A COMMON criticism of Phil Parkinson of late is that the Wanderers boss “has no Plan B.”
The catch-all expression implies a lack of tactical flexibility, the consensus being he has not managed to adapt his side’s approach since target man Gary Madine picked up a shoulder injury at Southend.
Leaving aside the fact Wanderers went on to win late in the second half at Roots Hall with Max Clayton playing in the same 3-5-2 formation, the following three games have yielded no goals and a solitary point.
Results against Scunthorpe, Oldham and Bury have – oddly in this writer’s view - triggered a backlash against the same brand of football which put the club second in the first place.
Parkinson has proved on a number of occasions he is willing to change formation to accommodate available personnel.
He switched from 4-2-3-1 to a diamond midfield after losing Darren Pratley and Mark Davies early in the piece, then back again to integrate his arrivals in the summer transfer window.
When Sammy Ameobi stayed at Newcastle and Zach Clough left for Nottingham Forest in January and Lawrie Wilson picked up a long-term injury, Parkinson made a bold move to 3-5-2. That involved a significant amount of ripping up and starting again on the training ground, particularly in a defence which was by far the meanest in League One.
All the above was done within the confines of a transfer embargo.
Watching the points advantage get eaten away in the last fortnight has not been pleasant. And the more aimless football played in patches over the last three games does not reflect well on the manager or the players he picked.
Sure, the Whites have hit the crossbar three times, had two scrambled off the line at Oldham, but on such fine margins football is won and lost.
“For me Plan B would involve something other than punting it long to Le Fondre when the actual target man isn’t playing,” moaned one fan on social media yesterday.
He has a point. Le Fondre spent an inordinate amount of time contesting aerial battles against the Shakers and the link-up with Josh Vela at number 10 did not pay-off as Parkinson would have hoped.
But one must question whether the instruction from the dugout really was to hit the 5ft 8ins striker with a long ball from the back, or whether the direct approach is just the ‘easy way out’ in pressurised conditions?
“It’s easy to lift it to Gaz Madine and let him have a fight,” admitted Mark Beevers after the game, rather reinforcing my point.
Without Madine players don’t have the same out-ball, and their on-pitch decision making must improve. Players with Premier League credentials like Jay Spearing or David Wheater should be perfectly capable of altering the plan off attack without any extra input from the dugout.
If not, Parkinson needs to be brave and make personnel changes. James Henry’s arrival off the bench has added an extra dimension in the last couple of games and must have put him close to starting by now.
Pressure does funny things to people but with the club two points clear in second place, potentially one win away from clinching promotion, it does seem a strange time to start pointing fingers.