After an uninspiring pre-season and first game, only the brave would back us to emulate Reidy’s boys and bounce back from the misery of Charlton play-off defeat and romp to the title on the back of the 100+ points total set by Stewart Donald. So, what can Jack Ross do to improve things and maintain his own record of having a better season second time around?
The struggling-to-keep-the-faith Francis Todd Malone looks at seven ways Jack can boost the craic.
PICK THE BEST TEAM
I was concerned when I saw the team sheet against Oxford and others, fuelled by the heady mix of opening-day optimism and alcohol, thought the same. New captain on the bench, alongside other influential players such as Duncan Watmore, Aiden McGeady and Chris Maguire, didn’t work. Ross’s selections often raised eyebrows last season and, although we know there are one or two who are clearly not match-fit, the opportunity to throw down a marker was wasted.
GET THEM FITTER
Ah yes, fitness. Without singling out individuals, some of them are clearly not in top shape. When Sam Allardyce came in he breathed life into all but one of his squad by saying he believed in their ability but not their fitness, worked them hard, and got results. This is a physical league and our players need to be up to it, we have more bodies than others to step in when the going gets tough.
GET THE DEFENCE ORGANISED
Probably our biggest concern at the moment is quite likely Ross’s too. Our defence is the weakness, be it the 3-5-2 or the lesser-spotted 4-4-2. Blame lack of communication, pace, or the system itself, it doesn’t look like changing at the moment. Concede every game and the pressure is on to get anything out of it, so the training ground surely holds the key.
FOLLOW THE LEADERS
Or pick them at least. Grant Leadbitter got the armband but didn’t start against Oxford and the line-up lacked leaders. Lee Cattermole had his critics but his encouragement and work-rate geed team-mates up and reminded opponents they were facing a battle.
SHOW SOME URGENCY
There’s the thinking that if we get an early goal we’ll get some confidence and romp to victory but it’s not happened much. I still shudder at our previous Scottish boss taking a measured approach, sitting in the dugout chin stroking as another game died a slow, painful death to the satisfaction of no one but the top tier of the North Stand. I understand that a gaffer has to maintain control and not put the players on edge but passion’s a powerful thing. Even the mild-mannered Graham Taylor once said that sometimes you’ve got to “f****** let em know.” Our gaffers let us know when we’ve messed up, why is football any different?
GET A PLAN B
Probably the most disturbing thing about the last 12 months is the number of games which have just drifted away. In the past we’ve been short of quality but high on the message to at least have a go when things are getting desperate. The shocking last 10 minutes at Fleetwood and Southend proved there was nothing in the tank when it really matters, then Charlton were quick to make off with our wallet after giving us an early hand job. The early evidence this season suggests that won’t change and that the bookies, who rarely get things wrong, have bucked that trend by making us stingy 7-2 favourites to win the league.
SEE HOW MUCH WE CARE
The finger is often pointed at our home support and I’ll leave it to others to decide whether we’re a help or a hindrance. Abject home performances have dogged us for ages and taken us down to this level, yet 33,000+ still rocked up for the opener. Crackers, man. Players are famous for blanking out the stuff that goes on in the stands but they could do worse than look at who’s looking at them when things are going wrong. Sure, they might see a motley collection of out-of-shape idiots but they’re a motley collection of out-of-shape idiots who put them at the centre of their lives regularly. Our club’s journey has been going for 140 years and no matter how long the current collection want to be here for, they’ll be the winners if they make a positive impact.