David Cameron Walker

Posts Tagged ‘Kenny Jackett’

Jackett Up

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

Football - Football League One - Wolverhampton Wanderers head coach Kenny JackettGiven just how hideous the last two seasons have been, the past 12 months have gone just about as well as could be expected for Wolverhampton Wanderers. League One champions with two games to go; the best defensive record in the Football League (and best goals conceded per game ratio of the country’s top five league), plus a raft of club records smashed, including a run of nine consecutive league wins.

And who do we have to thank for this? Well, it’s in no small part due to the management of head coach Kenny Jackett, who has not only managed to halt a vicious downward spiral, but somehow reverse it and return the club from whence it came. So, just how well has Jackett done this season?

Transfers: 9/10

On the face of it, this has been Jackett’s strongest suit. Well, I say Jackett, but he has been working alongside ‘Head of Football Development and Recruitment’ Kevin Thelwell since last summer’s restructuring of the management team. Since Jackett took over, seven first team players have come into the first team, and only one of them so far could be categorised as anything other than a success; Leon Clarke’s one goal in 12 appearances so far belying the £750,000 spent on, at the time, League One’s leading goal scorer.

While 6 out of 7 signings is an unqualified success there are still those Wolves fans that have a few questions regarding scouting system. Of those seven signings, three of them have been among the best players in League One (the aforementioned Clarke in addition to Sheffield United’s Kevin McDonald and Wigan Athletic’s Nouha Dicko who had been on loan at Rotherham), while another two had worked with Jackett in the past; Sam Ricketts was an integral part of Kenny Jackett’s early Swansea sides, while James Henry spent four years under Jackett’s tutelage at Millwall. While Jackett should be applauded for the way he has integrated the players into the team, transfers next season will surely be harder to come by as Jackett’s little black book becomes smaller and we become a smaller fish in a bigger pond.

Signings:

Sam Ricketts: adds experience and leadership to the backline, along with an unexpected attacking threat

Kevin McDonald: an absolute class act. Too good for League One, could probably play in the Premier League if he really wants it

Scott Golbourne: solved the long-standing left-back problem, a solid presence in defence

James Henry: added an attacking threat we were missing down the right hand side, and chipped in with some invaluable goals

Michael Jacobs: a revelation since being played behind the striker. Drifts past defenders with ease

Nouha Dicko: 12 goals in 15 starts since signing says it all

Leon Clarke: ironically not settled in yet. Doesn’t necessarily fit the system

Squad Management 10/10

The team that finished the League One season is completely different to the side that was relegated from the Championship twelve months ago. Jackett has overseen a complete overhaul of the squad; six of the seven signings have become first team regulars, while Jack Price come through the youth ranks to play an important role. Add to that Danny Batth finally being given a run in the first team and Richard Stearman re-integrated following last season’s loan spell at Ipswich Town and goalkeeper Carl Ikeme, winger Bakary Sako, and to a lesser extent Irish defender Matt Doherty and midfielder David Edwards, are the only regular starters this season who also played last year.

Jackett has also overseen an awful lot of talent leave the squad. Within days of his appointment, it was announced that the club were seeking buyers for Karl Henry (gone to QPR), Roger Johnson (on loan at West Ham), Stephen Ward (on loan at Brighton) and Jamie O’Hara (currently earning £30,000 a week for the odd under-21 appearance).

In addition, except Sako, all of Ståle Solbakken’s signings have left the club on loan, meaning potentially quite a headache this summer as they all reconvene on the club. Jackett also made the decision to let our four strikers leave in January, as Leigh Griffiths joined Celtic, and Kevin Doyle, Jake Cassidy and Bjōrn Sigurðarson joined QPR, Tranmere Rovers and Molde on loan respectively. With the likes of Kevin Foley, George Elokobi and O’Hara seemingly frozen out, defender Richard Stearman and David Edwards are the only players in contention who are left from our Premier League days.

Tactics 7/10

Our season has almost been split into three different sections. We started it by winning games but not playing well, reliant on the likes of Doyle, Sako and Griffiths for individual moments to win games. Then, as Jackett’s team started to take shape, we went through a period over Christmas of playing well but not necessarily winning. And then, it was almost as if a switch was flicked, and things started to come together. It was of no coincidence that this came as Jackett settled on the 4-2-3-1 formation that so many clubs are using. Earlier in the season, we were using a more old-fashioned 4-4-2 formation, happy to concede possession in the middle in the knowledge that our forward players would be good enough to create chances.

Our best performances have come when Jack Price and Kevin McDonald have provided the solid base in midfield for Bakary Sako, James Henry and Michael Jacobs to create chances for a lone-forward. When one or more of these players hasn’t been available, a slight change to a 4-1-4-1 formation has been necessary, with two box-to-box midfielders in Welsh duo Lee Evans and Dave Edwards playing ahead of the immaculate McDonald.

There did appear to be a potential fly in the ointment as Leon Clarke was signed, playing his first match as a withdrawn forward, not unlike how Kevin Doyle was used at the start of the season. But, an injury to Clarke forced Jackett back to the 4-2-3-1 that had been so successful, although questions remain as to how both Clarke and Nouha Dicko will be utlised next season.

In-Game Management 5/10

This has arguably been Jackett’s biggest downside this season. I struggle to remember a match where he has made a significant change to turn a match in our favour (although this is arguably more difficult to achieve when your team is winning most games), but half-time substitutions in the home games against Leyton Orient and Rotherham made life a little bit harder than they might have needed to be.

Jackett doesn’t seem to be a fan of unnecessary substitutions, preferring to let those who start the game finish it. This was particularly frustrating during our March Madness, when earlier postponed fixtures resulted in a run of nine games in four weeks, yet even when games were won early there was a reluctance to change; during this period, six players started all nine matches, with five of them playing every minute. Indeed, since the start of 2014, Danny Batth has played every minute of every game, while Richard Stearman, Kevin McDonald, Sam Ricketts, Scott Golbourne and Michael Jacobs have missed just 456 minutes between them, being substituted off just four times in total.

Youth 7/10

There isn’t a football fan in the country who doesn’t want to see a squad full of players who the club has developed, and Wolves fans have probably seen more than most this season. On average this term, each match day squad has featured 8.45 players who have come through our youth and Under-21 teams (although this figure does include Lee Evans and Matt Doherty who were signed aged 18 from Bohemians and Newport County respectively. Without these two, the average falls to 7.12 – still a respectable number), something the club is rightly proud of; 21 Wolves-developed players have featured in match day squads this season.

But, the key phrase is ‘featured in match day squads’. Over half of the starts from Wolves-developed players this season have come from Danny Batth and goalkeeper Carl Ikeme. Young midfielder Jack Price is the other player to have started more than 20 games this season. In comparison, defender Ethan Ebanks-Landell has sat on the substitutes’ bench 22 times this season, striker Liam McAlinden has watched 18 games, and goalkeeper Aaron McCarey 31 (admittedly, it’s sometimes a necessary evil to have a young goalkeeper on the bench every game).

Whether these statistics say more about the lack of squad depth at the club rather than the quality of youth players is a question to be asked. But, they have pushed their way past a number of players with Premier League experience; the likes of George Elokobi and Kevin Foley are clearly now deemed surplus to requirements.

Club Fit 10/10

Last summer, Kenny Jackett walked into a broken club. Slowly but surely, he has rebuilt the club’s relationship with the fans, making appearances at fan events early on and making little changes, such as having the players applaud the supporters before every game. He has helped bring a respectability to the club’s management structure, especially after the previous failed appointments (Terry Connor, Ståle Solbakken and the disastrous Dean Saunders), while his working relationship with Kevin Thelwell has seen the focus move away from the 3Ms (Mick McCarthy, club owner Steve Morgan and CEO Jez Moxey) and focus on the 2Ks.

Results 9/10

When it comes down to it, a manager is judged on results, and no-one can question these this season. The best defensive record in the country, the league wrapped up with two games to play and the 100-point barrier surely to be broken. While some may point to the wealth of riches available to Jackett (this was surely a joke piece?), this is never any guarantee of success – you only have to look at the way that QPR, a club in a very similar position, have fallen away in the Championship to see this. Maybe there have been some disappointing results in cup competitions (Notts County, Morecombe and Oldham knocking us out of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, League Cup and FA Cup respectively), promotion was always the aim. Now, the work begins to ensure as successful a season next time around.

Written by Tom Bason, We Are Going Up’s Wolverhampton Wanderers blogger

Tom tweets at @toomb306

All Change at Molineux

Friday, February 7th, 2014

LC

It’s amazing what one result can do for a football fan’s outlook on life. I started penning a piece for WAGU! just before Christmas, which would have been one of those really annoying articles about how a team at the top of league (well, Wolves were second at the time) should be doing better. In the next five games, we won just one and have slipped out of the promotion places, behind Brentford and Leyton Orient. But, sometimes a 90-minute performance can resurrect not only a team, but also the support for that team.

Finally, it appears that boss Kenny Jackett has found a group of players and a system that suits this squad. In January an excellent 2-0 win over Preston was the follow-up to a meek surrender in Gillingham, live on Sky the previous week. The starting lineup for last weeks victory over 10-man Bradford City was unrecognisable in comparison to the team that so meekly surrendered it’s Championship place. Of Dean Saunders’ last three Wolves starting XIs, only a handful are even close to being in contention for Saturday’s trip to Stevenage. Almost bizarrely, one of the players with the most chance will be Nouha Dicko, signed permanently from Wigan Athletic this week (he played a handful of games on loan last season).

Of those 15 players, five remain at the club; five are out on loan*; two returned to their parent clubs; one was sold and two left due to the end of their contract. Joining Dicko at the Compton training ground is Bakary Sako, surprisingly unsold in January, along with Jamie O’Hara (40 minutes in a Wolves shirt this season), Matt Doherty (injured since November) and George Elokobi (one league start this season). Elokobi is clearly unwanted (and many Wolves fans have long believed that even this level is too high for a player of his limited ability), while O’Hara is frozen out

In fact, there are only five outfield players who are anywhere near our current first team who had played for the club more than fifteen times before the start of this season: Sako, Richard Stearman, David Davis and David Edwards are four of them. Bizarrely, the last is actually Leon Clarke, signed a week ago, but is actually our fifth most experience player, in terms of Wolves appearances.  Of those five, Sako has been at the club for 18 months, Clarke has a gap of seven years between his 83rd and 84th appearances, and Davis in the first team squad for just under two years. Kenny Jackett has overseen a huge upheaval of the playing staff, and it is small wonder that the squad is only just starting to gel.

The win against Preston was the first time that we have played well for 90 minutes. Previous good performances have generally lasted for only 45-minutes before going pear-shaped, the Christmas period top-of-the-table clash with Leyton Orient being a perfect example – we were excellent for 45-minutes before an enforced change and an improvement from Orient saw a 1-1 draw. But, with Jackett’s signings bedding in, the signs are there for an improved second half of the season.

And Jackett’s signings have been good. In fact they’ve been better than good. Of Jackett’s eight permanent signings, there are question marks over only two of them. And they only signed in January. Every other signing is getting better and better. It’s difficult to judge given that three of the last five seasons have been spent in the Premier League, but most of Jackett’s signings seem to be the best we’ve made in a long time. He has finally plugged the left back and right wing positions that have plagued the club for longer than I care to remember with the consistency of Scott Golbourne and trickery of James Henry respectively, while Kevin McDonald is absolutely exquisite in the middle of the park. Add to this Sam Ricketts who is our best defender whether on the left, right or in the center and the exciting Michael Jacobs, and Jackett has replaced the nucleus of the team (many of whom have extensive Premier League experience) with better players.

Arguably the final position he needed to recruit was upfront. And he has definitely change that around – in the final days of the transfer window, out went the £6m Kevin Doyle, £2.4m Björn Sigurðarson and leading scorer Leigh Griffiths. This had been the position Jackett had the most trouble with. Griffiths scored a goal for every 147 minutes on the pitch, but didn’t contribute a huge amount elsewhere. Doyle had obvious quality, but a goal return of 3 in 23 wasn’t enough, while Sigurðarson never really got a run in his favoured position. If Nouha Dicko and Leon Clarke prove to be the forwards who manage to combine goals with all-round play, Wolves fans should have a lot to look forward to between now and May.

*Wolves are a League 1 club with nine players out on loan. Of those, one has taken four points from Juventus in the Champions League group stage, one is in the League Cup semi-finals, another has 23 starts for a team in the Championship play-offs, one is playing in the Norwegian top flight and a further two are at French top-flight clubs. Wolves are a League 1 club.

Written by Tom Bason, We Are Going Up’s Wolverhampton Wanderers blogger

Tom tweets at @toomb306

Are Wolves Breaking Bad?

Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

BakarySakoFor some clubs, an international break can often be more of a hindrance than a help, and no club knows this more than Wolverhampton Wanderers. Two years ago, Mick McCarthy’s side entered the first international break of the season sat just outside of the Champions League places, above Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal in the Premier League table.

An opening day win over Blackburn Rovers was followed by the defeat of Fulham at Molineux. A week later and creditable draw at Aston Villa was secured. Then came the international break. The first game back was a defeat at White Hart Lane. The following week, QPR played us off the park, before defeat to Liverpool. After seven points and two clean sheets from three games before the break (P3 W2 D1 L0 F4 A1 Pts7), the club only secured three more victories and two more clean sheets in the remaining 35 games (P35 W3 D8 L23 F36 A82 Pts18). 

Then, just over a year later, Wolves entered another international break. On 6th October 2013, we achieved (what we thought at the time was) a very good 1-0 win over Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park. Blackburn had been relegated alongside Wolves, and to be honest had taken an awful of the national media flak that could have been aimed at the Molineux hierarchy.

But, we expected Blackburn to be one of our promotion rivals and to beat them in their own back yard was a good result. That win sent us third in the league, with everyone around the club expecting a full frontal attack on the top two of Cardiff and Leicester City. But again, we returned from the international break with a poor display in a loss at Huddersfield Town. The next game was at home to Bolton Wanderers, a club whom many Wolves fans despise, dating back to issues regarding John McGinlay, a stray fist and a Division One playoff semi-final in the mid-1990s. To make matters worse, it was former Wolves youth team player Mark Davies who scored the stoppage time equaliser as Wolves forgot how to play football in the second half.

The Wolves of Ståle Solbakken wouldn’t win again until after the next international break at the end of November; a miserable run of nine games without a victory that saw the club careering down yet another league table. In both of our two relegation seasons it is possible to note the moment where fortunes changed. Both seasons saw us go into international breaks at the right end of the table, only to go on an awful run of form after it. So, I think you might be able to understand why I’m a little apprehensive about the postponement of the Carlisle United match last weekend due to international call-ups. 

The one mitigating factor about last weekend is that it isn’t an official international break – this in itself shows how far we have fallen. But with players in the Welsh, Scottish and Irish national squads, along with a handful of youngsters away with the Under-21s, our first team had been severely depleted, and so the postponement was inevitable. This was more than demonstrated in the disappointing defeat on penalties suffered against Notts County last Tuesday, who out passed us, out fought us and out thought us. They were clearly the better side on the night, and we were fortunate to get as far as the penalty shootout.

That goalkeeper Carl Ikeme was the only player to come away from the match with any credit at all says it all.  But this has been a recurring theme this season. Ask any Wolves fan to name their player of the season so far, and they would name Ikeme in their top two. In fact, if we were to poll all fans now, I’ve no doubt Ikeme would run away with the award.

For a team in third place, whose budget dwarfs those clubs around them, performances, especially at home, haven’t been great. Away from home, perhaps where there is less pressure from the fans, the results have been good (an opening day draw in Preston being the only points dropped so far) but home performances have been questionable. Anyone with a Sky box could see the way that Crawley dominated a live Friday night game at Molineux, before Swindon were oh so unluckly not to travel back to Wiltshire with three points. This reached a nadir with a 1-0 home defeat to local rivals Walsall who thoroughly deserved the victory. 

Kenny Jackett seems to purposefully aiming to promote from within where he can – Ikeme, Danny Batth, Zeli Ismail, David Davis and Jack Price are all youth team players who have featured on a regular basis, while Jake Cassidy, Matt Doherty and Lee Evans were signed as youngsters – at times there has been a lack of quality and experience on the pitch. The last two results have highlighted just how reliant on Kevin Doyle we are. When Doyle has been missing, the front two have become increasingly isolated from the midfield, leading to a fragmented offensive line-up with little cohesion. The difference between the first half and second half performances in the game against Sheffield United are a perfect example of the difference Doyle makes to the team.

And then there’s Bakary Sako. A player who joined Wolves expecting to be in the Premier League, not League One and who has missed three games this season amid talks of transfer bids from Nottingham Forest. On his day, Sako is capable of doing things that no other player in the division can do – see his rocket against Sheffield United for proof (and he assisted the opener). But for the first 45 minutes he was the worst player on the pitch, with his head and his feet playing different matches. If Sako were to leave, or suffer a case of the Stephen Fletchers (also known as #headsgone syndrome), we do not have an adequate replacement.

At the moment, Kenny Jackett is doing a solid, but unspectacular job. The majority of Wolves fans want to get out of League One with the minimum of fuss, and this seems to be the Jackett way. The number of youth prospects he has blooded is promising, but the question at the moment is how long will he continue to keep to his word about the unquestionably talented, but potentially problematic Jamie O’Hara, currently playing for the under 21 side? At what point do the declining performances necessitate the decision to bring O’Hara back into the first team, a decision that all Wolves fan would have been dead against a couple of months ago, but even now some are starting to change their mind?

In the midfield, youngsters Price and Evans have impressed but cannot be expected to play consistently for a full season, while Kevin McDonald looks a good player but so far has failed to dominate and dictate games in the way that we would have hoped.   In some ways, Jackett may find it difficult to win over all fans – promotion is expected and is the bare minimum of a successful season. If we are still in League One next season, he has failed in his remit. If he achieves promotion, this will not be a cause for celebration. In the eyes of the club and the fans, that will be the moment when his real job starts.

Written by Tom Bason, We Are Going Up’s Wolverhampton Wanderers blogger

Tom tweets at @toomb306

A New Season, A New Era

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

KJ

For me, the first 15 years of being a Wolves supporter were pretty simple. We would be one of the favourites for promotion, waste a load of Sir Jack Hayward’s money on overpriced flops, but ultimately finish around mid-table. In 2003, we managed promotion to the Promised Land of the Premier League, but that lasted just a season.

The last five years though have been somewhat more exciting. Winning the Championship in 2009 saw the promotion that so many Wolves fans had been expecting for so long. This was followed by two seasons of survival, including home and away victories over Tottenham, defeats of Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea at home (given the other sport this summer, I should point out that this win was the same day as England won the Ashes in Australia), and a famous win at Anfield. Two seasons of survival, coupled with signings with Premier League experience in Roger Johnson and Jamie O’Hara and many felt it was the time to become established as a Premier League club. Seven points from the first three games the following season saw us sitting on the top of the Premier League, albeit only for a couple of hours.

But, we took only 18 points from the next 35 games, and finished bottom of the Premier League with Terry Connor in charge. The new manager, tasked with returning us to the Promised Land was Ståle Solbakken. But, a run of poor results led to the club’s management bottling it, and sacking the Norwegian, replacing him within a couple of days with Dean Saunders. While the appointment of Terry Connor was a shocker, Dean Saunders was an even worse decision, winning just five of his 25 games in charge. The prospect of relegation was in everyone’s minds at the time of Solbakken’s dismissal, but Saunders made it a reality. The club had gone from top of the Premier League to League 1 in 617 days, or 81 games. This time included 46 defeats, just 17 victories and an impressive four managers.

Now, for the second time in twelve months we are facing a new season in a new division with a new man at the helm. Kenny Jackett has arrived, together with an apparent new focus. Jackett is not a ‘Manager’; he is a ‘Head Coach’. What this actually means in real terms, no-one is quite sure of, but it is an apparent attempt to modernise the structure of the club. Whereas previously, Steve Morgan was the club’s owner, and Jez Moxey handled the day to day running of the club, Kevin Thelwell is taking a step forward and is the new Head of Football Development and Recruitment. One can’t help but think that Morgan and Moxey have taken a glance 12 miles to the South East, and are trying to replicate the success seen at the Hawthorns. West Brom have seen managers come and go, but they have the structure to support this, with Dan Ashworth (before his appointment as the FA’s director of elite development) arguably the most important person in their management team.

And so, we move onto the forthcoming season. Personally, I’ve only ever seen one Kenny Jackett side play – a 5-0 win at Molineux that happened right at the beginning of the slide (I missed both games v Millwall last season for work related reasons) – and so have very little idea what to expect. What is certain is that a number of the scapegoats for the disastrous two seasons will not be present. The so-called ‘Gang of Four’ are all (hopefully) being shipped out. The aforementioned Roger Johnson and Jamie O’Hara, together with Karl ‘former club captain and occasional liability’ Henry and Stephen ‘scorer of THAT winner at Anfield’ Ward were all left behind as Jackett took a youthful squad on a pre-season tour of Scotland, and none have been issue a squad number. Johnson and O’Hara are seen to represent the rot that set in just after they signed. These two players joined, on presumably large wages, with Johnson assuming the club captaincy before he’d pulled on a Wolves shirt.  How much this affected a dressing room that had been together for the previous two years, no-one really knows, but the dynamics were definitely affected. One casualty of their arrival was Karl Henry, demoted to vice-captain. He has always split the fans – some viewing him a vital midfield snotter, who breaks up play. Others focus on his lack of offensive ability (although I’m sure a number of professionals think he is more than offensive enough), pointing out his solitary goal in the last four seasons. But, even his most ardent of supporters is agreed that it is time for him to move on, and he is thought to have been one of the chief revolters of Solbakken (again, I’m sure that a number of professionals in the game think he is more than revolting enough). Quite what Stephen Ward has done wrong, no-one is quite sure. Maybe he’s seen as being too representative of Mick McCarthy’s reign; maybe Kenny Jackett just doesn’t like people with big noses.

With those four frozen out, and possibly Bakary Sako following them, who does this leave? We still have a number of players left with Premier League experience; the returning Wayne Hennessey, George Elokobi, Richard Stearman, Kevin Foley and David Edwards have 342 top-flight games between them, while Kevin Doyle is a player that you all know about. But, Hennessey excluded, none of the others are guaranteed to be in the first team. Instead, it is likely to be a season of transition, as a number of youth players are given the chance to stake their claim. Matt Doherty, Jake Cassidy and David Davis are expected to keep the first team places they gained last season, while Danny Batth, Jamie Reckord, Jack Price, Zeli Ismail, Liam McAlinden and Lee Evans are set to challenge for the first team squad.

This youth will need to be supplemented by experience, not least from new signing Sam Ricketts. But the most intriguing addition to the squad is a player who was signed two and a half years ago, but is the current Scottish Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year (incidentally the third player to have ties with Wolves to win the award – any guesses?). Griffiths has had something of a chequered past; not being viewed as good enough to secure a place while in the Premier League, he has spent much of his time on loan in Scotland, scoring 23 goals last season. But he is not without controversy, having been suspended by Hibs for twice making offensive gestures to his own fans, before being charged by police over making an offensive comment on Twitter. But, desperate times and all that; the 23 SPL goals he scored last season, in addition to the two goals and two assists in three pre-season friendlies mean that he is the strong favourite with the bookies to be the leading scorer in League 1 next season (if you do fancy a flutter on this, I’d recommend you avoid Griffiths, and instead look to his probable strike partner. Björn Sigurðarson is best priced 34-1 and may well be worth a couple of quid).

To sum this piece up, no-one has a clue what’s going to happen. The bookies have us as favourites for the new season, but given the amount of changes that are occurring this summer, I’m not sure we’d be a good bet (personally, I’d be looking at Peterborough). The Wolves of this season will be very different to the Wolves of previous years. Instead, we will have a group of youngsters who are all desperate for their chance to wear the Old Gold. After the turbulence of the past couple of seasons, a boring season of transition will do me just fine.

Written by Tom Bason, We Are Going Up’s Wolverhampton Wanderers blogger & also writes for The Football Network

Tom tweets at @toomb306

There’s life after Hendo

Sunday, February 3rd, 2013

Darius Henderson has been a big player for Millwall over the last 18 months; however, I feel there is life after the forward dubbed ‘The Hulk.’

Since joining the club at the start of the 2011/12 season Henderson has played his part in keeping the Lions in the Championship and helping us compete in the race for a play-off spot.

Last season the former Sheffield United frontman was Millwall’s top scorer with 15 goals in 31 league appearances for Millwall, six of those goals being in hat-trick performances away to Leicester City and Barnsley respectively. Of the 15 goals Henderson scored, only five goals were either the opening or winning goal. Take the two hat-ticks away and its 11 goals and three being the opening or winning goals.

I am in no way knocking his contribution during his tenure at the club, when he was fit and playing, he was almost unplayable. Leicester and Burnley found that out.

The issue I had with Henderson was his injury record, something that was flagged up from the start when he joined the club back in 2011. When he wasn’t injured and he was playing, invariably he would play well and give is all – a real Millwall-type player.

His goal per game ratio is impressive too, considering the number of games played. 26 goals in 56 games in all competitions tells its own story, working out at under a goal every three games. In the 74 league games Millwall have played since Darius Henderson arrived at the club, he has scored 22 goals in the 51 he has played and still missed 23 games, that’s half a season!

As mentioned previously, only five of Henderson’s goals last season were either opening or winning goals, this season that statistic stands are five. So overall, even though Henderson has scored 22 goals, only ten have been ones that are influential in a game. Now I know all goals are, the point is he has scored the majority of his goals when the team are winning or are comfortable.

We will miss Henderson’s physicality up front and his unequivocal knack of winning headers and flicking the ball on, along with holding up play for others to join in. That is something that needs to be addressed going forward when a replacement is found. Henderson can and will be replaced.

When fit and available, he is a top player to have at your club. He will be a loss to Millwall, but he is not the be all and end all of our goal scoring or our season by any means.

Millwall still have a great chance of reaching the play-offs with the position the team are in and the tradition of the club to finish a season strongly and, if I may, going back to the important goals relativity – Andy Keogh has scored more important goals than Henderson.

We have a player in Keogh who on his day is Premier League player, he oozes class and his touch and technique are something that might be taken for granted from our fans. He scored seven in 20 games last season after his January move from Wolverhampton Wanderers and this term has netted six times in 22 games this term, including the audacious chipped penalty at the Reebok Stadium against Bolton Wanderers on January 12th.

Of the ten goals Andy Keogh got last season, seven were either the opening or winning goal and four goals that have proved vital this season. That’s 11 of Keogh’s 16 league goals which have been influential.  Keogh is still a player that can win games, with or without Henderson.

We ultimately stayed in the Championship last season without Darius Henderson. Keogh scored the goals to keep us up in the final seven games – along with Harry Kane, the player that replaced the injured Henderson. In the grand scheme of things, Millwall are stronger with Andy Keogh, but we would be weaker without Henderson.

It will be a loss but something we will get over. We got over Steve Morison and Neil Harris going, we will get over Chris Wood and Henderson leaving. We did it last season in a vital stage of the season when Hendo was injured; we can do it again, as long as the right replacement is bought in. That player must complement our main forward option in Keogh.

The season is still alive and kicking and the timing isn’t the best, I hope I’m proved right and Millwall replace Henderson to be striker heavy rather than striker light for the remainder of the season and finish strongly as I believe we can.

Best of luck to Henderson at Forest, if they wrap him in cotton wool, they have a player who on his day is unplayable. Let’s hope that day isn’t Saturday 27th April 2013.

Written by Jay Taylor, We Are Going Up’s Millwall blogger

Jay tweets at @jay_taylor18

In Kenny we trust, still.

Monday, March 5th, 2012

This season has been pretty disappointing after last year’s heroics of a ninth place finish after our promotion from League One in 2010.

The manager, Kenny Jackett, has said this season is a transition – changing our style of play to be more ‘modern’ as the boss puts it.

However, languishing in the bottom half of the table and in the midst of a tight relegation battle is what it has been like for much of the season. A lack of creativity in the final third and an air of anxiety in or play has cost us this season, along with the lack of defensive stability that was there the previous season.

Rarely this campaign have we been outclassed, I can count on four occasions where we have been humbled. All teams have games that they aren’t at the races, but the little things have cost us this season. Losing by the odd goal and not killing teams off has been issue.

That has been prevalent this season; however, throughout the campaign small bumps occur that we can’t seem to get over.

Home form has been an issue. In recent years The Den has been a fortress, hard to beat and teams hated to travel to SE16. This season, teams can’t wait. Our away form recently is better, the old cliché that there is less pressure on a team playing away from their own turf. If you don’t win your home games you struggle, that’s fact.

Team selection and tactics have been an issue too. Playing 4-5-1 (4-3-3) at home for me, is absurd. Play 4-4-2, get at teams, attack them at home, this is a must. Jack Smith who by trade is a defender, has been playing the holding role in place of Jimmy Abdou and the injured Tam Mkandawire this season, and having on loan Spurs forward Harry Kane in centre midfield. It has had the fans questioning if Kenny Jackett is losing the plot?

The short answer to that, no. KJ has said this season is a transition and with experimenting to play football the modern way and becoming a solid Championship side, you need to experiment. In hindsight, I can see why he has tried different teams/selections. The layman way of describing it, is that he doesn’t know his best eleven. That may be true, but if there is a tactical or positional issue arising, try and solve it in-house rather than spending unnecessary money on outsourcing the answer.

In the frustration, in the moment after loses and bad performances, fans would feel like it’s time for Jackett to go. I’ve felt that a few times this season. When cooler heads prevailed, I’ve realised sacking Jackett would be suicide. Owners and fans want results, and if they are not coming, the want changed. In the four years Jackett has improved the team’s fortunes. From League One relegation fodder to visiting Wembley in consecutive years, getting to and winning a play-off final; something the club had never previously done.

Another frustration is the defensive side to Millwall this season. Either excellent or shaky, no middle ground to describe the defensive plight. The once impenetrable back-line has been breached far too often this season. Last campaign Millwall had the third best defence in the league, behind promoted QPR and Swansea. The problem in the back four’s inability is hard to fathom, but this needs to be sorted once again if we are to avoid the drop back into the abyss that is League One.

One thing that is becoming clearer to me, that hasn’t been that much of an issue before, is the performances of David Forde. Others have been slating him for a while but I’ve thought it may have been down to a bad day at the office.

However seeing the team struggle, for the first time with Forde in goal, it’s becoming more obvious.

While in previous years we have had solid seasons defensively and Forde hasn’t been tested anywhere near as much as this season, he has dealt with things well when called into question.

This season, I’ve seen him make more mistakes and more frequently. Brighton away; 2-1 up last minute, Kezenga Lua Lua takes a free-kick and Forde spills it to drop two valuable points. Reading at home; 1-0 up a poor punch into the path of Hal Robson-Kanu, and indecisiveness in coming to the ball cost us a second goal. Losing to Reading 2-1 after going a goal up at home is disappointing.

When Millwall are doing well Forde’s cracks are masked, when we aren’t doing so well, I’m afraid, his errors are highlighted more and are becoming more costly as the season goes on. He can’t become a bad goalkeeper overnight; he is a Republic of Ireland international – this could just be an off season. However it’s costing us more and more. With less than 15 games left, that too needs to be resolved.

The table doesn’t lie, but we have played well and competed valiantly in many games this season, the luck seems to be against us.

As it stands we are six points above the drop zone. The next six fixtures are season defining.

I still remain optimistic that we will survive, just. If survival is achieved then the summer will see a change in many personnel to make sure this doesn’t happen next season. Yet remain fully behind the manager to steer us away from the drop zone.

Millwall have five of the bottom seven to play, and I feel this is to the advantage of the Lions. Away form is picking up and helping us more than current home form, so with five away games to the bottom sides I can see performances and points being of a standard to pull us over the line.

It’s going to be a scrap to the very end of the season with teams like Peterborough and Watford not out of the woods yet, and the introduction of Portsmouth to the relegation dogfight.

If we can perform during the rest of the season the same way we played against Brighton, Barnsley and Burnley – all of which were games away from The Den, we will be fine. If the home form version of Millwall turns up too often like in games against Birmingham, Watford and the first half against Middlesbrough, there will be trouble ahead.

Kenny will save us; the majority of fans have backed him and never turned against him when we were a fixture of the bottom three.

You could call it a rally cry, but it’s anything but. Millwall supporters will back their club, when times get hard, and we are the underdog, the Lions roar. Keep the faith, show support and the team will respond. This is a time for, as Michael Calvin would put it; “Real ‘wall”.

We can stay up, I think we will. But the players need support on the pitch. The fans haven’t turned so far, and the longer it stays that way the better chance we have of staying up.

In Kenny we trust.

Written by Jay Taylor, We Are Going Up’s Millwall blogger

Jay tweets at @jay_taylor18

 

Second bottom and still searching….

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

The international break comes at the perfect time for a struggling Millwall side. Without a win in eight games and only one solitary goal in that run, Kenny Jackett’s men are sitting second bottom of the Championship. Poor refereeing decisions, bad luck and injuries have all played their part but the performances have been lacking.

A lack of goals has been the main problem in tandem with not being able to keep them out. Last season Millwall had the third best defensive record in the whole league, behind champions QPR and play-off winners Swansea City. However so far this season the Lions have shipped goals for fun. In their last six games they have conceded nine goals and scored only one; something that must be put right and fast.

A handful of striker combinations have been tried to get the much-needed goals but as of yet, none have worked. Bringing back former loanee Jay Simpson from Hull was a move that excited Lions fans. Despite this we are still to see the Jay Simpson that won Player of the Year in League One during the 2007/08 campaign. His performances have epitomised how the team has been as of late.

In my eyes there seems to be a lack of fight and ‘Millwall spirit’ amongst the players, as if the changing room isn’t at ease like last season. This could be having an effect on the team, as with each defeat and flat performance confidence and morale get shattered.

Inevitably this season was going to be compared to the previous campaign, the benchmark was set and fully expected to be equalled or bettered this time around. Sadly so far it has been more of a stagnant and slow start with just one win against fellow early season strugglers Nottingham Forest. Since then it has been three draws and five defeats for Jackett’s side, including three losses on the bounce, the latest a 1-0 home defeat to Eddie Howe’s Burnley side.

In the first half Millwall were playing with a high tempo for the opening 20 minutes, then the pace dropped, and so did the performance. A lull in the Lions’ concentration was pounced upon at a Burnley corner. The ball played in to Jay Rodriguez whose effort on target was, to be fair, a pea roller but it beat everyone in the box and even David Forde who only got a hand to what would be the only goal of the game.

Millwall’s second half performance was a lot more positive, putting much more pressure on the visitors. However a contentious offside decision  ruled out a goal and a penalty appeal was turned down to sum up Millwall’s afternoon. Simply put, they lack goals and the defence is vunerable.

The second half against Burnley was one of the better performances seen recently, besides the goal the visitors did not cause Millwall many problems and the pressure the home side built up during the second 45 should have culminated in a goal but untimely, it didn’t.

Darius Henderson, the experienced front man was out again and he was sorely missed. A player that can stick up top and stay there, which will bring others into play will be a great addition to the team after the international break, which resumes away to Middlesbrough.

In light of recent form, the gloom and doom merchants have risen up and are making their voices heard. Some are blaming the board for not investing enough, others the players’ attitude and even for Kenny Jackett to be sacked – which in my eyes would be ludicrous and potentially suicidal.

Removing the Championship’s longest serving manager is a non-starter. There are not many managers Millwall could get to replace him, in terms of the success he has had, or even on the club’s financial budgets. Mr Jackett is undoubtedly the best man and only man for the Millwall hot seat.

I feel is a complete lack of confidence running throughout the side and they are not doing things instinctively. Collectively they are thinking about things too much and not wanting to over commit. These are simple things that with confidence will become easier to pull off and lead to more free-flowing football rather than rigid, protective play and hopefully results too.

The acquisition of Brian Howard on loan from Reading is a good move. Coolness personified when on the ball, his experience will be vital when things get rowdy in the middle of the park. Looking to the possible grim future, his experience will be needed should Millwall face a relegation battle. Howard’s no-frills approach, coupled with incisive runs off the ball give the team more control in midfield. He will hopefully turn out to be an integral part of the squad beyond his initial three-month loan.

The international break provides a good opportunity for Millwall to go back to the drawing board and spend time on the training ground to sort out the faults and bring back winning form which is desperately needed.

Sooner or later, they have to break their duck and pick up three vital points.

All good things come to those who wait. Millwall, we are all waiting.

In KJ we trust!

Written by Jay Taylor, We Are Going Up’s Millwall blogger

Jay tweets at @jay_taylor18

Ready and Roaring

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

Five pre-season games, five wins. That’s the impressive record the Lions boast in preparation for the new season. Wins over Shelbourne (3-0) and Longford Town (1-0) in Millwall’s pre-season tour of the Republic of Ireland kicked things off in style with Kenny’s men showing their class against two team’s mid-way through their seasons. Other results included a 5-0 rout against Conference South side Dartford and victory over south London rivals Charlton Athletic.

Having made the trip to watch this game, it’s fair to say it was explosive right from the off with Charlton opening the scoring within five minutes before a 30 yard free-kick by James Henry was rifled into the top corner of the goal. This set the tone for the afternoon. Right from the equaliser Bradley Wright-Phillips added Charlton’s second; wrong footing defender Darren Purse and slotting home before a John Marquis double for the Lions made it 3-2 by half time – a full-time score of 4-3 resulted in true value for money and great insight into some of our new players. Recent signing Therry Racon played a full game and impressed throughout, showing some accomplished touches in the middle of the park as well as getting stuck in defensively. Clearly he was one of the stand-out players; carry on playing like he did that day and he will endear himself to the Millwall faithful very quickly!

Likewise, new target man Darius Henderson put in a shift upfront doing what he does best; holding up the ball and spreading the play very well, which culminated in setting up John Marquis’ first goal of the afternoon. Third summer signing of the season Jordan Stewart was an unused substitute but from the Dartford and Gillingham games he looks like another typically shrewd signing from Kenny Jackett, showing good pace to get forward and a willingness to get involved from left-back. All rhree men can, and hopefully will, all add something to the team throughout the season – having said that, with Steve Morison moving to Premier League new-boys Norwich City and true legend Neil Harris now at Southend, many fans, including me, feel we are still a striker light.

With that in mind, we’ve been linked with Rob Hulse, Nile Ranger, Craig Mackail-Smith and even Neil Mellor during the close-season. With a month still left in the transfer window, anything can naturally happen so there’s no need to start panicking about a possible relegation battle just yet; Kenny knows what he is doing and I for one am sure he will bring in a suitable player that will help the team going forward.

The general consensus around The Den, as it was last season, is to consolidate our status in the Championship again. With teams coming down like Birmingham City, Blackpool and West Ham United, along with big spending Leicester City and the obligatory promotion hopefuls Nottingham Forest  seemingly stronger, this season will be more difficult than the last. Finishing 9th last term was an achievement in itself, so anything other than relegation and we can build on what we have and possibly try and challenge for promotion in two years time. Fans should be realistic in what we can achieve due to the size of the club and budget we have (compared to the rest of the league). Punching above our weight last season will be in order again this year; I predict us to finish between 10th and 15th – obviously not as good as last year but it’s about establishing ourselves more and more into this league and then eventually pushing on.

So, having said all that its Play-off Final losers Reading first up at the Madejski Stadium; a tough test for the lads but a challenge I fully expect the boys to be able to cope with, even with the likes of Shane Long and Jimmy Kébé in the Royals team.

Finally some good news on the injury of Shaun Batt; after a week at of rehabilitation at Lilleshall, he has been given the all clear from his muscle surgeon to start being introduced into training this week, which is fantastic news after over a year out with a cruciate knee ligament injury and should be fit by September.

With just a few days left, I can’t wait! Roll on the highs and lows that will be experienced and emotions only the beautiful game can evoke – In KJ we trust!

Written by Jay Taylor, We Are Going Up’s Millwall Blogger

Jay tweets @jay_taylor18