Another poor result, the iPro becoming more of a den of opprobrium with each passing game, our head coach sounding like he’s barely able to hold it together anymore, an obvious lack of togetherness on the field & not a single shot on target all night against an average team. Not good. Obviously.
The night started with a hint of a different approach. Our seemingly undroppable record signing (and symbol of our lethargic, mediocre performances since Boxing Day) was demoted to the bench. A lot of us thought that would never happen, especially since Clement was bigging up the consistent approach to selection in the Man United game. Not sure what that meant to be honest. He’s not going to pick players on merit? He’s not going to change things when they don’t work?
I approached this game with an air of naive positivity, despite the air of despondency caused by the awful Reading performance, the shameful capitulation against Brum & the chaotic defending against Burnley. We just needed 3 points didn’t we? And, of course, we just had to win at home against teams like this. Didn’t we?
Anyway. This was a chance for Hendrick to stake a claim for permanent midfield slot (although you might think he would have done that by now after 200 appearances). He did ok actually. The forward play, threatening incursions into the box, losses of possession leaving us wide open & a long range shot that went wide of the target were all there. Trademark Jeff then but, it has to be said, he played way better than Johnson has this year.
The rest of the team was as per usual. Martin up front again in splendid isolation. Blackman stranded on the left again. Ince on the wrong side again. The defence picked itself. Thorne & Butterfield joined Jeff in midfield again. And, yet again, we lined up in The McClaren Memorial Formation (4-3-3). 4-4-2 is obviously not worth a try. Or that 4-2-3-1 formation we used in the Bristol game but then discarded. It’s back to the formation that sort of worked before Boxing Day.
The match then. Started off pretty good actually. Tempo. Aggression. Directness. We sort of dominated. For 20 minutes. The standard Hendrick long range shot/miss came & went. Martin seemed more mobile, less lethargic, less petulant (he kept that up for the whole game actually, to be fair). Ince was working hard but still failing to beat any defenders. Blackman looked fleetingly dangerous.
And then it went a bit flat for us after that. Preston got back into the game & we got frustrated. They were nothing special to be honest. But then again you don’t need to be much cop to frustrate us & get a result these days. Stay solid, stay organised, work hard, press Thorne & Martin & wait for us to fizzle out. That’s the way to play against us. Oh & don’t worry about conceding possession to us, as it’s unlikely we’ll have the cutting edge to make it pay.
We all felt reasonably ok about things at half time. It wasn’t a bad performance. The lack of ability in the final third was a bit of a worry, as were the back passes & the obvious tetchinness from some of the players. Ince was a particular culprit, waving his arms around in pseudo-Martinesque petulance. It must be catching.
As the second half trundled along, the frustration grew & not for the first time I felt a tad disengaged with things. I’ve also developed, like a few fans, a slight yearning for those dashing performances of McClaren’s first season – the tempo, the dramatic game changing substitutions, the belief we all had that McClaren would inspire the side to do something. I know I’ve got rose tinted spectacles on here but that all seems very far away. And, no, I don’t want him back..
Preston continued to sit back. That’s all they needed to do. We couldn’t get past them. The subs came on. Surely this would have been perfect opportunity for Weimann & Bent to add impetus up front but they weren’t even on the bench, seemingly discarded by Clement. Instead we had Russell, Camara & Bryson. None were particularly effective, although Bryson showed glimpses of his forgotten talent, nearly scoring at the end.
The crowd was pouring out at that stage. And then it was all over. Well, note quite. Time for Clement, obviously feeling the pressure, to give a less than impressive radio interview with Owen Bradley where he hinted at his exasperation with the fans’ lack of patience with his style of play. Nice one, Paul. Nothing like making your fans feel valued. We all make sacrifices to watch this club. Maybe I should stop travelling 5,000 miles to visit the iPro every season & focus on my local club.
What next then? Well, it’s only a few weeks since we were top of the league & we were all lauding Clement & the players for a great first half of the season. Maybe we’ll all be back in that place again before long. I can think of no better place to get back to winning ways than at Craven Cottage on Saturday. After all, it’s the place everything began to fall apart last season. Maybe it’s a time for some redemption. I hope so.