The strangest Blues lineups of the decade

A football fan’s favourite past time is to dwell on the past. There’s no doubt about it – away day triumphs, crushing ends to cup runs and significant historical events are always not too far away from a discussion, whether it’s in the pub or online.

Blues fans in particular love to talk about the ins and outs of the clubs squad listings, citing club legends like Trevor Francis or Christophe Dugarry or flops like Daniel De Ridder and Marcus Bent. Comparing these players and how they faired under different managers is no rare conversation and the topic will always come back to how the respective manager at the time set up their teams to be successes or failures. We could take the time out to look at the icons of the club, the players and managers who through ability or tactical knowledge brought this club success and analyse how each decision was made to bring home a win. But today we’re not going to do that.

In this blog, I want to take a look at the downright strangest lineups that blues fans have bared witness to over the years – the starting 11’s that was met with a unanimous “Huh?” at the time but may have been long forgotten since. I didn’t want to go too far back so I’ve kept it within this decade and split this piece into three rather obvious categories: The Clark Era, The Zola Era and The Cotterill Era.

Warning: None of these are pretty, but what’s a bluenose if they can’t laugh at their own club from time to time?

The Clark Era

GAME: Leicester (A)

DATE: August 24th, 2013

RESULT:3 – 2

Starting off nice and strange here with an early season loss away at Leicester as Lee Clark fielded a back five that probably wouldn’t have stopped a stationary truck from getting past. Paul Robinson in the middle was never a bad decision but putting him alongside Hayden Mullins, who was, in turn, put alongside left winger Shane Ferguson at left back was just inviting Leicester’s right wing to “come and have a go”. Pair this with the never dependable Eardley at RB and it’s no surprise we conceded three that day. This also was one of what was thankfully only a handful of starts for Matt Green too.

GAME: Leeds (A)

DATE: October 20th, 2013

RESULT: 4 – 0

Blues were trounced by the might Leeds that day in October and it’s not hard to see why.  A decent back three by championship standards was cancelled out by a mind-boggling midfield that saw right footer Chris Burke on the left, right-back Paul Caddis on the right wing and left-back David Murphy next to him. Now I’ll admit I don’t have any coaching badges, but I reckon when a LB and RB are playing next to each other and they’re BOTH out of their usual positions it’s just a recipe for disaster – which is exactly what the game turned out to be.

GAME: Brighton (A)

DATE: January 11th, 2014

RESULT: 1 – 0

Only one goal conceded that day – not bad by the standard we’d set at the time, but setting up with Wade Elliot on the wing and having the oh-so-dependable pairing of  Olly Lee and Callum Reilly covering the middle of the park it should’ve been obvious we were never going to come away with three points. This was probably why Zigic and Novak didn’t see much action that day. Also, Hayden Mullins again.

GAME: Bolton (A)

DATE: May 3rd, 2014

RESULT: 2 – 2

Great escape day. One of the most dramatic games in the clubs history and one we all remember with great joy. But let’s just take a moment to ask how in hell we managed to stay up when we put out a starting 11 that I can only imagine Clark picked while blindfolded. Midfielder Callum Reilly at left-back. Paul Caddis in centre-midfield. Hayden Mullins. The fact that this team didn’t get relegated proves to me that Clark truly was a wizard. A mad wizard – but a wizard nonetheless.

The Zola Era

GAME: Derby (A)

DATE: December 27th, 2016

RESULT: 1 – 0

Zola may have inherited a team that wasn’t able to adapt his style of play but that doesn’t excuse the fact he consistently threw out starting 11’s like he was asking to questioned. Greg Stewart, a rather underwhelming signing from Rowett’s summer before was utilised in a second striker/ attacking midfielder role far too often for someone who was clearly more comfortable on the wing. That, and I personally never liked David Davis playing on the wing.

GAME: Fulham (H)

DATE: February 4th, 2017

RESULT: 1 – 0

Zola’s one and only home win somehow came from fielding two left-backs in the back four, 4 centre-midfielders and the prolific goal-scoring prowess of Jerome Sinclair. The fact that there were no natural wingers in this team and only one on the bench might’ve given away how we were planning to go forward, but it seemed Fulham couldn’t work that one out and were left astonished when a plummeting Blues bested them at St. Andrews.

GAME: Preston (A)

DATE: February 14th, 2017

RESULT: 2 – 1

Another week, another unsurprising loss as Zola’s Blues were surprised to see Preston put two past the surely impenetrable wall of Johnathon Grounds and Krystian Bielik. Again, Zola’s dependence on Keita and Nsue covering the wings while Kerim Frei was left to sit in ‘the hole’ proved to be another fruitless venture. Got to give him credit though, starting Che and Juke was an unconscious stroke of genius (that sadly didn’t bear fruit until two years later).

GAME: QPR (H)

DATE: February 18th, 2017

RESULT: 1 – 4

While playing Sinclair and Stewart was never going to trouble defences, what’s more concerning here is the fact Zola thought it might’ve been a good plan to place 5’7 Josh Dacres-Cogley in the heart of the defence against a QPR team spearheaded by the towering Matt Smith. If there was any hope this head-to-head might’ve been a David v Goliath affair – it wasn’t. Goliath helped QPR put four past us in one of the season’s lowest points.

The Cotterill Era

GAME: Brentford (H)

DATE: November 1st, 2017

RESULT: 0 – 2

At a quick glance, there’s nothing particularly wrong with this starting 11. Sure, Adams isn’t as effective on his own up top but the real highlight here is Cheikh N’Doye playing as an attacking midfielder. A CAM, as they call it, requires good feet and a good eye for a pass. N’Doye had neither of those things and so playing him in that role was pointless. In fact, playing N’Doye at all was pointless, as we all came to find out.

GAME: Barnsley (A)

DATE: November 4th, 2017

RESULT: 2 – 0

Sam Gallagher on the wing.

GAME: Fulham (A)

DATE: 9th December 2017

RESULT: 1 – 0

Look at that absolute mess of a back line. Look at it. If you can pull yourself away from Boga playing up top for some reason, the sight of wing-backs Ground and Cogley covering the centre of the defence along with the uninspiring Cohen Bramall down the left was probably the best gift Fulham got that season next to promotion.

GAME: Barnsley (H)

DATE: February 24th, 2018

RESULT: 0 – 2

It seems Cotterill had a soft spot for Barnsley as both fixtures saw him set up a starting 11 that unsurprisingly handed them a win both times. The home game saw Adams being placed on the wing (???) and N’Doye gracing us with his ability yet again. Not only that, it was one of the few times injury-stricken Arsenal loanee Carl Jenkinson made a start for the club – his appearance proving he was far more useful when injured anyway.

There it is. I won’t subject you to any more but if you go digging deep enough I’m sure you’ll find others. This blog could be much larger if I went back further too, but I believed the best of worst were lying in the three eras I posted here. While we can look back and smile on these, I do hope we don’t have to look forward to these sorts of starting 11’s in the near future.

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