Wanderers rounded off 2017 with a hard-earned win against the second biggest team in Sheffield yesterday with a first half strike from pantomime villain Gary Madine. Time to assess what we can take from the game going into the New Year.
First Championship Away Win In 999 Days
Having failed to win away from home in our previous spell in the Championship and up until yesterday this time round, it’s taken us 999 days to finally take all three points from an away Championship fixture, and there was no better way than for it to come against last seasons’ promotion rivals and in their Cup Final.
Admittedly, it shouldn't have taken us this long in the first place but it made it all the sweeter in the way that it eventually came about.
Changes, changes and more changes
Parky was forced into ringing even mire changes this weekend through multiple squad fitness, injury issues and generally having recognised the need for some squad rotation to take place, and boy did it pay off!
5 changes and a formation switch was made to the side that started at Middlesborough on boxing day which saw the return of 3-5-2 and fans favourite Adam Le Fondre to the starting line-up whilst Josh Vela was dropped to the bench along side Mark Little whilst Andrew Taylor, Craig Noone and Sammy Ameobi missed out through injury.
Despite my initial reservations about the switch to a back three, we stood strong at the back, looked far more dynamic down the wings and allowed Madine to flourish by having Alfie to knock it down to.
We looked a much stronger side despite not having a number of our regular starters on the pitch and should hopefully lift the restriction of only being able to have one effective system and line-up at our disposal.
I hope these changes and a flow of new enthusiasm will encourage us to go on and try and get a second in these scenarios rather than shut up shop and hold on to a nervy one nil lead.
Gary Madine vs Billy Sharp
With Sharp and the Blades taking the bragging rights on our previous encounter at Bramall Lane, Wanderers’ and Madine’s return saw Wilder’s United outplayed on this occasion and evened up the points scoring tally which seems to be ongoing between the two opposite numbers.
The former-Owl’s goal silenced the home support in the 21st minute whilst our back line kept Sharp at bay without much hassle due to his complete ineffectivness throughout the game.
Sharp was eventually subbed off which, to Wilder, may have been tactically a good move, but his reluctance and disappointment to leave the field only made him and their side look weaker, simply handing Madine the win in terms of the pair’s rivalry and Bolton where the scoreline was concerned as Sharp’s replacement, Donaldson, was equally as poor.
Despite my admirance for Wilder’s managerial style and ability, his bitter post-match interview and reluctance to accept his side’s deserved loss was poetry in motion. Well done Gary, well done indeed.
Hammers loanees special mention
Despite the regularly fickle opinions of our fans, our away support is one which couldn't be knocked in terms of loyalty and their support for Josh Cullen and Reece Burke amongst others was particularly notable given their dip’s in and out of form and team selection, the pair’s returns to the side had such a massive influence on the team’s performance yesterday was something which deserves to be recognised.
Irrespective of Cullen initially dividing opinion as he blew hot and cold and him taking Vela’s place, his performance was something of a masterclass and kept possession and the ball on the deck more than I’ve seen any other player do so far this season and has definitely put himself back in contention for a loan renewed and a regular starting place.
Similarly with Burke, he has simply reminded the fans and Parky of what he can do and in terms of personal opinion, is often a better option than Beevers. However, their solidarity as a back three has re-instated my belief in that system to work despite my favouritism towards a back four. I hope both lads stay on as they are both a real asset to us and West Ham and could go on to play at the very top in a few years.
Can we survive (without Vela)?
Following on from my previous point, Cullen’s impressive performance yesterday has re-instated the fans belief in his ability and is unlikely to replace either Henry or Pratley as he is definitely a better option further up the field and is therefore competing with Vela for a place.
With rumours flying around that Vela could be off in January, should we be able to extend Cullen’s deal and eventually make it a permanent one, I don’t think we’d miss Vela too much.
Vela himself has divided opinions in recent weeks despite his status as a fans favourite and given that Parky has begun to experiment with the team, should Vela become unhappy with his playtime or wish to leave, I don’t think it’d be as much of a loss as many would make it out to be.
Antonee Robinson also deserves a mention too, he was my man of the match and I hope he too will remain with us in 2018.
Regardless of my recognition for individual performances, I can’t stress enough that no-one had a bad game, but these points in particular stood out to me and offer us hope going into the New Year in terms of survival in the Championship. If there are any points you feel I have missed, leave them in the comments below.
Onto Hull tomorrow where I hope we can keep up this gradual build into momentum and fight our way out of the bottom three with these positives in mind.