Sure to be the week`s hot topic after the weekend`s victory in the north east, our message boards will be flowing with debate over the up and coming clash against Hull City at the JJB. In a game to be shown live on Sky Sports on Sunday afternoon, Wigan Athletic have a great opportunity to heap more coal into our late season fire, and really press for that elusive European spot.
I will not digress too much into what Europe would mean to me. Forget the lamenting voices that point out the risks to a small club with such thin resources plunging into the fixture abyss that continental qualification would inevitably bring about.
These concerns are in the mere periphery of my forward vision. Wigan Athletic playing in the likes of Spain, Italy, France; hopping on a plane and not a coach to go and watch my team; however short-lived and somewhat risky this experience, I would still seize the opportunity straight away.
Wigan have admirably ridden what was a wave of hard-hitting fixtures. Despite failing to win in 8 games before the weekend`s clash, West Ham and Fulham were the only real disappointments. Draws against Liverpool, Aston Villa and solid performances against Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City left us anything but disgraced.
After getting through this run of games, we are still well placed in 8th, only a point behind 7th (though that should rise to 4 if West Ham beat West Brom this evening). I shall refer to one of the common clichés of our game; there are no easy games in this league.
Nonetheless, the next few games, baring possibly the trip to Goodison Park, present ample opportunity to claim precious points. We welcome Hull and Stoke to the JJB, and arguably our ambitions rest not on how we perform on the road, but on our ability to break down these sides in our back yard, starting with this weekend.
We have struggled to sunder the less illustrious of the Premier League clubs this season, the likes of Sunderland, Fulham and Stoke having left with a point.
Bruce faces an unenviable challenge this weekend, the unenviable question of whether to stick with a winning side – a winning 4-5-1, despite attacking difficulties at home this season with 2 men spearing the forward line.
Opinions will differ, and Bruce will no doubt be changing his mind constantly throughout the week. Do we opt for Mido as a sole target man in a mirror image of the Sunderland team, or should Zaki be drafted back in for Scharner, who admittedly had a promising game?
After battling valiantly against Chelsea for most of the Stamford Bridge match, and not without creating our fair share of chances, Bruce opted to switch back to the familiar all Egyptian two thronged attack for the home tie. The side failed to create more than one or two half chances in this game, despite having an extra man for some time.
If the 4-5-1 formation is chosen on Sunday, Scharner will be the key. He has the license to move freely in this set-up, as I mentioned in an article last week.
He has a liberated role and can go forward to join the attack, as well as providing cover when not in possession, with proven defensive and tackling abilities. There is little doubt that he will offer a unique challenge for any Hull player who tries to pick him up.
The Austrian himself appears to have little idea of what he will do next, and he will often find himself in areas our strikers have struggled to position themselves this year, whether on the end of a cross or with ball at his feet, with space to manoeuvre in the box.
One concern, although a major one, is that this formation worked well for one predominate reason. It was a source of counter attacking. The wingers got on the ball with space to move in the final third, mainly because Sunderland had committed men in attack, the same way Chelsea did the week before. Make no mistake, Hull will not do this.
Their gritty performance against Fulham at Craven Cottage last week demonstrates that Phil Brown has firmly changed his early season mentality. They will have no shortage of men to strangle and smother our attacks, and there will be little if any opportunities to spring a counter.
We will need an outlet, options for the ball carrier that were non-existent against the Hammers The midfield players will receive a lot more time on the ball that in the north east, as Hull City`s rearguard will take a much deeper pose on the pitch.
If we get an early goal, this could be a very successful formation and I could see us going on to get a few as Hull risk more men forward in search of an equaliser.
The worry though, is that we will have major issues breaking the opposition down in the first place with only one outlet in attack, and one who has that tendency to drift wide that we all love so very much.
We have struggled at home this season to break sides down, a problem not dissimilar to many other teams in the league, including even Liverpool.
Home games against Fulham and West Ham both saw us drawing blanks. Bruce is faced with an impossible choice. Could it be that the answer to our scoring problems at home, the solution to our goal-scoring deficiencies, is the ironic decision to remove a striker from our familiar line up?
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