Thursday, 16 May 2013

Tigers Squad Review 2013 - Midfielders

2012/13 report

The area of the team that evolved the most over the course of the season. We started with a four man midfield for the opening couple of games but for the most part, we'd play a three with two wing backs thereafter. We also started with Robert Koren and Sone Aluko as part of the midfield but they were generally considered for the front line afterwards, while four of the regular five in midfield arrived (and departed) throughout the season.

Steve Bruce was always looking to get more "beef" in midfield. It was obvious from the start he thought we were too small and lacked strength in that department. Despite playing a big part the previous season and starting this, Paul McKenna was swiftly cast aside. If Bruce felt he lacked the bite and size he wanted, the stupid red card at Doncaster and resulting three match ban didn't endear him to the manager either. He played sporadically after that and was sent to Fleetwood on loan. Corry Evans was another vertically challenged player who struggled to hold down a regular place. Unlike McKenna, Evans has the mobility to make up for it but despite his generally stellar performances, he was often left out for someone a bit bigger or nastier. He had a dip in form in the new year (put down to coping with having a new baby by the manager) but was always a key part of the midfield when we played well. The manager attempted to get some of the height he craved in the team by calling on forgotten man Seyi Olofinjana. Like Paul McShane, Olofinjana was in the last year of a lucrative contract and had been cast aside by previous managers. Bruce eventually found out why. While capable of the odd strong performance, moving the ball around midfield, Oily is generally a passenger. He's forgotten how to tackle and track runners and he's got no idea what that big white rectangle thing at the end of the pitch is for. He ended the season at Sheffield Wednesday on loan. Cameron Stewart started on the opening day against Brighton; his only league start of the season. He took in loan spells at Burnley and Blackburn and didn't play there either. Tom Cairney didn't manage a single league start despite being praised for his conditioning on his comeback from injury. Youngster Dougie Wilson broke into the first team reckoning for the early rounds of the FA Cup and then went to Grimsby to get a bit of experience. Ahmed Fathi came in with Gedo in January but never made a break through. His big chance came against Wolves when he started the game, played very well and then gifted them the ball to score the winning goal.

On the final day of the summer transfer window, Bruce picked up Ahmed "Elmo" Elmohamady on loan from Sunderland and stole Stephen Quinn from Sheffield United for a fee maxing out at £100,000. Their first three games for the Tigers were the 3-1 win over Bolton, 4-1 drubbing of Millwall and the 3-2 win at Elland Road. I wonder if any player has ever had such success in his first three appearances? Quinn was a revelation in midfield. A busy, biting figure with a shock of ginger hair. He works incredibly hard but it's never wasted effort, it always has a purpose, be it covering his full back at one end or arriving in the box with a beautifully timed run at the other. He made a massive difference to our game. As did Elmo who became the regular right wing-back. His impact became obvious in January when he was recalled for a spell by Sunderland. Even a full back as good as Liam Rosenior couldn't fill his boots at wing-back. We missed Elmo's drive, his strength and particularly his ability to dig out a cross from anywhere in the attacking third. A season of marauding from goal-line to goal-line eventually took its toll on him but his contribution, regardless, was massive.

In November, Bruce completed his midfield. Firstly Robbie Brady arrived on loan from Manchester United to cover the injury to left back Joe Dudgeon. Brady spent the previous season on loan with us and while he had obvious ability, he could also be incredibly wasteful, making terrible decisions around the box. He'd shoot when he should pass (and not score) and try and beat a man when he could get a cross in (and lose the ball). I'll be honest, I didn't see him as a left back (or even wing back) in a million years. He'd prove that to be very wrong. He's not perfect, he still combines wrong decisions with over hit crosses and woeful set pieces but the ratio of good to bad is much higher. Defensively he was rarely found wanting and he provided his fair share of goals and assists. When the threat of a promotion rival pinching him in January became apparent, the club shelled out £2.5m to sign him permanently. He paid that off in one afternoon with a magnificent performance in the final day shoot-out with Cardiff. The other November addition was Sunderland midfielder David Meyler. He has a lot of the aggression and size that Steve Bruce had craved since day one. His initial loan move was also turned into a permanent deal in January for a similar fee to that spent on Brady. It also proved good business as he stiffened us up, linked well with Elmohamady and chipped in with five goals. His passing can be erratic and what he brings isn't always appreciated but when he was absent through suspension late in the season, we missed him big time.

The Future

Midfield looks to be our strongest area, squad wise. When you add-in forwards Boyd, Koren and Aluko, we have a fair number of options. Bruce would probably still like a big defensive midfielder and will have to replace Elmohamady, either as a wing back or a right winger. He'd probably like to buy Elmohamady but will be keeping his options open.

It's the end of the line for McKenna, Olofinjana and probably youngster Danny Emerton, who are all out of contract. Cameron Stewart has no future here either. I'd also be surprised if we pursue a permanent deal for Fathi. An interesting case is that of Tom Cairney. He has obvious ability and performed well in the Premier League last time but has never really taken on the Championship. I wouldn't be shocked if he was sold. Nor would I be completely stunned if Corry Evans moved on. I'd be disappointed but I've never felt like Steve Bruce really rates him.

Five to consider

Mile Jedinak (Crystal Palace) - This guy needs to be playing Premier League football next season, regardless of whether Palace win the Play-off final. He's a big presence in midfield, he's good in the air, solid in the tackle and can play a bit too. He's probably the sort of leader we've been missing for a good couple of seasons. Real captain material.

 Liam Bridcutt (Brighton) - Terrific little defensive midfield player, a product of Chelsea's youth system. He breaks up play incredibly well and launches attacks from the back. He's comfortable on either foot, quick over the ground and switches play with accurate long passes. His height would possibly put Steve Bruce off and his price tag may well be prohibitive too. If he was our player, I'd be wanting £3m for him, minimum.

Rodolph Austin (Leeds) - Jamaican international brought to Leeds last summer by Neil Warnock. Stoke tried to sign him during our original sojourn into the Premier League but couldn't get a work permit. He's a hulking defensive midfielder who loves a tackle and has a decent shot on him. Can cross the line between committed and undisciplined so is a risk but is a good athlete and a commanding presence.

Bakary Sako (Wolves) - The one bright spot in an awful season for Wolves as they escaped the Championship at the first time of asking, but through the wrong door. A lightening quick winger with tricky feet and a real eye for goal. He's capable of delivering good crosses. He's had a good footballing education, he's only 25 and has a season in England under his belt. Well worth a look.

Luke Murphy (Crewe) - The latest star off the Gresty Road production line. 23 year old central midfielder already approaching 200 career appearances. Tidy, mobile, often inventive and with an eye for goal. He's going to get a big move soon and it would be nice to see City use a rare position of strength to snap up a genuinely brilliant prospect.

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