Tuesday night’s performance was not good enough, and fans are right to be disappointed at the defeat - the 2nd half performance in particular - and Johnson’s tenure so far. But there are a few common threads in the criticism that I take issue with.
‘Johnson isn’t good enough’
It is so, so early into his tenure, and to say this is almost embarrassing. We’ve been clamouring for years for a young coach with a vision and a process, to build something long term. Well, this is what it can look like. There may be some short term inconsistency and frustration, but the idea is that we reap the long term rewards of a focus on youth, a way of playing backed by the recruitment, and – as long as it’s in the right hands – some stability. Let’s not lose our heads.
‘We abandoned 3-5-2 too quickly’
I was surprised to see Martin say this in response to a fan letter. This was something most of us absolutely hated about Parkinson’s tenure and undoubtedly was one of the factors that led to the number of grim draws. We wanted a radical departure from Parkinson – a new system, a new way of playing – and this is what the manager’s trying to implement, albeit with some issues that need resolving quickly.
‘Patterson is the answer’
He might be. He might not be. What is guaranteed though is that young goalkeepers make mistakes. So, do we really want to bring this lad into regular first team football in a division with shithouse teams like Gillingham launching howitzers into our box, when the fans are understandably not in the mood to tolerate mistakes? I’d worry that’ll be too much pressure on a 20 year old’s shoulders and his confidence may be knocked.
‘Vokins can’t play at this level and was bad business’
There’s no doubting that he has been defensively poor in his two games so far. But you do not come through the Southampton system to play in the Premier League without being a decent player, particularly in this crap division.
Now, he must take responsibility for his defensive errors, but some fans have been overly harsh and seem intent on hounding him out before he’s hardly arrived.
What does a struggling full back need? Cover. And he gets none of that from McGeady, who also doesn’t press much. This isn’t really Geads’ fault either – he’s 34 and is not going to add that to his game now. If Vokins is still not good enough after 5 or 10 games, then I’ll be the first to say, but let’s give the lad a chance before casting such final judgements.
That leads me to where I think the criticism of Johnson is valid: persisting with a 4-2-2-2 that leaves Leadbitter, the centre backs, and the left back position (when McGeady plays) exposed, and that offers us no control over games. Either we have a change in personnel to give us the required energy for that system, or we revert to the 4-3-3 that Johnson started with. O’Brien dropped into midfield to make it a 4-2-3-1 at times on Tuesday, but that is not the same as having three central midfielders on the pitch.
I know 4-3-3 wasn’t all that effective going forward when LJ came in, but with the return of O’Nien and more attacking options, it might work better.
Crucially, Leadbitter has bodies around him, allowing him to dictate play, which he can still do effectively at this level in the right system. O’Nien can come wide and cover Vokins when necessary, and the centre backs have more protection.
This is preferable to sticking with the same system and changing personnel, because I think 4-3-3 gets the most out of our best players in all parts of the pitch, as long as – and this is important – Wyke consistently has a player close to him in support, whether that be one of the wingers or central midfielders.