Strange subs and the need for a Plan B

I remember my first fight at school. Martin, the kid’s name was. A little fella with an arrogance to rival Kanye West and an equally stuck-up hair do.

I’m not completely sure what the fight was about, although I vaguely remember him claiming I insulted his girlfriend – which I assume means she failed to recognise my esteemed wit and didn’t know how to take a joke.┬áIn reality the tussle was more likely cause by the fact that I was a cocky, little ginger git and I probably talked my way into the confrontation.

Anyway, I say ‘fight’ but what actually ensued was a slow, steady circling of opponents with each teen reluctant to throw the first fist. For my part, I’d already made sure that I was late to the bout, safe in the knowledge that I’d be saved by the school bell in 7 minutes time so if my debut in the ring (a literal ring of onlookers) went sour then I could just assume the fetal position and see the round out. Such tactics were unnecessary though as it quickly became clear that neither of us were willing to make the first move.

Both myself and Martin had adopted the a similar counter-attacking ethos and the non-paying spectators were treated to a very mediocre scrap. Kind of like last weeks match with Bolton…

(See, we got to the Blues eventually!)

Monk & co are building a very successful season based on counter-attacking football and the stats show that we’re happy just to let the opposition enjoy the lion share of possession whilst we sit back and wait to pounce. For the lesser teams; it’s a tactic we adopt for the full 90 minutes whereas the games against the Leeds’ of the division are more of a smash n grab affair followed by some expert shithousing and time-wasting – a field in which Lord Manbun absolutely excels.

It’s a great tactic for a limited squad such as ours but we do tend to hit a brick wall against teams that set themselves up in a similar fashion. Enter Bolton Wanderers.

In what was potentially the most boring half of football I’ve ever seen, both of the EFL black sheep proceeded to play a game of hot potato and essentially sat back and dared each other to go forward. Although it may be a cracking tactic against those that underestimate us, when counter-attacking football is used against us, we tend to struggle somewhat.

The Boro game is another good example. Many said that we dominated the second half and forced Pulis’ men to park every bus in Teeside in front of Darren Randolph. I’d suggest that this is only half true.

We DID control the game in the second half but I’d argue that this was because we were allowed to do so. Pulis did what Pulis does best and soaked up all the pressure. Then the minute we pulled one back they flicked a switch and caught us on a breakaway. Sound like a familiar tactic?

Of course, we didn’t help ourselves with the questionable substitution of Isaac Vassell on for Dutch Mike right after our equaliser went in. Although this was explained away by Monk in the post-match interview in which he stated that he wanted to go for the win; I can’t help but wonder whether that decision cost us a point. I think Isaac’s got a great future and he certainly added a spark against Forest a couple of weeks ago but were we right to bring a third striker into the fold rather than settling for the draw? Perhaps not…

Now I know what you’re thinking, “is this cocky, little ginger git questioning Monk?! Martin was right to fight him!”. Hear me out though.

I stand by our manager 1000%. He knows the squad and the game of football a hell of a lot better than I ever will and great men must make great decisions. However the substitutions are sometimes questionable to say the least. To bring it back to the Bolton game, one could ask how effective the decision to swap Lil’ Gards for the returning David Davis was. I’m sure Digga was raring to go and eager to show us why we may have been missing him but at 0 – 1 down against a team determined to sit back and defend, maybe the more attacking Conor ‘stud-muffin’ Mahoney may have been a better option? Or even Gards-the-elder?

And let’s not forget that Dutch Mike, who was probably our best player on the night, was sent for an early bath rather than the largely ineffective Maghoma who, I’m sorry to say, seemed to coast through yet another game.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – our job is done this season. We’re staying up and Che Adams will net us a tidy chunk of change in the summer with which to build a playoff chasing team next season. Although it would be a dream come true, I honestly don’t see us holding a playoff spot this year so dropped points here and there aren’t the be all and end all. However, as discussed in last week’s We Are Birmingham Podcast, we do need to work on our Plan B’s a little.

We need to work out how to break down opponents that insist on playing for the draw – that’s what the top teams do. It’s not easy and it can be frustrating as hell but there comes a time when we need to ditch the sit-back-and-wait vibe in favour of a more aggressive approach.

Conversely, when things ARE going our way, there’s no harm in suring up our defences and riding a game to its conclusion. In the midst of a QPR comeback, perhaps it was better to bring a more defensive player on rather than swap Jukey for Mrabti? Then again at 4 – 3 we swapped Che for Isaac when we really could have done with throwing Pedersen out there.

We’re flying at the moment and these are just little niggles but as it stands currently, if our counter-attacking doesn’t work – we’re stumped. If we don’t make effective subs – we’re snookered. And if Martin still wants it – I’ll meet him round the back of the science block at 3:15 and we’ll see who the REAL man is!

Mark Watson is a blogger and opinionist. He was a finalist in the Football Blogging Awards in 2018 and his work has appeared on numerous websites and match day publications. Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkWatson1875

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