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Friday, June 20, 2008

Pardew's Dilemma

More confirmation of our realigned status in the football world came a few days ago as we, apparently, fought off a host of other clubs to secure the signing of Stuart Fleetwood from non-league Forest Green. Although reading what was said by Richard Murray to my fellow Bloggers last week it should come as no surprise to see us fishing in the bargain basement.
But strikers are surely not the priority on Pardews' Things -to-do list. If you count the transfer-listed Marcus Bent, we now have eight and if its a 4-4-2 that Pardew wants, its going to take us all season to figure out which of the possible 28 permutations are the best combination. A cull, and hopefully a useful injection of cash, must come before the season starts.
And Pards needs no reminding that scoring goals last season was not really a problem, we did get 63 of them and finished 5th in the goalscoring listings. The only thing missing perhaps was a "top" goalscorer. A look at the Division's top 20 list of top scorers does include one Addick, Andy Gray, but only 2 of his 15 goals came for us.
No, the more pressing need is the defence. Fifty-eight goals conceded and 15th worse in the Division and the worse of any team in the top half of the fizzy table. And full marks therefore to Pardew for persuading the captain of the meanest defence in the fizzies to join us. Yes, Palarse only let in 42 goals all season, helping itself to a very healthy goal difference of 16. Ours was just 5. A good defence means less defeats, of course, and they only suffered 11 last year, against our 16.
Clearly Hudson needs to go straight into the team, next to Bougherra, as long as he's still around. Hopefully Magic will do the decent thing and make up his mind up quickly, we don't want him to do a Diawara and fly the nest in August leaving Pards with no time to find a replacement.
So, on to Pards' Main Dilemma. How to explain the twin, and probably connected failings, of the usual end of season collapse and the failure to beat the crap teams in the Division. As for the end of season crash, up till Game 39 we had only spent 5 games outside the top 6 but the failure to beat Bristol City on Tuesday March 4th and the subsequent defeats at home to Preston on the Saturday and then a 0-1 defeat away at Burnley on the Tuesday meant a 3 game week of only 1 point from the 3 games. The following defeat at Ipswich took us down to 9th and effectively ended the season.
As for our performance against the worse teams in the Division you only have to look at our results to see that it wasn't very good. There's a listing somewhere that shows us 2nd in results against top half teams but a lowly 19th against the bottom half. Ten wins and 35 points against the cream, only Stoke did better, but a paltry 7 victories, 9 defeats and 29 points against the crap. The only top half teams to come close were, and a clue perhaps, Watford with 37 and Sheffield with 36.
But how can you explain the teams brilliant performances against the top teams while they failed against the bad. You can argue that the bottom teams all raised their game against us, one of the Premiership old boys. You could say that ex-players contributed to our demise against Colchester and Barnsley.
But basically Pardew must admit that the team is, or wasn't, build to cope with Second Division football. It was constructed to win the Play-offs and if we had stayed in 5th place the odds, given our form against the best teams there, would have been with us.
The only other clue to our failure is our performance over the first half of the season compared to second. After game 23 at Hull, we had 11 wins, 5 draws and 7 defeats with 38 points. On course for automatic promotion and West Brom eventually won the league with 81. In the second half we won only 6 games with 8 draws and 9 defeats. And a strange coincidence happened in Game 24 at Norwich on Boxing Day.
Because of Mills dismissal against Hull, Bougherra moved to right back and Paddy McCarthy was re-introduced at centre-back for his first game since September. And there he stayed for the remainder of the season alongside either Bougherra, Sodje or Fortune.
We can't totally blame McCarthy for the failings of the team since December and I don't know the answer any more than you do but Pardew clearly has to improve our record, and a straight swap of a kingpin in the best defence in the fizzies for the mainstay of our defence during the second half of our season seems to me to be step in the right direction.


Chris said...

Your "statistical" observation re McCarthy is very interesting. I actually thought he looked quite good in the second half of the season, but you can't ignore the facts. Similarly re Hudson; so maybe that "swap" will prove to be inspired. It is important that Bougherra stays though. I felt his injury against Palace and subsequent 10 game absence was the single most important factor in our poor run in. Mind you, even with Hudson and Bougherra, we badly need to stiffen the centre of midfield if we are going to be solid defensvely.

nelson said...

Yes, Chris, you do appear to have hit the nail on the head and have used a key phrase there, "Stiffen the centre of Midfield". Surprisingly, for an ex-stiffening midfielder, its the one area that Pards has ignored, although he did spot Alex Song a year and a bit ago. Lets hope he can find someone to do the job of a Kinsella or a Parker before the season starts.