Saturday, May 30, 2009

Season Review 2008/09

There you have it. I could stop there. The graph says it all really.

I don’t think anybody is sad to see this season finish. It has been an almost constant struggle and at times it has been an appallingly ugly constant struggle. Looking back at the Season Preview I wrote (and which you can find on this blog if you look for it) then the obvious question that needs addressing is where did it all go wrong? What happened to that prediction of 12th place?

Well if we look at the players who played and the goals they scored what can we deduce?

Appearances Subs Goals
Marcel Seip 42 0 3
Romain Larrieu 42 0

Karl Duguid 41 0 2
Chris Barker 40 2

Paul Gallagher 37 4 13
Jamie Mackie 36 9 5
Craig Cathcart 32 1 1
Chris Clark 31 6

Luke Summerfield 29 2 2
Rory Fallon 27 19 5
Mathias Doumbe 21 3 1
Alan Judge 15 2 2
David Gray 15 0

Krisztian Timar 14 8

Simon Walton 13 1

Gary Sawyer 13 0 3
Carl Fletcher 13 0 1
Steven MacLean 12 11 2
Ashley Barnes 12 3 1
James Paterson 8 10

Yoann Folly 7 5

Jason Puncheon 6 1

Graham Stack 6 0

David McNamee 5 5

Craig Noone 3 19 1
Emile Mpenza 3 6 2
Jermaine Easter 3 2

Nicolas Marin 1 5

Roudolphe Douala 1 1

George Donnelly 0 2

44 Total

The obvious 2 facts that stand out from that to me are:

1. 44 goals is far too few;

2. 30 players is far too many. Not even Luggy wanted 30 playeres at the start of the season:

I would like to think we will have several more players coming to the football club before the window closes. There are some talented players I would like to bring to the football club - ones that have played in the Championship, as well. I envisage four or five players still coming in, which would take us up to the 22 we need.

If you look at the graph above the season breaks down into these categories:

1. A poor start;

2. A recovery;

3. A steady decline.

Let’s get back to just before the beginning of the season. Here’s a quote from Luggy:

We have had a look at this system [4-3-3] now over two or three games and I'm reasonably happy we could change to it if need be. I have got a lot of food for thought over the next couple of days, generally, on how we are going to start the season. The 4-3-3 system is difficult when you are forcing people to be passers when they are not passers. You need people who are comfortable taking the ball when they have got their back to players. Unless you have the right concoction, it's a real difficult one.

It wasn’t the only quote like it. Luggy wanted the team to play to a certain style with the ball being played to feet. Here’s another quote from the pre-season training camp in Austria.

Asked to describe the qualities the centre-forward in a 4-3-3 needs to have, Sturrock replied: “The boy Koller, who plays for the Czech Republic, is ideal, or you need a very cute linkage player. Somebody who can take the ball, hold it, and feed it to the team. It's good to have pace either side of that player, and somebody who is prepared to run beyond him. You can simplify everybody's game, because they all have a certain job to do.” The other key position is that of the central midfield player and Sturrock added: “He is probably the most important player in the whole system, he has to go on the ball and make some passes.” Flavien Belson and Yoann Folly had taken it in turns to do the job on Tuesday and Sturrock said: “In the first half, we just lumped it to Rory. In the second half, Yoann got more of the ball and we were able to link up with our wingers. They're key players in the system too. It's a system that people like playing, and it means that your back four is left very solid. It's very adaptable, because you can play two central midfielders and one off the front. 4-2-1-3 instead of 4-1-2-3. You can change between the two very quickly.

So there you have an idea of the pre-season planning and tactical objectives. The season started versus Wolves with this line-up:

Graham Stack, Karl Duguid, Marcel Seip, Mathias Kouo-Doumbe (Krisztián Timár), Chris Barker, Jamie Mackie, Luke Summerfield (Jason Puncheon), Simon Walton, Chris Clark (Jim Paterson), Jermaine Easter, Rory Fallon. Substitutes (not used): Romain Larrieu, Steve MacLean.

They battled away to win a point in as thrilling a curtain raiser as you could wish to see but it didn’t last and a succession of poor results followed. We lost to a terribly weak Luton side (they could barely field 11 players at the time) in the Carling Cup and in 3 out of 4 League games League games including a desperately poor pair of performances against Swansea (on Sky TV no less to add to the humiliation) and Norwich (after Timar got himself recklessly sent off early on). By the time the team travelled to Watford there was rebellion in the air. There were rumours about discontent within the ranks and personal issues seemed to be causing friction. Luggy read the riot act, made 7 changes and we won at Watford.

At this stage the pre-season planning lay in ruins. All talk of 4-3-3 and balls to feet was replaced by 4-4-2 and “blood and snotters” and for a while it worked with Timar, Walton, Stack, Easter, Puncheon, MacLean and Folly being the players who for one reason or another bore the brunt with Stack seemingly set to never play for us again.

That started our best run of results of the season. We won at Palace and beat Forest at home. We played Bristol City off the pitch for 45 minutes at Ashton Gate but couldn’t keep it up and ended up drawing 2-2 and we walloped Wednesday at home in some style.

You just couldn’t predict which way any game was going to go. We lost at Derby and Ipswich but beat Wednesday (again ~ away this time) and Preston at home. We lost at Sheffield United, drew at home to Charlton, won at Coventry and put the Sky humiliation behind us with a home win v Cardiff with Mpenza getting what turned out to be the winner. (More about him later.) We then drew at Southampton.

And then the wheels came off.

It had all been a gloriously unpredictable roller-coaster ride to this point. Some varying displays matched the varying results but it was all kind of OK but chickens were about to come home to roost.

Various players were either not performing or not being given a chance to perform and apart from the chosen B&Sers the others were frozen out. At this stage we were relying on Larrieu, Doumbé (at right back), Cathcart, Seip, Barker, Duguid, Summerfield, Clark, Fallon, Gallagher and Mackie. That left MacLean, Walton, Paterson, Folly, Timar, Noone and Marin largely kicking their heels in frustration. There are a few names missing here and they were either injured (McNamee, Sawyer, Mpenza) or out on loan (Puncheon, Barnes, Bolassie) or double-Guinaned (Stack).

Quite simply we asked too much of too few for too long. It couldn’t last and didn’t but as we hit the end of November we still probably hadn’t been able to field the best possible starting XI out of the players who ought to have been available. We lost in depressing fashion at home to Blackpool which heralded the start of a run of 16 games in which we only beat Southampton at home on Boxing day until we most unexpectedly won following a goal in the opening seconds at table-topping Wolverhampton in February’s last match. It wasn’t pretty.

That long run dominated and defined our season. Try as we might we just couldn’t buy a result and at times we didn’t seem to be able even to score a goal. We played well at home against Birmingham and put them under huge pressure only to lose 1-0 (they did that to lots of teams on the way to 9 other similar wins out of their 29 binary scorelines which included 2 against us). For the Cardiff away game we were hit by a flu bug which saw us forced to field the most bizarre line-up of the season with 6 (!) central defenders in a game that also featured a rare appearance from Jason Puncheon. Against Bristol City at HP we matched them stride for stride until they scored at which point heads dropped and the players visibly shrank an inch or two. We were a team that was in desperate need of a break but none was forthcoming. At Ipswich we battled away for a 0-0 which might have been a 1-0 if a late Mackie goal had not been disallowed for a dubious offside. We seemed to rattle the woodwork at least twice a game.

When we started the season, we couldn’t buy a win and couldn’t buy a goal. Then for 14 games we grasped the cudgel and took ourselves from the bottom of the league to fifth top. Now, all of a sudden, we have reverted back to the way we started the season

The lowest point of the season, for me, came in the game at home to Derby on a bitterly, bitterly cold afternoon.We lost 3-0 with Gary Teale scoring with a spectacular shot from distance and Jamie Mackie thwacking the ball against the crossbar from absolutely miles out when the game was still up for grabs but Derby’s opening goal, a spectacular but speculative thrash from Gary Teale who never did anything like that for us while he was here, killed us completely. Not only were we rubbish there was no fight. It was just too painful to watch and I left the game early for the first time ever and took refuge in a nice warm pub where I watched England play rugby. Physically it was far nicer but emotionally it was a horrible thing to do.

For 44 minutes, we were very competitive. The one that hits the bar for us, they go down to their end and it hits the bar and goes into the back of the net. Where the real disappointment is...30 seconds into the second half we changed system, we were ready for the challenge, but there's a calamity of errors and they finish with the ball in the back of the net which really kicks the wind right out of our sails. It just epitomises the problems we are having at home at the moment. It just seems that every mistake we make finishes up in the back of the net at this minute in time. When things are not going right for you in front of goal, it seems to kick you in the teeth at the other end. If you look at our away form and the points we have taken, we're very competent with the rest of the league. It's quite a good tally we've put together away from home. The problem is our home form is going to make us struggle at the bottom half of this league until we turn it. We cannot keep losing these silly goals. The second goal was a complete and utter killer. There's nothing else you can say about the game, you need to lift yourself and then the goal came so early. They had a fighting spirit, they kept at it right to the end.

Something in the wind changed during yet another defeat at home to Palace. We were 3-0 down at HT and the crowd could easily have turned on the team but the very opposite happened and everybody seemed to pull together. Sawyer scored and we ended up losing 3-1 but the vibe was very different to that which had preceded it. In many ways the season has been very ugly and the role of the fans in some home games has been the ugliest. Various players have borne the brunt of some disgusting abuse and Fallon, Summerfield and MacLean have been on the wrong end of plenty. MacLean so much so that his reaction after scoring against QPR was utterly astonishing as was a kick at a dugout which knocked a hole in it when he was not brought on as a sub. He did not help himself much with some comments made whilst being a guest commentator for a home game v Sheff Wed which really did make one wonder where his loyalty really belonged as did a non-celebration of another goal when he scored the only goal in a 1-0 win at Hillsborough.

Fallon seemed to get the stick for every long ball that was belted hopefully in his direction which always struck me as being unfair. If he had been the one booting it then maybe but he was not but the long ball was a definite feature of much of the poor run and it was not working as results showed. Fallon is actually very good at winning his share of the high balls but it was a bugbear of mine that the team as a unit sat too deep with the midfield and back four too compressed leaving Fallon and A.N. Other isolated and up against it with little hope of success or support. Everybody seemed to know it. Luggy mentioned it in interviews and captain Duguid even said it during the post-match jollies in the Pyramid Suite after the win against Cardiff but it still happened time and time again.

There were 2 consistent bright spots throughout the season though and one was Jamie Mackie’s energy levels and commitment. He impressed Paul Jewell so much that during a stint on SSN he said “this boy would chase a paper bag in the wind” and he was right. The other was the obvious skill and eye for the spectacular shown by Blackburn loanee Paul Gallagher. Some of the goals he scored where breathtaking with an overhead effort at Wolves and a strike from distance at Derby heading the list. A fine player at this level and I would love to see him sign for us. Blackburn appear to be letting him go so it comes down to money and the word on the street is that the coffers are empty and that the club is losing money at an alarming rate which given that we averaged only 11533 which is 1500 0r so down on last season and a staggering 6358 down on the division average is not surprising. Only Blackpool’s crowds were lower which meant that even Doncaster beat us for bodies through the gate (and twice on the pitch too).

But then we won at Wolves and hope was re-born. What followed was not a great run of results but in comparison to what had gone before they were a revelation: WWDLLLWW. That gave us 13 points out of 24. Not bad at all but our league position remained precarious as everybody else seemed to start getting better results too. The last of those wins was a 4-0 walloping of Coventry on April 11th which actually won us the points we needed to stay up. We were safe, although we did not know it) with 4 games to go.

From that point our season petered out disappointingly with nerves jangling at every stage. We got what seemed like crucial points at QPR and Birmingham and lost in abject fashion at home to Doncaster. It all came down to the last match ~ nearly. Norwich had played Reading on the preceding Monday and had lost 2-0 to take the last relegation spot and so we could relax at last. We started that game well against a Barnsley team racked with tension and took an early lead. Barnsley needed Norwich to lose to be safe and as news came through that they were then so they improved and they won what was ultimately a meaningless game 3-1. In that game we started with:

Romain Larrieu, David Gray, Marcel Seip, Chris Barker, Gary Sawyer, Alan Judge (George Donnelly), Karl Duguid (capt), Carl Fletcher, Paul Gallagher; Ashley Barnes (Craig Noone), Rudi Douala (Jamie Mackie 50).Substitutes: Krisztián Timár, Chris Clark.

(Only 3 players who started against our first match v. Wolves started our last v. Barnsley! In many ways the Barnsley match summed up our entire season.)

I think it all went awry for us this time last year when we didn’t actually sign a central midfield player to fill one or more of the gaps left by the absence of Buszaky, Hodges, Nalis and Wotton. We were left with a midfield that was just too weak which left us with little option but to by-pass it. We were also not helped much by injuries to 2 players who I am sure were key to the intended playing style and tactics of the team: Mpenza and McNamee. I am sure that they both offer plenty but neither actually delivered very much in terms on minutes on the pitch and as a result the team never evolved into a unit capable of allowing a player like Nicolas Marin (another that I liked the look of but who disappointed and wasn’t to see the season out with us) to perform. The pick up at the end came when Sawyer, Gray (another loanee from Man Utd who was injured for much of his stay with us), Judge and Fletcher came into the team. We suddenly looked much better. Was it all down to Fletcher in midfield? Probably not but he clearly added strength, experience and leadership where it was most badly needed. What might have been had we started the season with Larrieu, Gray, Sawyer, Barker, Duguid, Fletcher, Judge, Mpenza, Gallagher and Mackie? It has not been a vintage season and it will not be remembered happily by anybody really but I am sure that lessons have been learned. We cannot progress by hoofing it up the pitch, the back four need to get up the pitch more and the midfield needs to support the front men more and the signs were there that these lessons had already been taken on board at the end of the season.

Just to round up on a few other things. This season has been one characterised by criticism. It has been relentless. Fans have criticised players, tactics, selections, the board, signings and non-signings; players have allegedly criticised the club, the manager, each other and the fans; the manager has clearly been unhappy with certain players and has pretty much said so. None of it is good and it will ultimately destroy us as a club if it doesn’t stop sooner rather than later.

Here’s brief round-up of our players and the season they have had.

Romain Larrieu
The Last Of The Legends and a deserved winner of Player Of The Season. That a goalkeeper won that award speaks volumes.

Karl Duguid
Bought as a right back but pressed into duty in the midfield. He has been steady but unspectacular. One of those players appreciated rather more by teammates than by fans I suspect.

James Paterson
He has been missing for most of the season. He was brought here as a left back and hasn’t played there much at all and has been pressed into central midfield in an attempt to cover obvious deficiencies there. I like him but he is not popular with the fans and doesn’t seem to be favoured by Luggy.

Simon Walton

Just hasn’t lived up to the billing. Was signed to be the defensive lynchpin of our midfield but appears to have been found wanting in that role. He has a reputation as a hard man but all we have seen is some rather reckless play and his sending off at Barnsley was amongst the most stupid I have ever seen. Maybe it is all in there somewhere. If it is it needs to emerge soon. I’ll be surprised if he is here in August.

Krisztian Timar
At the start of the season he was definitely off the pace which is understandable bearing in mind his horrific injury at the end of last season. Hasn’t featured regualarly and appears to be suffering from lack of regualr 1st team football. He has never been the quickest and needs regular games. We have not seen the best of him this season and his sending off was very unprofessional.

Chris Clark
He seemed to be the next David Norris but he fell out of the team and out of favour towards the end of the season. He has always looked good to me but possibly lacks the necessary strength.

Yoann Folly
Barely has he featured and when he has he has not particularly impressed. Towards the end of the season he couldn’t even get a reserve game. I don’t think we will see him in green again.

Steven MacLean
I think he is a good player who needs a footballing side around him. For much of the season that has not been us and he has suffered as a result. He is not a crowd favourite and it would probably be best for evrrybody were he to go.

Jermaine Easter
He hasn’t looked up to it since he arrived. He works as hard as anybody I have ever seen but just lacks what is needed at this level. He asked to leave then decided to stay and has been out on loan. He needs to be in somebody’s 1st XI (but not ours).

Paul Gallagher
He has been brilliant.

Green Army

At home they have sometimes embarassed me but away they have been as good as ever. Did we lose 10 home games because of this or did those defeats cause the losses. Desperately needs to improve or we will go down

Mathias Doumbe
He doesn’t appear to have the Luggy’s trust to me. Hasn’t been helped by playing out of position at right back or by getting plenty of advice from the crowd. I still think him and Seip could be as good a partnership as any in the division but that is obviously not going to happen. He’s been a loyal servant and the longest-lasting of Williamson’s acquisitions but he needs to be in somebody’s 1st XI (but not ours).

Rory Fallon
I think he has done well over all. Many of the complaints aimed at him are, I feel, misplaced. He needs more goals and less fouls.

Chris Barker
He has quietly gone about his business and has proved himself to be an excellent no fuss defender at both centre and left back. Doesn’t offer much offensively but is clearly a Luggy favourite.

David McNamee
He has been injured so much that it is impossible to judge him. I think he is probably the best right back we have when fit.

Craig Noone

Excites in every reserve match and scored a crucial goal at Coventry. Has the potential to be a real crowd pleaser.

Gary Sawyer
Injured for the first part of the season but has been a fixture at left back since he got fit. Has scored a commendable number of gaols too. I have always doubted him but he is winning me over.

Marcel Seip
Very rarely makes a boo-boo and the CB next to him always looks good. A class act.

Luke Summerfield
He’s got bottle by the bucket-load as shown by his stepping forward for penalty duties and will need it to flourish under the pressure put upon him by some in the crowd. I think he needs to leave for his own sake but that almost amounts to him being hounded out of the club and that just has to be wrong. He’s not as good as he would like to be and not as bad as some make out.

Graham Stack
Bad boy #1 if rumours are true. He’ll never play again for us as long as Luggy is at the club but impressed in our first few games.

Alan Judge
Small, busy and effective. Like Norris but with end product.

Ashley Barnes
Came into the 1st Team and did well. Gets right in the faces of the opposition and will chase everything; if he can deliver 10 goals next season he has a bright future.

Jamie Mackie
From the moment he scored twice after coming on as a sub last season he has been a firm crowd favourite. He scored the goal of the season versus Reading and has played in nearly every game. He needs to score more and if he is to continue playing out wide he needs to be able to beat his full back and I don’t think he has done that all season.

Yannick Bolasie
(on loan to Barnet )
I haven’t seen him play but he seems to have featured regularly for Barnet

Lloyd Saxton
Difficult to comment. Has played 1st Team football and has been in a dominant reserve team when I have seen him play.

Carl Fletcher
Added exactly what had been missing to our midfield.

Damien McCrory
I have never seen him play.

Dan Smith
Has been released which is a shame. I hope he finds a club because he has always looked good to me.

Emile Mpenza
Scored a couple of goals which turned out to be very important but has not justified his reported £10k/week wage . We will never see him again in green.

David Gray

Has looked solid but unspectacular. Perfect right back material.

George Donnelly
Very, very raw. Needs 12 months.

Roudolphe Douala
He came, he saw, he got subbed, he was released.

Nicolas Marin

Was never really given a chance and was released. How different the season might have been had he thrived.

Jason Puncheon

I have never seen him play. Signed from Barnet, played a couple of times and was dropped. Loaned to MK Dons where he played every match and seemed to do well. Came back and straight into our team. Dropped. Back to MKD. What is going on here?

Paul Sturrock (Manager)

Needs to do better next season. This season clearly did not pan out as he had hoped and not only were tactics jettisoned but he wasn’t able to play what was probably our strongest possible line-up which would have probably included Stack, Walton, Mpenza and McNamee at the start of the season once which could not have helped. His biggest problem has been the lack of leadership in the midfield. I can’t help but think that if he knew then what he knows now that Paul Wotton would not have been released. There was rumoured to be long pursuits of 3 players who did not arrive: the Austrian Saumel (went to Torino in the end), Man Utd youngster Darron Gibson and Carl Fletcher. We can only speculate as to why none of them came but maybe Luggy was let down by the budget? Who knows but that lack of recruitment in that area has haunted us all season more than anything else and probably lies at the root of all of our problems.

If we are to strengthen, and surely we must, then players will have to go to free up budget and we might be unhappy about some of those who do leave. I think we will see a team built around Larrieu, Barker, Sawyer, Seip, Mackie and Barnes which leaves plenty of scope for recruitment.


The season has been one where we have been tested almost to destruction but we have come through. We are horribly under-resourced compared to most of our competitors and every season that we spend in this division is to be commended. We stayed up and we stayed up with 5 points, 4 games, 3 weeks, 2 (can’t think of a “2”) and 1 place to spare. It would be nice for the barrier to be a bit bigger next season.

There I got all the way to the end without once mentioning Arsenal.

[I have to give credit to Greens On Screen/Semper Viridis as the source for most of the facts and figures. There is a link on the right hand side of the page.]


At 8:50 am, Anonymous Peter_dout said...

Well done, it was a horrible season. But there were signs of optimism.

At 10:29 am, Anonymous Dani_B said...

Does that graph show that we were never in the relegation zone after week 7/8?

At 10:36 am, Blogger Babararacucudada said...

Yes it does.


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