Thursday, 31 July 2014

Tactical shenanigans

IN his time as our manager, Mark Yates has been called many things - but 'tactical genius' has not often been one of them.
In fact, for most of his reign, it has been the opposite... he has been accused of being too rigid with his formations, having no plan B, C or D and not being able to change the course of a match with a tactical twist or two.
Four at the back, the sometimes successful but very much disliked diamond and frequent failed attempts to make 4-4-2 work have been the norm, with the form from that golden Autumn of 2011 and 4-3-3 fluidity having proved elusive.
It was slightly ironic therefore that on the night of the return of the CTFC manager who could do all of the above and frequently did in his five years in charge that Yates threw us all a curveball.
He had been asked at Bath on Saturday about playing three at the back. He said it was a possibility, but we didn't expect to see it in action three days later.
One of the big riddles this pre-season has been the 'perm two from three' we expected to see with the front-line centre-halves Troy Brown, Steve Elliott and our new arrival Matt Taylor.
I am sure his critics will claim Yatesy is only doing this as he is not capable of making a decision - but I applaud him for having a go at it and if he can make it work then it will be another option this season - and during games if we are chasing it and need to push full-backs on.
The 3-4-1-2 which we used is a system which is coming more and more into the game, especially now that many sides on play one out-and-out striker and some don't play any at all.
It can be a waste to play two centre-halves and two rigid full-backs against one forward - three at the back gives more flexibility and it will be interesting to see if we carry on with the experiment.
We started with a strong side - Carson; Elliott, Brown, M Taylor; Braham-Barrett, J Taylor, Richards, Vaughan; Sterling-James; Harrison, Gornell - no Asa Hall again as his Achilles injury continued to be rested, and no Joe Hanks as he had been training with the Scottish under-21 side.
The absence of Hanks and Hall meant we once again only had the two orthodox midfielders and we conceded a lot of possession in that area and again showed we need that third player in there.
I think Jason Taylor and Matt Richards have been up there with our best players in pre-season, and both would be in my Bury starting line-up, but not without an extra body - so let's hope Hall is fit, Hanks gets a go or we bring someone else in by then.
At the back, the three centre-halves, having only tried the new system the day before in training, unsurprisingly looked a bit rocky at times but had few alarms, bar the goal we conceded.
That wasn't their fault however - it came when Braham-Barrett was caught in possession and Scott Wagstaff gave Sam Baldock a chance he wasn't going to miss.
The goal came seconds after we could have gone ahead when Byron Harrison got in behind Bristol City's three-man defence, which looked more unstable in the first-half than ours did.
He hit the post - and there, in a few seconds, was the difference between the middle of League Two and the top end of League One, that ruthless finishing and punishing of any little error.
But overall, our front three of Harrison, Terry Gornell and Omari Sterling-James linked up well together and caused problems. All three were lively and we had a few good situations, with Gornell winning a penalty which Richards converted.
However well they combined though, there is no getting away from the need for another forward, and with Rakish Bingham not being kept on, there is hope that Yates will succeed in his hunt, as we will otherwise be reliant almost totally on Byron staying fit and scoring goals.
Gornell had a very good half, but still didn't look like scoring a goal. Credit to him for getting back on the bike again, but I am desperate for him to succeed and to get back in the goals again.
At half-time, we saw Matt Taylor replaced by Jack Deaman, and kept the three-man system, but it didn't function as well after the break, along with the rest of the team.
We lost three goals, two to headers from crosses and a third after another header was saved well by Carson - a slight worry to see us losing headers in our own box with three central defenders in there.
Further forward, we weren't able to carry on the fluency from the first half - whether it is a fitness issue or just a legacy of the hard work they have been putting in during training and previous pre-season games, but I thought we just looked a bit leggy in the closing stages.
Joe Curtis, the triallist  from Southampton, was given a third chance to impress, but again I didn't feel he did enough to demand a contract, and he is nothing new to what we already have.
Koby Arthur also had another run-out and looked lively at times, but I cannot see both he and Sterling-James playing at Bury. Sterling-James looked blown out after an hour, so I don't see him starting - more of an impact man.
Zack Kotwica didn't get on the field, so I think Arthur and OSJ have moved ahead of him, and there is also Andy Haworth to consider, who came on in the closing stages.
There were also late appearances for Paul Black and Bobbie Dale, and although the result was a 4-1 loss, there were positives to take from the first half especially.
I don't think we learned much about some of the places which are still up for grabs for that game at Gigg Lane, but we have reinforced where Yates still needs to stiffen up the squad with another goalkeeper, midfielder and forward.
It may not happen before Bury, but has to happen in the medium term, be they permanent or loan arrivals.
We are told that Yates could be after a young Tottenham striker, so with the help of a couple of Spurs-supporting friends of mine, here are some of the likely candidates...

Shaquile Coulthirst – We know a bit about him as he scored the only in the FA Youth Cup game against us a couple of years ago.  He made his first team debut for Spurs in the Europa League last season.  Has had loans at Orient and Torquay (did well there).  Would have thought League One was more his level or even Championship if they want to push him.

Daniel Akindayini – out and out goalscorer (20 last season in under 18/19 games).  Decent record for the Under 18s but Harrison seems to have overtaken him as far as ratings go.

Shayon Harrison – Links play better but gets his share of goals (15 last season).  Quite highly rated by youth team followers at Spurs.  Only 18 though so may be a bit early for a League 2 loan.

Anthony Georgiou – 18 (I think) – Don’t know much about him.  Not much of him from what I’ve seen so again seems a bit early for him.

Nathan Oduwa – England under 18 regular.  Fast, skilful but plays mainly as a left sided forward, 14 goals last season in youth sides.  If you can find it check out his goal in Ledley King’s testimonial! Very highly rated.

Souleymane Coulibaly – Big hit in World under 20 tournament for Ivory Coast a couple of years ago.  Done little since but suffered with acclimatisation issues.  On loan in Italy (Grossetto in Serie B) last season.  Possible if they want to give him one last chance to settle.

Emmanuel Sonupe – young, raw but scored a few goals.  Once again, may be a bit soon for him too.

Tomaslev Gomelt – Croatian, made a splash in Next Gen competition a couple of years ago.  Seems to have fallen off the radar since.  Bit left field but was rated quite highly at one point.

We shall see if it comes off, and whether one of these names is going to join our squad. We do need a bit more forward potency, and if Yates can pull off a deal for one of the above, they could give us a lift.