It’s been a strange season. It became very clear early on that, from the way Scott Parker sets the team up, we were content to put all of our goals in Mitro’s basket. Yet, at the same time, we do very little to play to his strengths and often leave him isolated. Yep, I hear you, doesn’t make sense to me either…
Fundamentally, a healthy team with aspirations for promotion should have a system that’s balanced and provides enough imagination, freedom, tempo, confidence and desire to be creative on the ball and the attitude of wanting to win more than a fear to lose! By providing an adequate amount of chances throughout a match, and encouraging more players to join the attack, you increase your chances of someone other than Mitro scoring, take the burden off his shoulders and give more responsibility to the rest of the team. Surely this is a more logical approach than letting your talisman feed off of scraps whilst being surrounded by opposition shirts in the box?
There is no sugar coating the performances of all those players who are supposed to be playing a supporting role to Mitrović. They have all been rubbish and their end product a million miles away from what’s required. Which is even more frustrating because we know what they are capable of. It feels to me that Parker’s very cautious, unadventurous style has given the likes of Bobby Reid, Cavaleiro, Knockaert and Cairney an excuse for underperforming. Now we find ourselves in a position where all the pressure and expectation is on Mitro to deliver, providing the rest of our attacking players with an excuse to hide.
When we were promoted 2 years ago, Mitrović was the missing piece of the jigsaw. He was the perfect focal point for everyone else to play off. He made those around him better and we didn’t necessarily rely on him for the goals. Instead, we depended on him to lead the line in a role not too different to that Zamora played in the Europa League season. Mitrović didn’t score in the play-offs last time around. Can you imagine a scenario where someone else steps up and scores a vital goal in the way Sessegnon did vs Derby? There lies the problem and demonstrates my point about others taking responsibility and stepping up. People will say that Bobby Reid did brilliantly with that first half chance and was unlucky to hit the woodwork. Maybe that’s true, but that seems to be a recurring theme with Reid this season, “unlucky not to score”. There’s no denying that his movement and intelligence to find the space on the left hand side of the box was fantastic, the control out of his feet superb, the finish so close but the reality is that he missed. It doesn’t matter how unlucky he was, we could have gone 1-0 up and changed the whole dynamic of the game but we didn’t and eventually we lost. In 2017/18, players like Ryan Sessegnon would have scored when a chance like that presented itself in the box. Players like Bobby Reid hitting the post and achieving “nearly scored” doesn’t get you promoted…
I’m aware that Bobby is a popular player amongst our fan base and I am risking the wrath of social media. My reason for highlighting him specifically is because I think he needs to be the answer to our problem, not that he should be dropped. The reality of our situation is that Parker isn’t going to change his style at this stage of the season, which means we need somebody to step up and take their performances to an extra gear. Bobby is the most likely in the team to get close to Mitro, in and around the box and more chances seem to fall his way compared to anyone else in the team (other than Mitro). So far, he has 5 goals and 4 assists in 34 League appearances, so despite his fantastic energy/ movement you have to ask yourself, do his strengths outweigh the poor return for end product? A definite no as far as I’m concerned. For starters, if Reid plays at the top of a trio, we lose the benefit of Cairney. TC does not have the engine to be a box to box player and if Reid is the most advanced of a midfield trio, it means Cairney has to be the middle man. This results in our captain losing all attacking prowess as he sits deeper, becoming ineffective for large parts of the game. Would Cairney have more goals if he was playing the Reid role behind Mitro? Well he has 8 anyway so the answer is yes.
I would like to see Reid on the left where he was when he scored that brilliant solo goal against Huddersfield at the Hammy End. With Joe Bryan happy to join the attack and provide width, it gives Bobby the opportunity to drift in and get close to Mitrović, playing off of the Serb. Making runs into the box and taking up the positions which Sessegnon thrived on. Put Cairney back at the top of a trio, pulling the strings, scoring top bins from the edge of the box without the worry of having to track back too far.
Whatever happens, our chances of promotion can only increase if those around Mitro up their game. It’s time players like Reid and Cavaleiro justified their price tags and our captain showed the form that played a massive part in our Wembley fairy tale. Leeds and WBA have continuously let us off the hook but always done just enough to keep us at arm’s length. We might as well go for it on Saturday and try to force automatic promotion because we’ve had enough chances to close the gap and our luck must be running out. With WBA also playing Brentford on Friday night, this does feel like an all or nothing affair.
So, for once, let’s go for it Scott. COYW!