New Balls Please

Last updated : 04 November 2004 By Andy Green
I don't think I've ever quite known a season like it. Having just been promoted and with a third of the season already gone, we sit third in the table, only goal difference keeping us out of an automatic promotion place. Yet there appears to be a tide of discourse washing through the tiger nation at present. It's hard to put your finger on any single reason for these feelings. Instead I think it's a number of small things managing to culminate into a collective uncertainty about the Tigers' prospects.

We've only shown glimpses of the form we know we are capable of. First halves against Torquay, Oldham and Luton and second half performances against Barnsley, Peterborough and Wrexham stand out from the crowd. Unfortunately that's only 6 halves, or 3 games, out of 16 matches in the league. It's as if a cursed ball of uncertainty has been kicked around the whole team, including the management.

The ball found itself firmly at the feet of Taylor at the season's outset with questions being raised about his involvement with the Under-21's and how much this might distract him from his 'day job'. When the ball was back-heeled to Murphy during his absence, we suffered badly at Huddersfield. Murphy's inability to even chastise or rally the troops during the game did not reflect well on him. Then the ball began to ping around the team itself. At one stage or another every position in the team has come under scrutiny.

No problems with Myhill, but when it came to finding an understudy we strangely went for older non-league keeper in Duke, rather than a younger prodigy. I still have problems with this decision.

Left back is synonymous with Dawson, but of late, Edge has started to get the odd outing and the surprising thing here is that Edge has looked better defensively than Dawson. Right back is all over the place. Thelwell looked to be first choice, but his catalogue of injuries has so far seen Hinds, France, Joseph and Wiseman all given a crack. Joseph is the current incumbent, and he hasn't done much wrong, but this doesn't hide the fact that he isn't a right back and would obviously rather be playing at centre back.

Delaney hasn't quite found the form of last season yet, with some suggesting this is down to him losing his regular partner, Joseph. His new partner, Cort, has been very up and down with his form, at times looking assured and dominant in the air, at other times appearing uncertain and outmanoeuvred on the floor.

The same concerns exist in midfield. Ashbee and Elliott are the constants around which everyone else seems to rotate at considerable speed. Lewis or Green? This one just runs and runs and runs. Ideally Taylor would like Green to possess Lewis's defensive qualities. Let's face it, if he did, he'd be playing in the Premiership. So, back on planet football, we are stuck with a choice of attack or defend, open or closed, risk or safety. It's natural that most of the fans would opt for Green, as most of us are fickle characters who can only see the potential 'goals' and 'good passing' on offer. Lewis' strengths of 'solidity' and 'good tackling' don't quite capture the imagination in the same way.

Like right back, right midfield remains a merry-go-round between France, Price and Green, when he's being pushed out of the middle by Lewis. I really want to see Price back in the team now, but achieving this would force Taylor's hand on the Green or Lewis issue and it appears he wants his cake and to eat it at the moment, leaving Price to warm the bench.

A lot of column inches and banter amongst the fans has centred on the forward line. So far we've had Allsopp, Walters, Barmby, Facey, Wilbraham, France, Elliott and even Lewis have a go up front. This itself speaks volumes about the uncertainty that has surrounded the front line this season. Allsopp appears short of confidence since losing Burgess, his partner in crime. Walters looks great apart from that little problem of not being able to actually score. Barmby is definitely a creator not a finisher. Wilbraham remains a 'not sure' at the moment, especially after getting a couple of goals for Oldham at the weekend. France, Elliott and Lewis are simply not strikers and I hope they only appear up front again as a last resort.

Thankfully, Facey has emerged from the shadows to cement a place with some strong performances. I say strong, because it's his physical attributes that have impressed the most. Speed and strength have allowed him to terrorise defenders, and fans like nothing more than a forceful forward. I hope his hamstring isn't too badly damaged and we see him again soon.

So we approach the Christmas period with question marks hanging over many positions and indeed, players. I hope things settle down soon as we play three of our promotion rivals - Swindon, Brentford and Tranmere - between now and Christmas. If we are still in the top three before visiting Blackpool on Boxing Day I really do think we have a great chance of promotion, especially when considering how well an unsettled team has done so far.