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The news of Tony Mowbray’s sacking didn’t come as a huge surprise - the writing had been on the wall for a few weeks. For a club intent on automatic promotion, the team has been stuttering badly of late.
We only just avoided a second three-defeat-in-a-row sequence by virtue of Jack Clarke’s late penalty at Millwall on Saturday.
The team currently sits ninth in the Championship table after 19 games. Won eight, drawn three and lost eight, four of which were at home.
After 21 games last season, we had amassed 30 points, had lost seven games, though won eight. We were drawing more games last season.
After our most recent win, against Birmingham on 11th November, I had thought that our stuttering home form of last season had been turned around. Because at that point we had won five out of eight home games. Much better than last year as draws were being converted into wins.
This season though, our outstanding away form of last season has all but vanished.
Clarke’s late penalty on Saturday was only the first goal we have scored away from home since our consolation goal at Stoke on 21st October. We failed to score in the three subsequent games away from home—Leicester, Swansea and Plymouth.
At Leicester we had 13 shots and 48% of the possession, Swansea 25 shots and 71% possession, Plymouth 24 shots and 67% possession.
And in the abject reversal at home to Huddersfield last Wednesday night, 27 shots and 76% possession.
In the last three games we have harvested a mere point against teams positioned 16th, 21st and 19th in the table. It really isn’t good enough for a team with aspirations of promotion. Not to mention an FA Cup battle against a flying Newcastle in the New Year.
The team that almost knocked Fulham out of the FA Cup last year and beat an arguably stronger Millwall team 3-0 around the same time last year, were seriously lacking ideas in these last three games.
The team is not short of talent, but has it been employed effectively?
Where has all the energy gone? Are we so used to playing without a striker that we can’t adapt to now having them.
Against Plymouth, Eliezer Mayenda, seemed off the pace, his touch heavy and was not on the same wavelength as his colleagues.
Mowbray kept changing his striker. But kept the same loan-striker model. There was no plan B. Why not try two up front?
Struggling teams know that if they put ten men behind the ball and stick three players on Clarke, the team suffocates. And a clinical strike at the other end will seal the points. As happened at Plymouth. Or comical defending against Huddersfield. We play better against the better teams because they allow us to play. Witness Southampton.
His substitutions were becoming farcical and he was starting to single players out for criticism in the media. Which is always the slippery slope.
Mowbray leaving, then, is no great surprise.
What now? The rumour in the summer was that Francesco Farioli was being lined up to take charge. That seems an appealing proposition now.
Mowbray’s appointment was swift after the departure of Alex Neil. Has someone been lined up?
The club also needs to acknowledge that the model is creaking. When the likes of Alex Pritchard are told that they are free to leave, but clearly have a contribution to make. Signing young players is all well and good, but the strikers signed during the summer are clearly not fit for purpose at this time.
We also need experience in the team. We are really missing Corry Evans’ experience and even Elliot Embleton to a lesser extent.
Sure every player has a price, but if you are ambitious you need to keep hold of your best players.
One final thought. Of our six in a row victories over the Mags from 2013-2015, four were by managers who were barely two weeks into the job.
Could the new manager bounce pull off an incredible coup in next month’s derby?