Wanderers’ win against Manchester City’s u21s should have been a celebrated result. It marked the first time since the January FA Cup win against Walsall that we have scored 3 in a game, it puts us in pole position to go through to the knockout stages of the EFL Trophy and marks back-to-back wins for the first time since August 2018.
Unfortunately, two incidents marred the result almost to the point that it faded into obscurity. At the time of writing it is unclear as to what length of time Ali Crawford, a goal scorer on the night, will be out injured for after he was stretchered off with a suspected knee injury in extra-time but Keith Hill has gone on record saying he thinks the injury is a serious one. This would be hugely damaging for Wanderers not only because of the mounting list of injured first-teamers (11 to be exact) but also because Crawford has been in great form and looking a very shrewd addition. We all wish him a speedy recovery.
It is, however, the other incident of the game on which I wish to focus and that is James Weir’s hauling off before half time, the second time Hill has done this to the former Hull and Wigan midfielder. Weir is something of a divisive figure but I am a fan. He stood by us when other first teamers decided not to play against Coventry, putting in a leader’s performance, and has looked tidy on the ball whilst providing quality delivery from set-plays in the other games he has played.
By all accounts he didn’t have his best game against City but did set up Crawford’s goal and certainly hadn’t performed badly enough to be embarrassingly dragged off minutes before the interval to make a point. This was viewed as strange at the time and fans speculated whether he was injured. Hill made sure we all knew that this wasn’t the case post-match when speaking to Marc Iles:
“These games are important to me. My little boy is here and it’s important to him, it’s important to my wife, it’s my livelihood. You are representing me out on that pitch.
“If your performance isn’t good enough 10 minutes in or 20 minutes in, or even if you come on as a sub, you’ll be sub-subbed. It’s as simple as that.
“I can’t stand there smiling on the side of the pitch watching people make mistake after mistake and accepting it. There are certain standards that have to be set and that’s why I make those decisions.”
This isn’t anything new to Wanderers fans. Only last year we saw Phil Parkinson do the same kind of thing in digging out his own players for poor performances with the likes of Yanic Wildschut and Josh Vela coming in for heavy criticism.
Following a poor showing against Nottingham Forest, Parkinson said Wildschut, a player notorious for needing support and backing in order to perform well, was “disappointing” and went on to say “I don’t think anyone can hide away from that. He gave the ball away too many times. I have showed him many times that if you come inside as a wide player you have to keep the ball. Time and time again that happened in the first half and we have to be better than that”
I admit it is hardly a ruthless and scathing analysis of his performance, but when a player like this thrives on confidence and has already won you two matches single-handedly in a season where you have really struggled, you cannot alienate them in this manner. It is counter-productive in the extreme and shows a real lack of man-management skills.
Parky followed this up by openly admitting to The Bolton News that Vela was only retaining a place on the substitutes bench by virtue of him needing to have at least one academy graduate in a Matchday 18. How to kill a player’s self-belief in a matter of words! It was, for me, Parky’s biggest flaw that he couldn’t keep potentially useful players onside and I truly believe it cost him dearly.
In summary, I don’t want Hill to go the same way. He has done lots of good things since taking charge in making us play more attractive football and making astute signings but his personality is rubbing people up the wrong way and in the situation we are in with a limited number of fit players you cannot afford to alienate the ones that are available. Some players respond well to criticism, some don’t, and by the look of Weir’s reaction when he was withdrawn he falls into the latter category. With Crawford now out, Hill may just have lost the one player capable of filling in.