So another derby day comes and goes, and all the expectations and excitement turn into disappointment and despair once again. The stupid thing is I knew this was going to happen because I’ve seen it so many times before. Sadly that doesn’t make me feel any better about losing to that lot. Now I could sit here and write about how much I dislike that bunch of morons that call themselves football fans, but I’m going to talk about the football instead. The reason we consistently lose games like this is due to our inept midfield.
Now as an inept Sunday League midfielder myself I know it’s not an easy role, but something needs to change. Playing 4-4-2 (which itself is very outdated in modern day football) you need to be able to retain possession and keep the ball moving in the middle of the park. In the past we have had a Kinsella or Parker who will take the game by the scruff of the neck and dominate the midfield with pressing and tackling. Nowadays the midfield battle is not won by throwing yourself into tackles because you will just get sent off every other week, ask Lee Cattermole! You control the midfield by keeping the ball and passing it around.
As much as I appreciate what Johnnie Jackson and Bradley Pritchard bring to the team they both have weaknesses that are very noticeable in every game, especially a local derby. Jackson, our skipper and hero from last season is quite simply not quick enough to play in the middle of a four man midfield. His lack of pace means that long periods of games simply pass him by. Now that’s fine if you’ve got Van Persie or Suarez giving you a goal out of nothing, but we do not have that luxury. Pritchard partnered the skipper yesterday, and his attitude for the game makes him someone you can’t help but like. However, for all his running and endeavour he is simply not strong enough to play in this formation, especially when you are playing a team of freaks like Trotter, Shittu and the like. Both these players are more than capable of playing at this level just not in this formation and definitely not together!
So what is the solution? Well as we don’t have anyone better something else has to change. Dale Stephens can pick a pass once a game but much like Jackson his lack of pace means he goes missing and we get overrun when he plays. Danny Hollands is out of favour and now injured so he is not an option. Dorian Dervite can’t pass to save his life and just looks like a centre back playing in midfield, which to be fair he probably is. So with no obvious replacement in the squad I think the only way we can move forward is play five in the midfield and at least give ourselves a chance. Away from home this is how we have been so successful and it is not just because teams are more attacking at their own ground.
If we play three central midfielders then we can compete in midfield by utilising our players positive attributes rather than worrying about their negative ones. Jackson has the ability to score goals and create chances; he just needs someone to do the running for him so he can stay involved. Pritchard has the ability to do the running and hassle the opposition players into mistakes while also joining in attacks. So as far as I see it we just need a midfielder to sit and move the ball quickly and accurately so we can keep possession and get people forward to join in attacks. There are two obvious candidates to fill this role and they have different qualities that may suit it. For all his weaknesses Dale Stephens can pass the ball and with two other players in the middle with him he is a better player. However, he is young and has only played this role a handful of times at best. The other option is loan signing Mark Gower, who is very experienced and has a reputation as a very good user of the ball, but at 34 years old he’s not exactly a long term answer especially as there is no guarantee we even want to sign him at the end of the season. Either way I see this is as the option if we want to compete in these fixtures for the remainder of this season and looking forward to next year.
One more thing about yesterday’s game, I know Millwall fans are renowned for being a bit dim but a couple of their chants do beggar belief. “Danny Shittu, that’s what we do!” makes about as much sense as racially abusing your own players, and the old classic of “no one likes us, we don’t care” still makes me laugh. If you didn’t care you wouldn’t sing about it every week, no? Anyway, there’s always next season…hopefully!