Middlesbrough, Ipswich, and Preston. The list will inevitably grow longer as the season goes on, but what changes can we make from our bench or on the pitch to secure three points or to ensure we don’t leave the pitch empty-handed?
For me, the main one is the return of our captain on the wings, Cory Evans. If we have a slender lead against a team that wants to play football against us, in contrast to the popular ‘park the bus’ technique against Sunderland, then Evans is key in this scenario. As experienced as Dan Neil is at the age of 21, Evans has the cool head and experience to manage a game in front of the defense, ensuring that all the young lads around him see him as the calm foundation on the pitch, guiding them to manage the end of games efficiently.
The same could be said if we are chasing a game and need a goal – Evans could come on and marshal the defense while the younger legs around him get forward and attack. I do feel as though Mogga will sacrifice him more often than not in this scenario in the interest of younger players having a higher chance of producing in the dying moments of a game.
Is Clarke best served out wide on the left? We may have only seen it in fleeting moments while the closest thing we had to a striker last season was the fan sitting in the front row behind the goal. That’s no disrespect to Joe Gelhardt because he was thrust into a situation he was almost certainly not prepared for prior to his loan from Leeds.
Furthermore, after the catastrophe from the referee, who does not even deserve the decency to be named after the performance on Saturday, it left Clarke at LWB, isolated, and in all honesty, not providing the team with what he does best at the opposite end of the pitch. I may not be Mogga making the decisions, and thankfully so, but could anyone doubt Clarke’s ability to play up front off a striker?
On Saturday, it may have been worth a try because with Clarke’s ability to beat his man, surely you want this to be used as close to the opposition’s goal as possible? We’ve also seen this season that his finishing has significantly improved; he’s nearly matched his goal tally from last season, and it isn’t even November! Surely worth a punt, Tony?
With the exception of what I’ve seen from our deadline day signing Timothee Pembele, Trai Hume seems more of a defensive full-back, with Alese and Cirkin showing more natural attacking instincts. With that, Hume has shown his ability to cover a more central defensive role. So when chasing a game, a back three of Hume, Ballard, and O’Nien is a good match for most Championship attacks for more than the remaining 5-10 minutes of a game and could be considered as a steady foundation to extend into a starting feature.
We all know how free-flowing and beautiful our attacking play is, so if you add an extra body to that at the expense of a defender, I, for one, would love it. I’m thinking this approach screams Adil Aouchiche, who, in agreement with the gentlemen seated around me, seems to have slotted into the team like a fish to water. We saw the 3-man defense in our League 1 days, so why not try to bring it back when we have more talented, younger, and technical players at our disposal than we did back then?
Admittedly, my last two ideas are more optimistic than the aforementioned, but ones I still believe have merit...
Eliezer Mayenda hits the ground running. We all know he’s a young lad, and the current regime is to give our younger and more raw players an extended run in the team to give them the platform to showcase what they can do, but surely we can all be hopeful that one hits the ground running sooner or later and scores us 10-15 goals between now and playoff time!
It’s been hard not to think of the prospect, but after everything we see from him on his social media, every Mackem’s favorite Ivorian may just be starting to think of what a January loan could bring to everyone involved at SAFC. That could be a deal that makes the difference between playoffs and automatic promotion.
If I don’t say his name, that means I’m not jinxing it, right? Over to you, Mr. Speakman...