I am sure I’m not alone in thinking that the Championship seems to get stronger every year.
Coupled with this is the expectation level being raised from last year’s disappointing finish of losing in the play off semi final and you have a very different atmosphere amongst the fans to the previous two seasons.
If I am totally honest I did expect there to be a bit more business to have been done down at S6 this summer and in my opinion, the squad, most definitely looks to be unbalanced as I write this first column.
It is well documented that they are on the hunt for at least one, if not two centre backs, but as yet there has been no joy in securing a new face in this department. Standing still in this league is effectively going backwards due to the massive financial support last year’s Premiership relegated teams receive, along with a few others throwing large amounts of cash around and obviously giving it a ‘real go’ to try and achieve that ultimate prize of Premiership football.
Pre season took on a familiar look with the trip out to Portugal and the visit from Rangers FC. I think pre season games should be given the correct amount of respect and when performances or results aren’t as to be expected it should act as a jolt to up the workload and react positively.
I think there are too many occasions that these games are brushed aside and labelled as having no meaning, which personally I think is incorrect. Winning is a very good habit to get into, just like losing isn’t so.
Yes, the games are for fitness and possibly working on new styles of play or different formations but they are also about getting into good habits that will see you enter the first few matches with confidence and at full fitness. Unfortunately every report I have read along with what I have seen has been the opposite to this and I did have some apprehension going into the first game of the season at Preston.
The last two seasons under Carlos Carvalhals haven’t started well at all. The players haven’t looked at their sharpest and it does lead you to question if pre season has got the players ‘up to speed’. Like everyone else, I was hoping the start of this season would be different and they would come out of the blocks rejuvenated and firing on all cylinders.
The start to any season is crucial. Getting points on the board, keeping a clean sheet gives you something to work on. Unfortunately that didn’t happen at Preston. We looked totally disjointed, lacking in tempo with no penetration and came away with a defeat that no one could argue against. Slow, pedestrian build up, keeping possession but hardly threatening the oppositions final third or goal.
Personally, I don’t see how we are going to hurt the opposition in the way that we set up. We have full backs who push on way too early and end up playing as wingers. Our wingers generally tuck into midfield, which ends up crowding the central areas thus making it even more difficult to pass between the lines.
We tend to keep possession between the centre backs and the goalkeeper, occasionally bringing in a midfield player but more times than not, especially on Saturday it resulted in Keiren Westwood launching long balls at Jordan Rhodes to fight for. I honestly feel sorry for the strikers at Hillsborough at the minute. We have signed some very good proven goal scorers and yet every one of them is starved of quality service and chances resulting in their confidence being hit hard.
Don’t get me wrong, I am all for getting the ball down and passing it and open attractive football, but there has to be a purpose and a direction to our play.
In essence we should be trying to do to the opposition what we don’t enjoy defending against ourselves. Getting down the sides of the penalty box, crosses in between the keeper and their back four. Mix it up, balls into strikers’ feet, runs in behind. And more than anything go and play with a high tempo and desire to play in the oppositions final third.
There are some big questions to be answered right now, I’d like to hope that Saturday was just a blip but with some big games coming up and the expectation level being what it is something has to change dramatically.
Jon Newsome is the owner of prestige, sports and performance cars specialists, Automarques 21-23 Leigh Street, Sheffield S9 2PR