Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Box-seat Kangaroos

WHILE the Coca-Cola Championship play-offs are not normally high on my list of football priorities, this season’s battles between fourth (Bristol City) and fifth (Crystal Palace) and third (Hull City) and sixth (Watford) provided a special incentive to tune-in, the chance to see how Aussies Nick Carle (Bristol) and Richard Garcia (Hull) are coping in the English second flight, and more importantly, an opportunity to track their form with the upcoming Socceroos World Cup qualifiers in mind.

So, away on a short trip up north, I managed to catch both first legs over the weekend. While I went into them with much anticipation and many questions, and the hope of seeing a couple of influential performances from our boys, primarily I was just hoping to see them play, so the fact both started was a victory in itself.

First to the A-League v2 MVP.

Like many, I was gobsmaked when Carle landed at Bristol after a terrible time in Turkey. But apparently, or so we’d been told by Carle upon his signing, the Bristol “gaffer” likes to ‘play’, and likes players who ‘play’. No better at that than Carle.

This supposed ‘Bristol style and sophistication’ went against everything we’d ever heard, seen or been told about the English second flight; that it was the domain of the long-ball, x-rated challenges, second-ball-scraps and little else.

So, I, for one, couldn’t wait to see Bristol and their Aussie playmaker in full-flight.

The first interesting observation was that the ‘number 10’ was shaping up in the centre of what was once the stock-standard English 4-4-2 (these days it’s relative luxury to be playing with two up front, at least in the Premier League).

It was strange to find Carle in such a system and intriguing to see how he’d handle its box-to-box demand in what was sure to be a game played at breath-taking pace.

Here, while he worked his socks off in v2 of the A-League, he’d always been protected by two screeners, and allowed to play higher up the pitch by Gary van Egmond, who clearly saw his value to Jets front-third, so much so that everything the Jets did invariably went through Carle. He was the fulcrum, full stop.

How influential would he be in the helter-skelter here?

Well, truth is it took Carle about 30 minutes to get into this one, and Bristol were the poorer for that. Crystal Palace, the momentum flowing from a string of impressive recent results, playing at home, bossed the opening exchanges and controlled the centre of midfield, their former Premier League red-head Ben Watson dominating with this box-to-box drive, and creating the opportunity for the wide men Scott Sinclair to make an early impression.

Carle and the entire Bristol side were behind the pace, and they were not ‘playing’. Indeed, Carle looked keen to be involved, but wasn’t seeing much of the ball, and his energy boiled over into a horrible over-the-ball challenge that might, on another day, in another league, have see him sent. He was lucky.

Tackling has never been one of Carle’s strong-points, and there were a couple of other dicey attempts, but the willingness to work and get ‘stuck-in’ was clearly there. No more bludging for a player who was known in his early years to wonder back to the half-way line after an attacking move had broken down.

Indeed, his back-tracking and gut-busting work was a feature of the Bristol midfield, and on one occasion he was even there to clear off the line.

Tick, tick for his defensive work, but as all of Australia had realised from watching v2, Carle has so much more to offer in attack. Problem was he wasn’t being used.

Bristol were just knocking long-ball after long ball to their ever-wiling front-two Adebola and Truddle, who, to be honest, played the roles of target-men better than I have seen in a long time.

Adebola especially. He was everywhere, providing a contest, holding the ball up, hassling the Palace defence, getting on the end of crosses and dropping behind the ball.

But it was nothing of the ‘play’ we’d been told to expect. Carle was essentially being bypassed by his defenders and asked to pick-up scraps around the Palace 18 yard box.

Then, in the blink of an eye, just after half an hour, he played a one-two deep in his own half, switched it out the right, where the Bristol right back Orr provided a cross for Adebola to produce a solid stop from Speroni.

Bristol was finally in the game, and proceeded to dominate the rest of the half. While Carle wasn’t exactly the go-to that he should be (as he was at Newcastle), he was invariably effective when he had it, and often found a target. He even ghosted into the box on a couple of occasions, a la Timmy Cahill.

In the second period, with Bristol on top, it was Carle who played the vital final ball for both their goals. The first was when he weighted the ball neatly into the path of his skipper at a rehearsed set-piece (who better to play the key link role), the second when he had the composure, under pressure, to use his head, literally and metaphorically, to cushion a loose ball into the path of Noble for the winner.

It was some contribution.

In and around all that though, there was still time of the commentators to remind us just how backward the football in the Championship can often be. Midway through the second half, when Carle controlled a loose long ball deep in his own half, out on the right, and tried to play out from the back (there was no danger to his team), he was castigated by one of the commentators (name escapes me) who said something like this;

“Carle almost played himself into trouble there. I’d rather see him just hoof it out in that situation.”

“Hoof it out”? Yes, they were his words.

All in all, while the overall quality of the football was often hard on the eye, it was an entertaining spectacle, and it was great to see Carle play a pivotal role in the 2-1 Bristol away win, even if the brain-dead commentators didn’t always acknowledge it.

However, in my mind, it is still hard to say Carle truly belongs at this level. He is much much better than it. Anyway, at least he’s getting paid very well, is happy, is developing his aerobic capacity and defensive game, adding strings to his bow and, most importantly, playing.

What then of Richard Garcia and his Hull outfit?

Hitherto we haven’t seen too much of the WA flier, and after this performance, I’ve gotta say, the jury is still out.

Clearly he likes to get the ball in open space and run at defenders, and doesn’t mind a shot (he has a decent goal-getting record from midfield, 5 goals in 36 games this season), but his willingness to work back in defence needs developing.

In his defence, Garcia was playing his first game in almost a month thanks to a bung shoulder.

Stealing the limelight for Hull were two on the veterans, the goal-scorers, 39 year old Dean Windass up front, and Nicky Barmby (of Leeds fame) on the left (which meant Garcia played on the right). All the while they were teed up by the impressive front-man Frazier Campbell.

Again, it wasn’t the greatest spectacle, but it was illuminated by a string of outstanding saves by Hull's American keeper Boaz Myhill.

Regardless, Hull and Bristol, and their respective Aussies are now in the box-seat for a Wembley show-down, with the prize on offer the jackpot that is a spot in next season’s EPL. It is supposedly the richest day in football, so fingers crossed it’s one of our boys that provides his side the dividends.


Anonymous Pinuts Pethia said...

Even if both Aussies get to play in the Premier League next season, I think playing with these 2 clubs they will go back down faster than you can say 'Mile' or 'Derby'

The word 'gaffer' should be banned from use in this country!

Apart from that, it sounds like you had a box to box holiday!

Tue. May 13, 02:47:00 pm AEST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Didnt get to watch the games, so thanks for the report Tony.

Good to read Carle had a good game, and that comment from the commentator is just typical of the rubbish that comes from alot of the english callers, they have no idea.

BTW, top headline. Here's to the Kangaroos boxing on.


Tue. May 13, 10:49:00 pm AEST  
Blogger john said...

Thanks Tony

Thu. May 15, 09:38:00 pm AEST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've watched Bristol play a few times, and once live at Crystal Palace. And you're spot on from what I've seen, Carle has a great work ethic in this team, and when he gets the ball he always has that little something that to me makes him stand out from the rest of the crowd. I think the mentality of the rest of the team is stopping him being used as a playmaker, which he has the ability to be. As with some of the comments in other blogs on TWG, I'd love to see him in a slower league where he could use his skills. But he's definitely building his fitness!

--- Ben

Fri. May 16, 11:22:00 pm AEST  
Blogger The Round Ball Analyst said...

Spot on Ben, thanks for the comment, and welcome to trba...

Are you currently in the UK, or here in Oz?

....I think the mentality of the rest of the team is stopping him being used as a playmaker, which he has the ability to be....

Spot on. While I don't think it's the English style to build a team around one player-maker, and play everything through him, I think Bristol can get plenty more out of him if they use him more often. I think that's partly also Carle's job to demand more control.

For some time now I've described him as the keep-ball-merchant of Oz football, and I just cant help but think how good he might be in LaLiga, where the language wouldnt be a problem.

One thing Carle isn't and has never been (he might one day make it), is a goal-getter (such an important thing in the English game), but I think he offers other attributes, like an ability to control games.

Fri. May 16, 11:36:00 pm AEST  

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