him. It really was that bad.
In attack, certainly in the first half, we carried a threat. But it increasingly appears that this threat is coming not from our style, but from the snippets of class coming from individuals. Players like Murphy and Hoolahan who would create a chance here and there regardless of who they were playing with or against because they’re simply good players.
The slow build-up looks devoid of spark. All-too-often we get into the final third, and then fail to penetrate a defence that’s had ample time to get into place and is more organised than ours (which to be fair is a title that could be owned by a primary school). But we’re still getting a little bit of joy.
Offensively, I’m happy to be patient and wait out the Farke revolution as we’ve all been taught we should. I’ve preached patience as much as anyone, and today hasn’t changed my opinion on this. Offensively we’ve been worse, and with time and patience there’s a good chance we will improve.
Defensively it’s another story. While, again, I’m not in the madness of Farke-out territory, he and coach Eddie Riemer have got to do better. Zimmermann is prone to the occasional error, but he does win balls in the air, and his positioning is usually reasonable. He and Klose seem the best bet going forward to me. Franke the Tank could be outjumped by a stationary object and utilises his strength less effectively than a pensioner trying to push open a door marked “Pull”.
And Russell Martin.
The Untouchable Russell Martin.
How many shambolic horror shows must we witness before we re-evaluate a player’s effectiveness based on values other than “being a good ambassador”, or “lots of our previous managers picked him”. Those would also be the previous managers that stumbled along with a God-awful centre of defence. Farke’s Palace of Possession Football simply cannot be built on a bad of sand. Sorry Russell. It’s just not good enough.
We don’t just need to change bodies though. We have to be able to get these players to play together. The most basic of basic skills. Like standing close enough to your partner that you can cover if they are beaten. Like identifying where the danger is coming from and taking responsibility for it. At the moment they just don’t know what to do. And Championship strikers are capitalising. Again and again and again.
As much as I’ve just had a pop at Marcel Franke, he and the other new players need more time to adapt, especially those playing in England for the first time. Vrancic has shown flashes of real quality but tends to look like the proverbial rabbit in the headlights whenever he is pressed by an opposition midfielder. That’s something he should get used to the longer he plays.
As disappointed with Franke as I am right now, I can’t believe he won’t get better and toughen up. It’d be worth hiring Grant Holt as a coach and telling Franke to try and mark him in training games just to teach him how to deal with real physicality.
Zimmermann is a work in progress but for a free signing from the German fourth division I think he’s done remarkably well, simply because he’s physically capable and keeps it simple.
Reed and Gunn are quality additions, no problem there. Watkins, Stiepermann, Trybull; it’s too early to say. Husband is struggling when he’s left on his own on the wing against two players but to be fair, not since the days of Adam Drury trying to defend for both himself and Darren Huckerby, has a full-back been left more exposed more regularly. Again, that comes back to team shape, and it comes back to Farke to fix.
We knew we would be a work in progress. We knew we would have to endure the occasional metaphorical smack-in-the-mouth from industrious opponents as we bedded in our new system. And today we’ve had one. Now Farke and Riemer have to prove their mettle, show that they can learn from mistakes and fix that gaping chasm in front of Angus Gunn.
It is always darkest before the dawn. Today was a total eclipse. We have a fortnight to work on the training pitch. We need every single minute on today’s performance.