With the atmosphere at the club on and off the pitch improving hugely this season, expectations are starting to run high as evidenced by the growing support both home and away. The league table and attendances would suggest we’re staging a comeback which Lazarus would be proud of and it’s great to see.
However, whilst I don’t want to be a party pooper I think there have been some worrying signs in the last few games which have the potential to de-rail the SAFC juggernaut and I just hope our current trust in Jack Ross and Messrs Donald and Methven etc. will ultimately prove more than justified. My areas of concern are:-
Defence: It is clear we don’t have adequate cover for Flanagan or Baldwin. Opposition sides are still carving out good chances even with those two in harness at the back. If either should get injured or suspended we know from experience neither Loovens nor Ozturk can adequately fill their boots.
Pairing Cattermole and Power: Whilst the two of them should in theory offer greater protection for the back four, playing both together gives us less creativity going forward (and I’d always prefer us to be a greater threat in the opposition’s half than supposedly safer in our own – which we’re clearly not at times)
Consistency of our attacking midfielders: I’m referring to Gooch, McGeady and Maguire. The form of all three is hit and miss at times and this shouldn’t be a problem if it was only one of these in isolation but more worryingly recently it has been all of them simultaneously (in the first half of the Shrewsbury game they were all anonymous). When 30% of your outfield players go awol in a game it not unsurprisingly has a big effect and can leave Maja with an even more difficult task than he already has. For some reason Ross is having a ‘love in’ with McGeady as he always seems to be the last of the 3 to get subbed. Both Gooch and Maguire looked less than happy at getting hooked against the Shrews and whilst they can blame no-one other than themselves for being subbed I’m sure they must wonder what McGeady has to do to earn the same treatment. The fact of the matter is that all three are misfiring too often. It could be argued that Honeyman’s absence (linking between Cattermole/Power and any/all of these) has been underestimated but if we’re going to take any momentum into the second half of the season we need at least two of these three to be consistently on form. Look at the away game at Gillingham to see what we’re capable of when the attacking midfielders ‘tick’.
Josh Maja: reports of his contract negotiations stalling and supposedly interest from the likes of Celtic is very worrying. I’ve heard the moans from some fans about him but his goal scoring record and the quality of his strikes speak for themselves. Look at the bench and our current alternatives. Whilst Sinclair may have some pace his touch is appalling. Wyke looks like he has a strong physique but no guile. Watmore has pace aplenty but his plan A is always to get his head down and run at players which isn’t going to work if Ross tries to play him upfront on his own. I’m seriously worried that Maja will only be really appreciated if/when he leaves and fans then realise the dearth of ‘quality’ we’re left with up front.
If, at the start of the season, someone had offered me our current league position at this point I would have bitten their hands off. However, my experience of supporting SAFC means my glass is pessimistically always half empty (optimists can only ever be disappointed because they always expect the best to happen) and I think we’re now at a crucial stage of the season. If we get some decent cover for our best two central defenders, sort out what our best, most consistent options are for who plays between defence and attack and keep Maja we’ll have a strong second half of the season and achieve the promotion the club and the fans deserve. If we don’t, the momentum achieved so far could all be lost with dire consequences. I’d suggest the next few weeks are crucial for Ross, Donald and Methven.