The latest result (Villa 2-2 QPR) means that Villa has shared the spoils in five of the last eight matches. Worryingly, we threw the lead away in four of those games. Add in the capitulation against Leeds and it’s crystal clear that defensively, we’re going nowhere fast. I believe it is time to phase out a cult hero!
The Q.P.R result has seen the first real dissent appear within some supporters towards manager Dean Smith. But in truth, he is massively hamstrung by the personnel, or lack of it, left by Steve Bruce. In addition, we’re having some rotten luck with injuries.
Getting a result against the Hoops was also likely to be tricky given the fact that throwing Jed Steer and Tommy Elphick straight into the side just days after being recalled from their loan spells would create some continuity issues. However, it was a more established member of the backline that ultimately contributed to dropping points again. And not for the first time.
I really don’t want to single out just one guy for our rearguard frailties, because I do think that as a collective there are issues. But Alan Hutton is certainly not covering himself in any glory lately.
Hutton is a real curiosity. A hero to many. A scapegoat for others. There are those that adore his passion. Other’s who lament his performances. The truth is that Hutton is a mixture of all of these things.
Affectionately known as the Scottish Cafu, a nickname monikered ironically due to the gulf in class between himself and the Brazillian legend, there is a lot of love for Hutton. And rightly so in my opinion. Not least due to his incredible solo goal to wrap up the 4-2 victory over rivals Birmingham City recently.
If you didn’t feel a rush of endearment towards Hutton after that iconic moment, then you’re either lying or dead inside.
But the reason why Hutton’s goal elicited that emotion is for one simple reason; he is a cult hero. And cult heroes are never the best players to pull on the shirt.
In fact, cult heroes are generally players who have massive weaknesses in their game. But for a multitude of reasons are still loved by the fans. They occasionally have moments of sublime brilliance (check), they tend to try really hard (check) and they love the club (check).
The problem is that Hutton’s massive weakness is his defending. And for a man making up a quarter of a back four, that’s quite a big problem. It’s becoming more and more prevalent.
Hutton has more than earned his adoration from those supporters who love him so much. Bought to the club back in 2011 alongside Jermaine Jenas (yep, it was that long ago), he was frozen out as part of the famous ‘bomb squad‘. Players on huge wages that we left to rot in the reserves in the hope of being moved on. A concept which didn’t make any sense then, and still doesn’t now.
Despite enduring three unsuccessful loan spells out at Nottingham Forest, Real Mallorca and Bolton Wanderers, Hutton somehow came back from the dead. Even more impressively despite not playing for the club for two seasons, earned himself a new three-year contract back in 2014.
His resilience is unparalleled. He has seen off numerous right back due to a mixture of good form, good fortune and taking his chances when given to him. Even with the stockpile of right backs we have had recently and appearing to be bottom of the pile, Hutton has somehow prevailed.
Even when he was ousted at right back, nobody could’ve predicted he would’ve then gone on and found some success at left-back and looked arguably better than ever at times.
But therein lies the problem. Hutton is much more adept at the attacking side of his game. He is exceptionally quick, much pacier than people give him credit for. And he is a more than willing runner. He charges up and down his flank for the duration. His work ethic is, generally, not in question.
But the willingness to attack leads to problems defensively. Q.P.R’s second goal in the New Year’s day clash is a great example. A Villa attack turned into a Rangers counter and Hutton was woefully out of position leaving a huge gap that was exposed.
There is always a risk of a counter-attack by the opposition of course. I do think that if Hutton is given a licence to be so far forward by Smith, then other players around him need to be ready to cover. Anwar El Ghazi and Conor Hourihane didn’t exactly help plug the gap as they might’ve been expected to for that second Q.P.R goal. However, it does seem that Hutton’s flank is regularly targeted to attack due to the space that is continually left. And ultimately, that is his responsibility.
But it isn’t just when Hutton has surged forward where there is an issue. All too often, it seems that the Scot gets to drawn to the ball and will be out of position. He is too easily coaxed from his duties by intelligent attacking opponents. Anyone in any doubt should look at Fulham’s goal in last season’s playoff final for a perfect example.
So what is the solution from this point onwards? I do think Hutton needs to be phased out here on in. James Bree has to be starting games at right back at this point. He is the future and will benefit from a real run of games in his favoured position.
However, a dearth of options at left-back sees just the often-injured Neil Taylor as a recognised option other than Hutton. That is an area that Smith must look at strengthening as a matter of urgency. With Taylor nearing fitness, Smith will hopefully slot the Welshman back into the side after impressing during the early weeks of the new manager’s tenure.
As I say, it is unfair to single out Hutton when there are other individuals who also need to step up defensively also. But with just six months left on his contract, I do think now is the time to use Hutton much more sparingly.
Hutton deserves all the respect going. He is our longest serving player, racking up almost 200 games in claret and blue. Part of the reason for that is his professional attitude and willingness to work hard. So many other players would’ve sulked at the way the club has treated him at times. Yet he still puts in a shift and gives it everything he’s got.
His goal against Blues is his reward for many years of dedication to this club. That ensures he will always be remembered fondly and have that special piece of folklore.
But Smith has to begin consigning him to the past and begin building a defence that can complement the attacking talent that the club currently has. Unfortunately, the Scottish Cafu simply isn’t good enough to be part of that.