Twenty games into the campaign and something still doesn’t feel quite right at The Den. 12th place in the league, 8 wins, 4 draws and 8 defeats so far. With the half way point of the season fast approaching, I don’t think many felt we would find ourselves in the position we currently occupy in the division after beating Oldham on the first day of the season.
Positives have been there to see, however the negatives are equally present in a side which has yet to get going. I guess mid-table represents exactly that point, but what needs to be changed to allow for improvement? Where exactly have we been seeing our sides efforts go wrong?
32 goals have been scored so far this season, failing to score on 4 occasions, with forwards such as Gregory, Morison and O’Brien, goals are not a problem in this side. In fact, when compared to the rest of the division, we are the 6th highest scorers in the division, yet mid-table is where we are at.
Injuries haven’t helped with arguably our first choice pairing of Morison and Gregory enduring spells on the sidelines. However, despite this we’ve also seen the positives of our under 23 players making the step up when called upon, especially with summer signing Harry Smith bagging 6 goals in his short spell in the first team.
Players such as Shaun Williams, Ben Thompson and Mahlon Romeo continue to grow in reputation with consistent performances, which us as fans can only hope and demand for. Williams in particular has proven his importance and has clearly put his troubles of last season behind him.
Despite the obvious positive’s, one of the best attacks in the league is met with an equally “impressive” 4th worst defence in the league, shipping in 32 goals against, in competition with the front line to keep and even goal difference.
We’re talking about a side who’ve only managed three clean sheets all season. Despite Harris sticking to the partnership of Webster and Craig with Archer ever present in goal, the defence is clearly a problem and needs addressing wherever possible in the January window.
As Harris himself stated after our last game, there will be occasions where we fail to score, however you need the ability to keep clean sheets if you’re going to achieve anything deemed successful across the season.
I find myself turning up to games knowing we’re going to concede, however usually back our forwards to get the defence out of trouble. This is clearly not a sustainable plan for a side hoping to earn promotion to the division above.
I don’t think we can single out a particular player, all of the defense need to be held accountable for the record we currently hold; at this point last season we had earned seven clean sheets. Not many more than this season, but in what is the second season under Neil Harris, these are the stats where you’d hope to see an improvement.
It begs the obvious question, was letting Mark Beevers leave the biggest mistake the club and Harris have made? It was muted towards the end of last season the defender wanted to return up north, but his impressive performances for Bolton haven’t gone unnoticed. If Beevers was still around would we find ourselves in mid table?
Harris identified the replacement for Beevers early in the summer, with Shaun Hutchinson arriving on a free transfer from Championship side Fulham. However Hutchinson seems to have caught the Cowan-Hall disease and spends more time in the treatment room than on the pitch. Who knows? Hutchinson might eventually come good, however not many players come back from poor starts to their careers at our club.
What would I like to see over the coming games? I’d love to see a change in the back line with Williams coming into the defence. Okay, we miss his presence in the middle of the park, however in the formation we play, Williams will be allowed even more time on the ball to pick his passes and set us on the attack. Physically Willams can also hold his own in this division, having proved his worth as a defender whilst with MK Dons, playing solely in the back four.
I don’t propose Williams as the long term fix to our defensive woes, however as mentioned above with only 3 clean sheets so far this season, we haven’t got much to lose.