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

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

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Exitlude: It's time for change


Sam’s Town, the excellent second album from Nevada’s favourite sons, The Killers, includes a song titled ‘Exitlude’. It involves the lyrics:

“Regrettably, time’s come to send you on your way

We’ve seen it all; bonfires of trust; flash floods of pain……We hope you enjoyed your stay….It’s good to have you with us, even if it’s just for the day”

Well BS3 isn’t Sam’s Town, it’s Steve’s Town, and despite Mr. Lansdown’s seemingly unwavering fondness and loyalty towards the Johnson family, now is the time to bite the bullet, so to speak, and bid farewell to Johnson Jnr before too many days are out.

He’ll regret it, of course. As surely will almost everyone associated with the club. Whatever your views of the job Lee Johnson has done, surely no fan wants to see a manager sacked in the grand scheme of things, because that means you’re not performing as a club where everyone feels we should be?

On a personal note, I have always felt the appointment a risk which may surprise some I’ve argued with about his position over the past few weeks. I was as surprised as many when LJ got the job, but as I do with every manager, from that moment on I backed him to the hilt and, naturally, wanted him to succeed more than anything. And for nine months, the gestation period, perhaps, he did just that.

But the last three months have shown warning signs that can no longer be ignored and a run of results which, quite frankly, mean no-one can possibly be surprised, least of all Johnson himself, should he get the phone call this weekend to visit one of the Lansdown residences.

For a while the run looked unlucky – the odd refereeing decision, Tammy missing a sitter, a freak goal from the halfway line. Then it developed into something slightly more sinister, and some started to call for Johnson to be relieved.

However, the consistency of performance wasn’t too bad and the results – as I’ve personally pointed out a number of times – have still been defeats by just the odd goal.

This is still the case – and the one strand of hope many are hanging onto is that we’re still in every game and we’ve been agonisingly close to picking up draws and even wins, but eight successive league defeats, and now 11 in 12, tells a story that can’t be ignored.

In my view Johnson hasn’t ‘lost the dressing-room’ – the easy, knee-jerk comment many immediately turn to – as otherwise we’d be losing games by three or four goals, as we were too often under Steve Cotterill.

He also isn’t ‘clueless’. Inexperienced and still learning, perhaps. Half a dozen games ago many fans were slating him for never changing from the 4-2-3-1 formation we’d played all season. Six games later many of those same fans are slating him for changing formations too often!

Johnson has been accused of not having a plan b (another easily chucked around phrase) but actually his fault has probably been trying too many different plans.

He has tried things, he has tried different players, different tactics, but nothing is working for 90 minutes. The problem is the second it doesn’t work we come under pressure and look so poorly organised when not in possession that it’s fatal.

The last few games have shown some worrying signs of indecisiveness. Multiple team changes, formation moves, poor substitutions and switching from plan ‘A’, to plan ‘B’ and even plan ‘C’ in a single match.

Johnson should be given credit for trying different things. After all, the reason many fell out of love with Cotterill was his stubbornness and insistence on playing the same formation and players every week. Johnson has changed a lot, but he clearly doesn’t really know his best team or set-up, doesn’t really know what to try next and it’s looking increasingly desperate with each passing half of football.

There has been more than one tale of falling out with senior players – the same senior players he should be turning to in these times of strife. There have been problems that he has been unable to mitigate against, and for that reason, I believe now is the time.

The set-up and approach against Reading was heavily criticised but for me was exactly what we needed after a run of defeats where the defence was looking fragile. If our friend Warnock or Sam Allardyce had come in and done that, got the two goals on the break and held out, they’d have been hailed and everyone would have understood the approach. Unfortunately we didn’t hold out and Johnson and his coaching staff allowed the already deep midfield to drop further and further back until we had nine defenders, all getting in the way of each other and leaving mass uncertainty as to who was supposed to do what. To concede the goals we did in that game, with nine men strung across the edge of the box, was inept in the extreme.

When it happened again against Cardiff, you had to move from questioning not only the player’s lack of confidence but the organisation of them. Who saw Johnson, or Dean Holden for that matter, waving the midfield forward furiously on the sidelines as they dropped deep? No-one, because they didn’t do it. They were perhaps as nervous as anyone and allowed the midfield to drop onto the toes of the previously solid-looking newly established back three, and suddenly chaos ensued, the defenders were trying to organise eight men, not three, and it was too much to cope with.

We can’t afford to be relegated this year more than any other, with the signings we’ve made and the investment made in the squad.

The single goal defeats are a genuine reason for hope, and I’m sure what LJ would be pointing to if asked to justify his position. But now, that’s for someone else to get hold of and make good.

Who would replace him? Gary Rowett is the obvious name and the one put up by almost every City fan, but there have to be real questions as to whether he’d join a side in freefall, for all Lansdown’s backing, or if he’d prefer to wait for a bigger opportunity which would undoubtedly fall his way. But that would be a separate discussion and not a reason for not parting ways with Lee.

Johnson seems a lovely chap, is good with the media and is, perhaps, still an outstanding prospect as a coach. He also loves the club more than any other manager we could appoint, and that is a feature we should bear in mind in this era of minimal loyalty across football.

But he’s not learning quickly enough on the job for us and we must take action before it’s too late. It made sense to give him the transfer window, allow signings to settle in and get us going again that way. No-one wants to be at a club which sacks their manager every December/January, and if we’d picked up even one win somewhere, I’d still be maintaining that view myself, but you just can’t keep losing game after game after game and stay entrusted with the main job.

Regrettably, before it’s too late, the time’s come to send him on his way. 


The Exiled Robin

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