To Change or Not to Change?
Reflections on 2 home games and where to next?

After the double defeats against Bolton and Derby we went into the last two home games under pressure to get the cart back on the wheels. I thought we started well against Barnsley by moving the ball quickly with Reach prominently getting into the box as well as being active down the left. The goal was a bit fortunate but on the balance of the game it would not have been unjust if we were 2 or more up at half-time. Unfortunately a tactical substitution and switch from Barnsley, coupled with an inability to sustain the tempo in our game, meant that we failed to drive home the advantage that the first half had given us. Barnsley’s pace and energy in wide areas were much to the fore when they hit us on the break and they were unlucky not to equalise before they did. If they had a powerful and effective striker they may well have won the game as our back four looked particularly vulnerable – Lees and Van Aken were all over the place at times. A point was clearly better than a defeat but it wasn’t the response we were hoping for.

CC swapping full backs round for the 2nd game in a week is pretty common and he did it against Millwall with Fox coming in for the injured Pudil and Palmer for Hunt. I thought Fox was unlucky to lose his place against Barnsley after a decent outing against Derby. The changes may have been to rest players or in search of a clean sheet that rare this season. I am sure that Loovens coming in for Van Aken had that in mind as I suspect did Butterfield coming in for Lee. Finally, Jordan Rhodes got his league start!  We started very well with Fox repeatedly stretching the game and getting crosses into the box, and Reach again hitting the 18 yard box. The early goal from Reach was well deserved and with Millwall looking shaky at the back we looked like we could be in for a decent win. But sadly our defensive woes reared their ugly head again as Loovens totally fluffed a challenge, with Fox out of position we were exposed down the left and a deflection off Lees left Millwall with a tap-in. With that our confidence waned but we kept plugging away and Rhodes got on the end of an excellent corner from Butterfield to end his league goal drought. I was so pleased for him and the lift in confidence for him was visible. With a goal just before half time we hoped that boost might give us the impetus to drive on in the 2nd half but sadly we were not able to. Our defensive frailties continued and there was more relief at the end than joy unconfined.

Before the international break we travel to Villa for a difficult test against their expensively assembled team that looks to be grinding their way up the table. Will the win against Millwall be a new beginning or just another false dawn for us? Will CC not change a winning side or revert to his favourites? I think Fox deserves to stay in, Hunt gets back quicker than Palmer so I think he will come in, and whilst Loovens and Van Aken look equally shaky right now I would stay with Loovens. For me Loovens has always taken a while to get back up to speed after a long time out and he just needs games, secondly I think he is better for Lees, finally he looks no more accident prone than his Dutch compatriot – so therefore I would leave him in. Reach and Bannan are good right now so must stay in, with Hutch out and Jones out of sorts Butterfield has possibly edged himself ahead of Lee at the moment on the basis of midfield defensive ability - never thought I would have said that!

With Hooper dropping off we need the wide players to get into the box and support; whilst Reach has the engine for this Ross Wallace clearly doesn’t, but our well documented recruitment failures and injuries mean that there is no obvious alternative unless Joao is worth a go. Forestieri is clearly weeks away from fitness (even if he would play wide) and Matias obviously isn’t trusted by CC so are out of the equation at the moment. The wide right spot is a January recruitment challenge. Hooper is crucial to the CC game plan so will play if fit but the real question is whether JR will be dropped to the bench or Fletcher will remain there? I suspect CC will be tempted to bring Fletcher back in due to us being away and he maybe be more likely to hold the ball up better. But after scoring I think JR needs a confidence boost of a second successive league start. Tricky choice but given that we’ve done nothing away in the last two games with Fletch up front I would go with a JR.

The performance and result on Saturday will offer a clue as to whether we have a new beginning or not. The 3 point gap to the play offs disappeared with Villa’s win at Preston and could be 6 if Derby win their game in hand. We have much to do. I reckon we need 77 points for a play-off berth which means picking up 57 from 31 games and in order to do that probably 17 victories will be required allowing for 6 draws and 8 defeats. That’s a tall order for a team with 5 wins in 15 and a distinct lack of clean sheets, plus there are many teams to clamber over to get from 14th to 6th place in the league in a very tight and unrelenting league. The odds are against us but we have to give it a go; first stage is to be well placed in the top half of the table come January, next is to strengthen a bit in the window and finally a big heave from then till May. It is clear that CC is going to be there unless and until the play-offs are not achievable so we all have to try to buy in to the dream until it’s not achievable. 

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