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Sunday, 2 October 2011

Early Season Review

Ten games is the traditional benchmark set by fans and pundits around the country to see how their team had progressed. As yesterday's match passed the important marker and signalled the start of the international break, it felt only appropriate to take an early insight into how the Reds' season has gone so far. We'll take a look at the early stats, analyse all the results, as well as assemble an early dream team, star player watch and take a look around the Championship at the early pace setters and at the teams flagging behind.

Early Struggles
It goes without saying that the Reds had a mixed start to the season under their new management team of Keith Hill and David Flitcroft. After earning a great point in their opening game on the road to fancied Nottingham Forest, the Reds came home to Oakwell and lost their first three games. The first was a League Cup tie to League 2 opponents Morecambe, who are currently flying high in the division. Perhaps it was not the result which disappointed many fans, but an inherent lack of effort which was contrary to what manager Keith Hill had set out as one of his expectations for the season. Following the game, Hill admitted he should have rested more players and given some different players a chance, which perhaps contributed to the Reds' downfall in the game.

Following the Cup exit, the Reds faced two league games at home on the bounce, with Southampton and Middlesbrough being the visitors. The Reds kept the current Championship leaders to just one goal, although came out the wrong side of a 3-1 result with Middlesbrough. These relatively poor performances signalled booing from a minority of Reds supporters, met with an equally angry reaction from manager Keith Hill, who asked for more time, saying that Rome wasn't built in a day.

In hindsight these results might have been expected, as Middlesbrough and Southampton are now flying high in the division, and have done so all season. Perhaps it was unfair of Reds fans to criticise the team so early into the season, as sometimes it is important to just accept you were beaten by a better side, an accolade that could be easily prescribed to both the Saints and Boro. Thankfully, these losses were to be put behind the team, and both the manager and fans would warm to each other... eventually...

Away day delight
Following the two defeats in a row, Keith Hill said that being at home can both be an advantage and a disadvantage; as when the crowd are behind you, it's great, but when the crowd are against you, there's an added pressure. In the aftermath of the Reds' spluttering start, perhaps the best medicine was an away trip to Reading, where the Reds played without pressure given that they never pick up a result there. Indeed the lifting of the pressure appeared to work well, as the Reds conceded three penalties yet were still able to win the game thanks to the heroics of goalkeeper Luke Steele, who was later nominated for Player of the Month following his impressive performance, saving two of the spot kicks. The game was not only host to Barnsley's first win, but also first goals scored by the Reds this season, with Matt Done and Andy Gray applying the finishes.

The Reds followed up the surprise victory with another tough away trip to The Den. The Reds failed to score but kept a clean sheet, showing signs that they were starting to gel defensively, as well as work for each other in order to grind out important results. The result also marked three away games unbeaten, a feat not matched in the entirety of last season.

A tough homecoming
The next fixture came to the interest of many Reds fans, with big spending Leicester visiting Oakwell, who to the surprise of many had only won twice, signalling a relatively poor start to the season in terms of expectations. The Reds got off to a good start in the game and were the first to score, but were undone by sloppy defending in the first minute of the 2nd half, when a long ball to Jermaine Beckford was headed down and slotted away by Andy King. Interestingly, the Reds are in fact the last team to score against Leicester in the league, who pushed on following the game. It makes the result seem even more impressive than at the time, when the Reds were perhaps expected to be on the back foot for the majority of the game, instead actually dominating much of the possession.

The following week the Reds were at home again, this time facing unfancied Watford. The Reds again dominated proceedings but were undone by slopping defending from a set-piece, where Marvin Sordell, who had impressed at Oakwell for England U21's, grabbed the goal. The Reds got back into the game in the 57th minute, and perhaps should have gone on to win the game, but nonetheless an unbeaten run was starting to take shape, with the Reds not having seen defeat in 4 games.

Back on the road
The Reds had made an odd start to the season, with results having to come away from home, perhaps something unexpected by Barnsley fans who witnessed only a handful of points away last season. Birmingham were next for the Reds on the road, and Barnsley were looking to rock St Andrews, which this season will host several European giants thanks to the Blues' exploits in winning the Carling Cup last season. The Reds continued in the spirit of the last 2 games, starting in a dominating fashion and causing the opposition defence problems. Team captain Jacob Butterfield opened the Reds' account with a scorching goal from distance, but this and the Reds' superb efforts were to be undone in the 85th minute by Chris Burke.

High flying Derby were next up for the Reds at Pride Park, with former captain jason Shackell lining up against his former employers for the first time since his summer transfer. The Reds again were to dominate early proceedings and take the lead, although this time capitulated to an admittedly better Derby side in the 2nd half, perhaps riding their luck a little to take the point. The game was to illustrate just how injury stricken the Reds have become, with 16 year old Paul Digby making his debut, coming on for David Perkins. The Reds had to dig deep to gain the point, however it was probably meant to be as the Reds' unbeaten away run continued, signalling their best away start for decades.

Off the mark at Oakwell
The final match before the international break saw Coventry City visit Oakwell. The Reds were looking to take the full prize for the first time at home this season, as well as for the first time in five games. The Reds had been in good form prior to the game, taking impressive away points and coming away unlucky in several games, however yesterday's game for many was must win - with Coventry predicted along with Barnsley to be one of the strugglers. The Reds were not to disappoint in getting the three points, and did so in style with great passing football and team spirit on display. Coventry were on the back foot for the majority of the game, and unfortunately displayed the characteristics of a side who would struggle, unlike the Reds who go into the international break with plenty of breathing room.

Form Analysis
The Reds have taken twelve points from ten games, setting average points at 1.2 per game. Over the course of a season, this same return would give the Reds 55 points, just two short of last season's return, and more than enough to stay up. On further analysis it could be said that we've deserved more from certain games, and as our injury laden squad returns to fitness, I predict this average points return will increase. As it stands it takes 1.7 points per game to get into the play-offs and 2.2 to lead the league. An average of 0.7 points or lower sees you into the relegation zone.

Our current overall win percentage is just 20%, however this again is perhaps not truly reflective of how it's gone so far this season. As it stands, Watford, Portsmouth, Donny and Forest have the same amount of wins, whilst Coventry, Millwall and Bristol are behind the Reds in terms of wins. No team is now without a win.

Our current overall loss percentage arguably more than makes up for our indifferent win percentage, with just 20% of games lost this season. Perhaps more impressive is the teams we have kept at bay, including high flyers Derby and Leicester, as well as fancied Birmingham. Our only losses are to teams that currently occupy automatic promotion slots, which perhaps justifies these results somewhat. Only five teams have an equal loss percentage, with only 2nd placed Boro improving on the Reds' stat, having yet to lose.

Our home form overall is indifferent, with one win, two draws and two losses. Two teams, Nottingham Forest and Bristol are yet to win at home, whilst six teams match the Reds having only won once at home, including high flying Middlesbrough. Watford, Forest and Bristol have lost one more than the Reds at home; with Reading, West Ham, Hull, Leicester, Ipswich, Peterborough, Portsmouth and Donny matching the Reds for home losses. Birmingham and Middlesbrough are the only teams unbeaten at home

Our away form is our personal best in decades, as well as one of the best in the league. Only Middlesbrough, West Ham and Leicester have matched Barnsley's feat of being unbeaten on the road. Hull, Blackpool, Cardiff and Watford have also had relatively impressive away form, with all of them only losing once away. Coventry, Millwall and Portsmouth are the only teams yet to win on the road.

Our goal difference is NIL, a feat not managed even at this stage for many seasons. It is clear to see that goal difference is hugely important come the end of the season, with all the teams below the Reds, barring Birmingham, having a worse goal difference. All the teams above the Reds have a better goal difference than us, barring Ipswich with minus two.

Player Analysis
The Reds currently have two top scorers, with Andy Gray and Jacob Butterfield both on three. Andy Gray needs just one more goal to match his tally for the entire last season.

Danny Drinkwater, Stephen Foster, Jim O'Brien and Jay McEvely have the worst discipline with two yellow cards a piece, although overall bookings have decreased drastically from last season, with the Reds also yet to see red. This can probably be attributed to comments made by Keith Hill in the summer, saying that he intended to win the fair play award. Current disciplinary records would seem to put the Reds in the mix for that accolade come the end of the season, although progress might be hampered by a £5,000 fine given for 'failing to control our players' in an incident against Leicester.

Star Squad:
Here is the current line-up which has had the best records for the Reds this season, in the most common formation, 4-2-3-1.

Steele
Hassell-Foster-McNulty-McEvely
Perkins-Drinkwater
O'Brien-Butterfield-Done
Gray

Early hotshots: This is all about opinion, and in my opinion the stars so far have been:
Steele - nominated for August player of the month for a string of impressive displays, in particular when he saved two of three penalties against Reading

Perkins - This man is tireless and will not stop running. He has been central to the Reds' new found work ethic and team spirit, which will get results more often than not this season

Drinkwater - This young man has a lot of skill and also puts in a lot of effort. He consistently performs well and gives the Reds a different dimension in midfield

Butterfield - Shown that he is capable of great goals and perhaps early signs that he may be the long awaited replacement for Brian Howard. Keith Hill has awarded him team captaincy, which is sure to see him go from strength to strength

O'Brien - Much improved from last season in terms of effort and ability. With many shouts for him to go in the summer, he's changed the minds of many Reds' fans who now couldn't imagine a team without him

Gray - The 33 year old is definitely enjoying his best season for the Reds and continues to turn in great performances leading the frontline. He's continued to put in the effort and has carved out some great chances for himself and his teammates

Final notes
The Reds have in my view gone into this international break having seen things come together. It looks like Keith Hill is building a great hard-working squad of players who are playing attractive, crowd-pleasing football. Due to an extensive injury list the Reds have perhaps come out of games with less points than they deserved, however with the chance to get some faces back into the squad, surely the season can only build from strength to strength?

On a final note I'd like to thank Wilky for taking me on board as a guest writer. I've really enjoyed creating my first few reports and certainly hope the readers have enjoyed reading them. I'll endeavour to keep up what I hope has been good work and would like to thank Wilky for all his support.

Why not follow us both on Twitter - @MichaelRoach55 and @OnThePontyEnd and give us your views on how the season has gone so far. As always, you can also feel free to comment below.



1 comments:

A P White said...

Great read that Roachie.
Id like to just say a big thankyou to the regulars at Oakwell, especially us in the Ponty who have given great backing of late. In fact, my only contribution to this great site was my request for the fans to give Hillcroft time, and to quit with the negativity, and back the boys in their efforts at Oakwell. So yes, big thanks to you all for great vocal support, because as I stated here some weeks ago, it DOES make a difference.
Bring on the 15th October, YOU REDS!

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