Date: 16th September 2010 at 9:07am
Written by:

I have read all the reports, even contributing to the blogs, and we all agree that Mick McCarthy got his tactics wrong at Craven Cottage.

Correction: he got them spectacularly wrong!

Firstly, I was surprised to see the track-suited Jones make his way to the bench, considering all the praise he has received from the management recently and who, if he is really looking for a new club, would want to ‘put in a shift` to showcase his skills.

Was MM trying to shore up the defensive midfield by selecting Mancienne or in a Machiavellian manoeuvre setting out to ‘diss` Jones, while suggesting to Mancienne that he had a real future at Wolves?

If so, as last season proved, the Chelsea loanee operates best as the extra man in a 4-5-1 system. Yet, on Saturday MM started with two strikers, presumably considering that van Damme (plus Mancienne) offered sufficient additional cover in defence.

As ever, having shakily withstood the initial barrage (why can`t we start at Premiership pace?), the plan seemed to work.

We scored a good goal against the run of play, courtesy of Doyle and van Damme, and from my vantage point behind Hahnemann thought that for the rest of the half we comfortably contained Fulham. Of course, the absence of Zamora helped, as did Hughes`s failure fully to wind up Dembélé until the half-time break. At the interval my friend and I were busily recalculating the team`s fortunes over the rest of the season, based on the premise that if we gained three points away from home at the expense of a classy team, how big a pile would we amass by May.

So, what was going through MM`s mind at half-time? At best, he should have left well alone or perhaps have thought about ‘parking the bus`, adding defensive strength by withdrawing Ebanks-Blake, adding Guedioura and leaving Doyle upfront. While I commend the manager for possessing the flexibility of mind to change his opinion of a player, he still has to rate him accurately against the other contenders for the position. SEB has certainly improved, putting in the required ‘ shift`, but does not possess the class and ball-magnetism of Doyle nor the touch and finesse of Fletcher. If he did not want to revert to a more defensive formation, he should have kept Fletcher in reserve, asking Doyle to run himself into the ground first.

I suspect that Fletcher`s presence influenced the manager`s decision. He could not risk leaving a supposedly fully fit £7,000,000 player on the bench and, as a result, van Damme, of all people, had to make way. If Jelle was injured or unfit, surely MM would have told us by now? More to the point, how fit is Fletcher? He was a mere shadow of the person who sparkled against Stoke until his injury, possibly in retaliation for the one on Kenwyne Jones, forced him off. We could be in for a rough ride, given our current reputation, which will increase the twitchiness of referees and give our opponents the justification to put the boot in. Ironically, K. Jones was fit enough to score the equaliser against Villa Saturday.

The substitution completely upset the balance of the team, both up front and in midfield, and, even worse, it confused the players. It perplexed Doyle, for instance, and neutralized his influence on the game. Instead of taking SEB off, who at least was playing in his recognised position, and moving Doyle forward, he replaced the Irishman. Possibly Doyle was tired after his international exertions or MM had decided that he was not performing well enough, without recognizing the real reason for his striker`s distress. David Jones came on and was equally ill at ease. Why, if the manager wanted to add ‘bite` (probably the wrong word to use at the moment), did he not bring on Guedioura, who is ‘flying` and is desperate to play for the side? Mancienne, it should be added, had a shocker.

To sum up, I haven`t a clue what MM was thinking about. It would be interesting to hear his spin on the match, explaining why he acted as he did before and during the course of the game. Unless he can validate his actions – and he has not done so yet- he should own up to his mistakes and hopefully learn from them. I am a Mick McCarthy fan but was amazed at the seeming ineptitude of his decisions and might be forced to change my opinion if he gets it so badly wrong again. His tactics on Saturday were not just unfathomable they were bizarre and utterly counter-productive to events on the pitch. It was as if Hughes had walked into the Wolves dressing room at half-time, disguised as our ‘gaffer`, and had dictated Fulham-friendly changes. Those made certainly played into their hands.



Southbank 60

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