Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Tigers Squad Review 2013 - Defenders

2012/13 report

I don’t know when Steve Bruce came up with the idea of playing three centre halves, whether it was always his intention or something he fell into but one of the first things he did last summer was increase his stock of centre halves. Following Jack Hobbs injury the previous season, Nick Barmby had been forced to use Liam Cooper and Sonny Bradley in the centre of defence. Bruce wasn’t planning to do the same. With the two young lads out of the equation and only a useless ginger Irishman as backup, Bruce had to find help for James Chester. Chester, our crown jewel, had another fine season. Whether in a back three or four, he’s always the same. Composed, assured and confident, capable of bringing the ball out of defence and launching an attack. He’s quick over the ground and strong in the air for one so, relatively, small. He generally times his tackles beautifully though it does go spectacularly wrong occasionally. There are areas where he’s still learning, he gets too tight at times and has to concede fouls and he can get over confident with the ball at his feet. Bruce strengthened the back line with the popular signing of Abdoulaye Faye and the less popular signing of his son, Alex Bruce. Faye produced what most thought he would. He was rock-like at the back. He proved valuable in the air in both boxes and calmed everyone with his vast experience. At times his age caught up with him and he had to be rested or picked up niggling injuries. Because of the competition, this often meant missing numerous games until his chance came again which must have been deeply frustrating. At the crucial point of the season, when fatigue and expectation overcame most players, he produced his best performances of the season, proving himself a big game player.

Alex Bruce suffered from the “nepotism” tag when he joined. His reputation was also damaged by having been part of the habitually pathetic Leeds United defence prior to joining. His performances in black and amber made a mockery of it all. He barely put a foot wrong when called upon to play in defence. Even when asked to play in midfield to provide a bit of bite, he gave it everything and played his part in two vital away wins at Millwall and Burnley. He’s not technically gifted but he’s got bottle and determination by the lorry load. Speaking of which, Jack Hobbs returned in December, having suffered a serious knee injury 8 months prior, and looked like he hadn’t missed a beat. He settled back in quickly and produced the same consistent level of performance as he had before the injury, even though the Tigers were now playing a back three. He’d obviously been taking everything in whilst sitting on the sidelines.

It was fortunate for Steve Bruce that he had five centre halves available to him because Chester apart, they all suffered injuries at one time or another throughout the season. Whenever one went out, someone else came in and did a good job. The most surprising of those was the aforementioned useless ginger Irishman. Paul McShane's Hull City career was going nowhere in September. He was counting down the days until his contract ended and he could go elsewhere. The fans were counting down the days until we didn't have to pay him anymore. Then he played. And he was good. And he played again. And he was good again. Game by game he turned everyone around. To the point where there'd be disappointment on the terraces if he was missing and fans were demanding he be offered a new contract. And then he recovered from a season ending injury in about 5 minutes and scored the goal that won promotion. Redemption.

It' difficult to judge the Tigers full backs this season. Joe Dudgeon was a fixture at left back early on and looked much improved before his season was cruelly ended by injury. The always reliable Liam Rosenior was sidelined by the wing back system and the form of Elmohamady. Andy Dawson rarely featured in his testimonial season, a sad end to a "hall of fame" career for Daws at Hull City.

The Future

Several defensive players are out of contract this summer. Youngsters Danny East and Sonny Bradley have already moved on to Portsmouth with new contracts not being offered. Andy Dawson looks set to see his time at the club come to an end. Liam Rosenior should be offered a new contract, we won't find a more committed and versatile defender for free. Paul McShane will definitely be offered a new deal too. Abdoulaye Faye has triggered another year due to his appearances last season.

James Chester had another year on his contract but the club are desperate to have him extend it, for obvious reasons. He looks to be our one genuine Premier League quality defender. Faye obviously has been in the past but I wouldn't want to have to rely on him most weeks given his lack of pace. Alex Bruce, as good as he was last season, isn't a Premier League defender. Jack Hobbs has a way to go before he is too. And this may not be popular but I don't think Paul McShane is good enough either. It's been great to see his recovery and he deserves a new contract and another shot at it but he's still not quick enough or big enough. Hopefully the rashness has gone with added experience.

I'd be surprised if we take the 3-5-2 system into the Premier League. Regardless, I think we need at least one top class centre half and competition at full back on both sides.

Five to consider

Curtis Davies (Birmingham) - Davies has already been linked with The Tigers. If he's the sort of player Steve Bruce is looking at, it justifies everyone's faith in Bruce as the man to take us forward. Davies has always had the size and athleticism to be an impressive centre back but has shown the maturity and knowledge of the position in the last few years. There'll be strong competition for him, from his old boss Chris Hughton at Norwich for starters, but he'd be a very astute signing.

Maynor Figueroa (Wigan) – I'm surprised this link hasn't appeared in the national press yet, it's such a good fit. Figueroa was brought to England by Steve Bruce. He can play as a left back or as a left sided centre half in a back three. He's got good size, pace and strength, he attacks well and he's capabale of the odd spectacular strike on goal. I'm unsure of his availability after Wigan's relegation but he'd be a fine addition to a young, hungry squad.

Rhys Williams (Middlesbrough) – This is a questionable one, I'll admit. Williams was building a terrific career for himself, progressing from the youth setup at Boro to become club captain and attracting interest from some top sides. He then suffered an injury in 2012 and has never recovered his previous form. Because of that, his asking price will be significantly lower and the competition for his signature less stiff. It'd be a gamble but he's a fine player and with a fresh start and a good pre-season, he'd be a useful addition, fitness permitting. He's versatile, mobile and only 24 years old.

Craig Dawson (West Brom) - England U21 international and Great British Olympian who signed for WBA in 2010 but has never quite made a place his own. Enjoyed an impressive loan spell at Bolton and proved his worth at both ends by scoring twice against the Tigers on one particularly miserable afternoon at the Reebok Stadium. He's still only 23 and will improve with regular football.

Matthew Upson (Stoke) – Ex-England international who has spent the last two season in the career graveyard known as the Britannia Stadium. Has recently enjoyed a loan spell at Brighton where he's found some of his old form. He may be 34 but he's still fit enough to play at least another year at a decent level. He's a left sided centre half who'd give good balance, he can play out from the back and he doesn't mind a battle. He's available for free this summer. He wouldn't be first on my list but he'd be a decent Plan B.

1 comment:

  1. Great review. Disagree about Hobbs though - for me he has rivalled Chester for consistency and form this season; he's been generally magnificent in many games I've seen him play. Your assessment of him not being a Premier League defender yet...well Anthony Gardner looked alright in the Prem and for me Hobbs is a far better player than the aforementioned! You could be right about McShane though, only time will tell. Overall I think defence is the area we are best equipped in for next season as it stands.

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