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Weird subs and first impressions - Knee Jerks
Thursday, 29th Aug 2019 18:36 by Antti Heinola

Antti Heinola's six talking points return on the same night as our official photographer - though sadly both only witnessed another meek cup defeat.

Just my second attendance of the season due to more important things being in the way (less important things, if I'm being honest, but it wasn't up to me), so I must apologise firstly for being an awful omen (my other game was Swansea and I was abroad for Bristol C away and that was the only other game I've watched all 90 minutes of, so a great record for me so far this season: 0 for 3, which sounds like the start of an England Test match innings); and secondly for there being no jerks to the Swansea game - I just didn't have time.

Anyway, onwards to this mutt's lunch of a football match.

Warbs’ Subs

I did actually plan to do the Swansea jerks, and I was going to write about how, contrary to what we'd been warned about, Warbs's subs were excellent, in terms of tactics, timing and aggression (and deserved more than we got). I was impressed. And then we had last night. I'm not sure what happened last night. I have no problems at all with bringing on Eze and Wells - that was probably the right thing to do. And I'm prepared to accept Chair going off as he played 90 on Saturday and may well start again this weekend. But the removal of BOS just as he was starting to make a real impact and cause some problems was baffling (unless he has a niggle). More to the point, the changes in formation meant we were suddenly very narrow. The limited pressure we had built up after the break evaporated as everything became congested in the centre of the park. I've seen it said we went to a diamond, but it barely looked like anyone really knew where they were playing to me.

This was then compounded by the removal of Pugh - which was fine, as I could see the fumes chugging out of his arse from my vantage point in the SAR stand - but the introduction of Ball was a decision I couldn't get my head around. Another defensive midfielder when we needed a goal? Smith, Owens and Mlakar all needed to be hooked, but having removed Chair and BOS already, they all stayed on to no real effect, particularly going forward. I'm sure the idea was that the full backs would provide the width, but while Manning did well on the left (in fact, Manning, possibly with Chair, was the only one to have a genuinely decent game and was a very clear man of the match), Kane was less available and effective on the right and in the end his presence was nowhere to be seen for the decisive second goal as he tried to push up and cover the entire flank alone. Not Warbs's greatest night - limited his options too early, left Hugill kicking his heels, and deprived us of valuable width.

Kelly

My first proper look at Kelly, but it was difficult to get much of a clue as to whether he'd be an improvement on Lumley or not. He's certainly a fair bit shorter, but I thought, as was advertised, he was very decent with the ball at his feet. Other than that, he had almost nothing to do all night. I think Pompey had three shots on target and scored with two, neither of which Kelly had much chance with, and he pushed the other long range shot out to Manning quite easily.

I wasn't massively impressed with his antics before Portsmouth's spot kick, though. I'm not sure keepers trying mind games like that (taking the ball off the spot, handing it to the player, chucking in some sledging no doubt) ever really works - to me it seems more likely to just concentrate the mind of the striker. And so it proved, as Marquis stroked it home, making Kelly look a bit silly. Lumley tries Joe Hart-style jumping up and down and all that nonsense - seems a waste of time to me. Smithies never bothers with that sort of psychological crap: he just saves the bloody thing.

Ball

As he ran on I heard a neighbour say 'why? he couldn't get in Rotherham's team!' And I thought - 'fine, fair point, but it wouldn't be the first time a club had under-appreciated a good player (loads of good players are bombed out by teams they should've done well for, after all), and also, shall we just give him a bloody chance?'

By the end of the game I was glad I had kept my mouth shut. Mediocre distribution, clumsy tackling, stepping on the ball while trying to control it. I'm not quite sure what he has got in his locker, but he doesn't remotely, at this moment, look like a Championship player. Only caveat is that we conceded after he came on, and he's not exactly a player you want when chasing a goal. Early days, though, eh?

Smith

Also my first look at Smith and the outlook is marginally brighter there. He was inconsistent and no more than a 5/10, but at the same time he at least demonstrated enough to show that he is a footballer. Some of his control and quick, one-touch lay-offs were very good and most of our very limited number of decent moves went through him. But at the same time, he gave it away too much, he was too easily bullied, he made wrong choices for passes and he didn't stamp any authority on the game. He may well turn into a good player, but he needs a lot more football like this - hard, fast, unforgiving football to toughen him up, and I'm not sure we can afford to give him too many more games. Scowen's had his critics this season, but we'd have been a vastly better team with him in the side ahead of Owens, Smith or Ball.

Mlakar

Early signs were positive and Clive's comment after the Bristol game about his first touch were bang on. He controlled some really tough, fizzing balls expertly and laid it off well too. Then he was sent through by a typically beautiful ball by Chair and crossed poorly when he should've shot and from there he was dominated by the Pompey defence throughout. Should have been hooked for Hugill at some stage, really, and the one time he did get a decent chance, 6 yards out, goal gaping he, like Pugh earlier, could only fire lamely at the keeper. Some good signs, but overall, very much third in line for that striker spot on this evidence.

Centre back

You can see why Warbs was so desperate to add another defender to the mix before the deadline. This is the one area I feel we're really lacking. Plenty has already been said about Barbet, so I won't bang on for too long, but he seems destined to be an issue all season. He does have a fancy left foot, and when he wants to, he can defend pretty effectively. So what is the problem? Sometimes not strong enouh, sometimes out of position, sometimes too rash, sometimes, as with last nght just completely not bothering to run back and defend, which was inexcusable. All these things can be improved and worked on, though, it's not a matter of a lack of talent. But he needs to be better and perhaps needs to be dropped to give him a kick up the backside.

On the other side, you had the returning BFG, who spent most of the night looking perfectly comfortable, too big and too strong for Marquis, and then ruined it all by falling into his clever trap and giving away a stupid penalty. The second goal I had more sympathy with: if you get out-paced, you get out-paced - at least he made the effort, unlike Barbet, Ball, Owens and possibly even Manning (need to see it again) who all allowed Harness to stroll into the box completely unmarked to score a chance even Hugill might've tucked away. All in all, a night to forget for both of them, and I can't see us keeping too many clean sheets (again) this season.

Pictures – Action Images


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Myke added 23:59 - Aug 29
Thanks Antti and welcome back.Agree with all that, except a bit harsh on Owens. Full debut, thought he did okay. Certainly more senior pros or allegedly higher quality players offered less. I'd say Warburton wants to take a good look at Ball in games which (lamentably) don't matter, so this was a chance to do that. With everyone fully fit he must be well down the pecking order. The 2 most disappointing performances for me were Kane and Barbet, both are key players this season so they need to be on point more often than not.
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