If I am being totally honest I really haven’t been looking forward to writing this week's column after the events of last Saturday against Birmingham City.
As a game of football goes, the first 45 minutes that I witnessed couldn’t really have gone any worse than it did. Was the second half any better? Yes, I thought it was, maybe only marginally but at least there was a couple of players who reacted to the previous 45 minutes' debacle. Add to that the fact that we now know that we will face the return of Carlos Carvalhal and his Swansea side it really was a bit of a head-scratcher and ‘where do I start?’
Since Jos Luhukay arrived just after Christmas there has most definitely been more solidity in our performances and this has been shown in the number of clean sheets achieved. We have looked far better defensively and although the lack of goals may be of concern I am, and always have been, a firm believer in you can only build from the back. Get the defensive side right first and then you can start working on the attacking options. So far so good, eh?
The first thing to point out is that you can never legislate for individual errors. It is football, it happens, and no one will feel worse about it than the two players involved. The harsh realities is that when you are a centre back, or even more so, a goalkeeper every mistake that you make is usually very, very costly and highlighted to the 'nth' degree.
There are occasions when all you really want to do is get off that pitch because literally everything you do goes wrong or doesn’t work out. There is no hiding place, it’s a big stage, and although it is a cliché, the manager will have learnt more about some of his players on Saturday than in any of the previous games.
When I saw the line up I was a little surprised by his choices, or should I say by the omission of others. Personally over the last few weeks I think David Jones has had his best games since he has been here and for Jordan Rhodes not to be involved at all was another eyebrow-raiser. The thing is, I and we are not privy to what is happening on a day-to-day basis. We are totally reliant on what comes out of the club on press days. If you were daft enough to listen to the rumours that are continually flying about then you would jump to all manner of conclusions but I’m a bit long in the tooth to be doing that.
What I do know is that there were some pretty inadequate performances on Saturday, especially by some experienced players who should have known and done better. I always remember something that Gordon Strachan used to say, or shout at us. He’d say ‘If you are having a bad game then just run around. Run around and make yourself a nuisance!’ I don’t think he was wrong and I also think that it can apply to nearly everyone out there.
The test for the squad and the management now is the reaction this weekend at Barnsley. I think you draw a line under Saturdays performance, it happened, its gone, lets move on and try to continue building on the good work in the weeks preceding the Birmingham game.
Regarding Barnsley it will obviously be the usual Yorkshire derby. A hostile atmosphere, a frenetic, fast paced start to the game. But even with the number of casualties that we still have, we should have enough quality if the players play to their potential. Barnsley have been hit with the loss of their manager this week in unusual circumstances. For Paul Heckingbottom to have signed a new contract on Friday and then be gone by Tuesday, well, it could only happen in football couldn’t it? Is there a better time to play them? Probably not, so I hope we can go out with a positive attitude form the start of the game and get the proverbial cart back on its wheels again.
Undoubtedly we are missing the ridiculous number of first team players that are out injured right now. Any team in this division would be the same and it is a little worrying that the majority of these injuries seem to be long term problems and not just a couple of weeks out.
There has been much spoken about the possible lack of fitness and this possibly being a factor in the cause of injuries and I appreciate that this has been denied in some quarters. My concern is that even last season we were struggling with injuries, hence Carlos Carvalhal got rid of the medical staff and replaced them with his own. When you hear players admitting they weren’t fit enough, that everyone turns up on time now and attends every home game it does make you wonder what has been happening over the past couple of seasons?