Human After All

8 Aug

SAM_0613

By Alex Scott

Well, that was fast. Straightforward and all. No heroics. No last minute miracle comebacks. No superhuman saves, or ‘keeper force field moments. Just a reserve team and “concentrate on the league”. The league has to be the priority. But still, are we allowed to be underwhelmed? Is that OK?

Can we be upset that as reigning finalists, the team showed the tournament the level of disrespect to play a reserve team? Can we be upset that in our biggest rivalry game of the season, City consciously weakened themselves? Can we be upset… should we be upset, that in our biggest rivalry game of the season, our rivals’ fans didn’t appear to be that bothered? Does that say more about them or us?

I understand the arguments to rest players. I do. Squad players needed game time as part of the early-season training regime. Give them a chance to fight for a place in the first team. Competition breeds success. I get it. And it worked last year. Go back and look at that team that beat Watford at Vicarage Road. Six changes that day and they pulled it off.

But still, Tuesday night was a bit crap, wasn’t it?

I’m so bloody entitled. It’s not fair to compare last year to this, but I’m struggling not to. Getting knocked out against a team who four months ago were two divisions above us, away from home, there’s no shame in that. It’s like any normal year. Like any normal team. It could be worse; we could be Brighton. We could be about 70 other Football League teams and be less happy than we are now. (Leeds fans are infuriatingly happy right now. And the Newport County faithful are probably happier than us, and happier than anyone else in the history of professional sport fandom for that matter.)

But, I don’t know, I expected us to win. Even with a depleted starting eleven. That obviously unfair expectation was an act of self-delusion, and I set myself up for a fall. That’s not their fault. But I did expect them to win. Even at two-nil down. On the hour mark, James Vaughan, who was excellent, and the difference between the teams, was replaced simultaneously with the introduction of Nahki Wells and James Hanson, and a dangerous looking set piece on the City right flank. Right at that point I thought they were going to win. In fact I just assumed they were going to win. Even with ten minutes left. Even with two minutes left I just thought they’d equalise. I knew it.

SAM_0623

The wonderful Nahki Wells goal aside, his tenth in as many games, there wasn’t much there on Tuesday night to shout about. Kyel Reid played well again. The oft-negative reaction he elicits from our fan base continues to baffle me to the point where I think we need a collective intervention. He was by far the most dangerous player in the starting eleven last night, in that he was the only player who threatened at all. It’s not like he doesn’t graft. He tracked all the way back to boot the ball out for a corner from Jonny Mac’s grasp on Tuesday. I mean, he didn’t have to, but at least he was there to do so.

It’s a well-worn path, but the only reason we get to have Kyel Reid is that he has no right foot, and his crossing is a bit inconsistent. It is what it is. If his crossing was more consistent he’d be playing for Middlesbrough. If he had a right foot, he’d be playing for Palace. He was the only player capable of causing any damage whatsoever Tuesday night against a what-should-be-sort-of-decent Championship team. No one else even came close. Garry Thompson put in a shift, and did have a couple of snap shots. But aside from that? Anyone at all? Any non-set piece moment of threat?

My point is that, I don’t know who some people want Kyel Reid to be? What else does he need to do? He’s really good. He’s tries really hard. It genuinely baffles me that he has to work this hard for people’s appreciation, and still doesn’t receive it.  We all need to snap out of this self-delusion. It’s us… not him. Or them.

Elsewhere, Carl McHugh probably isn’t the answer at left back. Every reserve the team throw in instead of James Meredith only reaffirms his talent in my eyes. They really stutter without the Aussie. The ‘Nathan Doyle at the base of the midfield spinning the ball to the left back’ is a real staple of how this team functions, and without Meredith there to receive that pass and… you know, do things, the fluency of the side is really impacted. Touching back onto the Reid point for a second, these two bring the best out of each other and the hour or so they have played together this season has not-coincidentally been the team’s best 60 minutes.

Outside of Reid and McHugh the primary takeaway, unfortunately, was Jonny Mac. He’s been essentially flawless for six months, and was good for the vast majority of last season. But one mistake (after his defence had made an absolute meal out of clearing the ball… twice), and now he needs to go. I’m not really here or there. I like him, I want him to succeed, I enjoy supporting him, but if Parkinson brought in a star number one, I wouldn’t be overly bothered.

Similarly to Reid, Jon McLaughlin is Jon McLaughlin, and that’s why he hasn’t moved on yet. Simon Eastwood is in the bloody Championship; the level you need to reach to be up there isn’t exactly high. But Jonny Mac is still here. He does have these flaws, which reappear every few weeks, and in all credit, in recent times, months. He’s been very good for a while now, and played a huge role in helping us get promoted for which he’s received approximately zero credit. Matt Duke wasn’t going to carry us.

Similarly to Hanson of years past he has perished at the hands of our social insecurities. He’s still that boy from four years ago in the eyes of some, blinded to his advances. We know him so we can slag him off. Local boy-done-washout. I can’t say with certainty he will reach vertiginous new heights like his long-time teammate Hanson, but I absolutely can’t say he won’t. He has everything you’d want if he could just put it all together. Something which he might just be in the process of doing. A shower doesn’t make an autumn just yet (he says, reverse-jinxing Mother Earth), he still should be our guy.

SAM_0615

The lack of magic, the normality of Tuesday night’s match was compounded by how one-sided the intensity was, off the pitch. City sold their allocation, and were vocal throughout for better and for worse, yet Town only brought 7,500 themselves, and the majority seemed quite non-plussed about beating us. They weren’t even ‘Olé’-ing at the end! Adam Clayton completed approximately 4,000 passes in that midfield, and not one ‘Olé’? You know those terrible, doomed relationships when you’re trying way harder than the girl? Yeah…that. The whole thing seemed sort of futile by half time. Especially when all City were doing was killing time until the hour when they were allowed to bring on Wells and Hanson.

Upon which I have a question. I’m in nit-pick mode here in a desperate attempt to force conflict, so I’ll plead the court for a little leeway, but the question is still probably valid. At what point does the inability to play without one, or both, of the team’s centre forwards become an indictment on those who build the squad? It may be a testament to just how great they both are, and I’m not discounting that possibility, but it’s fair that the question should be raised, right? That there still isn’t a plan B after all this time? Or even a Plan A.1?

Look, I’m not criticising. Well, I suppose I am actually, but it’s a valid question right? We all know that Wells is our best player and if he goes we are sort of knackered until we could bring someone else in. But what if Hanson gets a three month injury? Then what happens? Genuinely? Wells and Thompson? Wells and Connell?

James Hanson missed so few games last year, it’s difficult to analyse what the team are like without him, but I suppose that’s why I’m here. Chesterfield at home saw Wells and Thompson start; the game was a 0-0 draw. There was the 2-1 home defeat to Oxford with Andy Gray and Wells up top. The Gray and Thompson debacle at Wimbledon. A 0-0 draw at Plymouth and a 0-0 draw at Cheltenham. That is basically it. Not exactly convincing for the post-Hanson landscape. Hanson didn’t start the 3-0 win at Wycombe, but came on at 1-0 after Doyle’s essentially random 1st minute opener, and helped turn it into three, setting up that wonderful Will Atkinson goal. (*stares wistfully into middle distance*)

But yeah, for the approximately 3,011th time in the last two years: they haven’t shown the ability to play without Wells and Hanson.

Without that out ball over the top into the channel for one of the two to chase and buy up cheap field position the rest of the team can’t function as an offensive unit, outside of set pieces. Actually without the out ball to the right flank where Thompson can beat his left back in the air, the team can’t function as an offensive unit, outside of set pieces. The two invariably coexist. I get that Wells and Hanson are two great players, and the historical underestimation of James Hanson only increases by the week, but shouldn’t the team have a Plan B by now?

SAM_0618

This article feels negative to write, I assume it reads that way also. I’m not negative; I’m really happy with this team, and the manager, and everything about them and I wouldn’t change a thing. But that game on Tuesday felt like a stomach punch. And that’s on me, not them. After the performance on Saturday – after freezing a little early on, I thought they were fantastic – my general euphoria made me too optimistic. I looked at Huddersfield who were twenty minutes away from being in our division this season and was all “F**k it, we can beat these guys. We might even be better than them.”

To get (sort of) outplayed to that extent was a shock to me. Not that Town were overly threatening, but the general running rings, Nathan Dyer flashback-ness of the whole performance, was a shock to me. If you’ll indulge my credit-where-it’s-due face, I thought Huddersfield were really impressive. They were far better than I expected, and streets ahead of Bristol City, a nominal proxy for them in my mind. Perhaps it would have been different with Andrew Davies, Gary Jones et al, but I’m not so sure.

I don’t think I’m a bit subdued because they got knocked out of a tournament, I don’t even think I’m a bit subdued because the club didn’t really care that much about something which I did. I just… I don’t know, these guys have been superheroes for twelve months, you know? They’ve performed miracles. And it’s got to the point where I just assume a miracle is imminent. I have so much faith in these guys. And when I expect them to walk on the water when they are just going for a swim, it does leave me a bit down. This is on me, not them. I know that. But on a personal, internal football-supporting-child level, this feels a bit like a rude awakening to reality.

Huddersfield Town are better at football than we are, and they beat us, relatively comfortably. The same way they normally do. There shouldn’t be a shock in that. But it still felt like there was. For me anyway. These guys always show up when it matters, they don’t know how to lose.

The rock was rolled away, and logic overpowered faith. The storybook ending evaded for once. They still kept fighting – they really don’t know how to lose – but for the first time in I-don’t-know-how-long, they looked human.

In the cold light of day the defeat probably won’t be that bad an outcome, there’s another game to win on Saturday, and the opportunity for four points from two games. It’s only a cup, anyway.

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14 Responses to “Human After All”

  1. Dave August 8, 2013 at 11:42 am #

    Phew Alex! You’ve covered more ground than Gary Jones! I find myself agreeing with almost everything you say, but expectations are a very dangerous thing, and where it often goes wrong in the relationship between players and supporters. I think it’s important we remember, after such an amazing season, that we are now in an higher division, and not to get carried away with expectations based on last year’s exceptional and unlikely to be repeated exploits. As a team and supporters we need to feel our way a little, see how good we really are at this level, and the league really does have to be the priority more so this year than last because of that. So I’m not too bothered that we lost on Tuesday (although I wasn’t there to see how we looked).

    I too don’t understand why some supporters have issues with Reid, or Hanson, or anyone else really. And anyone who cannot see the value that Hanson adds to the team, whether he scores or not, must be blind, and he continues to improve his game vastly. As for a plan B, I agree that we don’t have a very good one at the moment, possibly because Hanson/Wells is so good (if another club wants to buy Nahki then they will need to buy Hanson as well is how I see it) but how many other clubs have a strong attacking plan B anyway?

    • Damian August 8, 2013 at 12:29 pm #

      I do remember sitting at Old Trafford at 0-0 after 70 mins when Cole and Yorke both came on. Oh well!!

  2. Andrew Davey August 8, 2013 at 12:41 pm #

    Theres ten minutes Ill never get back. Pull yourself together man. Up the Bantams.

  3. Luke August 8, 2013 at 1:07 pm #

    I disagree almost entirely here apart from the fact we are struggling for a plan B. I feel there was a lot of undeserved criticism of Alan Connell from the other night. We didn’t play a game to suit him at all. In fact just before he came off we played the first two passes into his feet of the whole game – the first time he created a great goal scoring opportunity and the second he created half a yard for a shot himself. He’s a player who drops off into the space between midfield and defence and can play with his back to goal when (importantly) the ball is played into his feet. On Tuesday night he was playing alongside a winger who – not for the lack of trying – isn’t a physical enough presence to hold the ball up in the final third.

    On the issue of Reid – I like him and feel he is a great asset to the squad and played very well Tuesday, however, his delivery does let him down and Christ knows why we persist in using him to take corners when we supposedly now have a number of set piece specialists. I don’t think Reid now makes our first choice 11 with Yeates (if he is as good as reports as admittedly I haven’t seen him yet) and Thompson (who has better quality delivery and creates more goal scoring opportunities). After all that’s what football is about.

    I came away from the game with very little disappointment. I felt we matched them for long period – a side who have money to spend on the likes of James Vaughan and could have quite easily come away with something had it not been for a little sloppy goalkeeping and one piece of brilliance from that million pound player. We should be pleased that our second string matched this and imagine Well, Meredith, Hanson, Yeates, Jones and our finest player Davies had been involved from the start!

  4. Mick Courcier August 8, 2013 at 1:34 pm #

    Plan B is the same as Plan A put in a shift and never give up no matter who’s on the team sheet!

  5. jonny August 8, 2013 at 2:34 pm #

    was intreseted to read this until you said reid played well go back and watch the game he was awful didnt do anything could not cross or beat a man also was his fault goal went in as he failed to chase his man and shrugged his shoulders and jonny mac will be a top top keeper he needs backing by our fans not singling out for his mistakes hes 23 24 he has loads. to learn yet. Also cheer up god no wonder we struggle sometimes could you be anymore negative if we had lost to anyone else no one would even care.

    • Jason August 8, 2013 at 4:53 pm #

      I thought that Reid did well given the five man midfield Huddersfield employed left us with an obvious problem of being out-gunned and you could see very early on Town were targeting McHugh. We needed Reid to do a job defensively and I was worried he would not be up to that. But he did a really good job getting up and down the pitch and he tracked back really well.

      Why Reid is getting the blame for the goal is beyond me. The ball was cleared to the other side of the pitch and then worked back into the box.

    • John August 9, 2013 at 9:47 am #

      Jonny Mac is only a month away from his 26th birthday. I like him but every now and again he makes the type of mistake that by this stage of his career should have been eradicated from his game. One such mistake came in the Huddersfield game. Having just been promoted our primary task is to make certain of our safety from any fear of relegation. To ensure this it is absolutely vital that our defence can rest assured in the confidence that a quality goalkeeper brings. Although capable of good performances he is not, in my opinion, a League One keeper – League Two at best. This situation needs to be addressed by the time the transfer window closes.

  6. Andy August 8, 2013 at 3:14 pm #

    I think the points about Jonny Mac and Hanson are these:

    Jonny Mac at this moment in time is not ready to be our main goalkeeper. Look back to when he has come back stronger and it has always been when he has genuine competition. This lad from Boro is not good enough to dislodge Jonny. A new keeper is a must. That doesn’t mean I want him out of the team, it means Jonny isn’t having to be on his toes. Last season both him and Duke pushed each other on. So it is in Jonny’s Mac best interests as well as the club’s to have a stronger number two or even a Lee Camp as a number one to bring Jonny on even more.

    The thing that impressed me most about Hanson vs Town was his strength and an improvement in his pace. I have in the past been frustrated with Jimmy in areas such as his hold up play, inability to score simple goals at the back post and poor direction with knock downs. These have obviously been picked up by Parky because in the last year he has made improvements and Wembley vs Northampton showed how immense he can be. I know I have been shot down for making such statements about Jimmy before but the frustrations I associate with his game have clearly been picked up by Parky too.

    Regards to Reid he is frustrating to watch. The first 30 minutes he played really well beating his man and tracking back, To say it was his fault for the 1st goal is a bit of joke really. City had begun to sit back and try to see it through to half time. That is always a dangerous thing to do as you invite pressure. The actual shot should have been saved. I was directly in line with it and Jonny looked as though he had made a routine save. I was in shock the ball crept under his arm. Back to Reid, he drifted out of the game until the subs were made and once again he was back to playing really well. Meredith brings so much to the team. The balance in the side in both attack and defense improves. Reid becomes hard to mark and we put teams on the back foot more often. It probably helped with Hanson and Wells being on the pitch too. All four of these players are hard to defend against.

    In terms of the season ahead the Town game has highlighted we need a full back who could stand in for either Darby or Meredith. Another goalkeeper is preferable and a striker who can have as much impact as Hanson and Wells would be good. Gray may be at the required fitness levels to have an impact now and I am sure had he not broken his arm he would have featured alongside Connell. The game versus Town highlighted that Connell is an impact player and still struggles when starting games.

  7. Sarah August 8, 2013 at 4:31 pm #

    I think we’re a bit upset because we didn’t start with a full-strength side, I don’t think we’d have any grumbles at all if we’d started with Meredith, Jones, Hanson and Wells and then lost the game. I think it’s all ‘what might have been’ because we didn’t play a full-strength team.

  8. Dave August 8, 2013 at 5:18 pm #

    Agree with most of that, there were 4,000 City fans there and a lot of local pride at stake, we should have played our best 11 from the start or at least made the changes at half time. Does anyone know if that was Hudds first 11?

  9. Mike August 8, 2013 at 6:38 pm #

    Excellent article. For me the biggest ‘niggle’ is how do we top last season? As Alex said, we expect our team to win every time, especially the cup games. And, when we don’t we feel let down, sad and the gloom and doom starts again. We need to remember that we are in League 1 now; we don’t need to look at the bottom of the BBC Sport website or the small print in the daily papers. Heck, we might even get some column inches each Sunday now. It is hard but we are in a higher division and there will be good days and truly awful ones.

    Fully agree with the points that we need another full back to fill in for Darby or Meredith if McHugh is not good enough. However, for me we need another striker who can play with either Hanson or Wells. A long injury spell for either of these and it is difficult to say where the goals would come from.
    Onwards and upwards.

  10. Andrew Davey August 9, 2013 at 9:02 am #

    Can anyone tell me a team that wouldn`t struggle if there striker (s) got injured?

  11. Mick Courcier August 10, 2013 at 9:56 pm #

    There was just a tad left in the tank and the lads acquitted themselves in remarkable style today sweeping Carlisle aside and totally destroying them. Plan B? We have plan A through to F! Bring on the Bantams!!!

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