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.