Sheffield Wednesday 1-2 Hull City
It was quite ironic that in a game where the referee gave us nothing, we scored two debatable goals. Wednesday desperately appealed for offside as Barmby strode away and finished coolly for number one, and they screamed for offside and handball as Barmby bundled in the winner from close range. We didn't have the best view, but both goals looked OK through my black and amber tinted speccies. It was no more than we deserved for a gutsy performance. We didn't go to 'take something' from the game, we set out to take all three points and did so through a combination of good attacking, solid defence and a bit of luck, the sort of luck we didn't get early in the season.
Barmby was superb again. He must love Hillsborough, he's scored 5 times in our 3 recent visits. His work rate was phenomenal again, and while his link up play wasn't as tidy as Saturday, he kept trying and continued to make himself a passing option throughout. He played one pass, on the turn, setting Fagan through one on one that was simply brilliant. Fagan continued his recent form. He's really blossoming under Phil Brown. Parky played him on the wing and he struggled because he doesn't have the quality of delivery required and even when Parky switched to 4-5-1, Fagan was still essentially a winger. Under Brown, he's a wide forward, with license to roam across the defence to find any position from which to attack. His pace is frightening and he's as skilful as any attacker in the division. He has room for improvement, in his passing and his decision making, but he's playing the best he ever has for us and with him, Barmby and Parkin or McPhee in the side, the 4-3-3 is a solid and fluid system that makes us strong at both ends.
The full backs and Marney and Livermore are also very important in the system. Parkin plays down the middle and Barmby drops off him to link play. Fagan generally takes up a position wide on the left or right. This puts a big onus on someone to help out down that side and the two on the opposite flank to squeeze up and give an option for switching play. France and Dawson were very strong going forward and their fitness was incredible. Both used the ball superbly throughout and Marney on the right and Livermore on the left were always in close proximity, along with Barmby and often Ash, to give an option to the man in possession. We had several spells of possession that defied our league position. We also have, in Parkin's brute strength and Fagan's electric pace, superb options for 'mixing it' and playing a longer ball. Whether these balls came from the full backs, centre backs or the midfield, they were of far greater quality to the hoof balls we hit early in the season and generally gave us a great chance to win the ball high up the pitch.
Boaz again dealt well with crosses and made one superb one on one stop against Tudgay. He went off with some sort of strain and was ably replaced by Duke, who handled well and swept up through balls. His kicking was abysmal, however, and must improve quickly. It was from dead balls too, which is pretty inexcusable. Perhaps just nerves, we'll see.
Defensively, Turner and Delaney were very solid. They faced a really tough task, because Tudgay, Burton and, later, MacLean are three of the most mobile and pacey strikers in the division. They are constantly found with balls from midfield, which they lay off. Wednesday also use the width of their pitch better than most and deliver a lot of crosses. We faced a barrage of crosses which we dealt with superbly and they were generally up to the task on the floor as well, where Wednesday zipped the ball about superbly at times. The only exceptions were the Tudgay chance and the equalising goal which was slightly unlucky because Turner got in a tackle but the ball rebounded off him and Ash slipped when trying to cover. From there, Burton shifted the ball and finished very well. Those aside, Wednesday didn't create a great deal of chances, despite good territory and a lot of set pieces. Simek's fizzing shot in first half stoppage time was about as good as it got. It's hard to remember a better performance at full back than the one Ryan France put in. He worked hard, made a lot of tackles, won headers and used the ball well. Dawson was also very good on the left, although he struggled to stop crosses coming in, although Simek on their right was very adventurous.
The midfield performance was strong again. They complimented each other very well. All three grafted for the cause and used the ball intelligently most of the time. We had sloppy spells, but on a wet pitch in your fourth game in 10 days, that's understandable. Marney was again the most creative and the most adventurous and he gave them a problem with very strong running and good use of the ball. He hit the side netting late on and might have scored after that if Fagan had released him following a lung bursting run. Ash lead well again and was at the top of his game. Livermore was much more noticeable with crucial interceptions and good ball retention. His calm on the ball rubbed off on those around him.
Parkin is still pretty immobile, but he has real guts. He made himself available and kept defenders occupied. He gives the side a good focus and a target by playing down the middle. Unlike Forster or Bridges, he doesn't drift deep or wide. He did play further back as we came under pressure late on and helped out in defence. Barmby and Fagan are simply immense and the formation, which is 4-3-3, 4-3-1-2 and 4-5-1, depending on the situation, plays on the strengths of both.
After two very, very good performances in the last 3 days, it looks like Leicester was the blip and not Cardiff. That is obviously good news. I just hope we don't rue the Leicester defeat, because that really was 3 points that were there for the taking. 7 points out of 12 is a good haul from the Xmas programme and 3 wins in 6 games will have done Browny's long term employment prospects no harm. February is a very tough month, but we have QPR and Leeds at home this month, plus a trip to Palace and 7 points out of those 3 is very possible and would do us the world of good. There's no doubt that playing with the current XI and the current confidence, work rate and ambition, we can beat anyone. We have 7 very winnable home games left, plus away games against sides who aren't exactly firing on all cylinders. We can definitely stay up and the future looks quite bright at the moment.
Ratings: Bo 7 (Duke), France 8, Dawson 7, Turner 7, Delaney 7, Ashbee 7, Livermore 7, Marney 7, Fagan 8, Barmby 8 (McPhee), Parkin 6 (Coles).
Happy New Year everyone!