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End of Term Report Part 2 19/05/2011

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.

Moving swiftly on…

5 – Martin Taylor

It’s quite extraordinary to read last year’s assessment and to recall that, actually, we weren’t quite convinced at the time. The rider that the new man was rusty, that he needed a pre-season proved pertinent of course; Taylor has been a hugely significant, reliable, imposing presence all season, and would have been a comfortable Player of the Year in many others. He’s not been completely infallible, but it speaks volumes that the occasional error – gifting Luciano Becchio a free header at Elland Road springs to mind – sticks out for its oddness, like someone driving on the wrong side of the road. His height, to state the obvious, has been vital at either end of the pitch – he remains our only aerially dominant defender, scored six goals and contributed to four more. In an era characterised by a high strike rate in terms of quality of recruits, he compares well to any of the others… bringing experience to a defence that desperately needed it, accompanied by an unassuming and modest and yet driven personality as demonstrated by his determination to rack up a full house of starts despite clearly not being fit for the dead rubber at Preston. If there’s a weakness, perversely given the notoriety of the Eduardo incident, it’s that he’s not nasty enough. A man of his physique you’d like to bully his opponent a little more. But then… that wouldn’t be Martin Taylor, and we might never have gotten hold of him in the first place.

Next Season: We could really do with another 46 starts. One suspects we’d struggle without him.

6 – Adrian Mariappa

If you’re tiring of the positive tone thus far then you’re not going to get any respite here. Mariappa has benefited hugely both from being allowed to settle in the central position which had always suited him better, and from the presence of the monstrous Taylor who renders Mariappa’s own relative lack of inches less of a problem. Quick, elegant and increasingly disciplined, Mariappa is the perfect sidekick for Taylor in what quickly looked like a very solid partnership. Indeed, whilst Taylor is the more experienced partner, Mariappa is arguably the more influential – already one of the senior players at 24, Mariappa is a leader and surely a club captain in waiting.

Next Season: The only concern with our centre-backs is that we surely won’t be fortunate enough to get 91 out of 92 league starts between them again.

7 – Don Cowie

You can’t go too far wrong with a wide midfielder who ends the season with fourteen assists and works his socks off in every fixture. A week in September showcased his value perfectly; a superhuman man-of-the-match performance at Ashton Gate on the Tuesday was followed on the Saturday by three assists at the New Den. During his brief spell out in January, meanwhile, we were able to revisit the once familiar “oooh…oh” sensation that comes with winning corners when you don’t have anyone capable of delivering them reliably. A bit more pace, of course, and Cowie would be top flight quality. In which case he probably wouldn’t be playing for us.

Next Season: Ian Holloway is rumoured to be a fan; Blackpool’s future is undecided at the time of writing but whichever division they’re in they could do a lot worse, and would probably have the money to prise away a midfielder in the final year of his contract. One rather hopes not of course… but that’s the stated model. If we spend money on players we spend it on players with the potential to improve and appreciate in value. Cowie has certainly done that. If he does want to go the toughest part of the plan, but the part that might be crucial and convincing players of similar potential to join us, is letting the player go when the right offer comes in.

8 – Josh Walker

Well here’s a strange one. Plucked from Middlesbrough’s youth team, an England captain at any number of levels, reportedly pinched from under the noses of a whole range of admirers, and significantly awarded a “first eleven” shirt, surely a statement of intent from the management. One season and any number of loans later… we still haven’t seen very much of him on which to pass judgment. Which is odd, given that central midfield, with a serious injury to McGinn and our inability to retain Mutch past January, was an area where we were looking a little thin. Northampton Town’s messageboards aren’t the most generous and hospitable of places after a thoroughly miserable season for the Cobblers… but their accounts are of a player with undoubted ability who wanted rather more time than Fourth Division players were prepared to offer and certainly wasn’t up for a scrap. If Northampton fans weren’t convinced they could afford that luxury, it’s not difficult to read the situation as Mackay thinking that Walker might have needed a few loans to toughen up.

Next Season: With a year left on his contract, it will be interesting to observe whether Mackay gives Walker a shot next season, or whether more loans are forthcoming suggesting that a decision was made very early on.

9 – Troy Deeney

Let’s get the obvious bit out of the way quickly. Troy Deeney really hasn’t scored enough goals in his opening season. Nor, in all honesty, has he looked like doing so, displaying a nervousness and tentativeness in front of goal that was hardly characteristic of a born goalscorer. Having said which… strangely, Deeney’s first season feels like far from a disaster. Comfortable with the ball at his feet, strong in the air. he’s equipped himself well in the wide role that he cemented towards the end of the season and was often a stand-out player. His comments midway through the season expressing disappointment at what he saw as his own poor form also showed a refreshing candour… there was no finger pointing, or deflection of responsibility. This honesty will serve him well.Troy wasn’t helped by his former club exaggerating his transfer fee by totting up a large volume of potential add-ons last summer – this directly inflated our supporters’ expectations. Despite a difficult start, Deeney has proven a considerable asset.

Next Season: The big question might be where the hell to play him. In one fit of excitemet at Elland Road, my brother and I noted his strength defending corners, his good reading of the game and his preference for having the game in front of him and speculated on a switch to centre back. At which point he sliced a cross into his own net. Perhaps the most optimistic, but not totally unrealistic, comparison is drawn with his erstwhile Walsall striker partner. Tommy Mooney took a while wandering around the team before he learned to channel his strength, too…


1. Nick - 19/05/2011

Absolutely disagree with the mariappa comments.

He’s poor in the air, gets caught under the ball, lets the ball bounce instead of attacking it. He’s been at fault for a large number of goals this year. Hume at preston probably couldn’t believe his luck in the final game.

All that said he’s a good right back

Matt Rowson - 19/05/2011

He gets pulled inside at right back. Good bringing the ball forward, not a right back defensively. Like when we played Wayne Brown on the left. Unlike Wayne, and despite your comments, he’s a splendid centre back.

Joonz - 20/05/2011

Not sure we have been watching the same player. Could you explain, please, of he is such a poor centre back, why his peers voted him players’ player of the season? Why Taylor has talked about enjoying playing next to him at centre back this season? I hope you’re as tolerant of people criticising your work.

Matt Rowson - 20/05/2011

Steady Joonz. Mariappa’s a professional footballer, and has to be able to cope with criticism – if not he’s in the wrong job. I’ve long held the belief that if there’s any justification for footballers being paid what they’re paid it’s the catharsis that irrational (or rational) abuse affords the rest of us. This is a WFC forum, Nick’s entitled to his opinion and entitled to express it.

His opinion is cobblers, of course. But he’s still free to express it.

David - 20/05/2011

Apologies for the belligerent tone – of course he does. I would love to know his answer to the players’ POTY question though, please. Also constrcutive criticism much miore helpful than a list of what he allegedly can’t do.

2. Ian Grant - 20/05/2011

Re: Cowie. My recollection is that he was starting to get a bit of stick from Watford fans at the moment in the season you mention, presumably because Stephen McGinn wasn’t starting regularly enough to get it in the neck on his behalf. Indeed, I recall a conversation with someone who should remain nameless on the train to New Den to the very decisive, very no-grey-area effect that both of them “weren’t good enough”. You do wonder sometimes.

3. Tim Turner - 20/05/2011

It’s funny how perceptions can differ. I’m a big fan of Cowie generally, but to me, taking corners is the poorest part of his game – he usually fails to beat the first man, or lobs it straight to the keeper. I’m happy to be proved wrong if it turns out that a significant proportion of those 14 assists were corner kicks.

Now Jordan Mutch, on the other hand, took excellent corners – fast, swinging ones that confused the hell out of keepers and defences. When he left, I felt that our threat from corners went with him.

Matt Rowson - 20/05/2011

I agree about Mutch, but I think you’re being a bit harsh on Cowie. In his absence, I certainly found myself transported back to the Jordan Stewart era of being underwhelmed by the award of a corner.

4. Marcus - 20/05/2011

Despite Mariappa’s improvement and general strengths it seems to be always he who is miscommunicating with Loach. This may be more Loach’s fault but I suspect there’s something in the Mariappa-Loach on field relationship which doesn’t yet work properly.

Cowie’s corners are often disappointing – but pretty much the only aspect which is as he has evinced an eye for goal and a determination to get right forward which was pleasing.

Deeney will be completely different with a short run of goals and he has changed out of all recognition for the better over the course of the season.

5. DM - 20/05/2011

@Tim Turner – one man’s ‘failing to beat the first man’ is another’s ‘good defensive clearance’. It’s a fact that when taking corners, attackers are trying to get the ball on target, while defenders just have to get it clear.. which makes it easier to defend a corner than attack it. It’s even easier for a keeper to claim them as he can use his hands and woe betide anyone in his way.

I’m no sad stat obsessed weirdo (wow…) but would be willing to bet a clear majority of all corners in all levels of football fail to beat the first man.

Matt Rowson - 20/05/2011

No DM, you’re not a sad stat-obsessed weirdo. You’re just a sad weirdo. That’s worse.

6. drewoneone - 21/05/2011

Quite a season and overall a satisfactory conclusion with a 14th place finish not what many of us and the pundits expected.

The praise (apart from Nick) in these posts for Tiny and Mapps is certainly well deserved. Both players have come on immensley over varying timescales and have set the standards for the youngsters in the Academay to aspire to.

I can’t help wondering, then, why we conceded the most goals of any club in the division apart from the 3 relegated clubs and Doncaster. [Overall we were 2nd only to Leeds (151) with 148 goals being scored in our 46 games.]

Some of us have pointed to Scott Loach’s in and out form and the inexperience of the squad as a whole. The latter point being used as evidence for our inability to hold on to a lead. Maybe the loss of the naturally left footed Andrew Taylor was a factor in the increasing goals against column as we placed right footers in the LB position.

I’m sure other posters will have their views on this – let’s hope Malky knows the way ahead and will be given the resouces to recruit and retain the necessary talent.

7. Nick - 23/05/2011

So firstly I should point out that whilst rather condeming in my views on Mariappa I have greatly enjoyed this season, support the team whole heartedly home and away and will do no matter our position in the football league.

I find it difficult to reconcile that we have two centre backs who have had great seasons with the fact that we’ve let in so many goals and look so weak when the opposition are physically strong and apply pressure.

I feel that we have let in far too many goals from set pieces and from central positions in front of goal. Both of these are positions that should be bread and butter to a centre back.

What do you guys believe to be the main cause of our defensive frailties? We probably let the opposition get the ball into our box too easily thats one cause but then we have to win it.

Mariappa is certainly not in the same league as Taylor, Mackay, Demerit, Carlisle.

As for the player of the year award. Do you seriously believe he’s been better than Graham, Martin Taylor, Cowie and Eustace this year?

Matt Rowson - 23/05/2011

Mariappa was the players’ player – their choice. Not sure any of us are in a position to question that.

As regards comparisons with other defenders, you’re not comparing like with like; he’s a different (and complementing) beast to Taylor as discussed. I would certainly say he’s a better defender than Demerit, if not as physically strong, and he’s quicker than any of them.

What do I blame on our goals conceded? A lack of physical presence in the team generally, including height. Our style of play tends to be rather open, more interested in scoring goals than conceding them. Individual mistakes, as one has to expect from younger players – including Loach. I wouldn’t say Mariappa is guilty of those particularly. Perhaps a lack of leadership / co-ordination at the back. Taylor is a dominant centre-back but he’s not vocal, not an organiser. Mariappa’s the best we have in that department.

Nick - 23/05/2011

Why cant we question it? I’ve watched the game week in week out for the last 26 years. You dont have to be ‘in the game’ to know the game.

I think Mariappa makes a fair few individual mistakes. He’s not an awful player and we’ve certainly had a lot worse over the years but I just dont believe he’s had a good season.

I agree with all of your points about why we concede goals. Personally I would like to see Taylor paired at centre back with someone who will organise the back 4 next season. It cant really be a full back that does it, Taylor is the best centre back we’ve got and unless Loach leaves and Gilmartin (who I rate) is an organiser it would have to be a second centre back.

I suppose opinion and debate are part of the fun of football

Matt Rowson - 23/05/2011

Sorry Nick, what I meant was that it’s hardly our position to pass judgement on the players’ verdict. Their perspective is different, yours is still valid, but I don’t think you can argue that their call is irrelevant. If he’d had as bad a season as you describe, I don’t think he’d have won that award.

I don’t necessarily agree that a full back can’t do the organising. Post-Schmeichel, Gary Neville was the most significant player in Man United’s back four in this respect for many years. Mariappa/Taylor is the one part of the side that doesn’t require meddling with at all. I would definitely approve of a shouty left back.

And amen to your comment on opinion and debate. (I could hardly pen a blog and think otherwise)

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