Swift Start 

Before the season started, none of us were sure how the season would unfold under a manager with no experience of managing a first team. Only the blindly optimistic could be confident we would be a success, especially with a very tricky start to the campaign – Wolves, Newcastle and Ipswich all in the opening 6 games. 

So how do I think it’s unfolding? The most obvious change we’ve seen is in the style of play. We now see long periods of possession and are comfortably beating most teams on this stat. This has seen a very mixed response from the crowd and accusations of ‘dull’ or ‘boring ‘ football. I can understand why some fans have struggled to adapt to this new style. It’s completely different to the previous manager’s. I think we should stick with this style, I think it frustrates the opposition into making rash decisions and also protects our previously vulnerable defence. I work on the basis that if we’ve got the ball, the opposition can’t score, so the more we have the ball the less likely we will concede and the more likely we will score. Simple logic I grant you, but it seems to be working so far. 

Defensively I think we have improved this season. Liam Moore is looking like a steal for one million, composed on the ball and a leader. This has helped McShane concentrate on his own game, unlike last season when he had to guide the young Cooper through games. The Blackett signing has seen Obita show his best form in 18 months, he’s still not perfect but its a big improvement from his showing last season. Gunter has also put in some better displays, his decision making in the final third is still frustrating but he’s been better at positionally. Al Habsi hasn’t really changed, is still capable of both incredible saves and blunders. The Derby game was Classic Al Habsi; makes a great save from Vydra but got away with dropping the ball when kicking it in the first half. I still think his positives outweigh his negatives. 
One of our major issues of the last few seasons has been creativity. I never expected Stam to magically improve this situation with our limited funds but I think it’s slightly improved this season. The main reason is undoubtedly Jon Swift. He’s added a goal threat and creativity we’ve not seen since Gylfi, but I’m not getting too carried away until he does it over a whole season. He’s got the talent, lets hope he keeps up with the good performances. Beerens has also quietly impressed me, he’s had a few critics this season, but who would you rather have – Beerens or HRK? I would pick Beerens every time. Yeah Beerens is not keen on any contact, that needs work, but he’s a team player, unlike HRK. As already mentioned, another key reason why it’s improved is we’re having more of the ball. This tires the opposition physically and mentally. It’s no coincidence we’ve got late goals against Cardiff, Ipswich and Derby.  

I’ve got a lot of sympathy for Stam on the striker situation, he knows we are at least one striker short but was left rather stranded by the club’s failure to sign one that is good enough to be a first team regular. He’s been left with a striker who is not really a target man and struggling with confidence. I can’t knock Yann’s effort and desire but he’s not been good this season, especially in front of goal. This brings me on to a criticism of Jaap. I think he’s been quite slow to bring on Mendes when a goals has been required. Brentford, Birmingham and Derby are 3 prime examples. Now I haven’t been overly impressed by Mendes (apart from Derby) but it’s been clear in those games Yann needed some support and Stam hesitated. Is this a lack of faith in Mendes, or a stubbornness to stick to his style? I’m not sure, maybe it’s a combination of factors we don’t know, but it’s a bit puzzling. I hope Jaap has seen that Mendes can make an impact after the Derby game, it helped the whole team having two strikers and especially Yann. 

 Overall I’ve been impressed by Stam’s start. The team look more confident and the results have been far better than I expected to see. I’m slightly concerned that teams have worked out how to affect our style of play as our form has trailed off in the last few weeks, but I’m more confident than I was before the season started. If he shows a bit more flexibility with formations and gets lucky with form and injuries we could have a decent season. My initial target of 50 points is looking very likely to happen with plenty to spare, but I’m still sticking with 13th as my finishing position. Which would be progress, although I hope I’m wrong and we finish much higher!

Paul Mann 

Let us know what you thought of this article via the comments section below or @ElmParkRoyals 


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