Sunday, 1 February 2015

More Maierhofer and less misery

I don't know about you but I like watching Stefan Maierhofer. The bean pole Austrian has lined up for Millwall in each of the last two seasons at the City Ground and has provided some light relief from two dismal defeats.

Last season Ian Holloway's men were the party poopers in an odd occasion which came straight after Stuart Pearce had been announced as being on his way in the summer. This time the Lions once again did their bit to dent the enthusiasm for Psycho with a win that leaves Forest looking firmly downwards. Any faint optimistic talk of the play offs which may have lingered has to end - in this form we may be lucky to get another 13 points let alone make up a 13-point gap on the top six.

But enough of that doom and gloom for now. At least we had Maierhofer. Last season he snarled and griped and harrumphed his way through the game and was promptly hauled off before he could be hit with the red card that loomed. This season, back for a second loan spell in south London, he was at it again. Youngsters wanting to perfect the 'what, me ref?' shrug should study him. He also displays an excellent technique in running after a long punt up field with his back to the ball, often ending up bouncing face first into a centre half with no intention of winning the ball or, indeed, knowing where the thing is. He's bit like a crazed dog on an eager chase crossed with one of those street mime artists who extravagantly flail their limbs about. It's probably just me that finds the whole thing strangely fascinating and, at times, laugh out loud funny.

He also has other attributes to admire. He's one of those 6ft 7 1/2in big men who doesn't jump and doesn't really win that many headers. Nor does he run much. I like to imagine each of his actions in a game is accompanied by a comedy sound effect

Yet there's another big reason why I enjoyed Stefan Maierhofer's performance yesterday. That was because with him at the forefront of their attack Millwall looked unlikely to be able to take advantage of another pitiful display from the men in red.

When Holloway shuffled his pack we were in trouble. Yes, it took an all-too-familiar howler to let Ricardo Fuller in but you just felt it was coming. The plucked-from-non-league Lee Gregory battled with purpose and power to unsettle Wilson and Hobbs and Fuller loomed dangerously, with his experience and guile an obvious threat.

The arrival of that duo meant that some end product seemed likely to the man-of-the-match work of the on-loan Diego Fabbrini. At times the Italian threatened to take the 'comedy bad guy' crown from the marvellous Maierhofer with a couple of Bafta worthy tantrums. Yet, the odd mardy aside, Fabbrini's talent shone out in a game that was desperately devoid of it (Dorus De Vries's super save aside).

The Watford man displayed a touch, control and vision that looked a level above of anyone else and, frankly, showed up our midfield duo of Tesche and Lansbury. Both of those showed flashes of talent but, as a pair, they simply don't dominate games and didn't again here. 

Millwall, not constrained by an embargo of course, seem to have shopped sensibly this month to plug a few defensive gaps. Jos Hooiveld kept Britt Assombalonga on the fringes of the game (although there was precious little supply in fairness) and Shaun Cummings is another solid defensive addition to the ranks as the Lions look to make an escape from the bottom three. You can't help thinking that we maybe ought to have done more to plug our defensive gaps than chasing Gary Gardner and now, it seems, Jack Grealish. I'd happily let Jorge Grant or Oliver Burke have a go in midfield if we could finally become more solid at the back.

Which bring us to the other defensive addition made by Holloway. Dan Harding. He had been maligned in certain quarters while on Trentside but I can't help but feeling he deserved a longer run in Forest red. He's maybe only capable of a 6 or 7/10 performance but he looked a lot more assured than Danny Fox or Eric Lichaj in that position and obviously has a lot more experience in that berth than Stephen McLaughlin.

That was perhaps more marked yesterday by the fact that McLaughlin was at the heart of the decisive moment. I don't think we should be too harsh on him. 'Proper' defenders have made plenty of similar errors over the years to his woefully tame header back to De Vries but his showing as a whole yesterday suggests he has a little way to go if he's to be 'converted' into a full back.

The goal just put the rancid cherry on a particularly sour cake. I've tried to remain positive but it's hard not to be concerned by that showing. We're still left without a settled and solid back four - although Todd Kane seems a decent signing. Our midfield keeps shuffling about to no avail and you can't help feeling that moving Michail Antonio further forward has reduced the effectiveness he showed earlier in the season as a dangerous winger. We're also now signing or chasing players in positions that we really ought to have covered. With Lichaj on the books we shouldn't have to be using up one of our possible signings on Kane. With Burke and Paterson in the squad then Grealish shouldn't be a target. Yet failures and poor form have meant having to do just that. I'm not yet sure how good Gardner is but he certainly doesn't like the sort of player who could have the impact Fabbrini or Hooiveld had on Millwall yesterday.

In most Championship seasons 45 points would be enough to stay up but here's a sobering thought. In 2012/13 Peterborough were relegated on 54 points. 20 more points seem a long way off on that display don't they? We desperately need to finish the season on a high, playing better football with a more settled side. That way we can at least feel a lesson has been learnt from all this.

And the manager? I've backed him so far but he really does need to address our serious issues and quickly. You feel he won't survive if points cannot be plundered from four more games against struggling sides, particularly Wigan at home and Blackpool away. Fawaz's finger will be hovering over that trigger finger once again and the manager must show he can deliver progress even if promotion is beyond him.

It's all getting very gloomy at the moment. And we've not even got a comedy Maierhofer to come back and bring light relief...

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