A predictable defeat – Knee Jerks
Monday, 13th Jan 2020 18:03 by Antti Heinola
Antti Heinola furnishes us with his usual six talking points following the weekend loss to near neighbours Brentford at Griffin Park.
The most predictable result since lame race horse Mr Predictable attempted to take part in the Predictable Stakes at Royal Predictable in Predictableshire.
Like many others, I looked at the team selection by Warby and immediately thought, 'hmm, that doesn't look too promising.' The defence looked like a back four and keeper that Brentford would pretty much name as their ideal back four and keeper to play against. My conviction that this was likely to be a fairly easy home win was solidified.
At the same time, though, it was only two games ago that there were claims on here that the team put out for the Cardiff game was one that was a defensive side made up to nick a 0-0 draw. Turns out, that wasn't quite the case. Sometimes selections can surprise you. I was convinced Dom Ball would play RB v Cardiff - the idea of Cameron playing there seemed bizarre - but it worked. So I wasn't about to jump on Warbs's back about it.
Also, there was the point that he really didn't have a great deal of choice. While Graham Cameron may have been fine as a full back against the aerial attack of Cardiff, he was unlikely to be as well-prepared for the trickery and speed of the superb Benrahma. Rangel's experience might have been better, but he doesn't seem to be able to play more than an hour this season without needing time off. So Kane was his only real choice. At left back, he could have played Wallace, who had after all played left back in the two recent maulings. But Manning was back from his rest and it was only a couple of weeks ago that Warbs was being castigated for playing Wallace instead of Manning up at Barnsley - and his presence there didn't stop us from shipping five. In central defence, where we are already weak, we had two of our three senior, natural CBs out. You can say Masterson did well second half, but Brentford still created chances pretty much at will and had long since had the game won before he came on the pitch. I'm not sure he would have made any difference at all. So, I do have sympathy for the selection at least. I have less sympathy for what actually then occurred.
And here's the main bone of contention. We have almost conceded as many goals just from set pieces as Brentford have in total this season. It is such an obvious, glaring weakness now that it's almost comical. To be fair, I actually thought Brentford's first was very difficult to defend. A hard, low ball from very close to the box - it is extremely difficult to beat someone to that when they know what's coming and you don't. And once he's hit it, from that range, there's not much you can do when it's in the corner. So I don't blame the defence or Wells for that one - but, as Clive says, Manning's foul was needless and when we are so poor from set pieces, one way to mitigate that is to not give away stupid fouls.
Their third was more typical of the set piece goals we've consistently conceded all season and this is becoming critical. I don't mind passing from the back, I love our style of play, I love how exciting we are in most games, how many goals we score, our at times excellent passing and imaginative movement. To have that, you do have to play in certain ways, take certain calculated risks and make certain sacrifices. But none of that involves being so unable to defend set pieces adequately. I also don't think it can be fixed merely by switching from zonal to man-marking. It's clearly deeper than that. I'm not, however, a defensive expert. I don't know if this is poor coaching, no coaching, or we happen to have a set of players who are simply not great at dealing with crosses into packed areas. But a team that often fields Hugill, Leistner, Hall and Cameron really should not be having a huge problem - all are decent in the air. It is true that teams target our left post - in other words, Manning, and maybe that is becoming a problem too big for our left back to deal with.
I don't know what the solution is, but I do feel it's one that can be solved. I saw Bosh calling for Clint Hill to be brought in to coach the defence, and while I kind of see the logic in that, I can't see why he'd leave an assistant boss role to be a defensive coach, I'm not sure we have the luxury to pay for such a specialist role, Fleetwood's defensive record is good (better than ours) but not noticeably great and, finally, just because we love him and he was a great captain, it does not necessarily mean he is a great coach or defensive coach. I'm not saying he's not, but I'm not sure how we *know* at this stage of his young career. This *should* be something Warburton and Eustace can fix themselves - and it really needs to be a priority now, because every team knows how weak we are in those situations. It may be that playing Wallace more regularly and bringing in a new CB alleviates the problem, but I met a Brentford fan on the way to the game who said Warbs's Brentford team couldn't defen set plays, and Forest fans say the same. It does seem to be a real problem with him.
I thought both full backs had poor games on Saturday. Manning was below par throughout, and his wonderful crosses and passing do seem to have dropped off over the last few weeks for some reason. First half, Mbuemo had him well tied up, so he must've been relieved when in the second half Brentford all but abandoned attacking down our left, so dominant was Benrahma against a game but completely out-classed Todd Kane. I don't want to pick on players, and I have mentioned this before, but right back is a huge issue for us now. Positionally, neither full back seem to get close enough to their wingers, and it's rare that either of them stop a cross. That improved when we played more of a diamond in midfield, but with Eze and Bright playing higher up again, these two are getting exposed by decent sides. On Saturday, Benrahma didn't so much rip Kane a new asshole than tear away all the flesh just to live one single gaping hole for his intestines to flop out of. It was absolutely horrific and it's beginning to happen too regularly. He is not a bad player, he has a good touch, he has a very good cross, but defensively we need more. You would imagine Rangel will have to go this summer, and I suspect a right back is very high on Warbs's wanted list.
I was shocked Lumley was picked for this game. I like him, I still think he has a future, as I'm convinced that nearly all younger keepers go through tough times, and it's only in their late 20s / early 30s where they really start to blossom and become consistent and have that huge experience to rely on. You often see it with young players - an explosive start, then a drop-off, then a sort of second-coming. But at the moment, it seems obvious to me that he has to be taken out of the firing line. When you think back to the player we had 13 months ago, the player who never shut up, who you could hear yelling throughout the game, who was buoyed by incredible confidence in his own ability, and compare it to who we have now, there is no comparison. And you cannot be a nervous keeper. You cannot be a keeper who is struggling with confidence. Because then every single thing you do is a problem. Every kick, every cross, every shot. When Lumley has to think, at the moment, he's in trouble. He's not happy coming off his line, sweeping up, as he was a year ago. His handling is not as safe. His kicking, which while never great, was decent, has become erratic.
It was good at the game to hear the fans cheering him, giving him encouragement during the second half, in stark contrast to the nonsense he's faced online. But this is a shell of the player we knew, and for his own sake he must sit it out for a while. I applaud Warbs's faith in him, and no goal on Saturday was totally his fault (we should have been able to defend his poor kick - it wasn't great, but it wasn't like he presented Mbuemo with a free run on goal), but Kelly has to be given his chance.
On a more positive note, I think both these two deserve a bit of praise. Neither had a great first half. Cameron was culpable for the second goal and generally struggled, while BOS got no change out of Henry (another excellent player) on the very rare occasions he actually got the ball. But second half, at least those two (and to be fair, most of the team) battled. Cameron came out and snapped into challenges, using his big frame to its full advantage to spider over players and continually win the ball with some bone-shuddering challenges. He demanded the ball, he went looking to win the ball, he showed desire and fight.
Bright did likewise. He was very evenly matched with Henry, who must be one of the few full backs in the league who can match BOS's pace. But, by sheer bloody-mindedness, by using everything he had - skill, strength, pace, desire, he made things happen, he set up a goal, and caused problems. Othet players would have folded a bit, but he kept Henry tied up, and at least stopped him marauding forward - not that Benrahma needed much help up there. Great attitude from both.
I sometimes give some of our fans a bit of stick, but they deserve praise here. I wasn't enamoured by all the songs. Bus Stop in Hounslow is funny before the game, and would be funny if you were winning 2-0. But at 0-3, it sounds utterly pathetic. There was a very, very brief rendition of that awful 'we're fkn sh!t' song, but thankfully it didn't last - it has to be said, while in the past it had some merit, it was extraordinarily mean to chant that off the back of our last two results, however poorly we were playing. But those two niggles aside, the fans were excellent. I fully expected the end to be half empty at the start of the second half, but everyone seemed to stay and the humour was good. When you see Villa fans walking out after 28 minutes last night, that shows how good our fans are. I'm not sure anyone did that. The willingness to sing in the second half was great, and the 'We've got the ball / We've lost the ball / We'll win it back' chant was genuinely funny - the 'win it back' part was fantastically defiant too - loved it. And well done all the fans who gave Lumley their backing - he appreciated it, you could tell.
What we have to remember is that Brentford are on a steep upward curve. This is not overnight - this is years of work. And while we can all be wise after the fact now, there were precious few, if any, fans saying we should be more like them six or seven years ago when they started on this journey and we were in the Premier League singing about how rich we were. As Clive pointed out - they are a model, but not just for us. For loads of clubs. For loads of much bigger clubs then them - and us - but the key is patience. We're seeing green shoots. We're on the right track. If the most negative fans, who came flooding back on here on Saturday after their relative placidity after the previous two games, could accept this instead of always demanding instant change, we'd all be a lot happier.
Clubs of our size and similar, whether it's Norwich, Fulham, Birmingham, Bournemouth, Watford, Palace and now Brentford, will never, ever have prolonged success in the top flight. Bournemouth have had a wonderful run, but that looks like it's coming to an end. Palace are dojg well, but at some stage in the next 10-15 years, they'll be relegated. History tells us this. You can demand the best, you can demand change, you can demand whatever you want, but our clubs, our mid-sized clubs, simply cannot and never will reach the stage where, like Spurs, Everton, Arsenal, Man U, and now City and Chelsea, relegation is almost an impossibility. In my view, we already reached the bottom of our curve, and we're starting to swing up. But that upswing, of a kind more sustainable than the one built quickly by Warnock, however much we loved it and loved him, simply takes more time. We will get there. Praise be to the fans who'll stick with us.
Pictures – Action Images
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