Christmas cheer was in decidedly short supply at the Unibol on Wednesday and the win over Southend felt a great deal more distant than just a week prior, with the promising but ultimately underwhelming draw against Shrewsbury sandwiched in between. I must confess, the effusive article I had begun to outline in my head after a blistering and scarcely believable first 10 minutes had to be canned as we retreated into ourselves, enabled our opposition to dictate the tempo and flow of the game and got a man sent off to boot, effectively mitigating against any stirring comeback in the second half despite Politic’s well taken goal at the death.
However, it would be remiss not to single out Josh Emmanuel for the attacking verve he displayed down the right-hand side and the nascent signs of a promising partnership with Joe Dodoo. Emmanuel was a bustling, physical presence going forward, able to link up effectively with Dodoo in front and whip in a half decent cross when required. In this era in which the fullback is king, it is invaluable to have a player in that position who can take on a man and draw the opposing defender to them, leaving a 2-on-1 somewhere on the pitch to be exploited. In the admittedly few matches I have been to this season, I have been quietly impressed with his game. While his defending may require work, in the opposition half I believe he comes into his own; the manner in which he can shrug off an opponent reminiscent of a late era Alonso under Dougie Freedman many moons ago, the obvious gulf in class between those two players notwithstanding.
A shout out should go to the departing Thibaut Verlinden who was Dioufy-esque in his ability to cut inside and speed up and slow down the pace of the match at whim while almost always delivering an end product of quality. His goal against Shrewsbury, following a brilliant layoff from Darcy, was majestic and belied his status as a Championship reserve. Verlinden was well suited to the system and will be missed, although Politic can act as a like for like replacement, with O’Grady offering a less mobile but sturdier presence on the left if required.
I have no particular issue with Hill’s tactics or his Jacomo attire, with the creativity in the team ostensibly derived from the wings in an old fashioned 4-4-2. For this to be successful, Emmanuel and Chicksen will be required to contribute to both the attacking and defensive phases of play, a job which they both perform to their credit at present. In theory, this should be combined with a solid if uninspiring central midfield, although this went missing in both a figurative and literal sense versus Burton even before Murphy’s premature departure from the field.
With two auxiliary fullbacks supporting the wingers and providing service to a big man up top, we should get goals and we should be a difficult team to beat as we enter 2020. I think that is the minimum we can expect as we approach the second half of the season.