The home game against Ipswich earlier this season is one that is going to stick with me for a long time, whether I like it or not. Not (just) because it represented a low point of my time watching Latics (one of many) but because I had the cheek to write an article that stated my opinion that, despite victory, the way Latics had approached that game wasn’t good enough.
It was an opinion that stirred quite a few emotions. I was hauled up in front of a Twitter court and found guilty of attempted assassination (or something similar) before I’d even knew the discussion was going on, whilst messages of support came more directly to my face, by texts and other messages from people who either wanted to let this particular dazed dog lie, or we’re too wary of subjecting themselves to the same fate I had, and who could blame them.
Anyway, less of the martyrdom and more of the point of this article.
I wrote the previous article on the eve of Latics’ tenth game of the season, Saturday’s game at Yeovil was the 18th, so all things considered it’s probably worth another look at how things are going.
Twenty games is more than half a Premier League season so surely it’s safe to have formed an opinion by now?
It’s probably best to get the good stuff out of the way first and the over-riding thing about this season so far is our results. I don’t envy anyone who has to travel several thousand miles and put a shift in, between two important league fixtures (unless, of course, the trip involved the trans-Mongolian Express , copious amounts of ale and a hangover busting dose of Kazan pie) and sandwiching the game in Russia with two hard earned league wins has left us in good shape in the table.
They say winning games when you’re not playing well (more of that later) is a sign of champions and, whilst I’m not drunk enough to make that sort of claim, you’d have to be happy with being a game in hand away from a play-off place AND being in with a good chance of qualifying for the knock out rounds of the UEFA Cup. Wouldn’t you?
Well of course you would, I’m not totally ungrateful, you know.
The other thing that’s good to see is how well the squad is holding up. I suppose it’s tied up with the results, but Coyle seems to have a big enough and strong enough squad to do the sort of juggling that our season so far has demanded. Or at least that’s true from a defensive perspective.
The manager has definitely shuffled his back four and defensive midfielders up this season. However, their current standing as the third most miserly back line in the division and the way Lee Nicholls is currently collecting clean sheets like Match Attack Cards are about as much evidence as you need to say that the manager has built a unit capable of withstanding pressure. Which is some achievement after some genuine concerns about how brittle Latics looked early in the season.
But as John Barnes once took time out of his busy suit buying schedule to opine teams have to defend and attack and, at the moment, the latter has to be of concern to anyone concerned with Latics at the moment. Their tally of seventeen goals is better than only five of our competitors and equal to the team our game in hand is against, 21st placed Sheffield Wednesday (and, for the sake of balance, 3rd placed QPR) and no-one is really certain about where Grant Holt’s next goal is coming from.
There are two main schools of thought on why our strikers aren’t scoring goals. Thinking that Fortune is a crap finisher and Holt has just got fat and old all of a sudden is fine if you want to keep things really simple and are happy to ignore the fact that they were both Premier League footballers playing valuable roles for their clubs up until they joined Latics. It’s also fine if you also want to ignore the view that getting the best out of what we’ve got is what we do around here these days.
The other school of thought, to which I’m a card carrying member, is that trying to turn Grant Holt into Kevin Davies may not be the way to get the best out of him. Asking him to play for long periods facing his own, rather than the opposition, keeper certainly isn’t going to improve his goal tally. It also makes him easier to contain and whereas we started with a centre-forward that most of the division would fear, we’ve currently got a bit of a pussycat who might give you the occasional scratch, but in general appears to keep himself to himself.
Fortune is a bit more of an enigma but he’s never been that out and out front man and I’d hazard a guess that, at 32 years old, he’s one leopard that isn’t going to change his spots.
The real thing with our forwards is that they were both brought in by Coyle and so we have to assume he had some kind of a plan of how to use them. The common refrain is that we’re a striker light (or at least that’s what I think people are saying when Fortune spurns his chances), Jordan Rhodes seems to be everyone (except my)’s favourite but would you really trust a manager who’s side are struggling to create real chances with £8m for someone else to jog about like they’re waiting for the 352 on a cold winter morning?
And I suppose, after the good & the bad, that brings us nicely to the ugly.
For four years I listened to people criticise Martinez for trying to turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse and, with relegation as evidence to the contrary, I’m not going to try and argue that point right now. What I will say is that Bob might not have left us with that silk purse, but I reckon we had a nice leather wallet. Something with form, as well as function. Our current alchemist seems to be trying to convert that back into a pig’s trotter.
Yes, that’s a Bolton reference, except comparing our current set up to that of the offspring of Allardyce is still looking a little generous.
Big Sam’s teams might not have been pretty on the eye, but like JJ yesterday, I’d go as far as saying they had an identity. They had science, they had intent, they had purpose. Above all else, they had (a) tactic(s).
Coyle has previously been dismissive of any talk of (his) tactics and I’m still not certain whether what we’re watching each week is a tactical mess or a battle between a set of players, most of whom, have an ingrained instinct to play a certain way and a manager who wants the opposite.
It’s creating end to end football, and I know some people find that entertaining. I sort of get that, people want to see chances in games, but I’d rather see them all be at one end, I’d rather see our defence as part of the team rather than a barricade against the opposition. I’d rather see us dominating games, dominating the ball and dominating the other team. Of course we won’t ever have that every week, but that’s no excuse for trying.
As far as entertainment goes, I’d rather watch an artist over a pragmatist, and I’d pick football over ping-pong any day of the week. Style over success? Well, I’ve already done that one to death
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