My hopes for this weekend’s game weren’t set particularly high.
Last week’s stalemate in Swansea was uninspiring and now we would have to face Birmingham City without Tony Mowbray’s first choice centre back pairing who, for all of the gripes about Luke O’Nien, have been pretty solid this season.
If only we’d had a third experienced player in that position at the club! Never mind.
Ahead of the game, Mowbray had hinted that the man to step into the breach would be Dutchman Jenson Seelt.
Seelt also took part in a midweek interview with the club’s social media team, during which he outlined his footballing inspirations. I’m not sure the Neymar comparison would’ve sprung to mind unprompted, as well as his journey from an early injury setback to the fringes of the starting eleven.
So, Seelt it was.
My main impression of him so far had been that he’d looked totally out of place and often out of position, as Middlesbrough did us over when we went down to ten men at the Stadium of Light.
I pinned my hopes on the fact that he would’ve had a full week to be drilled by a former centre back in exactly what his job would be when facing summer target Jay Stansfield in the Blues’ attack.
This would’ve given him time to learn his role in a back four that’s been quite resolute for most of the season and thus stand him in much better stead than had been the case during his last outing.
When I emerged from the concourse on Saturday to hear that Dennis Cirkin was out and fellow newcomer Nectar Triantis had been drafted into the starting eleven, my heart sank further.
We can only presume that Seelt had spent most of the previous week learning to work alongside the smaller and nippier Trai Hume at centre back, but he’d now have to manage both his own performance and that of a man who Mowbray evidently doesn’t think is ready to start regularly at this level.
Indeed, this looked to be the case once Birmingham got going after an initial blitzing from our pass masters, and it was highlighted by the goal they scored on the half hour mark.
Although Pierre Ekwah certainly didn’t help matters with some lackadaisical play which typified an unusually disappointing display from the Frenchman, Triantis and Seelt failed to pick up the goalscorer, Koji Miyoshi, despite both being in their natural defensive positions inside the penalty area.
The fact that they both pointed at each other in bemusement was pretty annoying to see. OK, Triantis in particular had had little time to prepare for the game, but surely that should extend to knowing who should mark who?
From then until the end of the half, their shakiness looked like infecting the rest of the team and despite clearly being the better footballing side, we could’ve easily ended up trailing without some sharp goalkeeping from Anthony Patterson and a bit of luck to boot.
However, it seemed that Mowbray got their heads together at half time and I think most fans would agree they looked somewhat more composed in the second half.
Triantis deserves credit for sticking to his task and particularly for pressurising the Birmingham defence into a mistake for our crucial second goal, but it’s Seelt who I think will be pressing his case for further game time.
He’s only twenty years old but he showed some composed touches on the ball, something he mentioned as a key part of his game during his interview with the club, and he’s certainly a bigger physical presence than O’Nien.
If he can use what he has as craftily as O’Nien, then he’ll definitely be a useful squad player this year.
This experience, winning in front of over 40,000 fans at home, should only help accelerate his development and acclimatisation too, notwithstanding some unsurprising debut day nerves.
Whilst I hope that Dan Ballard and O’Nien coordinate their tactical fouls a bit better next time, we can’t rely on them to play every one of the next thirty Championship games together.
We’ll need others to step in, and I expect Seelt will have to do so. Whether he’ll be up to that task remains to be seen, but this was a promising start.
For now, it was a case of a 3-1 win, signed, Seelt and delivered against the sort of team we have to be beating at home in order to improve on our achievements from last season.