I’ve backed Lee Clark, but I cannot defend the indefensible

7

April 24, 2014 by bluenosebible

By Nat Peters

Anyone who knows me (or reads my articles on anything like a regular basis) knows I have backed Lee Clark during his time as Birmingham City manager. I have backed him and backed him, and backed him again. I’ve done this in the face of a lot of people telling me how bad he really is as a manager.

But I cannot defend that team selection of his on Monday. When I say team selection, it was more like a footballing suicide note. It went a long, long way to ensuring that we got hammered. A crucial game, and he has presided over what was the worst performance I’ve ever seen from a Blues team (in the first-half anyway). Worse, he’s not only presided over it, he has to ultimately take a lot of the responsibility for it.

zigicpointstotheskyI think the players also have to take some of the blame. The only two to come out of Easter Momday with any credit are Nikola Zigic and Mitch Hancox (who came on when we had fallen three and four behind respectively) – the rest of them were weak, spineless, lackadaisical and lethargic. It was pathetic; we may well have played better in the second half, but we were four-nil down by that point, so you have to say it was rather meaningless. They can hide behind what were bizarre tactical/selection decisions, but for me that doesn’t fully cover the total lack of effort and grit that was on show in the first half. I can’t help but think back to when we had the likes of Grainger, Johnno, Devs, Taity and the Horse; if we had been in that situation with those lot on the pitch for us, 2/3/4-0 down at home in a relegation battle, someone would have been killed before half-time

My opinion of Clark’s spell in charge here hasn’t changed dramatically mind; he is still managing a basket case of a club. He has passion and loyalty in bucket loads, when previous incumbents have walked away from this club as times got tougher he has stuck around. He has effectively built two mid-table Championship teams in my opinion – one finished last season in twelfth place in the league, and one looked as if it could emulate that feat this season at the turn of the year (it’s often forgotten that after beating Blackburn post-Christmas we were closer to the play-offs than we were to the bottom three). I think if we had kept together the team we had at the start of 2014 (and maybe even added to it) we would be much, much higher up the table, well clear of the situation we find ourselves in now, and that would be more than acceptable given the circumstances.

bartleyandburn-4x3101-893367_478x359Both of those teams were systematically dismantled. The first because of the club’s hierarchy desire/desperation to get cash in; last Summer we sold off Jack Butland, Nathan Redmond and Curtis Davies, Ravel went back to West Ham and we had to let go of Keith Fahey. The second team (i.e. the one that finished 2013 so strongly) had the heart ripped out of it when Dan Burn and Kyle Bartley were both recalled by their parent clubs; it’s no coincidence we conceded twenty-seven goals in the first half of the season and so far in the second half of this season we have conceded thirty-nine, with most of those coming since both of those players departed. We also lost Jesse Lingard, another player who was becoming more and more influential. Even in recent times we have lost Lee Novak for the last five games of the season, and he has proved hugely influential this season. Every club loses players, but I can’t help but feel that LC has had the rug pulled from under him somewhat.

What I have just said is debateable (well it’s debateable in terms of how much impact it is having on the present). What really isn’t debateable is how bad the team selection for the Blackburn game actually was. A centre-midfielder at left-back, a left-back at centre-half, a centre-half at right-back and a right-back in centre-midfield. To me (and everyone else) it was just bonkers. Brian Howard and Peter Lovenkrands, two very surprise inclusions down the left hand side of the team, carried all the menace of the tooth fairy. As I said, the only two players to come out of the game with any sort of credit were Mitch Hancox and big Zig, and for the life of me I couldn’t fathom why neither started the game, particularly Hancox – in a relegation battle you need players who are guaranteed to put a foot in and get involved in the muck and nettles of a game, he would definitely have done that.

JS35280149Clark’s comments after the game were astonishing, about how players weren’t out of position and how the balance of the side was better because we had half a team of left footers and half a team of right footers. The players were out of position when you consider where they have spent the majority of their Blues’ careers; Caddis has spent most of his time at full back, Reilly has generally played in the centre of midfield, Tyler Blackett has…um…tried to be a left back and Will Packwood’s best games have come as a centre-half. Considering how big Monday was, and considering we had a very inexperienced backline out there without Robbo, surely it would have been best just to play players in the positions they were most comfortable in, and bring in players like Mitch Hancox who have performed best in positions like left-back this season. I mean LC then went on about having left footers and right footers, but down that left hand side we were torn apart by Josh King; who cares what foot players kick with if they are so ill-equipped to cope with the task in hand?

Ultimately, even if he wouldn’t say so in the post-match press conference, he basically recognised he had cocked it up because of the fact that he had made two changes by the time the second-half kicked off. But as I’ve said, by then it was too little, too late. I personally think he’s panicked, he’s seen how far in the cart we are and picked a real surprising team to…well I don’t really know why he picked that team to be honest. Maybe it was to give the side energy because a few of those players never played at Forest on Saturday, maybe it was to startle the opposition; either way it backfired big time, and we are in deeper trouble than we were before 3pm on Monday. At this point of the season, we cannot afford such haphazard decision making; this is not the time for panic.

leeclarkpointingA common complaint of Blues’ fans is that “he doesn’t know his best team” – the fact that we have made a substitution at least once before the start of the second half in thirteen of the last twenty games would back that up. But in his defence, we have brought in so many obscure players recently to try and bolster the squad that I suppose it is hard to try and decipher the best XI. But I stand by what I’ve said; the root cause of our problems is the fact that we have many players who, right now, are simply not up to it, and it’s hard to rectify that because we don’t have the money to go out and get better ones.

I would personally stick with Lee Clark – clubs who change their manager season in, season out tend to come out the worse for it. I don’t buy the fact that he’s as tactically woeful as some people do; I think people who label him as the sole reason why we are in the cart are missing the point, that there have been many things going on this season at Blues (and generally since he arrived at the club) which have hindered him and the team which he could have done absolutely nothing about.

But generally I am a loyalist (in the footballing sense of the phrase). I wince a lot of the time when clubs sack their managers, particularly when they bring in replacements who you can tell won’t do any better, which is a point I constantly make. With the club in the state is in, the likelihood is that if Clark does end up going in the relatively near future we will go for another unproven manager at this level or we will go for some no-hoper like Iain Dowie or Owen Coyle.

bluesgoalgrayI also rate some of the things Clark has done very highly. Bringing through young players from the academy has been a real highlight of his time here; even if his hand has been forced by circumstance to do so, he has shown a commitment to bringing through local lads that was noticeably absent in other managers we have had. You also cannot help but admire the fact that he genuinely has got a lot of passion, that he is desperate to succeed here; again, I would sooner have someone like that in charge than someone just here to pick up a few quid and keep things ticking over until he is shown the door (and a fat pay-off). He’s also built a reputation for getting the very best out of young loanees to the point where a lot of the country’s best clubs are sending their prodigious if raw talents to be honed here, because they trust his ability to handle them.

I do accept though that team selections like Monday’s undermine any long term aspirations he has for Blues. That level of performance and such a shambles in terms of preparation and selection cannot be tolerated, no matter how bad things are in and around the club.

His biggest problem now is that people like me, people willing to give him a chance once he is managing a club that is on something like an even keel again, are in the minority of those who flock to Bordesley Green every other Saturday. There are also others who are insisting they won’t set foot in the ground until he’s gone, which would be alarming to those who finance the club if that continued. The reality is that a lot of Blues fans do not like him, and do not want him around next season (a few even want him gone before the end of this season). That sort of feeling is very, very hard to shift once it seeps in into fans, and to be honest right now it is hard to see a way out for him.

Blues-v-Derby-14-6660853Should we go down his fate is sealed; he couldn’t survive taking Blues into League One. If we do manage to stay up then whether he will be here come August is more debateable, but after what has been a harrowing season for all concerned, particularly at St. Andrew’s where the majority of punters only ever get to see Blues play, his position is becoming more and more perilous. I don’t think it would be particularly fair to sack him if we stay up, but life isn’t fair sometimes.

Whenever we are taken over, there has to be a root and branch review of the entire club and that includes him and the coaching staff. Whether the new broom will sweep totally clean and take him away from the Stan’s dugout or whether he will get a fresh chance under new ownership, I couldn’t possibly say, but I am increasingly starting to think his days here are numbered.

Still, the one positive to come out of recent times is that we aren’t in the relegation zone, our destiny is still in our own hands. A win at home to Leeds on Saturday could well see us all but mathematically safe. I’ve said that many a time recently, but Leeds have been dreadful for months now – we won’t have a better opportunity to secure our Championship status than we will on Saturday. Regardless of what you think of LC and the current crop of players, Saturday isn’t the time to jump on his/their backs; they’ll need all the support they can get.

 

You can read more of Nat’s work on his blog by clicking the link: http://nattubes.wordpress.com/

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7 thoughts on “I’ve backed Lee Clark, but I cannot defend the indefensible

  1. michael says:

    This is a very well written article. I am in exactly the same boat as you, I support him but do criticize his mistakes. And he does make afew. Too many forget the crap he has to deal with in regards to players sold and the CB partnership leaving from under him inthe form of Burn and Bartley. Good writing pal

  2. mike says:

    he has made a lot of mistakes but with the management above they should take a large part of blame , some of the loan signings are poor and we seem to be paying high wages for loan and bought players who arent good enough to get in the team( scott allen, lovenkrands,howard, ibe,shinnie,ferguson,rusnak) you have to question whos looking at these players as they have talent but obviously not stomach / heart for a fight. but saturday was the worst i have seen and it was evident before the start we were in trouble why couldnt he see that .

  3. Tmsblues says:

    Clark should be sacked today to save the team from relegation. Any manager who can’t get a win at home and constantly has a freaky change of team, tactics and mind needs showing the door. The team must look at one another with amazement at his scatterbrain approach and will have lost confidence in the guy. Its not the board now its clearly Clark that’s the issue and it has been that way for some time. If they are selling the club they can factor in his payoff TODAY !

    • Len says:

      I agree, we should have had someone to fire the team up for the last 3 games. I am amazed at what happened Monday, I ended up laughing…and when their fans started cheering at the amount of passes the were trickling together 50 minutes in it dawned on me how bad we are. Defend Lee Clark or even feel sorry for him, but he has failed to create a siege mentality which is required in this game when you are fighting for you lives..fight not flight that is

  4. johnblue says:

    On Monday al he had to do was replace Robinson, who was suspended. Making 5 changes drastically compounded the problem. I too, have defended him all season, but Monday’s team selection was ridiculous. He never had the decency to hold his hands up after the game and say, yes, I made a mistake. As I have said many times though, ultimately, all Blues problems stem from the disgraceful Board of Directors, who have systematically destroyed our club. I would imagine the first question most of them will ask, when the reported offers for the club, are put to them, will be “how much will we each get”. As for the future of the club, frankly my dear, they won’t give a damn. Their incompetence is beyond belief.

  5. chris says:

    He has had it no worse than at clubs like Blackpool, Charlton, Barnsley, Millwall & Doncaster all running on the same type of budgets and with loan players.
    After the Bolton game we’ll know how good he is compared to those clubs managers.
    Whose decision was it to rid the team of any experience in the middle of the park by getting rid of Elliott and Mullins?
    Spector is the only one left but he then plays him at fullback most of the time.
    You can’t run a centre midfield just by kids.
    We have no choice but to back the team for 3 more games and see where we end up, but Clark needs to play his best 11, in their rightful positions where at all possible.
    He also needs to return to playing our kids not Manure’s, blackett is useless.
    Then, the fans need to stop buying season tickets as the useless BIHL are still dithering on selling the club, so they need a reminder on whose money they need.
    Let them know we won’t bankroll them anymore.

  6. johnblue says:

    I too believe that a protest has to be made and as the banners that were paraded, had no effect, withholding money ( not buying season tickets ) maybe the best way forward. Of course, should the present owners do the decent thing and sell up, then we should all renew immediately. I’m quite sure a lot of people who refused to buy their season tickets, this season, will return when new owners of the club, are confirmed.

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