The mood around the club is delicate. Victories and defeats can swing the mood very easily. There was hope on Saturday that we could grow into the campaign once new players had bedded in, a loss on Tuesday night against Blackpool seems to have exposed some fundamental flaws in this squad.
The Rate Of Change
There are debates to be had over a number of the changes Mark Robins has made from last season’s side. Is Dujon Sterling better or worse than Jack Grimmer? Are Brandon Mason and Junior Brown an upgrade on Chris Stokes and Ryan Haynes? Did Amadou Bakayoko and Jordy Hiwula have to be thrown into the side mere days after signing?
Each individual call can be quibbled with, however, the collective impact of so many of these changes is the bigger issue. Against Blackpool, the team appeared unsure what to do both with and without the ball, which led to not only two sloppy goals conceded but a performance where we failed to register a single shot on target.
Of course, some of the changes have been unavoidable. The sale of Marc McNulty and the difficulty of finding his replacement was always going to have an impact on our season, especially early on. Additionally, the return to fitness of Tony Andreu has further altered the balance of the squad and the style of play required to get the best out of our best players.
Throw in the injuries to Lee Burge and Liam Kelly in these first few weeks of the campaign, that’s already four changes to last season’s side that have been put onto Mark Robins’ plate.
Those forced changes though are probably a greater argument to maintain continuity than to compound it with the voluntary ones. We have to hope that we will see the benefit of all this change over the course of the season, because it looks like it has come at the cost of momentum from a promotion-winning season.
The Doyle-Ogogo Vortex
If there is an abiding memory from this largely forgettable performance, it will be the sight of Michael Doyle and Abu Ogogo exchanging passes ad infinitum before one of them punted the ball forward in the vague direction of one of our attacking players.
While neither had the best of evenings, we can’t expect either of them to transform into Pirlo-esque deep-lying playmakers over the course of the campaign. They are there to win the ball back and give it to players who can make things happen, playing the two of them together removes one of those players for either Doyle or Ogogo to give the ball to.
It has to be noted that the early injury to Maxime Biamou robbed the duo of an effective out-ball. While Biamou has his limitations, he will chase down long passes and put defenders under pressure whether or not he wins the challenge, the constantly offside Amadou Bakayoko was both asked to do a lot and offered little when he had the opportunity to do so.
Robins should have taken either Doyle or Ogogo off, or called for Tom Bayliss to drop deeper into midfield to provide that link between defence and attack. When had the ball, Bayliss, Luke Thomas and Jordan Shipley threatened to make things happen, however, they simply weren’t able to see enough of it.
While this midfield pairing is a short-term measure, the return to fitness of Liam Kelly doesn’t provide that much of an improvement in terms of playing out from the back. Mark Robins may well have to accept that we become more of long-ball team to overcome this issue – which probably sacrifices a role in the side for Tony Andreu – or ask Bayliss or Shipley to operate in central midfield.
If You Can’t Win Then…
As disjointed as we looked last night, Blackpool were almost equally so – although they were possibly more aware of their limitations. Sometimes your team just has an off-night and you have to make sure that you keep a clean sheet at the very least.
The first goal wasn’t just about Liam O’Brien flapping at a cross, it was also about Blackpool being allowed to take a throw-in in our half to an unmarked player who then had time and space to put the ball in.
As soon as we fell behind, it was going to be difficult for us to get back into the game due to the lack of attacking cohesion. There was a brief period when the introductions of Jordy Hiwula and Tony Andreu threatened to make something happen for us in attack, but we conceded another soft goal.
Again, you can point towards the individual error that Liam O’Brien made in coming off his line, however, it was one Blackpool forward against two of our centre-backs, the danger should have been dealt with regardless of the actions of the goalkeeper.
With goals looking set to be at a premium this season, we have to value the clean sheet in games much more than we did against Blackpool.