Manning, Ravel and Dave Thomas' emotional return - Knee Jerks
Tuesday, 11th Apr 2017 15:41 by Antti Heinola
Ollie's weird record of runs of losses and runs of wins continues, but while the six in a row around Christmas was a dark period, at least now we're losing with hope says Antti Heinola.
Seven changes, I think it was. Ollie has talked about his Blackpool side becoming too easy to read and him now wanting to be able to keep other teams guessing a little more with his line-ups and formations. But even by his recent standards this was unexpected. There were probably a few reasons for the changes - a run of three games in a week; thoughts on how to combat Brighton; but, undoubtedly, experimentation ahead of next season was on his mind.
Unlike others, I have no problem with the third reason in that trio. We are - or should be - safe. We have a run of competitive games (not pre-season friendlies, which mean f all despite what people like to read into 1-1 draws with teams from Holland) now where Ollie should be free to do whatever he wants. To try new formations, to be a bit gung ho, to test a few mettles. There have been some cries of 'always play your best team', and while I'm not totally against that radical idea, at the same time I have two thoughts… One - The idea of a clear cut Best XI died about 20 years ago. It's amazing people still go on about it, as if there's no nuance in the game, or that no heed should be paid to form or fitness or tiredness, let alone the opposition. Two - I completely understand Ollie wanting to experiment without, say, Luke Freeman, who certainly is a first choice player, to see what we could do should he not be fit. This is exactly the time to see how things work - even if, frustratingly, it might cost us a few points. Short term pain, long term gain, people.
While I didn't think we played as badly as some here seemed to think - in the first half we held our own and certainly had the best efforts on goal - it's also fair to say that, as against Derby, our midfield three did again leave our wing backs dangerously unprotected and that's where Knockaert and March had most joy. Ollie must now recognise that and see that, at least against the better sides, if he wants to play that way then the team need to learn how to play it a little better. The midfield three need to be able to shuffle along so the right-sided player can help out the right wing back and vice versa. And the same with the back three. It's not easy, there are a lot of moving parts, but it has potential to work. and if he believes this is the way forward, then there's no better time than now to work it all out.
There was some anger on here after the game because we got nothing from a game we finished so stongly in, no doubt in part due to experimentation. But we shouldn't lose sight of what a good side Brighton are. I've seen comments on here saying they're not all that, but I find those as nonsensical as the comments from fans who said the same thing about us in our championship year. They're top of the league, likely to get well over 90 points. They have a superb home record and an above average away one. They score goals - only five fewer than Newcastle who've spent billions on their team. They have a strong defence. They showed us on Friday the level we need to get to if we want to challenge next season. To have that grit, determination, bloody-mindedness, will-to-win that spills over into the uglier side of the game, and also sublime skill is not easy. They weren't brilliant, no. And they were fortunate to escape with all three points after our new formation of 4-2-4 (2-4-4?) gave them a chasing. But that's what good teams do. Congrats to Hughton and to Brighton - promotion fully deserved - and heartening that we were always well in the game despite our experimental line up.
Might as well offer my opinion too, I suppose. Thought he was quiet first half, but grew into it in the second. Felt he was scared to get too forward, partly because Brighton are so good on the break and partly, as Ollie hinted at, he didn't feel he had the puff to get back and rectify any error. He certainly didn't have the mobility of Freeman, Luongo or Manning and so, with us too narrow, Brighton were able to exploit his presence.
But that was an inexperienced midfield three - in terms of game time for two of them and playing as a three for all of them. Considering the opposition, they did ok. I honestly think Ravel would be better playing off Smith to be honest, where he can really do damage, but what he did on Friday was keep the ball. Collected it, passed it, made himself available, passed it again. Most of the time the problem was that he wasn't adventurous enough, but a couple of times when he glided past a challenge, you could see he has genius in his foot bones. I also thought he was disciplined and worked hard. 6/10 for me, which is not bad. The question is whether we can get more and whether we can get it consistently. I'm just not sure, mainly because I don't know him and I'm not at training every day. Sorry.
I think there's a small danger of us getting too excited by Manning and then becoming annoyed that he's not quite the player he has been lauded as in some quarters. Someone here (Bosh?) said he could be the next Liam Brady, which is unfair on anyone - and, sad to say - I think inaccurate anyway. Brady was truly a genius of a player. Manning is good, but I don't think we'll be seeing him lording it in Serie A in 5 years time.
When youngsters come through there can be a tendency for them to get by on adrenaline, work rate, enthusiasm and the element of surprise. Happens a lot that someone bursts onto the scene, big things are expected, but after a while form dips and their true level is discovered. Remember Olly Burgess? Manning's far better than him and I don't think this will happen to him, but Friday was an example of how we can't expect too much. Partly because he and Ravel didn't quite gel, partly because Brighton are a tough, experienced side, he didn't have his usual impact.
However, it says a lot for him that when shifted out to left wing back he became more comfortable, and was excellent in the final 20 minutes, making decent challenges at the back and also providing an outlet going forward. So I suppose my jerk is: Manning - bit quiet, let's not get too excited... but isn't it exciting that he turned a quite decent performance into a really good one by sheer willpower and determination?
A true enigma. Did actually have a couple of chances and almost fashioned a goal, but also barely touched it after he came on. I'm not sure if he can really change a game from the bench. He looked focused and ran a lot and did a lot of talking and all that... but the ball didn't seem to go near him. Maybe it was because we were hoofing a bit up to Sylla and Smith by the end. Strange. Next season will be interesting.
Football fans are a funny lot. All hard and calloused and used to failure and heartbreak. Beers. Shouting a lot. Sometimes aggressive. Man's game blah blah. But the great thing about football is the emotion it brings out. To fans of smaller clubs anyway - I doubt any Celtic fans felt anything more at winning the league than we did at beating Rotherham the other week. This season in particular has had more than its share of emotional moments. Tiger Cubs - always. Stan's induction. Mark Lazarus hugging Andy Sinton. The kid on the Victoria Derbyshire show. And now Dave Thomas, weeping as he thanked the fans for donating for his guide dog appeal. Not ashamed to say I shed a tear or two listening to him then too. Sometimes I think it's trite to say 'Im proud of our fans' or 'I'm proud of the club' but genuinely, I am. To give back to Dave Thomas, such a great player and a great man, tot he extent that his gratitude comes out like that, is amazing. Well done everyone and I love you Dave.
Pictures – Action Images
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