A piece written exclusively for Stoketshirts.co.uk by former A View to a Kiln Editor Anthony Bunn
“Life’s not about how good you were. It’s about how good you looked”.
Eccentric ex-Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth muttered that quote sometime in the mid-80’s, and for the twelve months and two weeks we’ve been in the Premier League we’ve had to endure various media hacks having cheap digs at us on a regular basis. No worries, as said hacks looked rather foolish from up there in 12th position. But that was then…..
With the squad at our disposal, and it’s a squad that TP has built himself, we are forced to play in a certain way. That style of playing lends itself more to a) home games, b) home games and, er, c) home games, where the opposition are at the mercy of a small pitch, the Brit climate, and a team that’s driven by as hostile and vociferous a crowd that resides in this country.
Our problem last year – and, with just one addition to the squad since May it’s still apparent – is that once again, we are banking on Europa League home form simply to keep us up. Sooner or later a lack of away points catches up with you. And let’s face it, you can’t simply rely on repeating the heroics of last year’s performances in ST4.
We’re not suddenly going to go out and buy a new first eleven, so the style we play will hardly change, and it doesn’t have to at home. But what we have to do is to have a re-think about just how we’re going to play away from home in the next nine months.
The one glaring facet lacking in our play away from the Brit is our seemingly unwillingness, or inability, to pass the ball and retain possession.
To do that with one up front doesn’t work for me, especially with midfielders who very rarely get anywhere near, never mind in front of, the lone striker. And if we are going to play a lone striker it simply has to be Ricardo Fuller, who often single-handedly terrorises defences in the ‘channels’.
But what is imperative is finding those key players who are comfortable in possession, can take an extra touch, and pass it. We now have a little more pace in the team with Matthew Etherington, and it would be quite nice to see us pass the ball to him. At present, only Glenn Whelan looks capable of filling that role in my opinion. Who plays next to him?
Well, such is our lack of a cutting edge in open play that Rory Delap HAS to have a place in the starting line-up. He brings energy, drive and a willingness to track back, and despite the media hype, you simply can’t overlook the fact that his throw-ins and goals last season made-up virtually a third of our goals. No team can afford to leave a player out with those stats.
That might mean a bench spot for Dean Whitehead, but I don’t like going into any game with two holding central midfielders. We got away with handing the lion’s share of possession over to the opposition last season, but can we tweak our style slightly so that we get our fair share of the ball this time around?
Anyone who thinks we can go anywhere (never mind Anfield!) and bomb at teams is living on Planet Deluded. But what we can do is make sure that we add a touch of ball retention onto the many positives we do have.
Dave Lee Roth was wrong. Style isn’t everything. Some will never have style – just take a look at Phil Brown’s embarrassing ‘jumper-draped-over-the-shoulder-man-at-C&A’ get-up on Sky Sports last Sunday morning. Style isn’t just something you climb in the countryside, Phil! But you can change mindset and add that touch of quality that makes all the difference at places like St Andrews, where yet again the output from centre midfield was basically nil as an attacking or footballing force.
This season’s Premier League has started in a wide-open manner. Burnley have beaten two of last season’s top five and Wolves and Brum have done okay for themselves. I still think tow of those three will go down, but the Sunderland home game is already a massive one for us, especially when you see just who we have coming up after them.
If we don’t have at least one major signing that will improve the team, never mind the squad, and another couple of half-decent players (a full back and a nippy centre forward for me) then I feel that we might be hoping for the January window to come around as quickly as possible.
We are a team that cannot play at anything less than 110%. We don’t have the quality to make up for any lowering in passion and spirit and there will be some time – maybe this season, maybe next – when we don’t just have to have a Plan B, but to possibly rip up Plan A and devise a totally new one.
Is the above criticism of TP? Not really, no. He’s done a superb job and the least he deserves is our trust and patience. But as supporters, we also have the right to want our club to be as good as it possibly can be. When that ceases, then so does our progression.
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