February 16, 2015 by bluenosebible
By Nat Peters
Now Gary Rowett has done a fine job since taking over as Blues manager. In fact that is a vast understatement; our turnaround since he took over has been remarkable. Four months ago or so I thought we were doomed to be playing League One football next season, but Mr Rowett has effectively dragged us up the table by the scruff of the neck.
However our result against Millwall at Stan’s last Tuesday was poor and our performance was diabolical. It’s now four points out of five games and whilst four draws on the spin before losing to ‘Wall wasn’t a totally disastrous run of form it could have been a lot, lot better. For me, at least some of the responsibility for that has to lie at the feet of Gary Rowett. There are some who think questioning anything he does is akin to committing an act of heresy but this is rubbish; he’s a manager who has done very well for our club so far, but he is a football manager and not the Dear Leader of North Korea. He is not above criticism or having his decision making questioned.
We have just been way too predictable in the past few weeks. Two goals in five league games would suggest that teams have figured us out and we don’t seem to have the abilities to pose them a different set of problems. I’ve seen someone suggest that the ‘Shinnie experiment’, playing Andrew Shinnie in behind the centre-forward (the vast majority of the time that centre-forward being Clayton Donaldson), has now failed. I’d disagree; if anything I’d say the experiment (if that’s the most apt adjective) almost worked too well initially. When first re-introduced to the side, Shinnie was a revelation and a key cog in our unbelievable form late Autumn and the New Year.
But now I think teams have learnt to smother him by placing at least one deeper lying midfielder on top of him. Rowett has tried to shift things around a bit by playing Demarai Gray there and using Lloyd Dyer on the left hand side but for me Gray isn’t yet able to really make an impact there and Dyer’s lack of match fitness has shone through at times. Simply shifting players into different slots in the past few weeks has been like shuffling the deckchairs on a boat once it has started sinking.
Even when Rowett has tried to change things around during the course recent games, the changes have often made little difference. Against Sheffield Wednesday, Norwich and Fulham, we simply swapped Clayton Donaldson with Nikola Zigic and utilised him as the lone striker and the big man has been totally redundant in most of his cameo appearances. It’s made no effect because teams have learned how to be solid against us when we are playing in this formation and Zig can’t stretch a backline on his own.
Personally I’d like to have seen Wes Thomas given some game time. Wes is different to the rest of our strikers in that he possesses genuine raw pace and power but Rowett, for whatever reason, seems not to fancy him. Against Millwall we ended the game with Novak and Zigic up front; where’s the movement going to come from with those two? Against Norwich and Fulham we simply left Zigic on his own up top; his lack of pace basically meant we had no way of stretching their respective backlines, and we just invited pressure on ourselves. Against Sheffield Wednesday Thomas did get ten minutes or so, but expecting him to do something in ten minutes on his own against one of the best defences in the league was always a monstrously sized task. I’d like us to start switching to two up top at points in games and maybe even start with that formation every so often, just to give us some variation and to not make us too predictable. It’s clear that Clayton Donaldson is Rowett’s first choice striker but he spends the majority of every game being kicked from pillar to post so he needs more help, and I think his most effective striker partner has been Thomas so seeing the two of them up top together more would be great.
As I said at the start Gary Rowett has done a splendid job since taking the job. He has turned around what looked a near impossible situation a few months ago and full kudos to him for that. I can to an extent see why he has largely stuck with the same group of players and the same system that has served him and us so well since he came into the club, but now I think teams have found us out somewhat so we need to vary the way we play a bit. The league table shows us as eight points away from the drop zone, which is exactly the same position we were in at this sort of point last year; I’m not saying we’re going to end this season the almost catastrophic way we finished last season, but it does show that the season is not over yet for us. We’ve had a blip and we want to stop that as quickly as possible and I think to do that we need to start having more than one rigid plan going into every single game.
Anyway, roll on ‘Boro. We’ve had a week’s rest whilst they could be drained from their valiant but futile efforts at Arsenal. They are a team with some very good players but we’ve got good results against other teams with some very good players this season so let’s hope we can do so again.