Here is an article by Nat, looking at the manager.
My Dad dragged me to St.Andrews. Honestly. My mum got me to go to a dance recital at the NIA around Christmas 1998, when my dad got free tickets to Blues vs. Sunderland at home. I was so jealous of my Dad. The dance recital was awful, and Blues drew 0-0 with Gary Rowett (my first favourite player) missing a sitter with five minutes to go, according to the (what will be very much missed in the long run) Sports’ Argus. I was so bloody jealous. But by the end of that season, Blues had sorted it out, my Dad had bought himself and I a season ticket for the last six games including the play-offs. We lost to Watford (Chris Holland’s penalty that night ruined my life). But still, the excitement, the atmosphere, the general positivity, I was hooked. I loved the Blues, I went to Villa Park once with a relative to watch Filth-Leicester but sod it, I loved the Blues from there on in.
Which is what makes me sad now. Under Gold and Sullivan’s ownership at times people were very apathetic, we got crowds of around 16,000 against the likes of Ipswich & Bristol City, yet at least we knew we’d be back in the Premier League sooner or later. Now, we get crowds closer to 13,000, and the fans are wondering if we will be in the top tier, second tier or League One this time in twelve months; well if we are honest, most probably just hope we are a club this time in twelve months!
In all my time as a Blues fan I’ve never seen the crowd turn on the manager so quickly. Blues fans generally don’t do what the Villa ‘fans’ do and write on bedsheets. TF knew his time as gaffer was up as much as everyone else did. I was there vs. Norwich in ‘06 for the relatively muffled ‘we want Brucey out chant’. There were the sporadic groans under The Rat, and absolutely nothing under Chris Hughton. But genuinely, I’ve never seen or heard a crowd turn like the current inhabitants of St.Andrews have on Lee Clark.
I for one, feel very sorry for the bloke. Let’s just take away all the players, all the tactics; let’s take away the football generally. Lee Clark is the subordinate of a complex regime that’s gone completely to pot financially. He has to work within severe constraints of what we can and cannot afford. You cannot blame Lee Clark for the financial constraints, it doesn’t put him on the back foot; it puts him in a bloody wheelchair when compared to a lot of clubs in this division. The three relegated clubs, Bolton, Blackburn and the Dingles have either kept together the squad or added to it; Bolton have kept it together, to a large extent so have Blackburn but then have signed players such as Jordan Rhodes, Colin Kazim-Richards and Leon Best this summer. Wolves have reinvested the money they made on Steven Fletcher and Matt Jarvis on players who will do well in the Championship; Tongo Dumbia (or whatever his name is) looks absolutely brilliant, whilst they’ve still kept hold of Wayne Hennesey, Roger Johnson and Kevin Doyle. Imagine two years ago a team in the Championship with those latter three players; they wouldn’t have been at short odds to win the league, they would be at Stuart Little odds. Yet there are more clubs with financial muscle; Forest, Leicester, Cardiff and Huddersfield are just another four teams that will have spent more than us this summer. Lee Clark building a promotion winning squad on this budget; it’s like racing in F1 in a Ford Fiesta.
Now look at the team. Clark inherited a lot of them from Hughton or before. The first thing I have to say about the team is that we could put out an XI over thirty years of age (if fit) that wouldn’t be a million miles from our strongest side; Lucas, Carr, Pablo, Caldwell, Robinson, Elliot, Mullins, Bouba Diop, Lovenkrands, Zigic, King. Only Jack Butland, Curtis Davies and Chris Burke and maybe Keith Fahey could automatically complain at not being in that team. If I was to have one firm criticism of Lee Clark, it is that he didn’t help this situation by signing the likes of Lovenkrands and Mullins, but then you think maybe his hand was forced by the financial situation. When we got tormented by Barnsley the other week, the one thing I noticed is the speed that Barnsley attacked us at times, they completely overawed us, we couldn’t cope; we needed refreshing but we didn’t have it in our locker, a fair few of our players are simply too old and battled weary to get themselves up for the battle, in my honest opinion. Their juice was sucked through a straw last season.
In addition, the injuries we have had are horrendous. Stevie Carr is out for the season; his replacement (and, in my opinion, a very, very good replacement) Paul Caddis is out for a while. Curtis Davies has had spells on the sidelines, so as has Pablo. David Murphy’s fitness has caused enough concern that the OAP-enfant terrible Paul Robinson has been signed up. The signing of Papa Bouba Diop for a month is another example of trying to fit rectangles into square holes; in the past, these sort of players would’ve been signed for a while longer. But we are desperate, just like Doncaster last season when they signed the likes of Habib Beye, El-Hadji Diouf and Pascal Chimbonda on short deals; Doncaster ended up going down to League One.
But generally, that doesn’t matter. For a lot of this season, let us face reality, we have been garbage. Well for nearly all of this season. Marlon King hasn’t been anywhere near as sharp as he was last season. Chris Burke hasn’t been skinning people like he used to (whether he has been told to protect the makeshift RB whoever that may be I don’t know). Curtis Davies has marshalled the defence like Chief Wiggum. Signings such as Darren Ambrose and Hayden Mullins, even if they were cost-constraint signings have been very lacklusture. Some players need to find form.
All in all, Clark deserves the chance everyone else got. It isn’t Lee Clark’s fault we’ve sold our best players, it isn’t Lee Clark’s fault that some players who he may not of wanted are on big money at Blues. He has had no real chance to shape the squad; all he can do is firefight. I just don’t see why people are blasting him; he has taken a job no-one else really wanted, I just hope he is given time to prove himself.
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