Going into the recent double-header against Preston and Blackpool, I was hoping for a minimum return of four points and to see more of the attacking football that everyone has enjoyed in recent weeks.
Let’s start with Saturday.
We started the game well and played some good football, particularly around the half-hour mark when Elliot Embleton kept picking up space on the half turn and getting at the visitors’ defence.
However, the missing piece, yet again, was the final ball or clinical finish when an opportunity presented itself. Aji Alese, who has been immense since coming in for Dennis Cirkin showed that he likes to bomb on and support Jack Clarke, and that bodes well for the future.
Our current setup with a ‘false nine’ allows us to hit teams on the counter and find spaces when the opposition actually have a go, but the problem at home and against weaker teams is that it’s difficult to find pockets of space and get in behind when they sit back.
Preston were so poor and negative that it was quite staggering to see an established Championship team arrive at the Stadium of Light and defend as if we were running away with the league.
I left Saturday’s game feeling quite satisfied with the performance and level of effort, and on another day we could and should have won by a three or four-goal margin.
Against Blackpool, I wanted more of the same and an early goal to force them to come out at us.
Again, we tried to press forward and played some lovely football in the first half, but the Seasiders put ten men behind the ball and I thought that during the second half, they would tire and we would find a way through them.
How wrong I was, because as the game wore on, they got stronger, came at us, and nearly nicked the points.
Looking at the team overall, the concerns are over how vulnerable we look at set pieces and how poor our set plays have been.
Maybe it’s time to let the likes of Jack Clarke and Dan Neil have a go, because I’ve lost count of the amount of times we hit the first man or blaze the ball over the bar.
The other area that needs addressing in January is at right-back.
I admit that Lynden Gooch has generally done well this season, but he is more suited to a wing-back role. Now that we have been forced into a more traditional back four, he is often found wanting and his distribution against Blackpool was terrible.
His forward play and crossing is a potent threat in attack, but I think we need an out and-out right back to add greater balance in the squad and to provide competition for places.
Now is not the time to panic and demand strikers on free transfers or a change to the system.
When we get Daniel Ballard, Ellis Simms and Ross Stewart back, along with Cirkin, we have a talented and robust group of players at our disposal, and it’s frightening to think how good they could become given time and development.
From being in League One to challenging the established teams in the Championship, it’s a pleasure to complain about drawing a game rather than how poor we are or how bad the manager or players have been.
It’s more of a frustration as to where we might have been without injuries and excitement as to where we could end up come May.
For me, Tony Mowbray makes the right calls when changes are needed, and is using the squad to the best of his ability. Roll on the World Cup break and afterwards, we can hopefully move up the table by taking the game to opponents with our style of attacking football.