Having looked and whinged quite heavily about Sisu in part one of this blame-seeking series, we now take a jump to those in the thick of the action – the lads on the pitch.
I thought I’d change tack a bit for this piece and essentially look at each player individually. You may remember me doing something similar at the beginning of the season as I ran through the squad and gave some thoughts on everyone with a number.
This has its challenges. As fans we know only too well how easy it is to be blinkered by the occasional good performance and let that inform our entire opinion of a player’s abilities. Whether that’s dining off David Bell’s goal against Watford, Carl Baker playing in a good cross once, or that time Roy O’Donovan ran quite quickly.
It seems impossible to me to make a collective statement blaming “the players”. They all form part of a team dynamic, but there will always be exceptions who can hold their heads up high, as well as those who’ve clearly not performed well enough (whether that’s down to a lack of effort, luck, or them being genuinely useless).
So, the inquisition continues, only in a far more orderly fashion, as I whizz (and I use that term loosely) through our players and consider their contribution to the cause. Which players in our teeny-tiny squad have done the best they could, and who have been downright dreadful?
It’s worth noting I haven’t gone through absolutely everyone. These are just the main ones who I feel there’s something to say about. So take a deep breath, grab a Kitkat, and see what you think. As ever, I’ve gone overboard with the word count..
1 Joe Murphy (Goalkeeper)
We do need to be a little mindful when judging Joe. However you want to look at it, we were spoilt with Keiren Westwood and a comparison between to the two is never really going to be fair. They’re of completely different standards, and that has been very noticeable this season. He made some memorable saves throughout the season, as you’d expect. But he also made some shocking mistakes, remained planted to his line for the most part, and spent most of his time calling Chris Hussey a twat.
The problem with keepers and the hyperbole of the modern game is that every save is a seen to be a great one. I prefer to flip things around a bit and think about how I’d feel if the keeper didn’t make the save. It certainly changes your perspective of things, and separates the wheat from the chaff.
2 Richard Keogh (Defender)
I feel fairly well placed to give a balanced opinion on Rich, seeing as I’m a bit of Keogh-convert, having been supremely critical of him last year. I’ve thought the best of the man; I’ve thought the worst of man.
Fact is, this season he’s been just about the best we’ve had. The move to centre half allows him to contain his lunacy in defensive positions, which saves him the hassle of running out of ideas further up the pitch, which he tended to do frequently in his right back days. This year he’s had to choose his moments to attack far more wisely, and he’s done it terrifically.
But he’s a defender, and that’s what he should be judged on, and for the first 6 months of the season, he displayed a metronomic consistency. There were signs of tiredness in the final months, which is somewhat understandable, and resulted in a growing number of mistakes. Luckily, in true Richard Keogh style, he was also able to recover from them.
Not quite the impeccable campaign that some may suggest, but with his non-stop commitment and ability to regularly throw himself about for the cause, he was by far the best of a pretty poor bunch.
3 Chris Hussey (Defender)
It’s been a mixed campaign for Chris, but the main thing in my eyes, is that it was a full campaign. He’s constantly picking up knocks, but he’ll only get better the more time he spends on the pitch. He went through a tricky patch in the first half of the season, but was actually one of our strongest players in the final games of the season, when everyone else around him was failing miserably.
He’s a bit of a soppy sod, and could do without the grief he receives from Murphy all the time, but offers a decent threat down the left hand side. Overall, a decent campaign, relatively speaking – just needs to show a bit more conviction in what he does if he’s to progress.
4 Sammy Clingan (Midfielder)
Here we go. Prepare yourselves, because I’m going to be contentious. This shouldn’t be so, but as with Leon Best, Elliot Ward, Stern John – Sammy found himself as the whipping boy of the fans this year. It’s time for me to defend him. Just a little bit.
I’m not going to sit here and pretend that he had a successful campaign. He had some poor periods, and missed a chunk through injury. But when the main criticism of a player is that he passes the ball sidewards too often (especially in our team when the majority of passing option are hiding behind the opposition), you know there must be something more to it.
People no longer like him because it was clear he was planning to bugger off at the end of the season. I wasn’t particularly keen either, but to call the man a disgrace, and scream the words “forwards!” at him EVERY SINGLE TIME he had the ball, was plain mental. It didn’t help anyone. I’m all for forward thinking, but there has to be a method behind what you’re doing. You do not move forward for the sake of it; you value possession of the ball.
I watched him, and yes, I got frustrated that he wasn’t hitting the levels that we knew he could do. But I didn’t let the idea that passing sidewards is bad, or daft nicknames delude me into thinking he was an actual disgrace.
5 Herman Hreidarsson
HAHA. Herman came, looked well off the pace, then got injured. Last seen on Soccer AM. Heaven only knows if he’d have picked up or not, but this was another gamble that didn’t come off.
7 David Bell (Midfielder)
David Bell can perform to Championship standard, but is not Championship quality. He simply hasn’t got the required consistency.
He took that notion to extremes last year and performed well in one single performance that I can remember, and even that was as a substitute against Middlesbrough. Yes, he had good moments in other games, but a good moment here or there isn’t the same as genuinely playing well.
I don’t believe that any player we have goes out not to try, but in a season when he was bumped up to absolute first choice, he was a total let down and lacked the drive to make up for the mistakes that he was making when he was on the ball.
He’ll still be at the club next year thanks to a wholly undeserved contract extension. I’m sorry to get on at him, because he has shown technical quality in previous seasons, but his performance last year was unacceptable.
8 Carl Baker (Midfielder)
Bloody hell, not another one. Originally brought in to supplement the first team squad under Coleman, his cameo performances offered hope that he might be the creative type we’ve been lacking.
Just like Bell, he’s been thrust into main-man territory, and has struggled to live up to it. The odd good run followed by a woeful cross really wasn’t what we were looking for from one of our supposed senior players.
Blaming players seems harsh, as there’s only so much you can do with your ability. If you’re not good enough, you’re not good enough.
You can blame players for poor concentration and not being able to do the easy things though. A player should be able to make a 10 yard pass at any level. There was far too much sloppiness from Carl last season, especially in doing the supposedly simple things.
9 Lukas Jutkiewicz (Striker)
Lukas left. He scored pretty much all of our goals in the first half of the season, which was enough to maintain the attention of Middlesbrough, meaning he promptly disappeared off there as soon as the January window opened.
There’s no ill will towards him – no one can blame him for taking the opportunity. He certainly gave his all in the games he was here, and carried the burden of an impotent attack in gallant fashion.
If only he’d managed to score that penalty against Reading.
10 Freddy Eastwood (Striker)
Just a quick mention for Frederick. Technically, brilliant. Technically, unfit.
Or was it all a clever ruse because he was on mammoth wages? Always a fan personally, but I guess we’ll never know what went on behind the scenes. If it was fitness, he’s let everyone down.
11 Gary McSheffrey (Striker)
Of the entire squad, possibly the most frustrating of the lot, purely because we all remember what he was capable of. So very hit-and-miss all season, there were plenty of times when he should have been dropped, but we simply didn’t have any other options.
There were flashes of his quality – the goal against Brighton was McSheffrey at his best. The last minute penalty against Leeds was another clear highlight, but it was from the penalty spot where he also had his worst moments.
The miss against Millwall wasn’t the reason we went down, but at such a critical time of the season, it’s difficult to ignore the difference it could have made.
A personal frustration of mine is that he seems to have a real reluctance to change his mind. A strange issue you may think, but he became so predictable in his decision-making as the season wore on. The ball would roll out wide to him, and without fail he’d have it in his mind early that he would cross the ball first time, regardless of how the play developed around him. Even when he had time, he’d make that early decision, and never deviate from it.
Football is a game of instinct a lot of the time – it’s surprising how many players struggle when they’re given time on the ball. Just ask Gary Deegan.
12 Gary Deegan (Midfielder)
Speak of the devil. This was supposed to be the campaign when we finally got to see the real Gary Deegan, but even now I still feel as though we’ve only had a passing acquaintance.
His greatest asset is his alertness around the box and his instinctive play. Give him time to get his head up on the other hand, and he freezes.
He’s still relatively young, and has the potential with time and some nurturing to become a reasonably solid player for us. Never really made a mark on the season, though.
14 Cody McDonald (Striker)
Cody spent the majority of the season injured, or sat on the bench awaiting his chance to prove himself to us.
Having spent money on him, we expected goals, but they only really came near the end of the season once he’d settled down.
You have to admit he spent a lot of the games floating around the periphery of things, and there was a point when he looked as though he was going to let the season pass him by.
A few goals, including the memorable one against Hull, will leaving him feeling confident about finding his feet, but we need a whole lot more from him next season.
15 Martin Cranie (Defender)
Like Keogh, Cranie was largely dependable all season. When all around him were smashing and slashing at the ball, he remained composed and played with his head up and firmly screwed on.
The unfortunate thing for us now, is yet another asset who would command a fee, is more than likely to disappear for nothing if anything even slightly better comes up.
16 Oliver Norwood (Midfielder)
After an inauspicious start, Olly grew into the team dynamic, and showed himself to be a cultured and technically sound footballer. Was at his best nudged slightly to the left of centre, with the protection of Sammy to allow him to impact on the game further football.
Nothing but praise for the helping hand he gave us in his time here. Returns to United with a glowing reference.
18 Alex Nimely (Forward)
The reverse Olly Norwood in many respects. He started in phenomenal fashion, and immediately offered an attacking dimension that we’d been missing up until that point; pace. His impact in home games was noticeable, as he forced teams to play slightly more conservatively given the threat he posed on the break. The improved home record with him in the team was no coincidence.
He only scored one goal, however, and you could see how that began to play on his mind. Became less effective as we approached the most vital games, and didn’t show anywhere close to the right level of effort when we needed everyone to be busting a gut.
That might have been down to tiredness, seeing as the reliance on him was so great for such a lengthy period, but while his technical quality was never in doubt, his application was certainly questionable by the end.
19 Roy O’Donovan (Striker)
Roy did a little bit of running early on in the year, but still struggled to make the pitch very often. He’s one of those who will always give you the Robbie Keane enthusiasm, but did little in the minutes he did play to give us any hope that he could change our fortunes. Shipped out to Hibs.
22 Clive Platt (Striker)
Yet another player who we have to acknowledge his playing level before we say anything else. He can manage 2 or 3 solid games in a row, before the form drops. That said, for someone who is so lower league in all he does, he helped us out immensely with some top performances, which meant we actually developed a viable rotation system for our strikeforce in the second half of the campaign.
He’s an old swine now though. It’s only a matter of time before his age goes from being experience, to a hindrance. Some may say with the squad size we have at the moment, it’s already gone that way.
24 Richard Wood (Defender)
Another player who played hardly any games because of his injury-proneness. It’s a shame, because we know what sort of a player he can be. While it’s clearly not his fault he got injured so often, that wasn’t really of much use to us, and left us short on defensive cover for most of the campaign.
26 Jordan Clarke (Defender)
Came back from injury in the second half of the season, and jumped above Cyrus Christie in the pecking order. Had an overall assuredness about his performances in comparison to his earlier days, and showed some welcome invention in attacking areas.
I did have slight concerns about his attitude and his tendency to allow his head to drop. I’m not particularly hot on body language, but most Sky Blues fans will expect you to at least create the illusion of hard-work, even if you’re not. When things weren’t going right for us in the final games of the year, there was a lot of slouching and jogging about the place. Unfortunately, sauntering of any kind doesn’t seem to wash here. Just ask Jay Bothroyd.
30 Nathan Cameron (Defender)
A few cameo runs of games here and there, with some lunatic defending for good measure. Threw himself into every game, but simply too erratic to be considered first team right now. Ben Turner was the same when he first came on the scene, so it can be fixed.
31 Cyrus Christie (Defender)
To come into a team like ours is not the easiest of introductions for any player, but Cyrus can be pleased with his debut season in the first team.
In Patrick Van-aanholt fashion, I got the impression his attacking edge was curbed early on from the coaching team, and his game struggled as he fought a lot of his natural instincts. There was also a whole lot of smashing the ball out of play, which was seemingly another sign of the influence from the bench. And that’s my concern – we ruin yet another promising youngster with our draconian methods. Let’s mould him into our very own Kyle Walker.
32 Conor Thomas (Midfielder)
Another of the youth who has had a lot of growing up to do. Forget that he looks about 30, he’s still a baby, and is doing his best to learn his trade in what is a potentially damaging atmosphere.
He’s a great tackler, and has more vision that he seems to let on. Always looks a little panicky in attacking positions, with a reluctance to be the one to play the killer pass. No blame on him whatsoever though – he’s 18.
34 Gael Bigirimana (Midfielder)
Gael’s got sammink. It was a tough campaign for him in many respects as he still tries to catch up and compete physically with some of these brutes, and the sending off was a harsh lesson in curbing his enthusiasm in the tackle. But aside from that, he’s special talent, and one that we need to be very careful in nurturing. Quite whether Steve Harrison realises that is another issue.