Saturday, 30 January 2010

Tactical Strikes

I'm really looking forward to this afternoon's game, despite the fact that we're the two dullest teams in The Conference-fewer goals are scored in ours and Altrincham's games than anyone else's-and the only goal in our two games last month came completely out of the blue.

Both those matches saw an interesting tactical battle of wits break out between the managers, and encouragingly Dean Saunders was often a step ahead.
Alty's boss, Graham Heathcote, deserves massive credit. His side is part-time, but they show a level of flexibility rare amongst sides that are able to work on things every day. In each of the five clashes we've had with them over the last two seasons Altrincham have adjusted smoothly during matches, adapting to circumstances adeptly, their players showing an ability to cope with a variety of positions. It's good to see, even if solidity is often their first aim.
In the F.A. Trophy games last month we started out playing 4-4-2 and failed to make an impact on Altrincham, who played three at the back and outnumbered us in midfield. In both matches Saunders switched to 4-3-3 and immediately took control of the game.
Will Saunders be tempted to start with a 4-3-3 today? Does he see Andy Mangan as the sort of striker who can play on his own up front? Would that allow him to accommodate Jamie McCluskey, who has put in two impressive substitute appearances this week, playing behind a front two for the first time for us last Saturday?
Or will he recall what happened in the tie that we lost: after hammering Alty for twenty-five minutes our domination ended when Heathcote responded by switching to 4-3-3 himself. The result? The tie returned to a tight, thrill-free tussle, and they got a scrappy winner from a set piece which they then defended easily.
That was one of the few games this season which actually conformed to Dean Saunders' claim that we consistently create chances; if he can find the formation to create a similar amount today then Mangan will get chances to score his first goal for us. The battle in the dugouts will be as crucial as that on the pitch.

Friday, 29 January 2010

McCluskey's Catch-22

So where do you stand on Jamie McCluskey? And more importantly, how does Dean Saunders see him?

He's hardly had a proper run to show what he can do; admittedly the injuries he keeps picking up don't help, nor his finishing; let's just say he hasn't found his feet in front of goal yet! Both those factors could count against him when he looks to renew his contract in the Summer.
Yet there is always a sense of promise about him. Look at the AFC Wimbledon game. He has never played behind a front two for us before-he lined up behind Jeff Louis from the start at Kettering last season, but he's never been allowed free reign with two forwards making runs ahead of him.

He impressed, and also made an impact off the bench on Tuesday. But will that help or hinder him? If he gets pigeon-holed as an impact sub his hopes of establishing himself with us will be limited. The only way he can shake that reputation is to perform well when given a start, but the only way he'll earn that right's to impress off the bench, which might tempt Saunders to keep him there.

McCluskey needs to find an answer to that conundrum, and so does Saunders. In a squad lacking creativity, the little Scot could prove to be very handy indeed.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Mangan Signs For Wrexham at last!

At last! And you thought the Christiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid saga was tiresome! Now we have to see if we was worth the wait.

To be fair, you can't fault Saunders for his pursuit of him. When did we last land the top scorer in our division?

He looks like the type of player we're screaming out for too, so let's hope he delivers! There are plenty of others who’ve arrived at The Racecourse looking good on paper who haven’t delivered on the pitch, and frankly we can't afford for Mangan to join that list.

It'll be nice if he does come off as it'll buck a trend; transfer window signings tend to be born out of desperation and are often doomed to failure.

In the old system I seem to recall the occasional stunning signing on deadline day. Didn’t Mick Harford sign minutes for Birmingham City minutes from the deadline in the 1980s and score the goals that kept them up?

However, such cases are few and far between.

You never know though. Sometimes a few subtle changes to a squad can make a surprising difference. Football’s not as easy to read as the pundits claim-the regularity with which they contradict themselves shows that. I mean, can Rafa Benitez really alternate between fool and genius as often as we’re told he does?

The game is littered with players who looked useless or finished, but suddenly find a new lease of life, Stephen Carr at Birmingham being an obvious current example. He was contemplating giving the game up, having been without a club for a fair spell, when Alex McLeish came in for him.

Although this can happen, the chances of stumbling on a gem are slim when you’re in the bargain basement. That’s why I’m reassured to see we appear to be going after players teams are reluctant to let go-Barry and Mangan are the sort of players we ought to aim for.

Of course, Mangan carries a different sort of baggage, and I'm not going to pretend I'm comfortable with that. Still, everyone was horrified when Gary Bennett signed, but those objections dissolved when he started banging the goals in. I'm going to be a coward and hide behind the football fan's prerogative to decide what sort of signing he is once he's scored a hatful!

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