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5 things: Dundee 1-2 Bolton Wanderers

A stronger team, a stronger opponent - did we learn any more from it?

A short trip through to Dundee after work. I only wish I’d gone for a Macaroni pie like Eddie. Instead I opted for the most expensive pie on the menu - the Dens Steak Mince Pie - and it was an abomination. Other than which pie to recommend in case any of you ever end up at Dens Park again, did we learn anything? I think so...

Flat Back Four

Wanderers found form again at the tail end of our promotion push by switching to a 3-at-the-back system. Given the success it brought, I was expecting Parky to continue in this vein, but we have played a more traditional back four in all 3 pre-season games so far. It is a surprise in a way, but does make sense - we do not have enough depth in the centre of defence to sustain a back 3 though a full season of Championship football. Parky will also want to get the most out of new signings Buckley and Ameobi, as well as returning favourite The Postman, and the 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 formation on display at Dens Park will do just that. It seemed to work last night - Ameobi and Buckley were given license to roam infield and both looked creative.

Squad Depth

As alluded to above, squad depth is an issue ahead of what will be a tough Championship season. In both of this week’s friendlies, Parky has employed two distinct teams of outfield players - and one has been clearly better than the other. From what I can make out, we probably only have about 16 outfield players who are really going to be up to playing first team football next season. Some of the youth team players look promising, but won’t be up to playing regular football yet.

Starting XI

It seems a safe bet that the eleven who started against Dundee last night will be very similar to, if not the same as, the team that starts the season against Leeds United. There was a clear difference between our performance in the first half last night, and that in the second half, and there was a clear improvement in cohesion and control of the game when essentially the same team came on in the second half against Arbroath. The only changes I could really see to last night’s starting lineup might be in goal, and potentially Morais being brought back in if fit.

Keepers

As mentioned above, the only real area on uncertainty in our starting eleven is in goal. Both Ben Alnwick and Mark Howard seem to be decent enough goalkeepers, but neither is perfect and both have their weaknesses. Ben Alnwick had a solid enough first half last night, and I thought by half time he’d done enough to make the number 1 shirt against Leeds his. Howard came on at half time, and initially looked very shaky and low on confidence, particularly when dealing with crosses. Then came a fantastic left-handed save from a long, dipping, shot, followed by a brilliant stop from point-blank range to deny what looked like a certain goal. I hope this gives him confidence, as I think Howard’s form of early last season is superior to anything Alnwick can manage, but since his injury Howard hasn’t been the same player and really needs some confidence. It will be interesting to see who Parky goes for.

The Goal Machine

I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but Big Gaz is clearly now the first name on the team sheet. If we employ the same formation and style of play as last night, which I think likely, we don’t really have an alternative. He’s about the only member of the squad who can play as a target man, and his goal and assist last night showed how important he is. This was only made more stark by comparison with the only alternative currently in the squad, Swiss trialist Haris Tabakovic - it would be pretty depressing if we actually had an interest in a player so poor. I comfort myself by thinking he’s probably one of the Superagent’s players just trying to get his fitness up before trying to get a contract in League 2, which is probably his level. I’d like to see Adam Le Fondre playing up front rather than the right of midfield or in the number 10 role, but that would require a change in our direct style of play.