Friday, 19 August 2011

Battle of the bosses is an important early test

Tomorrow's tasty looking Trentside derby has sparked a great deal of interest as a clash of ex national team managers Sven and Steve - but while the meeting of the ex England men on the sidelines makes a nice line for the journos, the on the field action could be an important early indication of the promotion chances of both outfits.

I'm massively looking forward to 3pm tomorrow, it's the first game I've been able to make this season, although I did turn up to the Lincoln friendly (more than some of our players I'm afraid....).

Reports suggest so far it's been pretty desperate stuff as Steve and his new-look squad adapt to the rigours of Championship football. While Barnsley, Millwall and Donny may look inviting features for the McClaren regime, it must be said that those three all have pretty settled sides, and it's the teams with momentum and settled squads (the Sheep got their signings in early and had a pre season together, therefore they've clicked sooner than most) that start best.

A scrappy sounding 1-0 at injury hit Rovers (where we normally struggle) got the 'first win' monkey well and truly off our backs and will hopefully allow us to find our feet against the Foxes.

Free-spending Sven arrives under pressure after two home defeats, and his £10m team hasn't quite gelled yet. After all that cash the Swede must deliver success to the 'King Shower Stadium (think that is the name....) and fast. To my mind he really ought to have gatecrashed the top 6 last time around. Not many teams can bring in a Premier League goalscorer on 50k a week on loan in January, and the signing of Yakubu, coupled with many more top flight loans, should have been enough for a play-off push. They faded and he had the excuse of being new and saving them from the drop to help to escape too much flak. With a full pre season and permanent signings aplenty he no longer has any excuses.

For what it's worth I think West Ham will win the league. Big Sam should get them into shape and any squad with Green, Nolan, Parker, Noble, Carew and Cole in should be too strong for this division (similar to Newcastle of two seasons ago). Leicester join a long list of potential rivals who must aim to match the Hammers.

His former England apprentice, and new Reds boss, will undoubtedly be out to show we deserve to be on the list of contenders. Since my last blog we've replaced McKenna with Jonathan 'Jesus' Greening, Nathan Tyson with (effectively anyway) Andy Reid, bought in George Boateng, got Moussi on another contract and snapped up Matt Derbyshire and Ishmael Miller to replace outgoing strikers Dele Adebola and Rob Earnshaw.

You'd have to say that, like for like, the new boys do look stronger on paper and, with time, that will hopefully show on the field. We still, however, have a gaping hole at left back (a huge bugbear) and probably lack a little pace to compliment the guile of Reid, McGugan and Majewski. It's a shame that Steve's 'rabbit from the hat' (in the shape of Wesley Verhoek), didn't pay off and it seems we may be forced to turn to the loan market, especially if McClaren's favoured 4-3-3 is to work in the long term. As we've seen before loans can be pretty hit and miss (for every Nicky Shorey there's a Michael Stewart and Lee Martin around the corner!) but hopefully McClaren and co can call in a favour before the window shuts.

Steve must know though that a win tomorrow could be pretty symbolic. It's early days yet but quick points ease the pressure and winning games like this do wonders for building all important momentum. Two years ago a scrappy 1-0 away win at Plymouth, with the goal scored by Chris Gunter, started a memorable run of form for Billy Davies' Trees, but it was a victory against Newcastle at the City Ground that really seemed to convince the crowd and players alike that we were good enough to challenge. The arrival of title contenders, whatever form they may be in, is the chance to get a 'Newcastle moment'.

With West Ham, in form Southampton and then the dirty Sheep on the horizon a feelgood factor would certainly be welcome. If that helps pile the misery on our neighbours from up the A46 then that would be even better wouldn't it? It's the first big game of the season already, I can't wait...