They recharge the batteries, we review so far
As we enter the International break with roughly one quarter of the season gone it seem’s a good time to sit back and take stock of where we are at right now for the footballing department.
The winter break should see a similar review and so forth.
We currently sit second in the table two points off the summit to a team we have already defeated on their patch .
I think a quick summary of our season so far would say awkward start , finding some good form and a good patch , and a stumble to bring us up to the current point.
Being behind now for a few weeks will ideally focus some minds on the task at hand and hopefully the old saying when the going gets tough the tough get going is actually true.
It was true of Neil as a player and now he really needs to find and show some real leadership if the title is to be successfully defended.
The team itself is still in a state of transition.
It would be hard to pin down a starting 11 at the moment which some see as a blessing and some a curse. Im the former camp in that its the managers job to keep chopping and changing until he hits on the winning formula that matches his vision. Its not switching it up that would concern me more.
However as said we still dont have a clear starting 11.
At the back,,,Frazer has been a vital signing imo that has given the defence a real confidence in the man behind them. Just as bringing Scott Bain into the team at Craig Gordon’s expense was a key decision in retaining the title last season , dropping him for a better keeper was necessary also.
With the great wall somehow not rated that high by his owners I think its fair to say we will try and retain and hopefully between the sticks is covered long term. So keepers fine.
The back four ,, there does seem to be an emerging quartet but its up in the air whether it stays that way.
El Hamed seems to be first choice based on getting the nod in the Euro games , a sign surely.
Julien after a slow start has convinced everyone he is the quality to build around and also offers a much missed goal threat from corners which seems so yesterday for us.
Boli has grabbed the left back slot but there remain questions over his positioning at the back but its his to loose it looks like .
Kris Ajer however is attracting questions over his long term suitability as a central defender with the flaws in his game coming to the fore more often when paired with the quality Julien.
His position is the most likely to be filled by another and with youth on his side he can accept it and try to learn to eradicate those mistakes before attempting to force his way back into side.
Jozo has once and for all as far as Im concerned shown he utterly cant be relied on whatsoever and should be moved on for the good of all.
Bitton and El Hamed can be considered our back up central defenders but Neil hasn’t bit the bullet on one of them as a starter yet.
A new partner for the French colossus at the back in January wouldnt surprise many.
Overall with the second lowest goals against number we aren’t too bad at the back but a settled back 5 of the required quality is absolutely priceless and simply must be Neils priority in order to land this title.
The middle of the park still has issues that need sorted and when it comes to the next starters your guess is as good as mine.
Scott Brown has shown himself to be essential to this team fair play to him but we have yet to find the players and system to put around him that allows us to dominate the centre.
Calmac has not been at his optimum for a long time and considering the amount of games he plays perhaps he should be send for a long beach holiday during breaks like this. Why we dont rotate him more is a mystery.
Ryan can sometimes find himself in the centre trio and most would say his best position is through the middle . Olly and Tom and are both available but aren’t called on much. Nir Bitton is an unused option.
It is this zone which cause the most concern.
As a former midfielder its puzzling as to how Neil does or doesn’t view things like the average fan. Most matchdays we see the comment Scott and Calmac don’t work well together yet they always seem paired. They sit too deep is a very common statement.
Recently we seen Ryan moved inside and Elly starting wide left to give natural width and while its heartening to see the gaffer try and act to find a winning formula this puts more onus on Ryan rather than the duo who often struggle to blend well.
I don’t envy the boss in dealing with this situation but the call of many for a proper defensive midfielder is very valid . It would mean pushing Scott forward which is not something he’s best suited for or dropping the captain so again we have a conundrum.
While the midfield has issues we are vulnerable as champions. We now have an enforced change with Ryan’s red card so these next three games are crying out to try something a bit different and attempt to find that winning system.
The wings and upfront are two thirds settled.
James has proven himself to be our most important player which has taken me by surprise I must admit but Im delighted for him.
Odsonne is sheer quality and the money men should be learning that the more you pay the bigger the chances of a home run which the big man surely is.
The third slot ( wide left ) has been given to Elly recently , Ryan , and even Sinky had a couple games. I imagine Elly will continue to get his run in the team for a while and its up to him now to grab his chance. He can turn that two thirds settled into a straight settled fullstop.
Bayo everyone agree’s offer’s a more physical direct threat but not everyone is agreed he is of sufficient quality and Lee Griffiths may as well not be here which we must trust the gaffer is the correct decision.
While we seem to be okay attacking wise we are an injury away from a crisis and relying on one player soo much for the goals isn’t wise. Another striker would ease pressure and hopefully offer something different. Neil hasn’t shown any tendency to play two up front but when you’ve only got two strikers thats not surprising at all. Perhaps a third option would see that change.
We sit second in the goals scored chart and if we are gonna win this league then we need to score more goals as we no longer have the tightest defense in the league.
A striker then , is needed to at least give us the option of starting two up top which it would be folly not to have.
The management team,,,again there’s no old head there which I would much prefer. Infact its very young that bench but we must go with the fact Neil is happy with its make up. Its his decision and he must face the consequences of that.
Unfortunately I don’t see him changing it up. I think he picks his men and thats that ,, they stand and fall together. Besides it would probably do little now bringing someone else in backstaff.
From an unpopular start coupled with the Cluj blow he did seem very stressed in the job but a good run brought back the smile and eased the questions, however a late stutter has been a hard blow when coupled with the reality of the Mib assistance forthcoming and a frenzied media attempting to heap the pressure on the management team.
From a good position we have been caught and the feel good factor gained from the Ibrox win and the Cluj revenge has been blown by losing top spot by a couple of points.
Its going to be hard from this point , but that is what he signed up to and is well rewarded for.
As shown above in my humble opinion every department needs a player. The January window is not a good one at all and our chances of seeing all three I claim we need arriving are very slim. When one looks at the players we have not seen emerge yet it impresses upon you that expecting more faces to solve the problem might not be feasible.
Our second string would beat most teams in the league I like to imagine.
The ‘looks a talent’ Shved has yet to get a stint and while Im thinking Ajer is vulnerable we have young Irishman O’Connor just signed to many a lament from some Red Devils in the know.
We read Alofabi was fast tracked into the first team squad after impressing in training and Frimpong looks a steal . Hayes never lets us down , Taylor was called the best left back outside Kt last season etc etc.
Point is our squad is huge and Neil could do well with giving a chance to some we have assembled. Perhaps reinforcements arent arriving but arrived.
Even a blind man could see its a genuine title scrap now the likes of which we have not faced in years . Many a man will curse and moan ,, there will be more points dropped ,, the ref’s will do their thing ,, but May is a long way away.
There are positives to be found such as we do have finance if we chose to go that option , and our manager has actually won several league titles as player and manager so has that edge.
We have huge squad reserves to pick and choose from plus the Europe games have gave heart to all.
Summary,,,in the season that will define Neil he will need everyone to step up to the plate and a slice of luck to negate the Mib’s. This will take all he has got to deliver the title .
Not dropping points in the next three league games would show real intent and must be the immediate aim. A good cup win would then help momentum.
The fighter from Lurgan has the fight of his life on his hands.
The above is by Mahe. If you fancy writing something for the site the email is firstname.lastname@example.org and we will gladly publish.