Often Partisan

The Left Back Conundrum

With David Murphy receiving a red card for two bookable offences on Tuesday night, Blues are once again going to have to solve a conundrum as to who to play there. As the red card was for two yellows it can’t be appealed even if Blues had wanted to do so, and as such Birmingham have four fit first team defenders currently for the Cardiff game on Sunday – Peter Ramage, Curtis Davies, Steven Caldwell and Pablo Ibanez. Which way do they go?

The last time Blues were in this situation wasn’t too long ago – the Chelsea replay. That night, Senegalese man-mountain Guirane N’Daw filled the position. I mentioned way back when that he can play there, and he didn’t do too badly, although he did concede a pen for tripping Fernando Torres. The problem with playing N’Daw at left back is the worry that he won’t be on the pitch for ninety minutes – there is no doubt in my mind he was subbed during the Chelsea game to prevent him being red-carded. Cardiff are a different proposition to Chelsea, but the worry is that they do have wingers who could cause Blues problems like Peter Whittingham, Don Cowie, and Craig Conway. Would N’Daw be able to cope with that kind of threat?

One of the reasons N’Daw played at left back against Chelsea was the ineligibility of two of Blues’ players – Peter Ramage and Cian Hughton. Whilst neither of those players are a specialist left back, both can fill in there and both are used to playing a full back role. It would be a huge call for Chris Hughton, who seems concerned at calls of nepotism in signing his son but I think there is a valid reason for giving the lad a shot; either on the right side with Ramage playing on the other side or vice versa. Neither player would have the physical side of the game (or the left foot) that N’Daw has, but both are more acclimatised to playing full back than the Senegalese midfielder.

Another option is an out of position midfielder – such as Morgaro Gomis or Enric Valles. Both players are left footed, and you’d think both could play the full back role at a pinch – I’m pretty sure Valles has done so for the reserves in the past. However, once again it would be a huge call. The idea of playing Valles at left back makes me think of Darren Carter having to fill that same position against Spurs and getting roasted by Stephane Dalmat – it fills me with dread somewhat. Gomis would be a better bet in my eyes, but even so I’m not sure he’s ever played full back before and the worry would be if he could slot into the position with a couple of days training.

Then come the scary options. When I put this question out on Twitter, some people named Andros Townsend as a player to fulfil the role. Whilst I think Townsend is undoubtedly a decent player down the left side I don’t think he has the defensive ability to fill the role well enough and I think he would leave us very exposed there – as he does at the moment playing left-wing with someone other than David Murphy behind him. Another option would be promoting a youngster who is a specialist left-back to the side like Mitch Hancox. Don’t get me wrong – I love watching Mitch play for the reserves, but it would be a massive call to hand the kid a debut in a crunch clash like this, in a role like that. It could be the making of him – but equally it could utterly break him.

Some have mentioned playing a 3-5-2 system using Burke and Townsend as wing-backs. I can see why some people would be for this but again the idea scares me; changing to a formation Blues haven’t used for an eternity in a crunch game like this, with very little chance to work on it in training is a huge call and not one I think Hughton to make. However, I do think playing five in midfield is a good idea; at least with that the two “holding” midfielders could help cover the full back position and give extra protection – although that isn’t very “attacking” and I can see some fans not being happy with that.

I said yesterday that this is when Hughton will earn his corn; the big calls are what make and break managers and I think this is going to be the making of Hughton. If he gets it right, and Blues get the right result we’re bang in the mixer for the playoffs. Get it wrong – well, it’s going to make it a lot more tricky. I’m glad it’s not me making the choice.

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20 Responses to “The Left Back Conundrum”

  • Byron Jones says:

    As a Pompey fan who was at the match on Tuesday, Murphy was extremely unlucky to get sent off. Refs are just far too quick to give yellow cards for innocuous offences, instead of restricting them to malicious fouls and those which prevent goals or good chances. For his second foul he was beaten for pace in a narrow space on the wing where it was very difficult NOT to touch the Pompey player. It probably was a foul, but never in a month of Sundays was it bookable.
    Having said that, Pompey had started to boss the game for 10 minutes before the sending off.

  • magpie33 says:

    At least the coaching staff have had since Tuesday to prep a make-shift left back, get them well prepared and drilled during training before sunday.

    By all means it is not ideal, but could be worse.


  • adamadamad says:

    BIG – nah put him on the bench, see how the game’s going and then give Hancox Half Hour…

    …i’ll just get my coat…

  • danlazaridis says:

    after ibanez’s showing at right back against middlesbrough,i expect ramage at left back with ibanez right back,obviously caldwell & davies central. the problem playing 4 centre halves across the back is the only pace generated down the flanks will need to cone from the wingers. burke tracks back but townsend doesnt seem too keen on it so i’d expect this to be remedied by playing 1 man up front and 3 in the middle,IMO elliott deserves a start after his recent performances in cup games/off the bench & he was one of our best players at Leicester.

  • roskoe says:

    Agreed, play Hancox. Man Utd showed this season that playing players out of position doesnt work, and Blackburn have shown that playing players, even young, inexperienced players in their right position works. PLay Hancox, if this isnt the opportunity for him mto play then what is? I dont see any point having him come off the bench, as i feel defensive substitutions should only be undertaken out of necessity.

  • RichardW says:

    N’Daw for me. He’s a left footer and wasn’t doing too badly against Chelsea until a red mist moment in the second half – and he was coming back from injury then. Cardiff are no Chelsea and he is a decent tackler. The coaches must urge him to curb his impetuous streak in this position, though.

  • bluenose08 says:

    If we had won at pompey we could have played for a draw against cardiff but unfortunately we have to go for a win. Whoever plays left back has to be left footed and have plenty of pace.I would give hancox the shirt and getting one of the midfielders in a holding role as cover.
    I was reading up on the hall of fame and malclm page played in every outfield position for the club so all we can expect is whoever plays left back does their best and gets the support of the fans.If they make a good tackle in the first ten minutes lets give them a big cheer as it will give them a lift. k.r.o.

  • alexjhurley says:

    As the complete footballer, surely zigic is the answer? I’d be pretty confident he can play anywhere. Except centre forward……

  • Mark says:

    Elliott is a winger/midfielder that works hard and can tackle…. Why have they not tried him?

  • AuldBertie says:

    Didn’t we once have to play a 17 year-old Matt Sadler at Old Trafford who acquited himself well against golden balls? If Hancox shows similar potential then give him a go.

  • Alex T says:

    My preffered option would definately be to give Hancox a start and protecting him with 5 in the middle and 1 up front. I 100% agree with Roskoes comment. Playing youth in there preferred position seems to work better than playing experienced players out of position. It shouldn’t be that way (Players should be able to play in more than one position), but it just is.
    However, this would be a brave decision and, although I like Hughton and he is doing a great job, I think he will stick with what he knows unfortunately.

    • Stevie Blue says:

      I agree with yourself and Roskoe, Alex. There’s simply no point in having a reserve or youth set up if those players are not going to be called upon if necessary. If you can’t blood a youngster at this stage of the season in a relative successful team then when do you? This is the time to put faith in youth, when a team is doing well not struggling. Give the boy a game CH!!!

  • andy says:

    Its funny because Stuart Parnaby could play across the back four and the club did a u-turn on his new deal. Its certainly come back to haunt us of late. I would play Townsend there with Redmond on the wing, they say the best form of defence is to attack!

  • I would play Hancox with five across the middle with one of the midfield, Wade Elliott. You could then put Fahey and N’Daw either side of him in deeper holding roles with Burke/Redmond and Townsend out wide. 4-2-3-1 if you will. Whatever is done has an element of risk and as I’ve said in my last report: http://www.joysandsorrows.co.uk/2012/03/view-from-the-south-portsmouth-vs-birmingham-city/ I doubt our ability to achieve promotion at this stage given our injury/suspension problems, the number of games we’ve played and our form which is petering as I see it.So why not gamble? I would love to be proved wrong. KRO

  • glyn rees says:

    If he is good enough he is old enough,it should be Hancock. Kro4ever

  • Wingman Blue says:

    Cardiff will know, as does the entire Championship by now, that without Murphy we’re exposed at left-back – so that is where they’re going to apply the most pressure. For that reason alone, it wouldn’t be fair to slot Hancox in, except perhaps as a sub for N’Daw?

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