This is a long post, but I hope you find it interesting.
Another season and another escape. While that’s good news, the manner of our escape this season feels VERY different. Previous seasons, although things hadn’t been great, we did fight and scrap to survive. This year it’s like the season ended at lockdown, and the players only came back reluctantly to finish the season. More about that later. The truth is, if the season was another couple of games – we WOULD have gone down. So what now?
To discuss this, I want to look at three areas. The players, management / coaching and the board. I’ll look at them in order.
While we haven’t been ripping up trees, prior to lockdown – we were ok. We had some good performances and picked up important points. We were on target for a just below mid table finish. I think on paper, the individual players we have, mean that we probably ought to finish higher than that.
Our form at the lockdown was pretty good. We played 12 games from the start of the year to when the season was halted. We had won 4 matches, 3 away with 3 of those wins in February. We drew 6, split evenly home and away and only lost 2 games – none away. That gave us a total of 18/36.Our goal difference for those games was +4, (20 for and 16 against).
A couple of those draws we were unlucky not to win – however as I said previously, that form was a just below mid table. We were doing Ok.
It seemed like Pep had found a system that worked and the players appeared to know what they were doing. However the loss to Wigan at home the last game pre-lockdown, wasn’t a great performance – maybe the warning signs were there.
We came back and recommenced the season in June. Look away now if you are squeamish! We played 9 games post lockdown. We didn’t win any and only drew 3. That gave us a return of 3/27. By anyone’s standards, that’s shocking. Added to that was the failure to beat Charlton or Hull at home – was poor. Small credit for the fightback against Hull – but we shouldn’t have shipped them a 2 goal start anyway!
The standout stat though is the goals, we only scored 6 goals, while conceding 18. Whichever way you look at it, number of wins, number of points or the goals – that was relegation form.
So what happened?
Maybe the players thought the work had been done and they could eek out a couple of wins and we’re sorted. To be fair, that turned out to be true. The equivalent of the one win we picked up WAS sufficient. However, there appeared to be no fight or passion in most of the games. There were little phases here and there like the Hull game to come back and we did pretty well against Albion – but nothing consistent.
Was the manager’s announcement a factor? Possibly, I’ll talk about that in a while – the truth is, no matter WHO the manager is, if you pull on a royal blue shirt with the globe and ball logo on – you are expected to play, fight and commit to the cause. I saw virtually none of that. Actually I’ll go further, I don’t think I have ever seen a Blues side so spineless, impassioned, or lacking commitment as this one. It is very depressing as a fan for almost 50 years. Let me put a caveat in here. The only player who DID appear to care, was Jude. In several games he was trying to get engagement from his team colleagues was seen shouting at them. This is amplified by his last interview where he publicly apologises for exactly the point I made. HE IS ONLY 17 – good on you lad, and I wish you every success.
There seems to be little or no creativity, the defenders seem to not know each other or have a game plan – the last few games, it was headless chicken stuff. Of course we’re also not scoring goals – partly because whether we’re playing one or two upfront, they appear completely isolated. Is that the players, the system or the manager? I have no idea – the annoying thing is, they CAN clearly play – because they were doing so before the break.
Sadly I think there are players who don’t want to be at the club. This must affect other players, so if this IS the case – I hope they go. We need a team that want to play for the club. Now I realise that players are affected by other things, and I will discuss that shortly.
So I’ll look at the manager now.
Pep took over last June after Monk’s departure. His overall record doesn’t look great with 47 played, 13 wins, 15 draws and 19 defeats. That gives him a win percentage of 27.7, (worse than Lee Clarke!), which feels very unfair to me.
However if you remove the post break games, that improves to 34.2%, which feels about right and backs up the stats I gave earlier. In my opinion, Pep isn’t a bad manager. I actually think given time, he would have produced a decent side. I don’t think there are many Blues fans who dislike Pep. He comes over as very affable, and clearly is a decent coach. I guess there is a question over whether he can fulfill the traditional English manager role though.
His announcement about leaving, while brave and probably with good intention – sadly it seemed to have had a real detrimental affect. The players appeared to not want to play for him. Is that because they love him and didn’t want him to go? Or is it something else. We’ll never know, but something clearly happened. A team doesn’t go from the reasonable performance we had prior to the break – to completely poor without a reason.
I actually feel sorry for Pep, because I think he is being made a bit of a scapegoat by some fans. I will reiterate, I think we would have finished comfortably without the break. Of course none of us know if he was going to leave anyway, and by the way he spoke – that may well have been the case.
So the final section is the board. I wrote this blog just after Pep announced he was leaving. In that blog I argued that the board appear to have no emotional connection with the club. Within football, often managers and players do, and from time to time you get a Dave Whelen come along who was from the town and “got” the club. Unfortunately foreign owners don’t usually. It’s not their fault, the culture of football is different in Europe and especially in the UK that other parts of the world. The only people who are genuinely emotionally attached are the fans – they are also the only constant part of any club – something many boards don’t get. As I said in my other blog – my sons are 4th generation Blues fans.
I’m sure our board members do mean well, but their actions are actually incongruous with the history of our club. For a start the number of managers we’ve had. We have had 7 managers, including caretakers, in 4 years. The previous 7 spans 14 years! While I accept that a couple of those probably deserved it, it’s still a worrying trend.
YOU HAVE TO GIVE TIME. You can’t keep sacking managers. There are good reasons. Firstly if the fear of being sacked is there, it puts off some people – who actually might be good. Secondly it just ruins continuity. Sometimes it takes time to build a side. Take Fergy. He had a poor run when he started at Utd – but because he WAS given time, well – you know! Although I hate relegation, I’m of the opinion that if it happens so be it – as long as the side is heading in the right direction, that’s what matters. Wolves are a great example. Not too many years ago struggling in the 4th teir, most of their ground closed for safety reason – now they are fighting at the top of the Premier League. There HAS to be a long term plan, and you have to commit to a manager. Otherwise what is happening now will carry on. A good mate has a saying, if you carry on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll carry on getting what you always get.
We have to break out of this cycle and it starts at the top. While I accept there has been investment in players, we need that investment in management and allow them to conduct training, team selection etc. It is NOT ANY of the board’s business. They should go nowhere near it.
So this is a bit of a depressing time for us, but I hope that the board wake up to the fact that they carry fault for where we are and it isn’t all the manager and players.
We go again in a couple of months – last game relegation fight anyone?
To reinforce my point about the board not getting it, I have just heard that they have retired the number 22 shirt. So this is a shirt that a 17 year old used for just over a season. HOW SMALL TIME! I am genuinely aghast at this. I could understand it if a player who had been at the club for many seasons who then passes away. However you don’t for this!