Building from within

The Swiss Ramble is always a good read, but this profile of Ipswich Town contained an interesting nugget:

To that end, Evans initially provided his managers with enough funding to be competitive in the transfer market, but this did not achieve the desired objective, as the owner explained: “You would have hoped that money had resulted in better things, but look at Nottingham Forest – they lost £25 million last year and got nowhere. Look at Leicester, they spent 25 to 30 million for a couple of years running, I think, and didn’t manage to get promoted. So there are a lot of clubs out there that spent a lot more than Ipswich did and who ended up in exactly the same situation.”

This led to a change in Evans’ strategy, “I wanted to work with a manager who was going to try to and coach and make our players better, rather than give the manager the opportunity (to simply buy players).” The drive to more sensible cost management was also influenced by the introduction of the Financial Fair Play rules, which essentially force clubs to live within their means.

As a result Ipswich have spent virtually nothing on player purchases in the last three seasons, but paradoxically this approach has delivered better results on the pitch, thus defying the conventional wisdom that high spending equates to success. Whether the reliance on free transfers and bringing through young players will continue to work is debatable, but the recent improvement is there for all to see.

Ross McCormack scoring goals

One for the “no sht, Sherlock” file.

“It’s similar to last year in that it took a little while to get going, but I had a good chat with the Manager on Sunday and just said that when I came to the Club I was a striker and I think it’s best if I can get back to that, being in and around the box.

“So I’m pleased that I was up front in the cup and I got two goals to repay that faith. When I’ve been playing in the hole in behind strikers then it’s my job to come deep and link the play, but I feel a lot better when I’m further up the pitch and I’m around the box, as the second goal showed. When you’ve got the chance to come inside and get shots away and stuff, I feel a lot more comfortable.”

As a reminder, in the past McCormack has had seasons where he’s scored 21, 18, 28 and 17 goals in the league.

Think about it this way: by taking him out of the position where he’s doing this, are you confident that his “link up play” will be sufficiently productive cover this goals shortfall? If your option is McCormack behind Smith or someone else behind McCormack, you don’t just go with the former to fit Smith into the side.  You put your star player where he’ll do most good for the team. The game is about scoring goals and not conceding goals. Everything stems from these two things. You don’t deliberately inhibit your options for doing this without good reason.

Manager personalities

While I catch up on video (currently watching Hull game), a brief note I’ve been meaning to post for a while about how Kit Symons got a bit of a boost post-Magath.

The below is taken directly from the Bill James Guide to Baseball Managers. I believe this to be absolutely true.  The team probably had the right idea in hiring Magath, but got the wrong version of high pressure. Kit was in some ways exactly what the club needed after Magath, but the board/committee/whoever may have (probably did) err in misjudging the improved results that followed.

managers1

managers2

managers4

T:Ream – Things can only get better

Sorry.  It was that obvious.  I couldn’t not.

Tim Ream joins, and re-establishes Fulham’s link with American players, and let’s face it, it’s been a fruitful link.

Hurray.  He’s been supporters’ player of the year twice and plays for America.  He looks like a CB, and is 6’1′, but people understandably want him to be a left-back.  But I think really he isn’t.

Meanwhile, in the manager’s press conference, Kit Symons says that he can’t quite work out how we haven’t earned more points.  That would be a function of being outplayed in three games, relying on flukes and worldies for our own goals, and generally not being able to defend for opponents’.  Yes, we could very easily have shambled our way to at least 7 points by now, but that would be papering over cracks that probably need to remain exposed lest some kind of Crystal Palace/Kasami effect happen for a second time.

What’s happened to Ben Pringle?

It’s been a rough start for everybody, but Ben Pringle has been particularly underwhelming.  It’s not that he’s been bad – he just hasn’t seemed to be anything.  Just there.  And really, not particularly there.  I even wondered if he’s playing through an injury or something, so uninvolved has he been.

For Rotherham last season Pringle averaged a shot a game, 2.5 key passes (which set up a teammate for a shot) per game, 31 passes per game overall, 3 crosses, and 1.7 long balls.

For Fulham he has had one shot in three games, 1 key pass per game, 22 passes per game, 1 cross per game, and no long balls.

Alright, it’s three games, but decisions are made on much less evidence than this.  He’s been invisible.  The stats bear out what our eyes have told us.

One thing I wondered when we twigged that Fulham were raiding the Championship’s “chances created” leaderboard from last season was whether there would now be some cannibalisation.  It’s not like if I have a mars bar and buy three more mars bars.   I’ll have four then.  (Actually, a good example is Lucozade, which is being given away by promotional people at Waterloo Station this week.  I have seven bottles now.  Wrong?  No, not at all.  They keep handing them to me.)

Anyway, no, it’s not like that.   At Rotherham Ben Pringle was, presumably, the creative hub.  I wonder if, perhaps, somehow by being in a team with so many other creative types, he’s somehow lost his way and fallen down his team’s pecking order.

Maybe.  This is quite interesting:

Passes per game by Fulham midfielderspringle

The interesting thing here is that Cairney and Christensen seem to be playing as they always have.  Pringle’s not been that involved this year, to the point where he’s passing half as much as these two, but looking at his Rotherham numbers, he’s clearly not a player who sees a lot of the ball.  Alright, fine, but look at Jamie O’Hara!

I don’t know what that even means.  O’Hara’s basically becoming the team’s quarterback – everything’s going through him.  In many ways this makes sense, given his touch on the ball and ability to be available at all times.  That’s great.   I’m not going to suggest that Fulham need to share the ball around more because I have no idea if that’s true.   But it is interesting that at the same time O’Hara’s basically stepped up and demanded to see everything going on, Pringle has been struggling to get into matches.

Fulham: wasted talent

If you have a runny nose you wipe it. But the runny nose is the symptom, not the real issue. By wiping it you’re doing some good but not getting at the major problem.

I say this because Fulham have conceded three goals late in matches. In three games, in fact. In the only three games they’ve played, for that matter. But these late goals aren’t, I don’t think, about fitness, because these days most teams are fit enough to run for a whole game, if not more. No, the late goals are the snot on the team’s face. And the snot is there because we have a cold, or, to try to break out of this dreadful metaphor once and for all, the late goals are there because we’re awful defensively.

(Lots of goals are scored right at the end of halves)

So it’s not really that outlandish that a team that can’t defend might concede at this time.

The last time Fulham were afflicted by this particular bug was under Lawrie Sanchez, when, for various reasons, imprecise defensive work led to opponents gradually finding their way through late on in matches.

This isn’t chance, I don’t think. The last manager we’ve had who really didn’t do very well was probably Sanchez. I mean, I know about Magath, but you can almost discount him from discussions can’t you? Before him we had some halfway competent managers and after him came the master of defensive organisation himself.

I do keep on about Hodgson, and you might expect that, but I think a bit of the problem here, if we may be so arrogant, is that having watched Hodgson’s teams for a few seasons Fulham fans grew to understand that defending is something that’s taught, not just something that some people who cost £5m can do and some people we already have can’t. We saw how Hodgson took some supposedly lesser players and made them into a formidable unit. We know about this, so we know it can be done.

What’s galling at the moment is that this Fulham team, and let’s be honest, this Fulham manager, doesn’t seem to have a plan, or any evidence of having been coached. It feels like what would happen if you just bought a group of players and told them to run around to keep fit in the week, then to do their best on Saturday. This, I am aware, does the hard work of the coaching staff an enormous disservice, but what other conclusion can you draw when, by now, almost all of the division can say that they’ve outplayed Fulham at least once in the last year?

The fact remains, even Lawrie Sanchez had a plan. It didn’t work, but he had a plan. Martin Jol had a plan. Felix… certainly had ideas. But what’s Kit Symons trying to do? Does anyone know?

I, like all of you, like to think of myself as a reasonably good judge of a player. I look at the current lineup and I don’t have to do too much wishful thinking. I want a midfielder who knows how to defend, because we still haven’t got one of those, and I want a left back. We might even have the latter if Garbutt can play (and people say he can). So it’s really all there.

That’s partly why we’re all so fed up I think. Last year’s team was a cobbled together farce. This time we have a young, British core, and they are very capable. But we’re wasting it because we have a manager who, as best we can tell, doesn’t know how to make the most of the talent he has available to him. It’s really disappointing.

Dunk: another perspective

dunk

It occurred to me the other day that I’ve been a football fan for 30 years now. That’s a long time. I know some of you can top it easily, but still. I can place this because I remember a very specific game.

1985, England v Republic of Ireland, at Wembley. Back then there wasn’t much football on TV, and so you had to do the whole radio thing. And of course in many ways that’s better anyway.

So here I was with my little weetabix radio, listening to the game in bed.1984-Weetabix-Club-Radio--2-

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gary Lineker scored.  Trevor Steven got another.  I was so excited!

People will tell you that football wasn’t what it is today, that it wasn’t a mass participation thing, that it wasn’t trendy or wasn’t for everyone, but that’s not what I remember.  All the kids I knew played, listened, discussed.  I remember at infant school, the dinner lady, Mrs Wakefield, telling me at lunchtime how Kenny Dalglish had been sent off the night before.  “Retaliation”, she said. I didn’t know what that was, but when she explained I couldn’t quite believe it.  The violence!  The conflict of emotions… so it wasn’t Dalglish who started it, but he fought back.  That’s good is it?  No, clearly not.  Man.

I can date this to 7th November 1984 I believe.  A game against Benfica.  I think we remember lots of things when we’re 8 or 9.  Me, like all the kids in the village back then, I had a Liverpool shirt and I stuck a big 7 on the back in tribute to Kenny Dalglish, “the creator supreme” as he was christened on one particular piece of commentary on my “history of Liverpool FC” video tape, which had a montage of Dalglish to Rush clips, many of which I would then hold in my mind and replay on long journeys in the car.  They’d also find their way into my exercise books at school, in the form of stick man diagrams.

In fact, who am I kidding?  I still do this.  The below is from my work notebook and were drawn, ahem, last Wednesday. So yeah, Dunk, eh? Good stuff.

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Fulham 1-2 Brighton (bit late, not that late though)

Right. Here we go again.

Having read the internet I had expected to see an even game in which Brighton started well and Fulham finished well. People – and the manager, if I haven’t imagined it – seemed to think that Fulham deserved at least a point, but that feels iffy from here. Brighton dominated the first half and half of the second. True, Fulham came at them for the last 20, but that’s not enough, is it?  No point in feeling hard done by here.

As the mirror said to the mirror, let’s reflect:

Item one: Bettinelli rolling the ball out to a colleague!  Passing it to a colleague!  It’s a small thing but, as noted, Lonergan spent the Cardiff game hoofing the ball to the Cardiff defence.  Absolutely pointless surrender of possession and inexcusable in the modern game. Here either someone said something or Bettinelli just had a bit of common sense. Either way, hurray.

If someone had said to me beforehand that Brighton would score from our left flank I wouldn’t have been surprised. Sure enough, a nothing ball in behind and boom, 1-0.  The trick here was that Voser was neither closing down the player nor playing as part of a back four, and Bodurov was in the middle, so that left a channel the size of the Suez Canal through which Brighton could operate without concern.  FFS, etc.  What kind of defending is that?

Otherwise everything’s generally better, with the caveat that Brighton have the ball all the time. Fulham generally seem geared up for some imaginary samurai counter-terror, except that we don’t have the players for that. Brighton on the ball, Fulham kind of compact behind it. All very odd.

The goal is excellent though.  O’Hara torpedoes a ball towards the Brighton fans, but Matt Smith keeps it in and the ball comes back to Cairney, who swipes it home.  A lovely goal.

The second half picked up somewhat but again, at home, you need more than 20 minutes of going for it.  Still, some signs of positivity, for which we must be grateful.

The Ratings:

Bettinelli – 6. Thought he did quite well. No chance with either goal.  People say this all the time but here it’s legitimately true.

Richards – 5.5. Did okayish again. One hairy spell where Lua Lua seemed to have the beating of him and he might have done something in the buildup to the winning penalty, but more or less okay.

Hutchinson – 5.5. I thought he was playing quite well but that foul at the end can’t go unpunished here. Kit probably didn’t need to publicly criticise the tackle – it felt a bit “not my fault, media – blame the players” to me – but imagine how Roy would have felt about his centre-half doing that on the very edge of the box!  I am growing to suspect that Hutchinson is a much better player than our trigger happy fans gave him credit for last year, but that he needs to restrain himself a bit. This isn’t the first time he’s made a tackle unbecoming of a centre-back at this level.

Bodurov – 5. Not a huge fan and not convinced he has a real claim on the shirt over the promising Burn.  As a full international perhaps he might have been expected to organise things at the back a little, too.

Voser – 5. I’m not one to be negative – this site’s nearly 10 years old and I have tried to be positive for most of this time – but Voser just doesn’t look like he knows how to play left-back.  I think he’s a reasonable footballer, but in this position with these colleagues he feels like an accident waiting to happen.  Fair play to him for filling in, etc, but there might need to be a plan B before long.

O’Hara – 7. Instrumental in the exciting finish, which will live on in the minds of us all, and a far better showing than his Cardiff display.  I like his attitude, I like how he wants the ball, and I like how he wants to make things happen. He isn’t perfect but he’s not meant to be.  If anyone can rise Fulham above the Symons malaise it’s someone like this.

Christensen – 5.5.  In and out. I thought he looked more dangerous against Cardiff.

Pringle – 4. I wonder if he was very much “the man” at his old club, and now he’s just one of many and struggling to find a role. Did basically nothing before being subbed for Kacaniklic (who fared no better).  We were led to believe that he had a bit about him, but it’s devilishly difficult to see it at this point.  I have no issue with giving him time (big of me!) as he looks capable, but he also looks more than a little lost.

Cairney – 6.5. Terrific goal and more signs of competence in possession. I think he’ll be a terrific player in time.

McCormack – 5. Not there yet is he?

Smith – 7. Could have had 5 on another day. Goals I mean, not marks out of 10. Gets good marks because we’re looking for ways to win football matches, and if you have a player capable of getting a handful of good chances a game then more often than not that’ll see you through.  Smith does what he does, and of course there are limitations, but clearly he has something about him in the penalty box and must be a nightmare to mark.

Grumble

True Detective Season 2 just finished. I loved it. Nobody else seemed to, to the point where it took until mid afternoon on the Tuesday after the last episode before I found a positive review, a review that felt the same as I did. Everyone else just got negative and complained.

Here’s the thing though: it’s very difficult to be extremely good and extremely popular at the same time. If you want something genuinely good, something completely out there, you have to accept that not many people are going to like it. On the other hand, it is entirely possible to put together TV programming that is not at all good, but that lots of people will watch. I’m particularly thinking of X-Factors of the world, but there are hundreds of examples. My sense is that True Detective Season Two just went for it (it being oblivion). It was astonishing TV, prepared to throw out existing conventions in the name of its art, in the name of random, brutal and unfair destruction. And yes, maybe the Vince Vaughan and wife discussion scenes went on a bit, but didn’t Herman Melville dwell that bit too long on the art of whaling sometimes, too? Do the Grateful Dead need to take Dark Star up to 30 minutes? Exactly.

So yeah, it works in music as well. Compare Nirvana’s In Utero and Nevermind albums. The former is, I think, considerably better; the latter, I think, has sold many more copies. Cobain’s trick was to make alternative music very accessible. This at once cheapened his art and opened it up to more people (me included, of course) who wouldn’t have listened to Mudhoney or Tad or whoever. Again: there is a relationship between the number of people who like things and what these things are or do.

This of course applies to football. Take two midfielders. Let’s call one Jimmy, and the other Dickson. Jimmy does lots of things on a pitch. He’s everywhere. He passes here, he passes there, he’s the man! Dickson… not so much. What does he even do?! Except… they have an amazing manager, and he chooses Dickson and sells Jimmy. Oh! Well. What’s that all about then? Bullard is Nevermind, Etuhu is In Utero. One is obvious, but ultimately overrated; the other is hard to appreciate, but ultimately a better option.

And so we find ourselves with Jamie O’Hara getting three man of the match awards in three games. Now, I like Jamie O’Hara. If ever a team needed a veteran midfielder to take the pressure off team-mates, to be the focal point, to run the team, it’s this Fulham team. In this sense O’Hara’s a godsend. And he’s played quite well. But three straight man of the match awards?! Wow.

To have written this much implies that I care much more than I really do. But still – show some imagination, people, eh? I know that praising anyone in defence is a no-no, and that McCormack and Pringle haven’t woken up yet this season, but there’s still Matt Smith! Will nobody think of Matt Smith?! Matt Smith retrieved O’Hara’s Putney End bound hollywood ball for our goal. He headed one chance over and another against the post – could easily have been two goals there. If Fulham were going to score there was a good chance it would be Smith’s doing. He was the most consistent threat for sure. And if you’re stuck for answers, what about the man who walloped in our equalising goal? More or less out of nothing? Cairney. Him. He could have the award. He’s playing well. Bettinelli did okay, too. In a devious move presumably directly aimed at Lonergan’s self-esteem, he actually passed to his teammates when he got the ball. And he made some good saves.

I’m not saying O’Hara wasn’t deserving, but it feels like there’s an element of moths crashing into lightbulbs here.

Cardiff 1 – 1 Fulham (bit late, sorry)

Hi, sorry, where does all the time go?

I am a week late on this, but life gets in the way sometimes.   Today, in fragments, I watched Cardiff v Fulham, and took notes while so doing.  These notes have been mangled, deformed and struck through by my children’s uncaring hands, but the truth, as I see it, shines through.  It is these notes, this truth, that I type below.  Better late than never.

First key observation I don’t know if Voser has much experience at left-back but Cardiff found a way behind him twice early on.  Two different approaches but the result was the same.   As the game wore on he seemed to be on a slightly different planet to the rest of the back four, frequently further away than he should have been. In the second half he got a bit more help from Pringle, but not that much more.  I think full-back cover was a bit slapdash throughout.  This is odd, as Pringle seems like the type to give everything, so I’m thinking part of this is a coaching thing.  Yes, I know, pile on Symons, but the man’s track record doesn’t exactly fill us with confidence does it, so when you see something like this you have to assume it’s in part down to instructions.

Likewise, why did Longergan not want Fulham to have the ball?  If he kicked it long to Cardiff defenders once he did it 40 times.   I have actually looked at the whoscored.com stats for this but I don’t believe them.  I think he gets an ‘accurate pass’ if someone heads it, but that generally still seemed to end up with the ball at a Cardiff foot.  Are we really saying, in this day and age, that we’d rather Cardiff have the ball just inside their own half than Fulham have the ball a bit deeper?  Really?   It just seemed like a complete and utter waste of possession.  Again, is this Lonergan being dim or has Symons just told him to hoof it as far as he can in Matt Smith’s general direction?

Good news! I like the, look of Tom Cairney.  He and Christensen both play with their heads up and both can use either foot.  They look like they have the makings of a fine combination.  Proper footballers.  Good signing!

Bad news!   What a fractured team we looked.  I know we were away at a decent side in the first game of the season but the machine’s parts aren’t yet in synch, are they?  The defence, I thought generally tried to play out okay, and the midfield all had their moments, but the front two (Smith and the deep-dropping Captain McCormack) seemed very cut off.  There were clear routes to goal down the flanks, with Voser and Richards both overlapping well, but Fulham couldn’t get that going often enough, and instead found most attacks to ultimately be nothing of the sort.  It’s lazy to just suggest that the presence of a big man at #9 makes his teammates play these aimless diagonals, but that did seem to be what was happening.  McCormack lacked the fizz we have come to expect of him, but I would expect that he and the midfield will come to enjoy one another’s company, either as they get used to each other or when they get a coach who can better utilise their skillsets.

Alright news! I think we have all had it in our minds that Fulham need new defenders, and it’s true, but I thought Richards, Burn and Hutchinson did pretty well.  Cardiff did have the odd moment but that’s almost inevitable.  Hutchinson in particular showed some nice anticipation in making some good covering… erm… plays.  I’m not confident enough in my diagnosis of what Voser was up to but it seemed to upset the spacing of the other three, and in the second half Burn did seem to be dragged across quite a lot. But yeah, they did fine.

The goals! Ours was a fluke, really.  Credit Smith for having the nouse to follow the ball in and the ability to stick it away, but it’s not like the breakthrough came from anything clever.   I’m not going to say we’re getting back to coincidence football, but it sometimes looked like that.   The Cardiff goal was awful.  I heard that Noone had scored a worldie, but in truth he went almost half the length of the pitch without anyone deigning to interrupt him.  That’s disappointing.   Pringle shuttled across to close him down in the end but slipped, so the shot was completely unimpeded.   Someone has to get there, right?   Disappointing.

The ratings!! Here we’re trying to judge a players general way of doing things.  It’s not about seeing the most glaring incident and letting that dictate our result but rather the shape of the performance, the things the player was doing, and how they might relate to scoring or conceding or not conceding.

Lonergan – 5.  Man of the Match at Viva El Fulham but I can’t get past all those pointless turnovers.  I don’t like to say turnovers, but really that’s what they were.  Just giving the ball back in the name of stupidity.  I’m not laying it all at Lonergan’s door but “I was just following orders” doesn’t cut it either.  He made the odd good save but nothing out of the ordinary.   This feels harsh, but if an outfield player just booted the ball to the opposing centre-back 40 times a game questions would be asked.  By me, if nobody else.
Richards – 6. Fine.  Looked good to me.
Hutchinson – 6.  Good performance.  Not perfect but good.
Burn – 6.  As above.  Occasional hairy moment but we’re judging at an overall level and he looked switched on and capable to me.  You have to stick with Burn I think.
Voser – 4.  I don’t know if he hasn’t played left back but this was a performance that would have had Brighton’s advanced scouts feeling excited about having something tangible to tell their superiors.  He felt like a weak link, an area to be exploited.  That the equaliser came from the left flank didn’t surprise me at all.
O’Hara – 5.  I’m not sure where the man of the match award on the official website came from.  I thought he did okay but not to the degree I know he can play.  I do concede that his role in particular is one that’s often easier to appreciate in person, e.g. organising, knitting things together.  It’s not his fault, but he is by default our most defensive midfield player and this scares me somewhat.  Clearly can use the ball but I guess the trick will be understanding how we can best use this in the future.  So a goodish start but I think he will be more influential in time, and to repeat, we need someone else to break up attacks as this isn’t really what O’Hara’s for.
Christensen – 7.  Felt a lot more threatening than his peers.  Lots of nice touches and seemed to be involved in most of our non-random good moments.
Cairney – 7. Loved what I saw.  Two good feet, poised, brought teammates into attacks, alive to options, not always the obvious ones, and seemed just to ‘get it’.  I’ll be watching him with interest in the weeks ahead.
Pringle – 4.5  Slow to find his feet. Got better in the second half and I can absolutely see why he will be a good player for Fulham, but there wasn’t much there for me.  No real threat down the left, he seemed to be roaming infield at times, but of course that didn’t help us defending the left flank.  And of course his slip led to the equaliser.  Harsh?  Sure, but if he keeps his feet the goal doesn’t go in.  Anyway.  A lot of nothing in the end.  He’ll do better I’m sure.
McCormack – 4.5.  As above.  I thought McCormack had a really ordinary game, neither fish nor fowl and not at the races.
Smith – 5.  Hard role to play and hard to assess his performance.  He got the goal, so credit there, but you can see why they might be looking at a Dwight Gayle type who offers an over the top threat away from home.  I don’t want to say that we’d have won that easily with Gayle up front instead of Smith because clearly that would be a stupid thing to say, but equally you can see how Gayle’s pace might have been a nice option for our little wizards to have.  It might just have opened up O’Hara’s Charlie Adam/Steven Gerrard demonic long balls from hell, though.  Who knows?  Anyway, Smith did okay. 
Dembele
– ?  Not long enough but I liked the way he went about things.  I confess that I’ve never really seen what all the fuss is about but he looked sharp and made some intelligent contributions, which is what he needs to do.

In conclusion we did quite well and while Cardiff had a lot more pressure in the end, Fulham did feel halfway comfortable with the lead.   It was a lot better than Ipswich last year and it’s clear to see how this might evolve into a really good team.  Seriously: in some ways it’s almost there.   I don’t want to harp on, but a coach with a track record of building a team would probably help to ensure that potential is reached, but in the meantime it feels like the Fulham supporter’s glass ought to be half-full.  And, without going all UKIP on you, even if it doesn’t work out, seeing a young, largely British, Fulham side does help a bit, I think.   Thank you for your time.  I’ll be back next week to talk about this week.