When that was eventually done, I had a phone call asking me to come and help out some friends. That turned out to be a fool’s errand and when I got home at about 11 o clock, I found my Internet connection had packed up and has still not started working again at the time of writing this early on Sunday morning!
The upshot of all this is that I have only heard or read brief snippets about the 3-0 loss at Ipswich, so this cannot and will not be a detailed analysis of what happened at Portman Road. What I can say about it though is that I’m pretty certain that I’m not the only City fan who was not too surprised by the outcome. Although I ended my piece on the Peterborough win on an optimistic note, I think there was enough in it to suggest I wasn’t wholly convinced by what I had seen, so a trip to a ground of a team who were bang in form having beaten the league leaders 5-1 in their last home match hardly had me feeling optimistic – throw in the fact that Ipswich have become our biggest current bogy team in recent seasons and the game takes on all the appearance of a home banker!
No, this is going to be more of an analysis of what’s happened to us in our last five matches. Although Malky Mackay has continuously stressed that his team have not lost focus since we qualified for the Carling Cup Final, I’m afraid that it cannot be denied that recent performances and results have not been good enough for a top six side. In my opinion, we have not produced one what I would call complete performance since beating Palace. By that I mean a game in which we have produced a convincing performance which included two good halves of football. For me, we played well in the first half at Southampton, but were outplayed after the break, played poorly for ninety minutes against Blackpool (it was widely rated as our worst display of the season at the time), even worse at Leicester and spent most of the first half second best to Peterborough before going on to miss a hatful of chances in an otherwise good second half, before yesterday’s heavy defeat.Peter Whittingham and Michael Chopra in action yesterday - our player looks to have come out on top in this tussle between former team mates, it was very much a case of winning the battle, but not the war though.*
So, what has happened to turn a team who for twenty seven games were arguably the most consistent in the Championship into the struggling outfit seen since the Carling Cup Semi Final – here are what I feel are possible reasons for our decline;-
The Carling Cup Factor
I’ll start with the obvious one. Up to now I’ve agreed with Malky Mackay in that I believed that the character of our squad was such that the upcoming Cup Final would not be a distraction – I’m not so sure of that after yesterday though. Anyway, it’s one thing to talk about the character of the squad as a whole and another to talk about the individuals within it – the law of averages dictates that there will be some amongst a group of twenty odd people whose working performance will fall away prior to what will be a once in a lifetime experience for many of them.
To give an example (and this is not me saying that the player concerned has definitely taken his foot off the pedal in the last five matches) , back in the autumn Joe Mason spoke of his ambition to play at Wembley following the win over Burnley – now he is so close to doing so, can he really be expected to push thoughts of next Sunday to the back of his mind in the weeks leading up to the game? In a team game you only need three or four out of the eleven to be not quite “at it” for a match for it to become a factor in overall performance .
We are knackered
I’ve written a lot about the possible effects on some players of our high tempo approach as the season reaches it’s climax, so I’ll not be going into this in any great depth now – suffice it to say, that I don’t feel the team have shown the same intensity and effort in four of their last five matches as they did in the first six months of the campaign and all of the signs are that the same applied yesterday.
We aren’t good enough
There have been those who have maintained that we don’t have the quality needed to be a top six side and I’d guess that they are offering the last five matches as proof of that.
Our squad is too small
Malky Mackay spent much of the first half of the season saying his squad wasn’t big enough and I don’t think anyone would argue that only Craig Conway of those who have played first team football this season comes close to being termed an “out and out winger” – the fact that we signed a young winger last month and that two out of the three players identified as having been ones we tried to sign in January play in that position indicates that our manager thinks the same way as well.
One interesting side issue from yesterday is that, even in a game that was going so badly, Malky Mackay still did not turn to Earnie (who was making a very rare appearance on our bench). I’d say that this offers pretty convincing proof that, effectively, we are only considering three strikers for the first team (and one of those spends a lot of the time out injured).
Our opponents have worked us out
Is it significant that the only match we have won in our last five is the one where we played with two strikers? The tactical flexibility Malky Mackay has shown since August proves that he is far from being a one trick pony when it comes to what formation we play, but, after it’s initial success, have we become over reliant on the lone striker system?
I’ve set out what I consider to be the five most realistic arguments as to why we have suffered a slump in February, but I’ll say straight away that I’m not convinced by the “not good enough” one because it disregards all the evidence of six months and thirty odd matches in all competitions to the contrary.
As for the others, I’d say there’s a degree of truth in all of them, but I don’t see the one about our continuance with 4-5-1 as being a major consideration. In particular, I’d say that this one becomes irrelevant if a few things happen.
By this I mean that if what has occurred in our last five matches is solely down to the League Cup Final appearance (which I very much doubt), then we can expect normal service to be resumed after next Sunday. The trouble is, if we were playing Hull and not Liverpool next weekend, and results had been going the same way, I’m pretty sure that Malky Mackay would be having to field questions about our squad being “burnt out” now instead of the impact of a Wembley Final. To be frank, important players in the side have been lacking in their usual energy over the past five matches, so, I’d say it’s a case of wait and see for a fortnight – if we continue in March in the same vein, then Wembley will not have been the distraction many take it to be and the knackered argument becomes all the more powerful.
Either way, I’d say that, with some senior players like Earnie, Keinan and Quinn being very much on the outside looking in when it comes to first team selection, our squad is, in reality, even smaller than we might imagine. This makes it even more important that we have at least one new player in before we resume our league fixtures in what is a very hectic March – not to do so would place too much of a burden on a group of players who, recent results notwithstanding, have done us proud so far this season.
* courtesy of http://www.walesonline.co.uk/