August 21, 2014 by bluenosebible
By Nat Peters
A month ago, if you had offered Blues fans four points out of their first two home games this season, I think a lot of people would have snapped your hand off. In fact if you had offered four points from our first three league games (so including the ‘Boro one), I think a lot of people would’ve been minded to take them, especially if it came with a guaranteed caveat that we would end that wretched run without a win at home.
But Blues fans will have awoken Wednesday morning feeling frustrated. Four points from three games isn’t by any means a bad start to the season, but we were just a minute or so from making it six points and two straight home wins Tuesday night, which means that what is now a fairly average looking start to a season could well have been an excellent looking start.
I’m quite fatalistic about losing the win right at the death. To be honest we have scored so many late goals in recent years (a lot of them very important goals as well) that it’s about time we probably conceded one. The last one I remember being scored at Stan’s which actually cost us anything was Ross Wallace’ free-kick for Preston on the day we cocked up winning promotion (for a week) in April 2009. We can’t complain really.
I’ve seen people suggesting that, in effect, Ipswich were up to very little and we should have killed them off. I’m not inclined to agree. I thought Ipswich showed a lot more endeavour than Brighton did on Saturday, and generally matched us man for man. Overall, I think we may have shaded the game, but I always had a niggling feeling throughout that they could nick a goal, it’s just very annoying that they got their second goal as late as they did.
Positives must be drawn from the game like they were on Saturday though. Once again we looked far more organised than we did for nearly all of last season and we matched Ipswich for the hard running they put in, whereas in the past they’ve overran us. I also thought we used the ball well, particularly going forward and we created good opportunities throughout. Clayton Donaldson in particular was outstanding; strong, full of running, good technique and above all he took his goal brilliantly. People keep comparing him to Cameron Jerome (ostensibly for me because they look similar and have similar physical attributes) but if Cameron Jerome had been in the position Donaldson was the ball would’ve more than likely ended up smashing a window in The Roost.
My concern is that we keep conceding the same sorts of goals. Of the four league goals we have conceded this season, three have come as a direct result of a set-piece, whilst the Ipswich goal in injury time came from a simple cross into the box. I have no real scientific idea, but if my memory serves me well a huge chunk of the goals we conceded last season also arose from set-pieces and balls being crossed into the box. Balls being flung in and around our goal seem to be something we are chronically unable to deal with, but they are a reality of footballing life in this division and if we cannot cope with that then we will be hampered in the future.
Referee Roger East has received a lot of criticism for his performance on Tuesday. Five minutes of injury time allowed Ipswich ample time to try and score, which they gleefully took, but unlike many Blues fans I don’t think there was much particularly wrong with the amount of time put on at the end – six substitutions were made (and the protocol is considered to be adding thirty seconds per substitution made), three goals were scored and there were a couple of brief stoppages for minor injuries in the second half; when you add that together, five minutes suddenly becomes fairly realistic. However his decision to turn down two strong penalty shouts for apparent fouls on Paul Caddis and Denny Johnstone deserve more scrutiny. Johnstone’s was a “well you see them given and you see them not given” sort of incident, so you have to give the official the benefit of the doubt, but the Caddis appeal looked stonewall to me and at 2-1 if we had scored a penalty then it would have been game, set and match.
However you could argue we have ourselves to blame for not winning as much as anyone else. If Lee Novak scores an open goal in the first half rather than skying it on the volley, if Clayton Donaldson hits his square ball to Caddis a bit harder across the penalty box so a defender can’t intercept it, if Blues could defend crosses and set pieces in the box on a regular basis or if we could stop giving away silly set pieces in the first place…as the late Sir Bobby Robson said, ‘if’ is the biggest word in football.
Talking of set-pieces, and all I can think of is Robbo from Tuesday night. It was comical how within seconds of coming on as a substitute he managed to get himself booked for a challenge, but it was also frustrating because it was pretty needless and simply invited more pressure. There are people who are split about Robbo; some think that Lee Clark is right to bring him on as a substitute late on in games to try and sew up results, some think it’s pointless doing so and bringing on a defender in place of a midfielder (as has happened in the last two games) means that we just defend deeper and don’t press the opposition like we should. I personally think Robbo’s experience is invaluable, and I can see the logic as to why Clark chooses to bring him on (I personally don’t buy the “bringing on a defender invites pressure because it means we sit deep” argument, because if you are a goal up with minutes to go the opposition will chuck pressure on to you regardless). Personally, I would be looking to start Robbo in games again, probably ahead of Grant Hall at centre-half. It may be a bit harsh on Hall, who has acquitted himself well enough in the three games, but for me at times he does tend to wander out of position and I just feel there are times when we miss Robbo’s knowhow, his leadership and his resilience.
Aside from that though, we can have no possible truck with any of the decisions Lee Clark has made with regards to team selections and tactics. Just like the Brighton game, last night we were organised, we had balance and we ran ourselves into the ground. In Mick McCarthy’s own words, we have rid ourselves of the “Premier League nonsense and bonkers salaries” that he thought permeated the club to become a team that “outfought” his own side and it does feel like that, it feels like we have rid ourselves of the underperformers with reputations that flattered to deceive and replaced them with lesser known players but players who want to play for the manager and the club.
Lee Clark has built two solid enough Championship sides during his time here; one finished 2012/13 in decent form, and one went on a good run at the end of 2013 last season. Both, through no real fault/control of the manager, were systematically dismantled, and with regards to the latter being taken apart (with numerous loanees suddenly being recalled at near enough the same time) that was the catalyst for our near death experience last term. But now he has built a team of players who are the club’s and the club’s alone (i.e. they aren’t to be taken away at the whim of anyone else), and whilst the recent sale of Tom Adeyemi shows we are still vulnerable to vultures coming in for players, I think there is still a solidity and stability about this season’s team, we look far more competent and fluid already than we did at any point last season.
Clark’s name was sung again around the ground, the whole of Stan’s happy to be a part of his “barmy army”. The fans were great in my opinion; there are some woebegone people who will bleat about dwindling crowds, but to be honest if people don’t go to games than they can hardly be castigated for it. The ones that were there on Tuesday made a noise and got right behind the team. A refreshing shift from the poisonous atmosphere that often prevailed at home games last season.
We will have bad days (the opener at Middlesbrough as an example) but the last two games have given me real encouragement. There is room for improvement, and we perhaps needs to become better at killing games off, but there is plenty to build on. Roll on Brentford and our first trip to Griffin Park in a long, long time on Saturday.
You can read more of Nat’s thoughts on his blog: http://nattubes.wordpress.com/