I don’t think anyone could say that this season’s struggles come as much of a surprise.
For almost twelve months now, we have been blighted by impotence in front of goal with the odd sporadic feast of goals staving off a goal-less induced starvation.
The reason for these struggles, in my opinion, are two-fold.
Firstly, there is a literal lack of quality in the final third. More specifically, Town desperately lack a match winner.
Whilst Town’s promotion to the Premier League hinged on a spread of goals across the side and a collective understanding of a single philosophy, in the Premier League, that is simply not enough.
No fan wants to admit that their club is a ‘one man side’. They also don’t want to admit their club is solely dependent on a single individual, purely because of the unstabling insecurity that at any moment, that player could be taken away from them, exposing the blatant cracks and vulnerabilities their side has.
Town, on the other hand, simply don’t have someone to fall back on to win them a game. On countless occasions, last season and this, it has made all the difference.
With that in mind, it does pose the question to the very small smattering of supporters that have begun to lose faith in David Wagner and even questioned his position as head coach, can anyone do a better job than David Wagner with this squad at their disposal?
In my mind; the answer is no.
Having said that, David Wagner does have some responsibility when it comes to the second reason which I believe underpins Town’s struggles and that is a collective psychological deficit amongst the squad.
There is a sense of an inferiority complex. We can trace it back to the 4-0 defeat at home to Tottenham Hotspur. I get the feeling that the club never really recovered from such a brutal defeat which became a real eye opener of what the Premier League entails.
Since then, some of the identity and deeply entrenched philosophy that has underpinned so much of Town’s success has been lost.
It’s almost as if across the board, there has been a sad moment of realisation that there are in fact limits and we have very much hit our ceiling.
Rather than be a team that concentrated solely on themselves and their own performance, fronting up against some of the behemoths of English football saw a mindset switch.
No longer was Town playing on the front foot with a refreshing fearlessness which had seen them do so well. Instead, Town became a side constantly looking over their shoulder, one that is so desperately fearful of being caught on the counter that they stopped committing men forward and stopped any form of cohesive pressing.
Whilst the responsibility of defensive shape and solidity has always underpinned the inner workings of David Wagner’s side, over the course of the past twelve months, it has taken precedence and subsequently, it has translated into the lack of goals.
Not only has the side been hindered by a lack of quality in the final third but also shackled by the rigidity of defensive organisation. Rather than playing without it, instead the side has been collectively imprisoned by fear.
Fortunately for Town, I don’t believe there is a single manager in the Premier League that can breathe belief and confidence into this side better than David Wagner but first, he has to re-discover that belief himself.
Whilst the odds against Town are ever-growing and the challenge seems insurmountable, it is not. The season is not over.
However, I feel that it is getting to the stage now where drastic rather than gradual change is needed. Not of personnel nor management but of mindset.
Like a wounded animal is dangerous, a side with nothing to lose is equally so.
At some stage, the handbrake will be released, and with that, risks will have to be taken in the final third.
The monotonous pattern of play which sees slow laboured possession retention in midfield before eventually nudging the ball out wide up be aimlessly swung in the box isn’t working and hasn’t now for a number of months.
If David Wagner and his side do find that inner belief and the shackles are broken, with risks being taken in the final third and an emphasis being placed on individual freedom and creativity, all may not be lost.