This season has been mooted by the media and the club as one of progression. Apparently, we have an inconsistent team but it is one that is progressing nevertheless. I have my reservations about this.
Progression is the process of developing gradually towards a more advanced state. In terms of points on the board and goal difference, progression is being achieved. Slowly but surely, Lambert is turning his players into a more solid team: there has been no repeat of our 8-0 hammering, for instance, and the players’ success in shutting Chelsea out for ninety minutes is not to be sneezed at. The fact is that, although not mathematically safe, we have hauled ourselves away from the relegation dogfight earlier than we did last season.
Our progression is not just seen on the pitch but also off it, getting big earners such as Richard Dunne and Stephen Ireland off the wage bill leaves the club with a more sustainable wage bill. Although there are still some players to get rid of, the club’s coffers are benefitting.
Some of the players brought in by Lambert have also helped us to progress. In signing Benteke, Lambert has given us a striker the rest of the league fears and who gives us not just goals but also a base to start our attacks from. Lowton, Bertrand, Luna and Bennett all have been vying for starting positions, which has increased competition for a place in the defence. I must say that this competition is working: Bennett’s performance against Chelsea is one that both surprised and encouraged me. Lambert enhancing the playing staff and providing an environment of competition is progression from the days when players just turned up and waited for the next pay cheque. The enhancement of our team has made us a team that, on its day, is capable of beating any other team in the league. This is down to Paul Lambert.
However, I find our progression minimal at best. Our style of football is of concern to me. I see Everton, Spurs, Southampton and Swansea all playing really attractive possession-based football. They have a style they play and they stick to it. They may get come unstuck from time to time but they have a refined possession-style game, albeit different types, that’s attractive and wins them games. I fail to see us having a style: we can not keep the ball for longer than four passes and certain players seem to think the long ball to Benteke is our only option for retention. Can our inconsistency be down to this? I certainly think it’s a factor. Counter-attacking isn’t a style. I do not see how scoring a goal and then defending for dear life can be considered a style either.
Our progression is also minimal in our over reliance on key players. Benteke misses a chance or goes a run of games without scoring and the pressure on the man, who many forget is still young, is immense. Other players like Delph and Westwood should be helped by experienced players. I know Lambert doesn’t want older players but the fact of the matter is that in games in which we need someone to steady the ship and help us out we haven’t got anyone to call on. In some games that’s the difference between a draw or loss. We need players who will take the burden off Benteke, Delph and even Vlaar; when they have bad games others should step up to the plate.
Progression is minimal because of where we are: yes, we are mid-table and we have a better points total, marginally, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that we are still mathematically involved in a relegation dogfight, just as we were last season. In my opinion, that does not suggest progress and no amount of convenient statistics will hide this fact.
The media say we are progressing but we are inconsistent because of our young team. Well, I believe we are making minimal progress, on and off the field, and are inconsistent not because of the youth but because of the lack of style and clear direction.