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.
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