Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Thoughts so far

Now that Souness has begun to bed in as manager, and shape the team around him, it seems a good time to assess his early performances. Since he took over 3 weeks ago, we've successfully negotiated the first round of the UEFA Cup; broken our 30 year losing streak in Southampton; beaten the Baggies; managed a draw against a Birmingham side who played their best game of the season so far; had one player sent off; and seen our manager enjoy a frank exchange of views with a crap manure reject.

We've also seen the renaissance of Robbie Elliott; a three-pronged attack at home; Bellamy on the wing away; a tactical shift to three at the back when we were chasing a game; the stop-gap signing of Ronnie Johnsen; 14 goals for and 4 against.

The question is: what do people think of how he's handled things so far?

I'm happy with the results on the pitch, although I can't help feeling we could have beaten Birmingham, at least we haven't conceded crappy late goals, as we did last season. Fourteen goals scored in 5 games is an impressive scoring record, and only four goals against is pretty good. Of course, had we been playing stronger teams the results may well have looked very different, but you can only beat what is in front of you, and generally we've done that with some aplomb.

I can’t believe that come the end of the season Robbie Elliott will still be in the team, or that Johnsen will last beyond January, and only when Souness is let loose with the club cheque book in January will we really be able to tell what sort of team he wants to build, and how good a judge of player he is, but in the mean time we are holding things together well.

We've also not seen any strong signs of the public arse-kicking that some had predicted for the young guns, but then Titus, Dyer and Shola have all suffered injuries, so we've not really seen any signs of improvement on the pitch. JJ on the other hand has been like the player who won the PFA Young Player of the Season Award 2 years ago, not the waste of space we saw huffing and puffing around the centre circle last season. If Souness can work similar miracles with the other 3 then it’ll be like having a load of new exciting players, without the issues of them bedding into the side. I must confess to having high hopes for Titus, and if only Souness can teach him to concentrate for the entire game we could have a great centre-half on our hands. (A lot of ifs in that sentence, I know.)

I remain unconvinced by 3 upfront, and think that they need to work on that in training. I think Bellamy dropping slightly deeper might work better, as he can run from deep and unsettle a defence trying to deal with Shearer and Kluivert, which should create space for one of them to do the business, but whether that works, or they just have to accept some form of rotation policy, only time will tell.

I also think that at times we've lacked width, and the reintroduction of Milner and Robert in to the side could well be a good move (particularly as Robert appears to be in one of his good phases) – how you balance that with the 3 pronged attack I don't know, but then I'm not paid to make those decisions.

All in all, I'm happy with what I've seen so far, but I’m sure Souness is aware that against better sides we might be found out, and we need to work on finding a shape that suits our play, and learn to not give away careless goals. If we can do that, it could be a very exciting season, but if not we may find that it ends like so many before it – promising much, but ultimately leaving us wondering "what if…"


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