Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Season review 2005-6

Another year over, and what have we done? In a piece written prior to the news that Roeder's caretaker role would become permanent and that Given was staying on too, Paul looks back on the season, and forwards to the summer and beyond.

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Last August, in our preview of the season, Ben and I made the following observations:

* We need to add more players to those we brought in over the summer (especially a striker).

* We’ll do well to finish in the top half, and given the size of our squad, injuries to key players could see us scrapping against relegation.

* If we are scrapping against relegation, Souness will be sacked.

Looking back it’s clear that despite adding a top striker the injuries which afflicted the squad (including the aforementioned striker) and the reliance on that as an excuse for countless poor performances saw Souness sacked as we headed down the table.

However, that doesn’t really tell the tale of our season.

With the exception of Albert Luque, who (to put it politely) has yet to convince, Souness’ summer signings have done well. Parker and to a lesser extent Emre and Solano have been superb in midfield. Clark has done a job as required. Owen, when fit, has scored goals, and when he finally found his way onto the pitch (after Souness had already been sent packing) Craig Moore has looked solid in our defence.

However, despite players individually performing well, the team that Graeme built was only ever heading down the table because they rarely performed like a team. The defence (built around Souness’ signing Boumsong) looked like they hadn’t even been introduced, and with injuries taking their toll we couldn’t score enough goals to overcome our repeated shortcomings.

Our lowest ebb was reached on 1st February when Man City tore us apart, and in doing so forced Fat Fred to pull the trigger on Graeme and his band of cronies. With the transfer window closed, our caretaker manager Glenn Roeder (returning to top flight management after his relegation with West Ham) had to rely on the same players. Doing just that, Roeder took us from fifteenth to seventh in the space of 16 games, only losing three league games in the process.

So where did it all go right for Roeder?

The injuries largely remained, with Owen and Dyer managing barely any football, Taylor out since December, and Parker (our most consistent outfield player) stricken with glandular fever for the last few weeks of the season.

Yet the goals started to flow, and the defence stopped leaking. Without additions to the squad, the simple answer must be because of what happened on the training ground. Getting the defence to talk to one another made a massive difference, as did the emphasis placed on attacking football which relied on good passing and exciting wing play.

Put bluntly: Roeder looked at the players he had available, improved what he could and got us to play to our strengths. Hardly rocket science when you look at it that way, but nonetheless a task beyond Souness, Murray and Saunders. Even Shola started to look like a player who could offer more than two great games a season.

Subject to some regulations regarding his qualifications, Roeder looks set to get the job full time which, given his record so far, is understandable. The one concern which I have (echoing those voiced in the latest edition of The Mag) is that he almost appears to be getting the job by default. Fat Fred talked about top quality managers queuing up, but they all appear to have drifted away. Which begs the question, did they even exist?

Hopefully Roeder will identify the shortcomings in the side, and rectify them this summer. At least one striker and some committed and tactically astute defenders seem a must, whilst the deadwood needs to be cut, and the lack of depth in the squad needs addressing.

However, with at least a small carrot in the shape of European football, and the clout that having 52,000 through the turnstiles each week brings, we can hopefully keep hold of the quality, and bolster the squad with some astute purchases, before looking forward to next season with renewed confidence.

* * * * *

My own season review, for the Focus On Football site, can be read here. Thanks to Keith for inviting me to contribute.


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