The following article will be appearing in this weekend’s edition of ‘Made in Brum‘ fanzine…
This will be a season entirely unlike any other! It really does feel a little like we’ve gotten the yoke of expectation off our backs. We’re not amongst the favourites for relegation, we’re not amongst the favourites for promotion, and we’re not even amongst the favourites for the play-offs! This should suit us just fine. One thing I’ve noticed, over the years, is that (Wembley 2011 anyone?) we’re soooo much better, when we’re the ‘underdogs’. This could well be our season. Lee Clark has finished his first ‘tour of duty’ and has surely gotten the most severe of the ‘knee jerk’ specialists off his back, and – whilst even I’m not saying he’ll get us back into the Premiership – surely he’s proven he CAN put a winning team out on the pitch. The preseason has provided ups (Hull) and downs (Shrewsbury) as it always does. I wonder if anyone has bothered sticking a tenner on Luton to win the FA Cup, after they surprised ‘everyone’ by beating Aston Vile, preseason? I doubt it. Even though they prevented the ‘unrivalled’ Christian Benteke (translated as Darren Bent part deux?) from scoring. Victories are nice, but mean nothing in the grand scheme of things, so defeats should be treated the same. Friendly by name, meaningless (beyond fitness developing) by nature?
That being said, a great big ‘shout-out’ to the four ‘inferior opposition’ clubs who the Vile failed to beat in their preseason warm up, which hopefully is foreshadowing what’s to come for them this season which starts away at the Emirates. Heh heh. Perhaps some friendlies mean something after all?
Newport County 5-2 Aston Villa
Luton 2-0 Aston Villa
Wycombe 2-2 Aston Villa
Tamworth 3-2 Aston Villa
Mind you, we hardly slaughtered Real Madrid in our preseason, did we, beating Alfreton, Swindon and Shamrock Rovers, but the less said about Shrewsbury, the better! That said, goals from Shinnie (3), Novak (3), Green (3), Lee, Zigic, Reilly, Burke, and McGurk do seem to suggest Clark has a lot of firepower at his disposal!
On to the ‘real’ business. Watford are coming to visit, for the opener of our season. It won’t be the same team as last season, that’s for sure…we lost 4-0 at home to them, last season, a feat that surely (fingers and – strangely – thumbs crossed) won’t be repeated!!
Butland has gone, Caldwell has been released, Davies has been signed by Hull to kick the ball out of play, as demonstrated in our recent friendly. A good signing if that’s what they wanted to achieve. Ahem. Caddis was priced out of our league, by expecting us to pay at all for him, Robinson is still here, but has taken on the role of captain, in Carr’s retired absence, Burke is still here, Gomis has been released, Elliott is still here, Lovenkrands is still here…just, Thomas scored three goals for us in eleven matches, but was sent back to Bournemouth, and Rob Hall was sent back to West Ham, then went on loan to Bolton who signed him permanently.
The subs bench is looking rather familiar, to be fair, with Doyle, Spector, Hancox, Mullins and Reilly still at the club, and only Morrison and Redmond (sob?) to have departed…
In all fairness, reminders that Redmond remained on the bench so much of last season may help us to deal with his departure…reminders that his only being on the bench may have contributed to our heavy defeat to Barnsley, Hull and Watford may not! Especially when you notice he started (and stayed on the pitch) in the 4-0 win away to (newly returned to the Premiership) Crystal Palace. One consolation from that match may be the fact that aside from Redmond scoring, Ravel and a Delaney own goal, there was a goal from a certain Shane Ferguson!
So – Robinson, Burke, Elliott and Lovenkrands the only players who could possibly start against Watford, from those who also started last year.
Watford lined up with the following squad: Almunia, Doyley, Pudil, Cassetti, Nosworthy, Chalobah, Anya, Abdi, Battochio, Deeney, Vydra, SUBS: Bond, Thompson, Yeates, Hogg, Murray, Geijo, Forestieri.
Almunia, Battochio, Deeney, Forestieri, Pudil, Murray, Anya, Abdi, Cassetti, Bond, and Nosworthy are still there. Seven of the eleven starters and four of the subs! This – to me – would usually put Watford down as favourites, in terms of consistency, Gianfranco Zola remaining as manager also gives the team a little consistency, but I truly feel we can beat them, this time around. Perhaps it’s mindless loyalty, but we certainly showed what we are capable of, against a lively Hull side albeit in the ‘meaningless’ friendly.
Watford’s own meaningless matches have earned them two victories over Stevenage and Spanish team, Granada CF, and a draw against Peterborough.
What is our team likely to look like, this time around? Well, I was fortunate enough to go see Blues playing against Solihull Moors with my lad the other day, and have to say I wasn’t exactly blown over by what I saw from Peter Lovenkrands. It would be fair to say it was a second string friendly, so he certainly won’t have felt much pressure on the pitch, but he didn’t seem like he was trying to impress his boss too much either. I’d imagine he’s been told he can go elsewhere, so the match was a way to keep his fitness levels and not much besides, so I’d be shocked to see him involved in any way, shape or form, this early in the season. Perhaps if we haven’t managed to ship him off the wage bill, and we’re struggling with injuries? The same would realistically apply to Marlon King.
I would imagine our team will go for the 4-5-1 / 4-3-3 formation away from home, trying the ‘new-look’ 3-5-2 at home. Though I’m no tactician, so don’t quote me. This is just from looking at our various lineups in preseason.
Defenders: Robinson, Bartley, Eardley,
Midfielders: Burke, Elliott, Allan, Shinnie, Ferguson
ST: Novak and Zigic (a shade ahead of Green, mainly due to having to earn his wages?)
SUBS: Doyle (sorry Colin!), Murphy (how good will it be to see him back?), Burn, Lee, Mullins, Reilly (taking on Redmond’s mantle), Green.
As I look at it, it actually looks like a cracking team, and it doesn’t even have the likes of Lovenkrands and King on the bench, and I’m working on the assumption that Jonathan Spector will remain out injured. Darren Ambrose is still with us, but I’m puzzled as to how he’ll fit into Clark’s team, unless he can somehow prove himself in the Cup competitions. Packwood, Arthur, Hancox, Adeyemi, Higgins and Bell may well rely on the Cup route for match time, too.
I think after our 4-0 mauling, same match last season, we’ll all be thrilled with a 2-0 Blues win. Goals from Novak and Ferguson….
Keep Right On
RIP Christian “Chucho” Benitez, Aged 27…