Five Managerial Talking Points: Stam's flexibility, defensive MK and Newport's winning feeling

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 16 October 2017, 13:15

Sit back, relax and soak in the latest edition of "Five Managerial Talking Points" as Gabriel Sutton (@_FootballLab) relives the weekend's action from the Football League. Enjoy!

Brentford seeing the fruits of their labour

When we last spoke about Brentford, they were a team that weren’t quite getting the rewards their performances merited. The Bees topped the shot data charts in September and were playing some wonderful football, yet inexplicably lay 23rd in the table.

Now, we might be starting to see what they are capable of. Dean Smith’s side scored three impressive long-range strikes in a 3-0 win at Bolton last month and on Saturday, they beat Millwall 1-0 thanks to Romaine Sawyers’ goal early in the second half. The West Londoners may be slightly fortunate that Daniel Bentley saved Lee Gregory’s late penalty, but after the bad luck they themselves have had, they have earnt a degree of luck.

Those two wins sandwiched two positive displays in draws with Derby and Middlesbrough. They deserved the impressive Ollie Watkins’ 86th minute equalizer against the Rams after a patient, probing performance in which they had 76% possession, 11 corners to none and 14 shots to three. They were on the receiving end of a late leveller at the Riverside, where they ought to have won on their performance but twice sacrificed a lead and had to settle for a 2-2 draw.

It is clear Brentford can manage games better, but their last four encounters combined saw them attain eight points, putting them fourth in the Championship form table. They appear to have sold the left-back dilemma following Rico Henry’s injury, with right-sider by trade Josh Clarke putting in an impressive performance against Millwall, linking up well with Ollie Watkins. Striker Lasse Vibe, who missed the start of the season through injury, gave Brentford an outlet up top when he replaced Neal Maupay, making an impact alongside calming midfielder Josh McEachran.

Centre-backs John Egan and Andreas Bjelland also held firm against the Lions’ physical attack, when previously we have questioned Brentford’s capacity to handle powerful opposition. Now that they have a little more fortune in the final third, we might see them climb the table.

Stam shows flexibility at Elland Road

Birmingham’s win over Cardiff on Friday night meant that Reading kicked off their 1-0 win at promotion contenders Leeds in the bottom three.

This was a game in which victory, at any cost, was vital to rebuilding confidence. While Jaap Stam normally favours a keep ball approach - his side averages 57% possession this term - his side couldn’t afford to be caught in transitional phases against Leeds so the Dutchman was forced to move away from his principles.

Reading had just 44% possession in West Yorkshire and fielded two forwards, Jon Dadi Bodvarsson and Sone Aluko, neither having hit the ground running since moving to Berkshire this summer.

Much of the first 70 minutes was very quiet as the Royals stifled Leeds’ attacking play, but the game livened up in the latter stages. Substitute Modou Barrow raced through after a ball from Joey Van Den Berg and tucked home to score the winner, which suggests he has a role to play. The Gambian has attempted 3.4 (2.3 successful) dribbles per 90 minutes and could inject some much needed pace into the team’s play, especially with Garath McCleary not quite at his usual level after injury.

The visitors still needed Vito Mannone to save Pablo Hernandez’s penalty, which was dubiously awarded after an alleged trip from Liam Moore. The centre-back though was otherwise outstanding, as he has been, both with and without the ball, since he arrived at the Madejski Stadium last summer. The ex-Leicester man’s passion and leadership is partly why Reading have conceded just 12 goals – only Middlesbrough have shipped fewer outside the top six.

Going forward, they have missed the contributions of target man Yann Kermorgant, while creative midfielder John Swift has been one of many players struggling with injury. Saturday’s win at Leeds was a starting point, but there is still a long way to go.

Are MK Dons too negative?

Widely tipped for a top six challenge in pre-season, MK Dons have had an underwhelming start. Saturday’s 2-0 defeat at Portsmouth was one of their worst performances, perhaps the first in which the commitment of the players could be questioned. What worried fans most was the reluctance of players to close down and put a tackle in, which calls into question the way the team is being set up.

When Robbie Neilson was appointed manager, he was committed to encouraging attractive football, ideally something close to that wonderful 2014/15 promotion-winning side that played with pace, power, quality and intent. Instead, his tactics have been at best pragmatic and at worst negative.

Their solid approach has allowed them to eke out narrow wins against relegation strugglers, with 16 points from their games against each team in the bottom six. However, they have played seven teams outside the bottom six and only taken one point, which came against Oxford. When they have allowed higher-quality teams time on the ball, they have often been punished.

The setup would suggest that Neilson doesn’t have confidence in his players to go toe-to-toe with their opponents. That might change when Chuks Aneke, who is more adept at holding the ball up and bringing midfielders into play than Osman Sow, returns to full fitness.

Midfielder Callum Brittain has been one bright spark, the EFL’s Young Player of the Month for September, but he picked up a slight injury at Fratton Park, so Gboly Ariyibi will be their main source of pace and creativity. The ex-Chesterfield man is capable of troubling full-backs and has already scored three goals, which could make him someone to build the team around.

With 12 goals in 13 games this season though, the Berkshire outfit don’t just need to show more quality - they need to show more intent.

Newport have kept that winning feeling

The last six months have been triumph after triumph for Newport County and Michael Flynn, who enjoyed a 4-0 win at Forest Green on Saturday to go sixth in League Two.

It was hugely impressive that he could motivate his dejected troops, who had just lost 4-0 to Leyton Orient to go 11 points adrift of safety in March, to put together a miraculous dart to survival.

In some ways, it is even more impressive that he has got so much right in his first transfer window as a manager. The 36-year-old has made nine new additions, of which at least seven have made a recognizable impact.

Striker Frank Nouble had been a journeyman in the higher leagues but, playing at this level for the first time, he appears to have settled, showing the capacity to score and create from various positions. The ex-Southend man has formed a strong strike-partnership with Padraig Amond, who is no longer being shipped out wide as he was at Hartlepool and the duo have scored 11 league goals between them thus far.

Defender Mickey Demetriou, who had been key to last season’s run, has been an ever-present thus far, chipping in with a respectable three goals. 20-year-old centre-back Ben White has shown great maturity, starting every league game bar one since joining on loan from Brighton. Matty Dolan has been arguably County’s most creative deep-lying midfielder since Mark Byrne while David Pipe and Robbie Wilmott have helped build bridges with fans since returning to Rodney Parade.

The feel at the club is much it was at Wycombe during their play-off campaign three years ago. The Chairboys had beaten the drop in unlikely circumstances the year before and thrived on the subsequent sense of opportunism. With similar momentum behind them, who knows what Newport can achieve?

Back Sarll to prompt a response

“We’ve disgraced our club and our town” - Stevenage manager Darren Sarll didn’t mince his words after Saturday’s 7-1 derby defeat at Luton.

It was a terrible performance in which his side were far too soft when defending their own box, allowing high-quality opposition far too many shots - of which they had 16, 11 on target.

Sarll might be one of the youngest managers in the EFL, but in manner he is quite old-school, telling his players and the public exactly what he thinks. After conceding a late equaliser at Yeovil last season, he bemoaned his players’ lack of concentration:

“Our organisation before the second goal was horrendous, which is what you get when you defend poorly. They have to concentrate for 94-and-a-half minutes a week.”

Following a 4-2 defeat to Colchester, he was questioned on why he took off Luke Wilkinson at half-time:

“I don’t care how many feathers I have to ruffle, we’ll get it right. If that means somebody has to come off at half-time with a slapped wrist, they’ll come off at half-time.”

Sarll will call a spade a spade, demanding focus and effort from every player, unafraid to hang them out to dry when they do not provide it. At a higher level, that psychology might not work with pampered professionals, but in League Two, laying down the law can do the trick. We have seen Derek Adams, Darren Ferguson and Chris Wilder recently achieve plenty of success in this division with similar man management methods.

The 34-year-old Boro boss still needs to address his side’s erratic form, though. They had deserved to lose in the 96th minute at Crewe the week before and previously, had looked prone to dropping unnecessary points from winning positions by conceding late goals.

The perfect way to respond though is with a win over fourth-placed Accrington Stanley on Tuesday - if anyone can let their players know what is acceptable and what isn’t, it’s Darren Sarll.

Managers Departed

Last man down

Graham Westley
Graham Westley
(Stevenage)
16th February
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