There we go. After a couple of draws, the Head Coach takes a massive gamble, drops our 2 best players, radically changes our system & we proceed to thrash a great footballing side, climb to 3rd in the table & our struggling £4.75 million winger redeems his poor form with an amazing hat trick. That’s what happened last night wasn’t it?
Not for me. I saw a different game. The players struggled to make the new system work. Ince, in a free role, found it difficult to create anything on the rare occasions his colleagues realised they should be passing the ball to him. We had no tempo, no fluency. The atmosphere was flat. The goals only started to roll in when we brought Thorne on & changed the system. Before he came on, we were looking increasingly ragged & City were looking dangerous. That may sound negative to all the happy clappers out there but I’d prefer to be realistic.
Anyway, back to the start of the evening. As I approached the iPro, intent on procurement of my free cup of coffee, courtesy of our benevolent benefactor, I certainly wasn’t expecting a radical change in the team or formation. Hendrick in for Butterfield perhaps. Maybe Russell in for Weimann. I was frankly gobsmacked when I fired up The Twitter & saw the team. 433 ditched for 4231 (where for art thou 442?) & the 2 players central to the way we play, left on the bench. Jeff & Russell in as predicted but so was Bent. And the big change was Ince being rescued from ineffectiveness on the right wing & thrust into a free role centrally behind Bent. Wow. Whatever you think about what happened during the game, you’ve got to give Clement credit for taking those risks. If we’d not won, he would’ve been slaughtered.
Onto the game then. Bristol, with a host of diminutive midfielders & forwards, looked nippy & fleetingly dangerous. Their defence looked a bit ponderous though. We didn’t start with much tempo at all & appeared to be hesitantly feeling our way into the game & our new formation. There was none of the control & fluidity you get when Martin is at the centre of things. Apart from a header from Shackell, we didn’t really threaten the Bristol goal for the first 25 minutes. Then Bent hit the crossbar when he really should have been able to get over it & direct his header downwards. Fair play to Jeff for his typical run into the box & cross which created that chance but that was essentially it for Jeff’s contribution to the game. I thought he was completely anonymous after that.
It was City’s turn to hit the woodwork 15 minutes later. Clement had mentioned before the game that they were dangerous from free kicks & that proved to be the case here. An inswinging kick found Baker at the far post & he managed to get the ball onto the post before Grant cleared unconvincingly with his feet.
Thankfully, we were in the lead a few minutes later after a quite wonderful, redemptive goal from Ince. Receiving the ball quite a way from the City area, he dribbled past 3 defenders before slotting the ball home with his RIGHT FOOT. The crowd erupted, as Ince celebrated in front of the South Stand. Not sure about the ear cuffing gesture though. It seems our players (Baird, Martin & now Ince) have a few issues with fans actually having opinions & daring to comment on their performances. Hmmmm…
Half time was greeted with positivity, applause & more free cups of coffee. It could have been different. City started the 2nd half well (or maybe our system still needed to “settle in”). Freeman nearly scored from a free kick after Keogh (who otherwise had another brilliant game) had rather needlessly conceded a free kick in a central position on the edge of the area. After that, we started to lose what control we had of the game. Anxiety started to spread around the stands. Clement acted decisively & did exactly what was needed – on came Thorne for the ineffective Hendrick & immediately calm was restored.
This was an opportunity for Ince to take the game by the scruff of the neck & scythe through City’s lumpen, immobile defence & hapless goalkeeper (sorry, Frankie). Two nil. The hat trick followed a few minutes later after good work by Bent. Then along came the 4th – a resounding header from Super Johnny after a cross from Baird (who also was given a bit of game time at the end & time to reacquaint himself with that captain’s armband). We still had a bit of time to go for a 5th goal but it wasn’t to be.
Time for everyone to relax & bathe joyously in the satisfaction of our biggest victory of the season, a boost to our goal difference & perhaps an indication we can win without Martin & without 433. Perhaps. I don’t think that we’ll meet many teams as compliant & poor as City over the rest of the season. The form of Johnson & Hendrick has to be a concern. No doubt both 433 & Martin will be back against Ipswich on Saturday. And young Master Ince will be back on the right touchline.
Onwards & upwards.