The Thundercliffe Files: what are Town trying to do?

Cod Almighty | Article

by Paul Thundercliffe

20 September 2019

Nine games into the season, Paul Thundercliffe asks what are Jolley and Limbrick trying to get our players to do?

The Thundercliffe Files mastheadStaying at a Birmingham hotel before the recent Walsall game, I was delighted to be given the room 442, what with the footballing theme of the stay. Those three numbers just scream football but actually are of little relevance today.

Gone are the teams of yesteryear that set up with a back four, two in central midfield (who ostensibly did the same job), two on the wing and two up front. In the days before squad numbers, you’d name your 1 – 11 and more or less they would fill those ten outfield positions. These days formations look less like hotel room numbers and more like phone numbers. Its 352, 433, 312211, 412121, 90210...

I understand progression and the way that the game has evolved. Everything, even at Town is analysed, digested, flipcharted and spreadsheeted. False 10s, holding midfielders and overloading fullbacks are now part of the footballing vernacular and landscape, with formations adapted and tweaked seemingly at will.

Truth is, after being brought up on 4-4-2 I don't particularly have an aversion to a different formation. I like Sheffield United's progressive use of the centre backs as attackers and Hessenthaler does an almost unnoticed job cleaning up around the defence.

My problem is that I need to see a formation and plan working. That the players are not just making it up as they go along. It’s the old Partridge "You pass to him and you score a goal" routine but that’s the essence. Buckley could have played 23221 but as long as the players knew their role, played the game and kept the tactics week in and week out it would have been OK.

There's the Hanson Punt and the full backs crossing from 40 yards out, but I could not tell you the tactics. There must be some cos Limbrick's got some diagrams

I’ve seen six games this season and I couldn't really tell you what we're trying to do. Sure, there's the Hanson Punt and the full backs seem determined to cross from 40 yards out but I could not tell you the tactics.

There must be some cos Limbrick’s got some diagrams which he always shows to the subs when they are about to come on. This always amuses me because unless that was a planned substitution and the score at that time is exactly what you thought it would be, and the opposition were lined up exactly how you predicted, then what could possibly be written down that would make a difference?

There’s too much over-thinking, over-tinkering these days. Passing the ball to death at the back, creating transitions, phases of play... It’s a simple game and Town have shown glimpses of playing it just that way.

Jolley’s assertion the other week that he plays a system to suit the players he's got makes a mockery of the transfer window. You surely know what formation and tactics you want and buy the players to suit it? Even then he plays Whitehouse in a jarringly uncomfortable position at times, making us incredibly narrow. I've lost count of the number of times a team has played a crossfield pass to the other wing, allowing full back to overlap and create crossing positions. We’ve got be be a little cuter, less one-dimensional.

He’s no fool, Jolley, and Limbrick seems pretty smart too. I was engrossed with his man-marking exercise against Palace and expect something similar next week at Stamford Bridge. I suppose its down to the intelligence of the players and their capacity to think, react and play football all at the same time.

I’m hopeful of a settling down of tactics and systems or at least the ability to change and adapt when teams nullify us. Having the skill and ability to do that is better than any formation you can think of.