Blame game after Preston pain - Knee Jerks
Tuesday, 22nd Jan 2019 14:08 by Antti Heinola
Antti Heinola's six talking points after Saturday's home thrashing by Preston make for fairly grim reading - but it's better than doing work right?
The problem is, if you're going to beat Preston, you need Dexter Blackstock up front.
OK, let's start with a jerk that many won't agree with. First of all, I don't think Joe Lumley was at fault for this goal. There are a few reasons why, but principally, it was not a bad pass and Scowen was calling for the ball. Once he had it and was under pressure, he had two easy choices. One, simply get rid (and shout at Lumley if he thought it was too risky). And two, play it back to Lumley to get rid. Both simple things that he could easily have done. What he shouldn't have done is try to do a blind nutmeg of the onrushing attacker. His reaction said it all. Head in hands, several apologies to Lumley. Fine - it was a mistake, these things happen, Scowen is big enough to take it on the chin.
But the wider point is about playing out from the back. There's been a lot of talk on here about how we stopped playing short goal kicks after the first four games. We never did. We did it less for sure, and went for safety more often, but we never, ever stopped doing it and in fact for almost every goal kick the two centre backs have been splitting and looking for the ball. So where this notion that we stopped doing it has come from I don't get - I suppose, we were just smarter about when to do it and when not to. But it certainly never stopped being a part of our game - nor should it stop being part of our game.
The reason I believe that is that, particularly without Hemed or Cameron, we are a very short side. Our possibilities from goal kicks are not great - it's a wide ball to the right for Pav or Furlong, or Bidwell on the left. Now, on Saturday, with Preston pushing three attackers up to tightly mark Lynch, Leistner and Scowen, should we have gone for the longer option more often? Yes. But that goal was wholly avoidable, and we still should not be afraid to play the short goal kick when the option presents itself.
I completely do not buy the idea that 'we haven't got the players to do it'. Rubbish. Absolute rubbish. Here's the point of playing short goal kicks - it's to try and keep possession. Every defender in this league is capable of receiving a ball and then passing it. If they weren't, they couldn't play at this level. Now, they're not John Stones, as Scowen proved; they're not able to sashay past a couple of attackers and play a sliderule ball through to our striker. But they are more than capable of doing what we need them to do, which is to pass to a midfielder.
The problem on Saturday was not playing short balls to defenders from goal kicks. It was that once the defenders received the ball, there was no one to pass to. The movement was non-existent. And I don't care who you are, if you are not given an angle for a pass, you cannot make a pass. And this, to me, was the issue on Saturday. Yes, we should have varied it more, but the root of the problem we had was that we didn't do enough to counteract Preston's pressing. We shouldn't stop passing to the LLs at the back, or to Scowen. But the rest of the side does need to be more aware of what happens next.
What went wrong
Everything, in short. Probably once a season, and it's not an excuse, you get a game where the players don't turn up. It felt the same with the fans, actually. It was very quiet at kick off, especially compared to the relatively decent noise against Leeds. You can't even blame Preston for this, they brought down a sizeable crowd and made decent noise. But it felt like everyone was sat on their hands, feeling cold, expecting a bad game and hoping for a narrow win. Not blaming the fans, which is silly, but just noting that both players and fans seemed flat. And if you start a game like that it's very hard to up the tempo when you need to. Sometimes, a spark can happen, like a poor refereeing decision or a bad foul by the opposition, but on Saturday nothing shook us out of our torpor except, fleetingly, after Smith scored. Maybe had that goal come at 2-0, we might have found another gear. But overall, and we haven't been able to say this since the very early days of the season, we just didn't turn up. No one was rank awful, but no one - not one single player - had a 'good' game. It wasn't even, I don't think, lack of effort.
I wasn't at the Preston game earlier this season, but overall I didn't see any terrible shithousing from them in this game, barring the Barton-like Pearson, who had an excellent game, but was also an irritating prick throughout, falling to phantom challenges and pathetically throwing himself to the floor after he and Freeman touched tits. Still, good player and we had no answer to him really. The only other thing was that once they were one-up, they had the trainer on six times (I did count) to our zero. Even allowing for the fact that we're chasing the game and bad challenges might be more likely to come from us in desperation, that's a bit ridiculous.
Having said all of this though, if the roles had been totally reversed we'd be saying how well we played, how clinical we were, how hard we worked and how we'd done so well to nullify the opposition. We can't just sit here and say we were crap. Fact is, Preston were all right in the first half, but by the end were much the better side, played very well and deserved the win. Although why on earth you'd play 'keep it in the corner' at 4-1 in the 93rd minute is a little beyond me. Come on lads.
We did have subs on earlier this time - notably Smith at half time (which, to be fair to McClaren, was at least partly in answer to the problem of our goal kicks - giving us another genuine option). And for five minutes it did work. Smith one three or four in a row, Wells had two half chances which he was a little unlucky with, and it looked like we may turn a corner. Quickly though, Preston reorganised at the back and at least until he scored, dealt well with the giant.
After that, though, I felt other changes could and should have come sooner. I thought Pav was at least causing some problems and the change I would have made would have been Eze off for BOS, with Freeman going more central. I've said this before, but if Eze is struggling, SM can't be afraid to take him off. Freeman can play in that position very well and sometimes you do need to change it a bit.
However, like Clive, I'd also have preferred to see Oteh than Smith. He's confident, in form, fast and strong. He should have been on in this game, and we certainly in a game in which we were playing so poorly we should not have got as late as we did without using all three subs.
I really feel for Cousins. It often feels to me that when one player gives the ball away the crowd does little. When Cousins does it, the groan is much larger. Now no one would say he played well on Saturday, but he certainly wasn't worse than anyone else and he also didn't give away their first goal. Having said that, time is beginning to run out. He's shown signs this season that the player we hoped we were getting is there, but I'm not sure it's going to be enough. The only thing that may see us offering a new contract (and it's telling that it doesn't seem to have been offered yet) is our own financial situation - could we get someone better on similar money if we did let him go on a free in a few months? He's starting to feel a bit like Washington - not a bad player, but it's not happening for him here.
I'd like to thank the pitch invader because I was so busy watching him lollop around like a pillock I missed the agony of their third goal. Which I've since watched, and it was awful, awful defending. Oh well.
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