"...this is the most articulate and accurate piece written about the club for years!" - Tales from the Front, http://www.otib.co.uk/

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Bristol City 2 Stoke City 0; The Exiled Robin's player ratings

The second fantastic performance in four days at Ashton Gate, last night's win was about as comfortable cup upset as you can get against a Premier League team. Here are my thoughts on the eleven who played, plus Lee Johnson.

Luke Steele, 7: Had a surprisingly quietish debut but did everything he was asked. There were one or two moments of uncertainty when balls fell in the dead zone between him and the back four, but that's to be expected on his first appearance.
Zak Vyner, 6: May seem harsh, but whilst he mainly did ok there were three moments where he misjudged his positioning, leaving Stoke with chances to capitalise. But largely did well against quality opposition.
Aden Flint, 9: Almost faultless. The fact that Peter Crouch shook his hand and applauded him when he was substituted after a completely fruitless evening said it all. No real pace or trickery to threaten his usual weaknesses and made a superb clearance off the line at 0-0. He was the one shouting and organising a back five that hadn't played together before. Provided one of the funniest moments of the game when forward from a corner, he stayed up and ran across the back line, back & forth, about eight times, waiting for a cross or long ball in that never came!
Jens Hegeler, 8: Solid at the back, put in one superb sliding block challenge and at times showed some of the composure on the ball from his first few games with City. My only criticism is he might have been caught out of position a few times against a more attacking team, but no issues tonight.
Hordur Magnusson, 7: Proved we have more genuine cover at left-back after Lloyd Kelly's performance in the last round. Solid enough, kept their wide men quiet in the main, but distribution wasn't always on the mark and one of the few to give the ball away a few times in the first half.
Niclas Eliasson, 7: Earned the 7 for his endeavour but felt he was a bit disappointing in terms of an attacking threat. Didn't really use the ball well enough when in attacking positions, but that should come with more game time and experience.
Marlon Pack, 9 (MotM): Controlled the game superbly in the middle of the park, Stoke simply never got close enough to him. Kept the ball moving at pace and, along with Josh Brownhill, ran the game to such an extent that Darren Fletcher and Charlie Adam were totally dominated, both receiving yellow cards through sheer frustration and moaning to the referee all night. Would have been a 10 had his left-foot 25-yard shot hit the target and not the corner flag!
Josh Brownhill, 9: This guy gets better with every game and tonight was possibly his best performance in a City shirt. Did the leg work to protect the back four, passed the ball neatly, battled to keep possession and was a threat going forward, not letting Fletcher and Adam settle all night. Can't be long until he's the first midfielder on the team sheet every week.
Callum O'Dowda, 8: Excellent hard-working performance down the left flank. He protected Mags well, provided a threat going forward but the most impressive thing for me is how he carries the ball forward. He's not necessarily a tricky, creative traditional winger but he carries the ball well, rarely loses it and more often than not, gets a free-kick once he runs into too many defenders. Did it countless times this evening and linked well with Pack, Brownhill & Taylor in particular.
Matty Taylor, 9: The sponsors' MotM and hard to argue. Any doubts that he has the quality to cope at Championship level were dispelled against experienced Premier League defenders. Came off the front line tirelessly all night to help the midfielders have a pass to make and protected the ball well each time. He rarely loses it and also pressurised the back line, created chances for himself and others. The only minor blot was the finishing - he'll be delighted with his goal and assist but he will know he should have had a hat-trick after three 1-on-1s
Famara Diedhiou, 8.5: Another who surely put in his best performance in a City shirt. Looked stronger and faster than at any previous time, battled well in the air and gave the Stoke back three a truly uncomfortable evening. Before teams started playing one up front the strikers were all about partnerships, and his first game alongside Taylor showed great promise. Got the goal his performance deserved.
Lee Johnson, 10: Coming off the back of seven points from nine, a 4-1 win and facing another three games in seven days next week, Johnson made nine changes and got it absolutely spot on. The recruitment drive is now starting to bear fruit with a young, pacy, attacking squad who look united and full of belief in each other. The side was set up perfectly - those who came in showed true hunger and desire (that's not always easy to make happen) and the high-pressing tactics caused Stoke to have a mistake-ridden, uncomfortable and disappointing night.
Forcing Premier League opposition to change formation to cope with how you've set up and then make a half-time substitution to try and force something to happen is a proper nod of respect.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Cauley Woodrow - a view from the Cottage

At first glance, the signing of a striker who can't get into Fulham's matchday plans may seem a strange one by Lee Johnson. After all, not only must there be a question over how capable he is based on that scenario, but despite the departures of Lee Tomlin and the pair of Hams this summer (Tammy Abraham and Aaron Wilbraham), City have what appears a top-heavy eight strikers on their books still.

However, that's not the full story. Famara Diedhiou and Bobby Reid have started the season together, with Freddie Hinds acting as cover. Milan Djuric, Matty Taylor and Arnold Garita (remember him?!) are currently injured. That's six, but half are injured. Then you have Gustav Engvall who has gone back to Sweden, probably for the last time, while under 23 goal machine Shaun McCoulsky is (rightly) learning his trade in League Two with Newport County.

The other reason Johnson would have been after an extra body is that although he is 'only' six foot tall, he's more of a target man option than most of the afore-mentioned list. At Brentford on Tuesday, Johnson had no choice available to bring on a physical, big option for the disappointing Diedhiou, and Hinds came on instead. You can argue we had to play differently than we might have otherwise, say if Wilbraham had been available to come on, which may have in turn helped us to equalise, but you can understand why Johnson wants a different option later on in matches and, with Djuric out for another two months, he had nowhere else to go.

By the way, before we leave our long list of forwards, many have questioned why we're bringing in a player when Gustav Engvall is scoring goals for fun in Sweden. It's a fair question, but quite simply, Engvall obviously isn't good enough. We might have spent a lot of money on him, but that happens to all clubs. Watching him in the Swedish league he may have looked quick, incisive, a physical threat but Johnson and his coaching team have now watched him in training for a whole year, and if he's not up to it at this level, then he's not up to it. End of.

So onto Cauley Woodrow. The first thing anyone looks for when a striker is signed is the goals record and in Woodrow's case it's safe to say that it's not spectacular. The positive however, is that his best spell was in the Championship on loan with Burton last season, so maybe he's maturing and, given the right service, can improve his overall goals to game ratio.

We all know fans of clubs can turn quickly when a player leaves them, but the reaction from Fulham fans on today's news was quite something else! It seems Woodrow is far from a favourite at the Cottage, and many were delighted and surprised we were willing to take him on. With that background, I spoke with Andrew Beck, @arbeck on Twitter, from Fulham fan site,Cottagers Confidential, and asked him why there was that sort of reaction.

"Cauley Woodrow isn't a bad player by any means. He's probably a fine striker at the lower levels of the Championship or League One.

He also isn't a great fit for Fulham's system. He's not small, but he's not really big enough to be your typical hold-up forward. He's not slow and unathletic, but he's not fast and mobile enough to be used on the wing.

He's got fairly good technical skills, and ideally he needs to be paired with another forward in a 4-4-2. If you have a speedier technical player Woodrow can combine well with him. If you have a bigger forward, he can float around and find space and combine with other players in the attack.

Part of the reason Fulham fans are down on Woodrow is that they had quite high hopes for him. He was a key figure in some academy teams that had a lot of success and played a lot for England youth teams. His development just kind of stalled after that.

I don't think you'll be able to win promotion with him as one of your two forwards. But I also don't think he would be the reason you get relegated if he's one of your two forwards.

There's also a chance he figures things out and takes a leap forward with consistent playing time, he's at the age where players often have things click and they start to reach their potential. I'd still bet against him becoming much more than he is now, but it's certainly worth a gamble."

Hardly effusive in his praise and all in all, on that reckoning, we appear to have a fairly 'average' player, but clearly the potential has been there through his youth career, and with a run of games, some goals and a bit of confidence, who knows what can happen?

One thing is certain, he sure can hit a ball. This was Fulham's goal of the season winner and you've got to assume it's not a one-off from the fact he even tried it. Very few of our players seem capable of hitting a ball from that distance so that alone would offer a different threat during games for the opposition defence to deal with.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Tammy Abraham: Boy to Man

Upon first sight last August, Chelsea loanee Tammy Abraham looked exactly what he was. A tall, gangly youth who, like all young players these days, looked about 15 and far too youthful to be playing men’s football. Although he stood tall at six feet and four inches, he had a frail looking frame and the instant fear was he’d be swallowed up some of the meatier, cynical, battle-hardened defenders of the Championship.

And in part that was true. Pontus Jansson of Leeds and Matt Connolly of Cardiff in particular seemed to be able to grasp hold of him and keep him contained early in the season, but in around that he was nothing short of sensational in his first full professional season.

There were the goals, of course. 11 in his first 13 games which led him to win the Sky Bet Championship Player of the Month award for September. 26 in 42 starts overall, including braces at eventual play-off contenders Sheffield Wednesday and Reading.

But the statistics only tell half the story in how he developed through the year.

Early on it was, largely, just the goals. Bristol City were using width well, getting in behind the opposition full-backs and pulling the ball across goal. Tammy was, invariably, in the right place at the right time. A decent proportion of his early goals were scored in this manner – simple enough on the face of each individual one - but a deadly pattern emerges when you see them all in sequence. His positioning within the six-yard box is a massive strength.

City were flying and Tammy was the talk of the town. Remarkable as it may seem given how they ended the season, Chelsea fans were taking to Twitter in droves to request him back to help their ailing league campaign under their then-maligned new boss Antonio Conte!

But as the wheels came off City’s campaign in spectacular fashion once the clocks went back, so the goals dried up for the youngster up front. Which came first is oft-asked amongst the Ashton Gate faithful, and it was probably a bit of both, but certainly City’s revised, more dogged style in the face of adversity meant Abraham was more and more isolated up front, and the chances dried up.

Through December and January in particular, he was often 30-40 yards more advanced than any team mate, all desperately sitting deep in a typically vain attempt to stop the flood of goals going in at the other end and it was a futile and fruitless task.

What happened then showed the mark of the man and why he leaves Ashton Gate with everyone convinced he can become a serious payer in the top flight.

Game by game he got stronger, more aware of his role. He visibly strengthened and held the ball up better as he was able to hold defenders off and started coming deeper and wider to get the ball and have an impact on the game. He encouraged his teammates forward, he grabbed hold of a vociferous fan-base, baying for the head of boss Lee Johnson, and regularly turned to them, pumping them up during games. 

He truly cared – this was no sojourn loan spell for Tammy, he clearly had a lot of feelings for the club, the city and the fans and there’s no reason to think he wouldn’t for any other club and town.
He truly led from the front, as a 19 year old, largely on his own. He had clear respect for the club and the fans and his brief role in that history, but wanted to make his mark. His attitude towards City was summed up by going over and hugging a ballboy after scoring a goal live on Sky in an inspired 4-0 win at home to Huddersfield. He made that little boy’s night and endeared himself further to 20,000 home fans.

Referring back to the gangly perception, his footwork and skill on the ball is astounding to anyone seeing him for the first time – this is no Ian Ormondroyd (for those old enough to remember) – Tammy is a very talented footballer who happens to be tall and looks on the skinny side. He’s not a big target man although he’s learned to play with his back to goal, and he thrives in having quick, skilful players buzzing in and around him that he can play off, distract defenders from and plays a beautiful one-two at pace.

By the time a touch of consistency started to appear in the rest of the team, Abraham had grown into a front-man able to lead the line. Not yet with the strength of a Diego Costa, but with more about him that enabled him to give two defenders something to think about. He also started scoring different types of goals, as he worked out he couldn’t always get the six-yard box service he thrived on. The super-cheeky finish at Blackburn demonstrated the confidence he has and the class he possesses. https://www.fourfourtwo.com/news/video-chelsea-loanee-tammy-abraham-produced-a-filthy-finish-against-blackburn

A call-up to this summer’s under-21’s squad was an inevitability and he now has a chance to show how much he has developed this season. All his goals are here, if you want to see the man himself in action https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zm0gFE4f_EA .

So, is he ready for the Premier League?

In my mind, undoubtedly. That doesn’t mean he’ll necessarily play all 38 matches or score 20 goals, but he’s ready for the chance to prove himself. He’s stronger, more mature and knows what his game is about more than he did a year ago.

If he can get the ball put in the right places for him then he’ll be there to tap in – a skill that’s harder than it seems, whilst his fancy feet will be tested much more by the better quality of defenders and he’ll need to learn when to try and when to play the simple ball back or inside.

But he’s an exciting talent, a great goal-scorer already and is surely an England international of the future. It’s just a matter of time.

As for his time at Bristol City? 

Well, he walked away at the end of season with a complete clean sweep of all club awards – from the main awards, the senior and the juniors – Player of the Year and Young Player. The last player to make such an impact in living memory was a certain Andy Cole. Whatever became of him?

The Exiled Robin

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