To Start, Or Not To Start

Here is another article by almajir, originally posted on his blog here. He has given us permission to re-publish here.

For the second season in a row, Alex McLeish has opted not to start with his marquee signing striker in the first eleven, but to leave him on the bench. Whilst I believe Chucho truly wasn’t totally fit when we went to Old Trafford last season, many people are mystified as to why Zigic didn’t take the field at the start of play at the Stadium of Light.

It’s led to the inevitable criticism of McLeish which has dogged him over the last couple of seasons – why does he insist on leaving these players on the bench – with Michel, Chucho, and Mauro Zarate amongst some of the other examples given. What hasn’t helped is often these games are ones we’ve lost; or looked uncreative and guileless – and the perceived flair that the players left out would have brought to the team might have changed the situation.

I must admit, I’ve been frustrated with McLeish at times, but I do think he knows what he is doing. There is a definite aim I think from McLeish and his coaching staff to make us into a solid, dependable unit. Whilst it’s true that sometimes you need moments of magic from flair players to win games, I think the fear has been from McLeish that he doesn’t want to have to carry the players for the rest of the game in the hope that they’ll turn it on and win it for us. In Zigic’s case, I think there was a definite reasoning behind the decision – Garry o’Connor had played very well in pre-season and the idea of using GoC as a battering ram, tiring out the opposition defence before bringing in Zigic to use his superior skill against tired legs isn’t really a bad one; what didn’t help was that we’d conceded twice and was now chasing the game.

I think it’s 50/50 that Zigic will start at home against Blackburn. Looking at the Blackburn defence, you’ve got some hefty units in the shape of Christopher Samba and Ryan Nelsen, and whoever plays has got to be capable of taking some real heat from these no-nonsense mountains of centre backs. When we played them at home last year, we ripped them apart with the pace and guile of Chucho allied to the strength of Jerome, so it would make sense to me that we attack them in a similar fashion. Zigic is easily the best footballer of our front-men, and I think it comes down if McLeish trusts that he’ll be able to deal with the rough stuff whether he plays or not. I think Jerome will partner him, and our other new striker Matt Derbyshire will be on the bench, hoping for a cameo to come on and score past his old team.

I can understand why people get frustrated with McLeish – he is very safety first and I think sometimes is more eager not to lose than to ensure we win. To his doubters I’d point to the fact that we finished in our highest league position in my lifetime last year, so he must have some idea about what he is doing; we have to trust in him to continue to make the right decisions and get behind the team.

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3 Comments on To Start, Or Not To Start

  1. McLeish has talked about giving Zigic time so maybe he feels that he has not quite settled in England yet. I don’t mind the safety first approach in difficult away games, it’s when he did it at home to Hull that got me annoyed.

  2. The more that Zigic plays the quicker he will get used to the pace of the English game, bringing him on for 15 mins at the end of the game will not contribute to fitness or an ability to read the game.

    The final 15 minutes of the game are usually hectic and the risk that he then sustains an injury when he is not properly warmed up is good.

    Play to win please Alex, we all trust you, our first few games are potential wins if we go at them from the start, please dont approach the game from a don’t lose mentality where a draw is seen as a satisfactory result.

  3. Chucho, 6 goals in 4 games thus far for Santos in the best league in the western hemisphere ( Mexico) get him back to Europe please.

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