Saturday, 7 March 2009

Sparkyisaton : Outcomes

This is a follow up to this post, about Hughes' plans for the team and how he has gone about implementing them.

Attempting to evaluate how well Hughes has done as manager is inherently very difficult. There is nothing against which to test Hughes' achievements - no controlled element that can be used as a yardstick. The criticism is often made of Hughes that we are no better than we were last year, or in fact worse. (It is unlikely that we will match last season's points total of 55). When combined with the £100m+ he's spent, it's easy to paint Hughes as a failure.

What I think this analysis underestimates is the mess the team was in when Hughes took over. April through August 2008 was a very unsettling and rather unpleasant time to be a City fan: Thaksin's needless and narcissistic destruction of managerial authority, the 8-1, the ludicrous Far East tour, Thaksin's going on the run, the attempted Ireland and Ćorluka sales and all that. It was a time when I genuinely feared a Leeds United scenario, as managerial changes and enforced sales of players saw us plummet back down the divisions. What I'm getting at here is that while our boardroom stability is clearly thanks to the ADUG intervention, Hughes deserves praise from turning us into a moderately competitive outfit at the start of the season.

It's widely reported that in the wake of the events of May, the players threatened to go on strike and refuse to attend the Thailand tour. Richard Dunne thought of leaving and was surely not the only one. So although Hughes inherited the same personnel that won 55 points in 2007/08, he also inherited them in a state of discord and disillusionment. To suggest that that squad could go on to replicate their performances of the Eriksson season after going through that period of tumult is unrealistic.

So our question must be: given the squad in the state he inherited in, has Hughes succeeded to make it tougher and stronger? The quick answer must surely be no. There can be no avoiding the simple fact that City have been patchy and inconsistent this season. Our home form has been very good - nine wins and five losses with four easy home games left. Our away form, though, has been shocking. One win, five draws and eight losses - with four of our hardest away trips remaining. And despite Hughes' claims to be installing a mental strength in the side, we never won from behind, while often throwing away leads. We lost from ahead against Chelsea, Liverpool (h) and Spurs, drew from winning positions at Newcastle, Hull and Fulham. For the first few months of the season all ouf our wins were by big margins: 3-0, 3-0, 6-0, 3-0 and 5-1. When we played beautiful football, we were unstoppable. But beneath this veneer of class we were very fragile; when we didn't dazzle we folded, it was all very frustrating.

There have been recent signs, though, that we are improving in this regard. We are starting to consistently grind out wins at home, something which eluded us in 2008. Of course, it would be better to always play like we did against Portsmouth and Hull, but we do seem to have added an element of grit to our game which can be called upon when needed: the 1-0 against Wigan, 2-1 against Newcastle and 1-0 against Middlesboro were all games where we won without playing brilliantly, something we were not previously capable of. The 2-0 against Villa was a combination of some of our best attacking football with the defensive solidity we've seen more of recently. Even our away form has started to get less bad. The 2-2 at Blackburn suggested an ability to battle the team hadn't previously possessed. Bad results followed - Stoke and Portsmouth - but the draws in Liverpool and Copenhagen were both impressive. Progress is never fully linear (although the performance at West Ham wasn't too bad), and we may not win another Premier League game away from home this season. But the signs, from the two months or so, are that City are finally starting to toughen up, that the process of Sparkyisation is starting to bear fruit. But whether or not this warrants Hughes' staying another season is a different question.

6 comments:

Feed the Goat said...

Hmmmmm
The Forest home game was the turning point for me.
A shambles
A manager unable to effect tactics in the second half to turn the game.
It went from bad to disasterous, the worst FA cup home defeat against a lower team in our history.
The manager has never bonded with the fan's, cold and arrogant with an ego ridden management team.
A Thaskin appointment at the end of the day.
Go at the season end and good luck, a manager ideal to build a mid table team of physical grafters but not for the richest club in the universe with european ambition.

Quester said...

I disagree, I think it truly takes time to get hearts and minds all following the same path and Hughes methods are finally beginning to bear fruit. You are only as good as your last game and just take a look at the Villa game!

Even the so-called superclubs have bad days, just look at Liverpool when they played Boro, and even the scum only just scraped a win at the Toon (I am sure they are due a serious come-uppance soon - hopefully when City play at the Swamp).

You need time to build a team and build on success and even one season is barely enough. I think Hughes (despite his faults) is the man who can finally bring consistency to this Club - something we have sadly been lacking for 30+ years now.

Wait until the end of this season before making any judgements, and even then bear in mind that the likes of Davids Villa & Silva could be at the club come August 2009 - what a difference that will make to our PL challenge!

AlMacc said...

The last thing we need now is another manager. We've tried changing manager every 5 minutes for the past 40 years and where has it got us.

Stick with Hughes. He wasnt my choice when he came, and still isnt if truth be told, but there are signs of progress (e.g. his signings are excellent).

Barring disaster he should be given 3 years with a top 4 target. If he doesnt acheive that then fair enough - bring in Morinho.

AlMacc said...

The last thing we need now is another manager. We've tried changing manager every 5 minutes for the past 40 years and where has it got us.

Stick with Hughes. He wasnt my choice when he came, and still isnt if truth be told, but there are signs of progress (e.g. his signings are excellent).

Barring disaster he should be given 3 years with a top 4 target. If he doesnt acheive that then fair enough - bring in Morinho.

Wigan Blue said...

I wouldn't argue with the quality of signings, with the exception of Bellamy. And my reason for that is not that I believe he is far more trouble than he is worth (although I believe that's true), but that we have players far more skilful and intelligent who can carry out his role more clinically and efficiently - we saw that against Villa. Had we had Robinho in the middle for the Villa game instead of Felipe (bless), we would have torn them to shreds. Had it been Bellamy for that game then we'd have been shackled by the 'hoof it up for Bellamy to chase' tactic that's all we've seen since he arrived.

I also think that if you are going to argue that Tal Ben Haim was a Sven signing then the same also has to be true of SWP.

My problem lies with the tactical naivety. Never once have we seen a half-time substitution that has made an iota of difference to the outcome of a game. Time after time we have seen opposing managers make tactical changes that have negated our style of play, and once that happens we may as well head for the pub, because MH is totally incapable of rectifying the situation.

You touched on the matter of the great football we were playing early in the season. Yes, we were. We were leaking the odd goal as well (think of the Liverpool game at home). The obvious strategy there was to improve the defence. Instead, the attack was ripped apart, every possible defensive combination (including some that were blindingly obviously worse than we'd started with) was tried and persevered with. And eventually the defense lost all confidence, the attack's effectiveness was hammered into the ground, and we were half the team that we started the season with.

Now, by spending £60 million in the January transfer window, it looks as though we won't actually be fighting relegation. And you expect us to thank him? All I can say is thank God somebody stopped him from paying £25 million for Roque Santa Cruz...

trinder said...

"City are finally starting to toughen up"

"Stick with Hughes. He wasn't my choice when he came, and still isn't if truth be told, but there are signs of progress"

"Wait until the end of this season before making any judgement"

"Thank God somebody stopped him from paying £25 million for Roque Santa Cruz"

Four comments that say exactly what I want to say. That's why I come here.