Six keys to total turnaround - Knee Jerks
Monday, 15th Apr 2019 13:57 by Antti Heinola
Antti Heinola returns after a day job-related absence with his usual six talking points from the unexpected weekend tanking of Swansea City.
Back by no demand, it's the Knee Jerks. Sorry to anyone who's vaguely missed me, but work commitments mean I've either had to miss games or not had time to do write-ups. Still, what a game to come back to. I'd like to say that result was coming, and I knew we'd do it eventually, but I can't. In fact, I was already mentally spending the £550 I was convinced I'd be winning in a few weeks when our relegation was finally confirmed. I hate myself for making that bet, but I renewed my ST in January - if we're going to play League One football, at least I'll be doing it for free.
I think we all still use the term 'caretaker manager', but these days clubs eschew the imagery of a bloke in a long brown coat carrying a broom and smoking rollies in a little shed, and prefer the term 'interim manager'. Same thing, but grander title. We've had loads that I can remember. Frank Sibley on around 37 different occasions, Marc Bircham and Steve Gallen (a few seconds away from a memorable win at West Brom), John Hollins, Gareth Ainsworth at least three times, Chris Ramsey, Mick Harford, Iain Dowie, Neil Warnock, Bowen and Niedzwiecki... and now John 'Eusty' Eustace.
How much do you know about Eusty? I knew less than I thought. I thought he was captain for yonks at Derby, but he only played about 60 games for them. In fact, his career only spanned about 300 games and was sold for a grand total of £250k, according to Soccerbase, and mainly played for Watford. Then he managed Kidderminster pretty well. So, all in all, we were allowed to be be underwhelmed by his presence as our boss, particularly after his first result. But then, suddenly, a recovery.
On Wednesday last week, he played horses for courses and made sure we were big and strong against Millwall and was rewarded with a rare clean sheet. On Saturday, he switched it up to great effect, picking a team full of energy to worry Swansea into mistakes, which we pounced on time and again in a performance that brought to mind both Adel Taarabt's demolition of Swansea (in apparent homage, BOS even replicated Adel's flicked pass to Clint Hill in the seconds before he nutmegged a completely broken Joe Allen - and in almost the same spot of the pitch too) and Mark Hughes's ultra-rare tactical masterclass (I know, right?!) in a 3-0 win on our way to safety back in 2012.
This was probably our best performance of the season, certainly our most dominant, and while you might argue Swansea were bloody awful and never helped themselves and have nothing to play for, they were on a run of three successive wins and had given us a good hiding earlier this season, so let's not belittle the achievement. It was a performance built on hard work and organisation topped with skill and (fairly) ruthless attacking play (we should really have had six or seven). From the outset, we never let them settle, we pressed them high and sensibly. At the back we were strong and fast, playing safety first, yes, but we haven't looked that confident in defence for months. Everyone knew what to do, and Swansea, while occasionally knocking about some pretty geometric shapes with their passing, simply couldn't handle it.
On top of that, Eusty and his team of scientists had clearly noted that the Swans keeper, Nordfeldt was not a fan of high balls - particularly in-swingers. In fact, the Swansea team as a whole would definitely have preferred we didn't keep swinging those in, because it made them feel very uncomfortable. But we kept doing it - Freeman only took corners from one side so that the superb Scowen could swing them in from the other. It almost worked after about a minute, and when it didn't, we pulled the same trick again and this time they weren't so lucky. And so it went on. Almost every cross could've been a goal. Actual tactics, actually realised during the game. It was like sorcery.
And all the while, Eusty was on the touchline, clapping his hands, urging the tireless Scowen, the relentless Cousins, the snappy Manning to keep pressing, to keep tackling, to resist the urge to drop deep. And they all responded.
It was very, very good. I haven't been that relaxed watching the Hoops since the early demolition of Sheff Wed a year ago, and even that got a bit nervy when they came back to 4-2. But Eusty is an interim manager, and at the moment that's all it is. Three games - one poor, one better, one very good. A personal goal difference of minus four has been dragged back within two games.So we can't get carried away, no one should (or is) demand that he gets the job. But maybe he might, after all, have given himself a chance of it.
One huge risk Eustace did take was picking Tomer Hemed. Not a popular decision. And quite rightly it wasn't popular, because he's really not been a good signing. A decent start, followed by injury, followed by some pretty poor and, let's say, laid back appearances. I think most of us would have been happy not to see him for the rest of the season. When the teams were announced, his name was greeted with a muted murmur.
So God knows what happened, but this was like a different player - not quite Heidar in his 2011 pomp, but not that far off either. He won more headers in one game than he won in the rest of the season put together. He tried. He chased. He barrelled about. He bullied Swansea. He scored two fine goals and could easily have had a hat trick. Where has this guy been? It was, and by some distance, his best performance of the season and was pretty much exactly what you want from your lone loan striker. I don't know what the difference was. Was it Eustace? Was there a scout in the crowd? Was the possibility of a contract dangled in front of him? Or was it just a early goal that gave him some confidence and some fight? Who knows. Fact is - great performance, well played.
Return of the rat
I'd read from Clive's report that apparently the Rat seemed to be back. He was there at Hull and a little bit at Millwall. But on Saturday, he was properly back, for a whole game. But this wasn't just ratting. Yes, he harried, he won the ball, he kicked Swansea players, he was perpetual motion, recalling his best displays of last season. But there was also skill there too.
At the start of the season there was a story that he'd pointed out to McClaren that at Barnsley he ahd been an '8' - a box-to-box midfielder with license to get forward. The stats bear that out - ten goals in 80 games there compared with two in 60-odd for us. But McClaren, and not unreasonably, told him he was a deep lying midfielder with the job of protecting the back four and giving it to our better players.
On Saturday I think it's fair to say he looked liberated. Yes he was tackling, but he tackled everywhere, from the front to the back, and combined that with some perceptive passing and some impressive tricks and flicks that Freezy would have been proud of. He was allowed to take free kicks and corners to good effect too. You do wonder, already, if Eustace sees more in him than McClaren (who barely used him) did, and that's in turn an encouraging sign that Eustace is his own man with his own thoughts on the squad. Scowen was likely man of the match in a performance that was not only back the highs of last season, but possibly his best ever in a Rangers shirt.
Whether or not Eustace was responding to fans feelings by dropping Lynch is difficult to tell. Last week, it was Leistner who sat it out, but he came back in the week and then Lynch was out by Saturday. I haven't read Clive's report yet, but I suspect he felt Furlong and Leistener needn't have changed out of their club suits on Saturday on what must've been their easiest game of the season. That was partly, of course, because of the phenomenal tackling and harrying by the midfield in front of them, but also because they looked comfortable and organised. We had experience with Leistner and Rangel, youth with Manning and Furlong, and pace with Furlong and plenty of aerial ability. Again, as you might've felt at the back end of last season, Furlong does seem to be more comfortable at centre back. He sees himself as a right back, I think he said years ago he wanted to be a Kyle Walker-like marauder, but maybe it's time to re-assess that. He looks more comfortable there. His pace is useful. He has a great leap. And he seems to complement Leistner well.
Toni himself had a very comfortable game. Poor Routledge tried going up against Furlong, and got little change, so switched to Toni, who easily bullied him out of the game, while the willing McBurnie lurked far too deep to trouble either of them. When McBurnie did, in frustration, have a little kick out at the BFG, he was, moments later, comprehensively cleaned out. We never heard from him again. Do not mess with Toni. Some hope in defence for us, there, perhaps, because a lot of work needs doing there this summer.
Also, so happy for Darnell to finally, after shots cleared off the line and headers hitting the bar, to get his first goal for the club. He should be a bigger danger from set pieces and hopefully he'll get them a little more regularly now.
Which side of the Manning fence do you sit on? The one where he's overrated, and gets better the more he's out the side? Or the one where he's the answer to all our problems and has been treated badly by both our last two managers. I'm on the fence. I think he had a superb impact when he got in the side over two years ago, but then I thought Ollie left him out of games he should've played him in and played him in games he probably shouldn't. I think he hasn't been consistent. I don't think he's better than Freeman, Luongo or Scowen. But I also think he does have a lot to offer. He's tenacious, skilful, he has energy and stamina and passion.
On Saturday, as with the Millwall game, he was really good - so good, Dyer, a frequent scourge of ours down the years, was removed at half time after Manning not only marked him out the game, but also tricked round him on at least two occasions. You can't have your winger being mugged off by a full back all day. Ollie experimented playing Manning as a left wing back and I always liked him there. He is a great passer and a very good crosser and he has the energy to get up and down the line all day. Where he scores above Bidwell comfortably is his ability on the ball - if he could improve defensively I genuinely think he could turn into a quality left back. Some will not like this. Some believe a player has a position and that's it. To them, I say: Clive Wilson.
Manning is not the answer to our worries, but he is a good player and perhaps he isn't our long term left back, but for this game, he was excellent and a joy to watch.
What Eusty has given the club is time. We're not safe yet, but it will take a pretty incredible run from Rotherham (and a couple of other teams) for us to drop now. You'd also hope that we might actually put a couple of results together ourselves because the confidence must be back after Saturday. Had we lost the last two, there would be full-on panic and the need to appoint someone - anyone - would be driving a decision that could easily be the wrong one. Now, no such rush exists. The club can wait until the summer. Do a thorough job. Maybe even consider Eustace if results keep improving. Amazing what one win can do.
Pictures – Action Images
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