I won’t do a full report on the Orient game. Firstly because it was tedious. And secondly because I don’t want to be responsible for Tigers fans committing suicide while reading it. Instead, I’ll tell you everything you need to know in six bullet points.
Tigers 3-5-2: [G] Jakupovic [D] Bruce, McShane, Dawson [M] Rosenior, Elmohamady, McKenna, Olofinjana, Cairney [F] Proschwitz, Simpson.
The System – Steve Bruce hasn’t got a lot wrong this season and this performance, or lack thereof, was down in large part to the players and their attitude and ability. Bruce did get it wrong though. It was obvious looking at the XI he picked that it was a 4-4-2 line-up shoe horned into 3-5-2. I can understand why he wants to play that way in this game because he wants the players to experience the system so they are ready to step in. That’s all fine but it proved a massive failure and we were much better in the second half once he’d admitted his mistake and changed to 4-4-2.
The Goals – It was a game of very few chances. It’d be hard for either side to argue that they deserved a win because neither goalkeeper was troubled all afternoon. Jakupovic tipped over from McSweeney’s 30 yarder mid-way through the first half and stood up well to deny Cook just before half time. Jones held McShane’s header from Dawson’s cross in the second half and then saved from a Proschwitz volley with ten or so to play. Orient were building a little bit of momentum prior to their goal, they had a cross that Cox came close to connecting with and then Mooney went through on goal and was fouled by Alex Bruce who should really have walked and conceded a penalty. Fortunately it wasn’t given. Soon after Cox crossed to the near post, Mooney got across the front and headed beyond Jakupovic [0-1]. The equaliser came in stoppage time from nowhere really. City had huffed and puffed before Dawson kept the ball on the left and found Cairney who put a peach of a cross on Proschwitz’s head and he nodded expertly into the far corner [1-1]. A touch of class out of keeping with the rest of the game.
The Crowd – The attendance of 8585 (I estimated 9000) was to be expected. With no disrespect meant, a home tie with Leyton Orient hardly inspires cup fever. And in fairness, there are a lot of other ties that would’ve attracted a larger away following than the 600-800 or so they brought. It was a tough crowd too with a lot of regulars missing. Certainly in my section of the East Stand there were a lot of people who don’t normally sit there, so much so that I thought I’d taken the wrong steps. They started to get on the backs of the players early frustrated at the sideways and backwards passing. There were boos when the ball was passed back to Jakupovic for the umpteenth time, sarcastic cheers when Proschwitz won a header and when Liam Rosenior got forward on the right. Rosenior got some stick at Blackpool too. From what I can gather, his only crime I that he isn’t Elmohamady. He’s not completely suited to playing as a wing back either. Regardless of what you think, if he’s wearing black and amber and giving it his best shot then you support him.
The Midfield – The midfield three of McKenna, Olofinjana and Cairney were an eye-opener after being spoiled recently by combinations of Corry Evans, Stephen Quinn, David Meyler and Robbie Koren. They were ponderous, they wanted too many touches, they didn’t work off each other, they didn’t make runs and they didn’t commit themselves for fear of not getting back into position. McKenna was our best midfielder in the past two seasons. However a combination of him knocking on a bit and the other options being vibrant, talented young footballers means he has no future here. Olofinjana was fine in little patches with the occasional rampaging run or fine pass. Too occasional though. Often he ran down blind alleys and passed to no-one.
Tom Cairney is still Tom Cairney. It doesn’t matter that he’s lost weight, he’s still what he is. The cross for the goal showed the quality he has in his left foot. You just see it so rarely. He doesn’t get into positions to harm the opposition. And he’s till slow. Steve Bruce obviously had no intention of using Quinn or Evans despite their presence on the bench. So much so that when he hooked McKenna, he gave a first team debut to Dougie Wilson. Wilson wasn’t massively involved but looked mobile, decisive and wasn’t afraid to have a shot at goal. I’d be surprised if we ever saw this midfield combination again. If it lined up in a league game, I think I’d just go home.
The Forwards – We’ve seen the Proschwitz/Simpson partnership before, at Middlesbrough and Blackpool for starters. It was about as successful today as it’s been before. Simpson was reasonably impressive. Easily the best outfield player at any rate. He dropped deep in the first half, held on to the ball well and turned and caused them some problems. When it came to releasing the ball or finding a team mate, he wasn’t so hot but he worked hard outside the box and looked our only chance of getting anywhere near the goal.
Proschwitz had a dire first half. He has a woeful second touch. I know that’s an odd comment but often he’ll take the ball in OK and then his second touch will take it away from him so he’s stretching or sliding to make a pass. He toe-poked an early chance wide having shown decent movement and no pace to get into the position. His other touches were generally heavy and awkward and he fought a losing battle in the air against Chorley and Baudry. In the second half, he showed a little more fight. The McShane half chance from Dawson’s cross came after Proschwitz robbed a defender and won a free-kick. It was cleared but Proschwitz again harassed a defender and won back possession for Dawson. He followed that with a run from deep, Simpson took away defenders to the left and he had Cameron Stewart open and screaming for the ball on the right. Instead of passing, he wellied a shot into row FF. His goal was beautifully taken and on the evidence of today and the Ipswich home game, he’s obviously effective if you get crosses into the box. The problem is that he’s poor outside the box so you are trying to build play and create good attacking positions with 10 men.
The Loan Ranger – Today saw the return of Cameron Stewart. It’s a year since he returned from injury in terrific style and was the subject of a £1.5m bid from Prickly Pearson. Since then, his career has nosedived spectacularly. He went to Burnley in August to get some games under his belt and failed to impress there. Today, he started at left wing-back, which is an unfamiliar role, and had a go at it. He attacked space well a couple of times and even put in a half decent ball with his left foot. When Brucie realised the 3-5-2 was useless with this side and switch, Cam moved to the right wing. Again, he got into a couple of decent positions but crossed woefully. Either sliding the ball to defenders or hammering it over everyone. It was the same old Cam; decent approach play and no end product. Worse was to come for him after the game however. Steve Bruce is not impressed with his fitness, thinks he’s overweight and seems pretty angry at Cam and at Burnley that he’s got into such poor shape.
The extra weight wasn’t obvious from the stands. It wasn’t like he came out in a shirt that had “Parkin” written on the back with a line through and “Stewart” scribbled underneath. He’s obviously been monitored by our coaching staff though and is carrying a bit too much timber for an athlete. Steve Bruce seemed to indicate that he’s not even in good enough shape to go out on loan. I’m still a fan of Cam Stewart. I still think there’s talent there that could be harnessed. Sadly, the guy is running out of chances to impress and he’s running out of admirers on the staff. He’s drinking in the last chance saloon, as they say, and needs to dedicate himself quickly. Otherwise, I think we’ll be talking for years about the biggest waste of talent my generation has seen at the football club.
So it’s off to Brisbane Road for the replay a week on Tuesday/Wednesday. The 4th round draw with probably dictate what sort of team Steve Bruce puts out. He was less than impressed with the one today. At half time he came out 5 minutes before the players and sat down on the bench, arms folded, until 15 or 20 minutes into the 2nd half. If the prize for winning at Orient is Middlesbrough away or something, these guys might get another chance. If it’s a glamour game, I think we’ll see a much stronger team.
The big news after the game was that the club have agreed a deal for Robbie Brady reported to be around £2.5m. Presumably that’s the final price and will be dependent on us hitting certain targets and getting promotion. It’s still a shockingly high price when you think that it’s nearly ten times what United charged us for Chester, Dudgeon or Stewart. Though as people pointed out on Twitter, the fee for James Chester was daylight robbery so they aren’t going to make that mistake again. The reported interest from a “Championship rival” this morning (probably Pearson again) will have pushed the price up. Brady is certainly an investment worth making but that price still seems high to me. Steve Bruce hasn’t done a lot wrong so far though, he’s been open and honest about everything and has, in truth, been a breath of fresh air throughout the club, blowing away the stench left in the summer. So for me it’s “in Bruce we trust”.