After a shaky August, we enter September with nervous positivity.
The 3-0 loss at Huddersfield was a shock to the system – we defended abysmally and offered nothing in attack – but we look ahead optimistically at a favourable month of fixtures.
Our exhaustive injury list has curtailed us quite considerably – there’s no option to dramatically alter our tactics because, put simply, we don’t have the players to go about things differently.
In spite of his form, Jón Dadi Bödvarsson remains a key player – his strength and hold up play means a more direct style is logical. Hélder Costa and Ivan Cavaleiro are so talented that not playing with width would be foolish.
And so, with only minor amends to our style of play – we go more attacking and line up in a 4-2-3-1 – we face Burton Albion at home.
A dire 0-0 draw ensues.
In truth, we dominate the game and barely give Burton a sniff. Once more, it’s Bödvarsson who lets us down, spurning two good opportunities in front of goal. I just don’t know what to do with him.
Still, we take the positives and go again, facing Barnsley at home just three days later.
We perform with a typical level of ordinariness but, somehow, churn out a 2-1 win. Two set pieces see us through as we edge out a 2-1 victory. Perhaps it’s just the good fortune we need to begin turning things around.
Newcastle away is the next test and, let’s be honest, it’s a huge one. A Goliath of a team at this level, they line up with immense talent in every position.
I opt for a counter attacking 4-1-2-3, with shorter passing to help retain possession just a little better. Magnus Wolff Eikrem is unfortunately unfit and so Lee Evans gets a start as playmaker. In spite of everything, Bödvarsson starts up top.
Grant Hanley scores for the hosts nine minutes in and the signs are there – this will be a long day. We move to a more direct style and up our tempo to get back into the game with haste, but it’s not until the 44th minute that it pays dividends.
It’s Bödvarsson who shows up, smashing a strike into the top left hand corner. The second half is a tamer affair – we remain tight, Newcastle become warier of our threat on the break. We see out an onslaught in the last few minutes to take home a very impressive point. For a draw, it feels momentous.
A second string side then fall to Sunderland in the EFL Cup third round. We actually play exceptionally well but an inexperienced defence concede two early goals before we battle back to 2-2. We lose on penalties.
We remain upbeat, though. A league tie against Brentford follows and sticking with the 4-2-3-1 at home seems to be paying dividends. Thanks to a Ruben Gabrielsen header and a Kieron Richardson missed penalty for the visitors, we run out 1-0 winners.
Wigan Athletic away rounds off the month as I put my fairly simplistic policy of attacking 4-2-3-1 at home, counter 4-3-3 away, into beta test mode.
In truth, lining up against a team of Wigan’s caliber shouldn’t really require a defend-first, attack-second approach but in the face of such profligacy in front of goal, it’s become crucial we don’t concede.
We do concede, of course, but it’s too little too late for the Latics as we ease past them 2-1. Bödvarsson doesn’t score but takes home the Man of the Match award after a superb performance.
My faith in him – or, more accurately, my faith in absence of any other reasonable alternative – is beginning to reap its rewards.
All in all, it ties off a solid, if not overwhelmingly good, September for the club. We finish the month in a flattering 5th place. Can we keep it up?