Travelling up to Barnsley today, I turned to my son and apologised that his run of no wins at away games (today was his third) was going to continue. Whilst that might sound negative, I’ve been to 4 of Steve Cotterill’s games in charge, and watched the other on the TV, and I’m not sure I’ve seen anything to suggest that my concerns of him being appointed were wrong.
Thinking back to the night of Cardiff, a change of manager, a football night match after an international break, I came away thinking maybe things are looking up, maybe I could’ve been wrong and he might be the guy. I even put it on the unforgiving internet…
Based on that game, hands up, Cotterill may prove me wrong. Decent football, tremendous fight #bcfc
— Chris Goulding (@Kristoff1875) October 13, 2017
There was one huge difference to the Cardiff game and the four games that followed… We scored after 19 minutes. This in essence changed the whole game from Cardiff’s point of view. As the game went on, they had to come at us and that left openings. Watching the highlight videos back, there are few highlights of Blues creating chances and it was more about us holding on to the clean sheet and seeing the game out. The players showed great heart and desire and came away with the win.
Looking back, one thing that really stands out to me now, is that goal, so far the solitary goal scored in the reign of Steve Cotterill, came from Isaac Vassell closing down the Cardiff keeper, who slices his clearance high in to the air and it drops to Che Adams. Che then carries the ball, cutting in from wide, and scores. This is the only goal under Steve Cotterill, and it came from a sliced clearance.
In my opinion, we’re playing very uninspiring football and being rewarded exactly as you’d expect. We’re not creating chances, we’re not scoring goals, and we’re not gaining confidence.
After that Cardiff game, we went to Millwall and proceeded to try and play ball after ball over the top. This worked against Cardiff to an extent, we’d got the goal and they had to come at us. Cardiff had to push and it left openings to be exploited. We go to Millwall and try to do the same, they sat deep and won everything in the air.
We came back to St Andrews for a derby against Aston Villa, our tactic again, long ball to N’Doye. It wasn’t any surprise that our best opportunity of the game came from Jota reading and intercepting a pass and running through for a 1-on-1.
The exact same drill was followed on Wednesday night and again today at Barnsley. The tactic seems to be, long ball to N’Doye, or in the case of today Jutkiewicz, and hope we can pick the ball up and play off them. Needless to say, most of the time we don’t.
The thing that strikes me most is that twice today, we got the ball down and played it around, the first time of which came when Harlee Dean of all people, carried the ball past our deep midfielders in to the Barnsley half and found a man. We then proceeded to move the ball side to side looking for openings. This move, if I remember correctly, ended with a chance that the stretching Sam Gallagher couldn’t quite connect with.
It was arguably the best football we’ve played in the last 6/7 games, however we only did it twice, for much of the rest of the game it was about playing the long ball.
You can only choose from what you’ve got available, that’s fair enough… And I’ll be the first to admit that Steve Cotterill has found himself really unfortunate with injuries to Isaac Vassell and Maxime Colin, both of whom were performing well. However the selections we’ve been seeing have been very odd.
Upon seeing the lineup today, I was of the belief that we had decided to go 442, the selection looked that way with Jota and Cotterill out wide, providing crosses for Gallagher and Jutkiewicz, then Davis and Kieftenbeld in a battling midfield.
Firstly, I was absolutely shocked that David Davis had been given the captain’s armband. Last season’s player of the season has arguably been consistently one of the poorest this season. His best game was probably the Villa game, in which he upped his game to ‘Ok’. I then found out that we were actually going to be playing a 4231 again, with Gallagher once again out wide. The totally obvious move to make with Maghoma, Boga and Adams all on the bench is to, apparently, play a young striker out wide…
Coming back to Davis and moving past him being made captain, he’s been consistently poor this season, his game today and recent form, was summed up by him clearing a ball that was going out for a Barnsley throw, in their own half, for a Barnsley corner… This was Cotterill’s chance to change this side around, and somehow Davis was still playing.
Meanwhile Craig Gardner was sat on the bench twiddling his thumbs. Now I’m not about to say Gardner is being unfairly treated not playing, he’s had chances earlier in the season and was also below par. However replacing Davis with Gardner would mean you still get an element of tenacity, although maybe not with the same level of energy, along with more ability on the ball.
On Wednesday night we also saw Che Adams playing in a central role, with Sam Gallagher out wide. To me, and most Blues fans I’ve spoken to, this is utterly bizarre. Gallagher is a striker. He’s 6ft 4, he scored 12 goals for a Blackburn side that was relegated. Quite how anyone can come in and say he is more suited to playing wide is baffling. Pair this with playing Adams central on his own, and it just seems to make such little sense.
The first real sign of odd substitutions came against Villa. When Issac Vassell went off just before half time it forced Cotterill’s hand to make a change. The options were fairly straight forward for most supporters. Gallagher and Jutkiewicz on the bench, straight swap. On comes Gallagher, and as mentioned above… he’s playing out wide. Cotterill had the following to say on this:
He’s better out there than he is centre-forward. He will play his better football out there wide because he is a 6ft 4ins striker who doesn’t always play like a 6ft 4ins striker.
Just because he’s big it doesn’t mean to say he always plays well with his back to goal, he’s not always the best in the air.
For me, what playing Gallagher wide actually did was completely killed any threat from Che Adams and had Sam Gallagher offering nothing down the wing.
Fast forward to Brentford, Maxime Colin goes off injured and David Cotterill is bought on. Now i’m not going to fault Cotterill, he did a job there, although at times he looked a bit suspect, he did well. However on that bench he had both Harlee Dean, a centre half, and Craig Gardner, who’s played over 40 games at right back in the Premier League. Yet for some reason, the change that jumps out to Cotterill is a winger who is far from defensive minded. Later on, Kieftenbeld, who is still working is then taken off whilst Davis remains on the pitch and Jota is replaced by Gallagher, once again whilst Boga is on the bench.
Today at Barnsley, Blues looked poor, yet it took until the 69th minute for a change. Blues fans sarcastically sang “Cotterill make a sub” and chanted “Ooo Jeremie Boga” as they could see it wasn’t working, but until nearly the 70th minute (and 2-0), it remained unchanged.
Am I calling for his head? I don’t like to, generally.
I gave Zola until that Wigan game before I gave up on him. Under Zola there was a direction, there was a game plan. Sure, maybe he tried to implement that plan too quickly, with players that couldn’t do it… We saw some brilliant performances under Zola that weren’t just battling performances though. We came away from games, notably the game before Wigan, where we lost 3-1 to Leeds, despite dominating the game and looking like we should’ve been a side battling for promotion. However under Cotterill, I’ve seen nothing in these opening 5 games that show me he’s going to try and get them playing any differently to what we’ve seen.
I don’t believe that Steve Cotterill has any intention of changing how we’re playing. I think he believes results will come and that we just need a bit of luck, that “rub of the green”. He talks a good game, he says the right things, but being nice in press conferences doesn’t get you points on the board. We’re essentially playing lower league style football at the moment. Kick it long, win a header, everyone chase it, if you get to it, try and create something, if you don’t chase it back. Can players play 3 games in a week that way? It’s a big ask, and I don’t think they couldn’t be bothered today, I think it’s more that they were blowing out of their arses. Make the ball do the work, play football and be ballsy.
Assuming he isn’t sacked, and that he doesn’t walk away… Prove me wrong Steve… You’ve got 2 weeks now. Work with your players, come back against Forest with a new game plan, one that the fans can see ideas working, one that the players don’t have to knacker themselves out every game playing. Fans love effort, fans can accept less effort if a team is playing well. Fans can’t accept less effort and poor performances.