Monday, 13 May 2013

Lee Clark: A Reflection on The Season Past

 I wrote this piece after being inspired by something over at a personal favourite Blues blog, Tilton Strugglers. You can find a link to it here.
Lee Clark has been a conundrum for almost the whole season, after a sterling pre-season campaign, Blues looked like they were ready to go into the the new season in the mix for play-offs. A poor start to the season, coupled with defeats to newly promoted Sheffield Wednesday and that famous 5-0 demolition by Barnsley led to many fans calling for the inexperienced manager's head. The fanbase was split; many believed that Lee Clark was unable to manage a club at Blues' level, terms like "headless chicken" were often thrown around when describing his tactics and his inability to get the squad to play properly together caused much frustration in the stands, much of which spilt over onto the playing field. Other, more level-headed fans claimed Clark simply needed time to settle and that he had inherited a far worse situation than his predecessor, the much lauded Chris Hughton, had to deal with in his (relatively short) tenure at Blues.
Wor Lee: Clark in Happier Times
I have to admit, I was a very vocal critic of Lee Clark at the start of the season but having seen the issues he’s had to deal with both on and off pitch have made me realise the brilliant job he’s done in the circumstances. When Hughton came in, he was allowed to build a squad entirely of his choosing (to an extent), had more money to play with and inherited none of the pressure that Clark did. 
Whilst CH did a good job, we often won games by luck or a fluke, or even sometimes by the other team being so much worse than we were. Hughton often looked lost and didn’t know what substitutions to make to change a game, something that is easily overlooked when looking back.
To top it off, everyone was high on the euphoria of European games both at and away from St. Andrew's, so poor results were swiftly brushed away by the excitement of an upcoming Euro fixture.
Lee Clark on the other hand has had a paltry amount to spend, even in comparison to Hughton who didn’t have very much. His only money signing has been Darren Ambrose, who, through a mixture of poor form and injuries has not featured very much this year. On top of that he’s inherited an aging, poorer, slower squad from Hughton.

The defensive partnership of Caldwell and Davies crumbled away in the early season and added to the mistakes of an inexperienced Jack Butland, led to the shipping of poor goals on a regular basis.
Lee Clark’s hand was forced as he brought in Paul Robinson to cover, originally for David Murphy, drawing much criticism from supporters for his challenge, many years earlier, on Damien Johnson. Robbo became a staple of the Blues defence and his movement into CB alongside Curtis was a brilliant move by LC, Blues looked defensively stronger than at any other point in the season.
Robbo: The tough-tackling fans' favourite

Another thing that Lee Clark has done infinitely better than Hughton is the recognition and promotion of Academy talent. Hughton was very reluctant to play anyone but “seasoned pros”, giving Nathan Redmond a trickle of games, but nowhere near as regular as Clark. Whether through a forced hand or an eye for talent, Clark brought through Hancox, Reilly, Packwood and Arthur to name just a few and all look like exciting prospects for next season.

I am not saying he’s done everything right; his early season tactics were changing every week, he often looked lost and didn’t know how to change a game (sound familiar?) and stuck with poor players in the hope that they’d come good. On top of this, his handling of the Zigic situation was particularly poor, not something you’d expect from a so-called professional, drawing plenty of negative attention from the media.

He has also made poor signings in Lovenkrands, Mullins and Ambrose. Unfortunately, whilst these looked like big senior signings at the start of the season, they all fizzled out into mediocrity. However it is already clear what Clark intends to do next season; build around youth, with a smattering of senior pros. His signing of Andy Shinnie on a free shows an astuteness in the transfer market that many managers lack; Shinnie is up for a SPFA Player of the Year award which signifies quality in almost any league.
New Boy: Andy Shinnie in action for Inverness

On top of this, the signings of Caddis, Morrison, Hall, Ferguson and the aforementioned Robinson have paid dividends for Blues. Their performances have helped propel us up the table, finishing ultimately in mid-table.

I, for one, would much rather see “young and hungry” players, rather than tired old horses (Lovenkrands, case in point), who come for one last big payday. I hope Lee can bring us some long overdue success this coming season and I wish the best for him and for Blues.

Keep Right On.

Friday, 4 May 2012

The Inevitable

The prediction came true then. I knew this would happen, I could see it before the game, the attitude had become too complacent. Blues were on the beach but it wasn’t Blackpool pier.

The game started shakily and I could see that Blackpool were going to get under our skin, they were going forward quickly and in droves, young Tommy Ince was causing all sorts of problems and Steven Dobbie was walking past our defenders. Then, almost at the shore of half-time, the inevitable happened. A poor, pot-luck shot from Ince, originally going wide, hit unlucky Curtis Davies and flew past Doyle. Advantage Blackpool. Now the fight-back begins.

Lucky: Tommy Ince celebrates his punt-shot

That’s not how it panned out, we went in under the cosh and when we came back out, we went straight back under it. Blackpool were going past our midfielders like they weren’t there and when Mutch or N’Daw did manage to scrape the ball away from them, they gave it straight back to the opposition. 

 Blackpool kept attacking and were almost rewarded when Taylor-Fletcher tried to double their lead from six-yards out but Peter Ramage made the save of the game and threw himself in front of the goal to protect Blues’ position.

Woeful: N'Daw and Mutch struggled in midfield
The rest of the second-half dragged on in the same way, Blackpool creating but not taking advantage of a plethora of chances. Then Hughton decided that he was happy at 1-0 and on came Jonathan Spector, replacing Nathan Redmond, who looked a shadow of the player that ran rings around Reading. Spector shored up the position in front of the defence and his arrival seemed to stem the tide of Blackpool attacks.

On the other bench, ‘Ollie’ had two of his subs ready to come on. One of them was ex-Blues hitman, Kev Phillips. We knew the danger he posed and his first touch put the ball in the Blues net, luckily, the linesman saved us with his chequered flag. 

Super Kev: Had the ball in the net against his former club

 The end approached, the subs benches quiet, both managers watching on anxiously, out of nowhere came a glorious opportunity right at the death, the ball was squared to Marlon King, by Mutch, six yards out, King, who had spent the evening being flagged offside, struck the post. That was it, we all knew that the trip really ended there.

Honestly, we were lucky to come away only 1-0 down, it could have easily been four or five. Our midfield was poor and easily overrun, our defence was overworked and our attack was non-existent, if we play like this at St. Andrews, we will not get to Wembley, nor will we deserve to. Mutch and N’Daw should both be dropped in favour of Gomis (who had a wonderful game against Reading) and Spector, Townsend should be back on the left and Zigic should start alongside King and maybe with a bit of heart and a bit of passion, we can turn this sorrow into joy.

My team for 2nd Leg: Doyle; Ramage, Davies, Ibanez, Murphy; Burke, Gomis, Spector, Townsend; Zigic, King.

Subs: Butland, Fahey, N’Daw, Rooney, Huseklepp

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Blackpool vs Blues; A Miserable Bastard's View

So here we are, eight months on, 60 games later and we are at the gates. In fact, we’re banging on the gates, we’re trying to break them down and storm back into the top-flight.

Let’s make no mistakes; it’s been a wonderful season; an incredible European tour, taking two Premier League (well, one now) teams to a replay in the FA Cup and to top it all-off, a play-off place. We can definitely state that this season has been nothing short of a miracle from this squad of 25 and at its helm; our leader: Chris Hughton.

Miracle Man: Chris Hughton at Blues' Award Dinner

However, tomorrow is judgement day for this squad, they face a very tough game at Blackpool. Yet Blues fans have taken a peculiar attitude to this game. Here’s the deal: we have not won the semi-final, we are not at Wembley yet, we do not play West Ham tomorrow.

What we have to acknowledge about tomorrow’s game is that we are playing a great side, they have massive attacking prowess, they have Super Kev, has everyone forgotten what he is capable of? It’s also at Bloomfield, their fans will back them all the way and I’m sure our farmer friend ‘Ollie’ will put fire in those player’s bellies, he will make sure they play to win. So do not expect Blues to storm in there and score four goals, they will make it tough for us, they will get in our faces and they will attack at the slightest opportunity.

Tomorrow, the Blues will have to be disciplined, they will have to hold the line, they will have to be alert for every second of those 90 minutes and we will have to hope that they can bring back a lead for us but we should not be expecting for us to win.

Re-match: Blackpool at St. Andrews earlier this season

You can say I’m being pessimistic, but I’m being realistic, we have to acknowledge other teams and remember, in this topsy-turvy game, anything can happen, but those of you who are lucky enough to be going, please roar the boys on with all your might and see if we can snatch a couple of goals.

For me, it’s a hard game, but definitely one we can win. As the anthem goes “It’s a long, long road, there’ll be joys and sorrows too.” Hopefully, tomorrow will be one of the Joys. Keep Right On.

Predicted Team: Doyle; Ramage, Ibanez, Davies, Murphy; Burke, Gomis, N’Daw, Townsend; Redmond; King.

Subs: Butland, Spector, Fahey, Elliott, Zigic

Key man: Nathan Redmond, should he start, will play a massive role, he had a great game against Reading, let’s hope he can bring that form to this match.

Skin him!: Tricky winger Nathan Redmond caused Reading all sorts of trouble

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Birmingham City: The Only Way is Up

It was 27th February 2011, a historical Sunday when Birmingham City overcame Arsenal to win their first major trophy in half a century. It was a mere three months later when the Blues were relegated to the Championship after a two year stint in the top-flight of English Football.

The financial trouble was almost immediately apparent with tabloid newspapers latching on to a new financial problem every other day. Soon after, the fire-sale started with big names leaving City for pastures new. Craig Gardner, Roger Johnson and Sebastian Larsson were just a few of the stars to leave the sinking club.

With much of the 2010/11 starting line up gone and a dark cloud hanging over Birmingham City, the last thing the club needed was more instability and when the club announced that Alex McLeish had departed for local rivals Aston Villa, things only got worse. 
The board acted swiftly and brought in a replacement with proper pedigree; ex-Newcastle manager Chris Hughton, who had led Newcastle out of the Championship just a year earlier. 

New Birmingham Manager Chris Hughton

The new man got the approval of most of the fans and his first act was to bring in Veteran Centre-back Stephen Caldwell who quickly became a staple of the City defence. He then strengthened the squad with a variety of players including Jonathon Spector, Wade Elliot and young striker Chris Wood.

After a mediocre pre-season, City had a bad start to the season with away losses to Derby County and Middlesbrough and a disappointing draw at Watford. However as the team began to gel, things started to improve, the first sign of this improvement was the 3-0 mauling of Nacional in the Europa League in which impressive youngster, Nathan Redmond, bagged his first goal for the club.

Nathan Redmond Celebrates his first goal for the Blues

The confidence of the win spurred them to take another 3 points and record a 3-0 home win against Millwall with young striker, Chris Wood, on loan from West Brom scoring a hat-trick. Things were looking up for the Blues but they were brought back down to earth with a bump after recording three successive losses to Braga, league leaders Southampton and billionaire giants Manchester City.

After mustering a poor draw with Barnsley the Blues went on to win 5 games in a row starting in the Europa League with an away win at NK Maribor and, most recently an away win against Bristol.
Should the Blues continue in such a fine vein of form, they could well be contenders for promotion.

With a new look squad, a fantastic new manager and a brilliant, distinctive style of play, the Blues have been the dark horse of the league, they currently sit in 14th place with 3 games in hand over nearly every other team in the league, nine points from those games could see City propel themselves to second place, only a point behind the current leaders, Southampton. 

Everyone was very quick to dismiss the Blues at the start of the season but we now see that they might just execute a swift return to the Premier League and if not then it’s not necessarily the worst thing as it would give them a chance to stabilise themselves both on and off-pitch. Whichever way it goes, it’s clear that there’s only one way for the Blues to go and that is up.

Birmingham City play Leeds United on 26th October at St. Andrews, 19:45 Kick-off.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

A Summary Of My Life So Far

It's 3am and I'm sitting here having a long hard think about my life and where it's headed. These past few days have been five of the worst for me. I went from hope that I'd get into at least my Insurance Uni to despair to see that I couldn't even manage that. Then, a light at the end of the tunnel, an offer from the Uni I originally wanted to go to for a course I actually wanted to do and now, a rethink.

I have to wonder how my life got here, from being one of the brightest at school to becoming a serial underachiever. My whole life I've been tipped to be someone who would be getting the A Grades and I've just watched my life roll past me, always finding something better (or should that be worse?) to do with my time than sit and try to achieve my potential through hard work. I've sat and watched the best years of my life roll on past me, whilst I'm still sat at the station, always saying that I'll get the next train. It'll be fine. I've sat and watched my future crumble into dust, heard the diggers roll in to take the rubble of my pathetic procrastinations away. And every single time I've said "I'll do better next time", but there comes a time when there is no next time, where the chance to put things right has flown, whilst you're still waiting in the departure lounge.

And now, in the driving seat of my life, I've come to a fork in the road and honestly, I've lost my sat nav, there's no signs for me here, nothing to show me where to go or what to do, no-one around to ask directions from. I'm truly on my own, I've fallen over and cut my leg and the blood is dripping onto my jeans. I've crossed the road without looking and been hit by a truck. I've become the one thing I'd never thought I'd be. A failure.

Monday, 27 June 2011

The Green Lantern: A Truly Awful Film

It’s rare that I come away from a film feeling cheated out of my hard earned cash, to the point I feel like I’ve been mugged. But this was one of those rare occasions; I came out of the cinema feeling cold and vulnerable, as if the multi-national cinema-monster had reached into my pocket, stolen £5 off me and left me a steaming turd in its place. In fact, scratch that, it’s an insult to turds.

The Plot:
Average superhero movie, average man is chosen to become superhero, finds inner strength, world needs saving, saves world. Mindless fun, right? WRONG.

The Review:
I went into the cinema screen with no expectations whatsoever, I had heard that the film was bad, but no warnings could have prevented my shock at just how awful Green Lantern was.

Having seen Scott Pilgrim vs The World and Kick-Ass and feeling them to be fair reflections on how great the comics are, you could be forgiven for thinking that this was more of the same, but, no, this is to the comics, what Premier Inn is to Hilton Hotels.

The dialogue and script are truly awful, all we ever hear is “fear” and “willpower” repeated again and again, the lines are written badly and Ryan Reynolds’ blocky acting doesn’t soften the blow in any way. The villains too are awful, we never feel that they are the villains, merely victims of the Green Lantern, most of the film is narrative, trying to tell the story without compromising the quality of the film, however it doesn’t do this well at all, with huge gaps in the story filled by a black screen, with the words “six months later”, you wouldn’t see that in a book “six months later” followed by hundreds of empty pages.

Now let’s get this straight, Green Lantern is apparently classified as superhero/action film, but it’s not much of either. In the whole film there’s about six minutes of action, I’ve seen more action in a romcom, the superhero part doesn’t come into play much either, with only a handful of scenes where we see the superhero.

At points the CGI is terrible, there is a scene where one of the Guardians is speaking and yet his mouth is moving in completely different patterns, I have seen better on cutscenes in games.

Most superhero films, if nothing else, have wit and humour all the way through, but not Green Lantern, never, it’s all serious business in Green Lantern and it can’t even do that right.

I have passed kidney stones that have given me more pleasure than watching Green Lantern, I would not wish this movie on anyone. But if you’re in a bit of a good mood and need to bring yourself down, go ahead and watch the Green Lantern, it will depress you to hell. Honestly, if this is the way superhero films are heading then someone please ban them.

My Rating: 1/10 – a real insult to superhero films and humans everywhere.