Just another win on the old board. No biggy..

Ah, to be cool about these things. That’d be nice, wouldn’t it.

Whilst vital for the team and the context of our revival, from a purely selfish viewpoint, it also meant I was able to enjoy the remainder of my weekend for a second week in a row. This delighted me (and the eternally-patient Mrs Sky Blues Blog) immensely.

I treated myself to a film, chain-ate wine gums all night, then lay in bed on Sunday beyond a socially-acceptable time. All safe in the knowledge that my football team had won. Leroy and Manish were spared, and I generally refused to give too much of a monkeys about what was being said online. We had three points, and it felt nifty. It’s how life should be. I want more.

I’m living in the moment a little bit, obviously, but mainly because we’ve not being able to do this much in recent times. We need to afford ourselves these moments of pleasure.

7 points out of 9 has made for a successful week for us, but I’m not naive enough to think that everything’s going to be magically fine from this point onwards. Yes – the points are all that matter at the minute, but there are still plenty of pressing concerns about the performances. The good news is that Robins is openly acknowledging this too.

The results of the last week will be doing wonders for momentum, but as I mentioned in my pre-game ramble – there’s still loads to do to turn these from the bumbling 90 minute displays we’re getting at the moment, to the convincing and organised ones which are required to ensure the direction of the season is under our own control.

Tension

I won’t dwell on Saturday’s first half too much. But for a team that’s supposedly undergone a thorough overhaul since relegation last year, it was disturbingly familiar to everything we’d been subjected to then.

Our players still seem fragile. They’re hugely cautious, which in turn leads to lack of conviction in pretty much all they do. The Bournemouth game was rife with first touches flying off out-of-control, rolling up legs and bobbling under ankles – the tell-tale signs of nervousness and tension when receiving the ball.

On the occasions when they did figure out how to bring the ball under their control, the possession also lacked any genuine purpose. Aside from the sloppiness and regularity with which we handed back possession, what really struck me were the missed opportunities and small margins for error which can go unnoticed when the pass still hit its intended target.

Let me bore you for a sentence or two with what I mean. Let’s say you make a pass and it goes to your teammate, that’s jolly good right? The stats man will credit you with it and you’re well on your way to being the next Xavi.

What the stats don’t tell you is the effectiveness of the pass, and just how accurate you were with it. Let’s imagine our passes are hitting an archery board (if that’s in any way a useful analogy). Most at the moment are hitting the little blue and black strips outside the centre portion, rather than the really useful yellow and red bits in the middle. When we need to play the ball into our players’ stride, it’s instead falling behind them or sticking under their feet, making them check their entire run or attacking momentum.

OK, this may seem like petty little margins, and have little bearing on things in the grand scheme of the match. But when there’s a chance to break, the pace, shape and position of the pass is just as vital – it goes beyond simply getting it to your player. You can’t build up any fluidity or trust if you’re always having to prepare yourself for how misplaced Nathan Cameron’s next pass to you is going to be.

I know, beggars can’t be choosers and it’s better they make the pass than not at all – but if we’re serious about imposing our supposed quality on the league, these are the sorts of things and margins in our game that need to improve.

While it was a unnerving first half, with very little sign of the influence of Robins, something definitely stirred the lads at half-time. There was the introduction of an additional body up front in the form of Callum Ball, which provided an immediate tactical advantage, and also an almighty change in tempo.

We tend to find the main way of judging the match is on its individuals. While there were some much-improved performances in this respect, I felt the tactical shift and increase in speed were the adjustments which really swung the tide of the game in our favour.

Float like a Callum Ball

Callum Ball entered the fray and developed an immediately tasty-looking understanding with McGoldrick, often alternating their position to confuse the defence about who was taking up the deeper forward role. Ball’s not had the most inspiring of starts to his time with us, but Saturday showed what we could start to expect. He’s not just a chunky unit who we’ve employed to get his back in and raise a little menace – he also showed a deceptively twinkly feel for the ball with that left-boot of his.

A few moments stood out. The goal was due to some neat inter-play between him and McGoldrick, and the touch he showed to lift the ball over the defender and actually into the path of his strike-partner, showed his vision for a pass, and also demonstrated the value of actually playing the ball into your team mate’s stride.

He also played two sexy-as-hell long balls which had me an my pal drooling with delight. Having those passes in his locker was shocking enough, but what felt most telling was the confidence he was starting to feel which actually allowed him to give those types of passes a go.

Baker debate

Over the course of the ninety minutes, there weren’t many stand-out performances, which was partly down to the enormous drag factor of the opening half. From my perspective, I felt that James Bailey provided a fairly metronomic consistency with his positioning in the centre, and Jordan Clarke’s levels sky-rocketed once he began to display real purpose and directness down the right in the second half.

The one cause for post-match contention was the assessment of Carl Baker. This stemmed mostly from the phone-in afterwards with Linnell and the boys on BBC Coventry and Warwickshire.

It’s not often you see such a wild split of opinion about a performance, but Baker provided that as many were placing him as Man of the Match, while a significant selection of others were coming down quite hard on him.

Now, I’m no Linnell, so I’m not going to sit here and state point blank that my opinion is the correct one and you should all just accept it. Judging player performances is always so subjective and often comes down to something as simplistic as what type of players you prefer.

Personally, I think he did reasonably. But no more than that. The one area he excelled in was his second half work-rate (although by excel I really mean work as hard as all players should do by default). I thought his quality with the ball, was mostly average, and often quite poor. And it’s in this vastly contrasting performance levels where the impasse may lie.

For instance, some people really liked Michael Doyle. He gritted his teeth, legged it all over the shop, and made it seem as though he was trying for the shirt. As fans we love this, and why wouldn’t we? It’s the bare minimum we expect from all our players.

What this level of effort often does however, is mask some of the failings of the other aspects of the individual’s game.

On Saturday, Carl Baker gave the ball away a fair bit. But he worked tirelessly to win it back when he did mess up. It just so happened he gave the ball away so much that he spent pretty much the entire game bombing it around trying to rectify mistakes.

But what part of the passage of play are we supposed to value more? The quality of his distribution as one of our most important creative options? Or the level of desire he showed as our brand new captain to make up for his relentless error-making?

It’s a tricky one, but I think we need to be looking for better from our players with possession, and treating that side of the game with equal value as the hard-work.

I agree that he was probably our most determined player. But working-hard and showing quality on the ball shouldn’t be mutually exclusive. Against Birmingham earlier in the campaign, he did both, and in doing that he also set himself a standard. A bar of quality that he showed he was capable of. That performance was worthy of being called “outstanding”, because he played fantastically well.

The exaggerated enthusiasm on the radio in an attempt to enforce their opinion of him was not something I could agree with. Not because I didn’t think he worked hard or tried his best for the team – but because I don’t think he displayed enough quality in his application with the ball.

If he gets them both right, then we’ve found ourselves a proper captain. But right now, I’d say he’s still got a bit of work to do.

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2 comments

  1. Something Mark Robins said after the Oldham win impressed me (I’ve been meaning to tell you), something along the lines of “we’ll take time out to enjoy this win because the club hasn’t been used to celebrating wins recently”. The idea that even as a new manager and knowing full well the task at hand (after what was a pretty abject performance) he saw the value in celebrating a win, I think we’re beginning to see the first signs of the positive effect he is having now.

    As for fans opinions of players, I always seem to be watching a different game to everyone else, Stephen Hughes easily makes my top 5 midfielders of the past 20 years while I genuinely think Guillame Buzeulin would have gone on to be a gem of a player if we would have been patient enough. We don’t really do patience though.

    Top post as always.

    1. Thanks Mr H.

      I’m right with you on the Hughes and Beuzelin judgments. It always seemed to be a toss us between Doyle and Hughes – you were either pro-SH or pro-Doyler. I always found myself erring towards Hughes, but that wasn’t fashionable because he wasn’t a maniac. Boozy on the other hand could have been great for lots of other teams.. We just didn’t suit players who dared to knock the ball backwards.

      I think it’s key that Robins recognises the flaws in our mindset and does all he can to cultivate a change in them. Not being scared to win being one of them, and also setting three points as the benchmark, rather than coming out with exactly the same response whether we win, lose or draw.

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