A nourishing win - Knee Jerks
Tuesday, 10th Dec 2019 11:04 by Antti Heinola
Antti Heinola's six talking points from Saturday's' first win in eight games look at the impact of recalling Marc Pugh and Bright Osayi-Samuel to a side starting to lag in confidence, and Mark Warburton's horse for Saturday's course.
It feels nourishing, doesn't it? Like a massive, warm winter soup full of goodness, bursting with vitamins and minerals and joy. A win. A comfortable win. A comfortable win with no goals conceded. I'm licking the bowl clean and I'm asking for seconds.
There's been a lot of chat about Warburton's so-called 'no plan B' (aka he doesn't put a centre back up front and force the other centre back to loft it up to him 15 times in the last five minutes), but the evidence is he has lots of other plans. A different plan for MW, however, doesn't necessarily mean a complete change of style. Because abandoning a way of playing is a dangerous road to go down - it's a waste of everything you've done before, for a start. Equally, just because results have not been great, it does not necessarily mean wholesale change is needed. The fact remains that had we not been painfully careless against Reading and Boro, we would still now be hovering around the fourth play-off spot. So while the Tw@tterati may be panicking and typing obscenities towards their favourite whipping boy, we're lucky that Warburton is not a manager who panics.
Since the Forest game, which was not quite as bad, other than the last ten minutes, as has been made out, we have conceded once - and that a 30-yard exocet free kick. And while the way we have played in those games is definitely a modification of our play so far, it's far from abandonment of it. Saturday saw us play, I thought, with a midfield diamond and the result a team who finally looked comfortable in itself, and a set-up that saw everyone knowing their job and their responsibilities. Leistner at his best once more, because his job was to wrestle with a physical attacker and when the ball is in the air, to head it. Kane and Manning were more effective going both ways, because unlike when we play with three centre backs, they had cover if they bombed forward. Eze had his favourite free role. Wells had someone to play off. And Lumley was given free rein to boot the ball away if he saw fit, which he usually did, and as a result he looked more assured too.
Because everyone knew their job and also because everyone worked very hard, we suddenly looked extremely solid and, as we all should have guessed, we managed to keep our first clean sheet of the season against one of the league's top scoring teams. It was great management - Preston like to harry and press high, so we on the whole kept the ball out of those areas where they would be most dangerous - although on at least two occasions we still showed we could pass our way beautifully out of trouble if circumstances dictated.
All of this was to the delight of a few fans around me, who cheered every long ball and screamed in anguish every time someone tried to pass the ball from behind the halfway line, but they will be disappointed, because undoubtedly MW will keep working towards a more fluent style of play that starts with the keeper and, in the main, rejects the long ball.
A cry of despair was issued from the magical fingertips of Westbourne R on these pages last week, with regards to our thirtysomething winger/attacker/midfielder thingie from Bournemouth. Where was he? Why was he not much good? Why is he so concerned with nice food? (Westbourne did not pose all these questions, I exaggerate in the hope of regaining your rapt attention). And it was like Pughie read it himself. Maybe he did, while eating a delicate Carbonara (homemade pasta, natch). Because I thought he was great. His workrate was superb - constantly closing down players, giving Kane some real protection that he in truth has needed all season, and also a threat going forward, culminating almost in a goal, but instead a decisive penalty.
I will agree with Westbourne that we have not seen enough of this Pugh, but in truth he has rarely had the chance. I thoguht his early sub appearances were promising, but if you're a man like Pughie used to gorging on (healthy) gourmet, low-fat, low-salt, high-in-fibre, high-in-good-stuff food, and are fed table scraps of 10 minutes as a sub here and 5 there, perhaps it's no wonder we haven't seen the best of him. This was really good, and also encouraging, because we will need to use our squad over, altogther now, 'the crucial festive period.'
Graham also had his best game of the season I thought, and it was a performance that harked back to his best under McClaren - sitting in front of the back four, winning headers, and working with the two centre backs. In previous games it's been noticeable that when Leistner sometimes chases his striker out trying to win the ball, he gets caught out of position. With a back three constantly stretched wide by high wing backs, the gaps he left were enormous and frequently exploited. On Saturday that gap was plugged. Several times Leistner chased his man out, but each time Cameron simply let him go and stepped back into his place, plugging the hole and keeping our shape. Again, an example of everyone understanding their role. Cameron was not really required to maraud forward either, saving those big ol' American legs, yet at the same time he demonstrated his occasional eye for a great through ball. Last year around this time it was his wonderful pass to Wszolek v Villa, this time it was a more delicate chip to Eze for the first goal. Great, soccer, Granville.
It was one of those games where you could ask 20 people afterwards who was man of the match and you'd get at least five different answers. Haven't seen who Clive gave it to yet, but for me if you get two goals and you play like Eze did, you get the champagne. He may have given the ball away once or twice, but I can barely remember it. Now our top scorer, and looking increasingly confident in his ability each week, he is an absolute joy to watch and deserved his ovation when he was substituted late on. It baffles me how he moves, because he is effortless, yet once he's running he seems to outpace most defenders. He'll get shouts around me from people saying move it quicker, but I don't think anyone moves it quicker than him, it's just that he, like the great Ray Wilkins, just seems to have so much more time than anyone else. He is just brilliant and I think is benefiting hugely from MW. It was interesting in the gaffer's comments afterwards that he acknowledged how well he played, but also mentioned he was still working on other aspects of the game, the defensive side, even though it is now indisputable that Eze is nothing if not a team player. His second brace of the season - a hat trick may not be far off. Hope it's for us.
He's had a real struggle to force his way back into the side, first because of injury, then because of a formation that didn't really have a place for him. But now he is back in and you can see his determination to keep it. I really think there's so much more to come from Bright because the building blocks are all there: pace, skill, strength, work rate. He's had some criticism for lack of end product (that bane of the lives of nearly all wingers), but I actually thought on Saturday that he put one or two very nice crosses in, had a very good shot that went just wide, and linked up well with the strikers and Eze. There weren't many crosses sailing over the bar or whatever and on another day he easily could've had a couple of assists. Perhaps most impressive, as others have pointed out, was his tracking back, his helping of Manning, and as a result we looked much more secure down that side.
Been saying it for ages, but if we cut them out we're a different proposition. On Saturday, they were cut out. Not that there weren't the odd hairy moments, but you're always going to get that. In the end, because concentration levels were high, we restricted Preston really to only two really big chances - one in the first half when Hall executed a great last ditch tackle when Lumley had maybe come out a bit early; and one in the second when Lumley made what was undeniably a fantastic save, with a very strong hand down to his left. And that was it. A superb response to the Forest game, and four more points towards safety.
Pictures – Action Images
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