I have something of a reputation for making excuses. In fact the more I wrote this blog and the more I confess to character faults the more I think I don't like me. Anyway I'm getting off subject.
I have been reluctant to make excuses for our performances this last month or so. Cries of "We've been found out", "We don't have enough quality" and "We are not hard enough" fail miserably to explain just why a team that seemed to beat all before it in the autumn can suddenly not string together three passes, can't keep a clean sheet, and can't score more than one goal a game.
Last night (well this morning, actually) it suddenly dawned on me that we have not been afforded the kind of protection against the teams that set out to 'bully' us as we need. I'm not only pointing the finger at referees here. Sure they have been less than helpful on occasion (last night being a good example) but it's not all down to them. What I'm really taking about is the lack of protection from our own players.
It would be too much of a jump to suggest that the loss of Danny Mills' hard man reputation caused us to fall down the table in 2008. There is something though, I'm sure, in having a strong man in the team to stop the 'weaker' players from being put off their game, by what my Dad always referrers to "Hairy Arse Defenders". For the record I have no idea just what my Dad knows about the bottoms of defenders, but I suspect you get the point.
If we had a Roy Keane (I know he was the ultimate enforcer) then I don't believe that Blizzard would have gone through Grant Basey like he did. Let's get one thing straight, I don't believe that there was any intention to do serious damage to Grant Basey, but there was the intention to intimidate. This doesn't absolve the player of the results of his actions, and as for Trollope claiming that he is not this kind of player that goes out to hurt people, I just don't care. The tackle was deliberately dangerous with the intention to 'make a statement' and that is just as wrong. It seems that Grant hasn't actually broken his leg, but I suspect that it will be several weeks before we see him play again, and it could, of course, have been much worse.
The authorities need to do something about this. If they do not then they are giving licence to teams of limited thugs to destroy 'the beautiful game'. I know this is the third division, but I can't help feeling that if this incident had happened to Wayne Rooney the guy wouldn't now be able to leave his house. I'm not saying that would be right, but there is no disincentive for another player to do that to us on Saturday - especially when it is clear that 'We don't like it up us'.
I'm not sure we have a player that can be an enforcer in our squad. Sam Sodje has the worst disciplinary record in our side, but he is just a bit of a headless chicken at times. Thus we have to accept that when we play a team that set out to be "Aggressive" as Trollope 'admitted' in his press conference, we are going to struggle. It is now public knowledge as well.
I hate to play a negative game but one thing that Curbishley knew was that if you can stop shipping goals, then you will stop losing, and give yourself a platform from which to go on and win a game. Thus I think we now need to forget trying to play pretty football. I think we need to forget going out to score three or four goals. We need to 'Shut up Shop!' I would go for a 4-5-1 on Saturday. I would start with the same side that won those six games at the start of the season - save for Youga, of course. Mooney and Sodje (A) have failed to gel with Burton in recent weeks and Shelvey was covering so much ground at the start of the season in a way than no one else in our squad can.
I would also give Sam Sodje a rest. I know we have not kept a clean sheet for eleven games, and Llera has been involved in that time, but I just feel we need a change and Sodje has looked more like a headless chicken in recent weeks. I have no idea who we are going to play at left back on Saturday, but that is a problem for another day - maybe an emergency loan.
I know Parkinson has rather committed himself to playing two upfront with the addition of two new forwards on loan in January (all be it that we had them in the run up to Christmas) but we have failed to look convincing with two upfront, save for the freak game at home to MK Dons and the 4-2 win over Bristol Rovers. I would argue, however, that any game where you concede two at home should not be held up as a good example.
Basically we have been able to bring in Mooney and Sodje (A) in on loan because their teams felt they were surplus to requirements, Reading are in the relegation zone and Sheff Wed two points above it, having played a game more. Basically they are limited. I know that is all we can afford right now, but Shelvey is a class act. I know he has had some indifferent games recently, but he has been played out of position. His best position is just behind the front man. the last player we had that was 'made' for that position was allowed to leave and was ridiculed by our fans only to go on to score 16 goals this season (already) for Palace.
Either we play Shelvey or he will leave. If we continue to shove him into whatever position we seem to have a problem with this week, he will probably leave for next to nothing, then move on for millions a couple of seasons later when he has been given a decent run in 'his' position. It's telling that in the 18 games that Shelvey has started we have averaged 2 points per game. In the 13 games that he hasn't started we've averaged 1.62 points per game. The vast majority of the games where Shelvey played in the hole (I make that 12) the average points per game was 2.08. I know this is a little specific and there are many other factors to be considered, but I'm convinced that we need to play more like the start of the season and a lot less like the last two months if we are going to make any inroads on the top two.
Having said that, I am inclined to believe that we cannot win automatic promotion now. Leeds have had a bad run recently, but over the season to date they have been much more consistent, and I can't see us winning five more points than them between now and May. I think we are more likely to be over taken by Huddersfield than we are to catch Leeds, although I don't think either will happen - but I could well be wrong.
With so many of our fans comparing this season with 2007/08 some of the players and possibly the management must have thought it. The similarities are there. We were in the hunt for a top two that season right up to Christmas. In the new year we fell away and then we kept changing the side, and brought in loan players to give us that je ne sais quoi to get into the top two. As we fell further behind we (Pardew) became more adamant that we could still avoid the playoffs. With eight games to go we were fifth and with four defeats in those eight games we did, indeed, avoid the playoffs.
I'm not saying that that is going to happen again this season, but something has to change because we have not looked convincing since we won 2-0 at Brighton on 1st December, and three of our four wins since then have been somewhat against the run of play. In some respects I'm glad it's not my job to sort it out, but Parkinson has, in my view, been given a lot of support both financially and from the fans this season. I accept that he inherited a mess in November 2008, all be it I think the season was still salvageable at that point, but he has had more than his fair share of resources this season, and anything short of promotion must be seen as a failure.
It is imperative that we get back to winning ways soon, but most importantly we need to go out and keep a clean sheet. Only Norwich have scored more goals than us this season, all be it they've scored thirteen more. Leeds have actually scored three less, and Huddersfield, who were scoring for fun earlier in the season have scored two less. The big difference, however, is that Leeds have conceded nine less. We need to get back to basics and that means starting at the back. We need clean sheets. I'm more than happy with a run of half a dozen boring 1-0 wins. starting this Saturday please Mr Parkinson?
Up the Addicks!