17/18 Season Review Part One
Reflections on a turbulent season at Hillsborough

When reflecting on a past season it’s always helpful to start with what were the hopes and fears at the start of that season. In summer 2017 I still had a major hangover from the play-off defeat to Huddersfield and my doubts about CC were strong – he should have gone in May 2017. I was worried about our player recruitment, the lack of exits, the age balance and sustainability of the squad, and that we didn’t sign what we needed. I had voiced concerns that physios had been held to blame for the faults and weaknesses of others regarding the  fitness levels of the squad. I was worried that we were gambling with FFP. The kit fiasco all added to a sense of frustration amongst the fan base that was already split about CC and our prospects.

All those frustrations boiled over when fans witnessed the opening game at Preston during which we were totally outplayed and looked disinterested and unfit. The split in the fan base and the gap between a good proportion of fans and the club was becoming manifest. The first season quarter of 12 games left us with a record of W4 D4 L4, top half table form and in theory something to build on. But by and large the football had been similar to 16/17 with lots of possession but not a lot of goal threat and shaky at the back at times. The major problems appeared after the dismal home defeat to the Blunts when we treated it like just another game, in CC’s words, and Wilder did anything but. We were on the slippery slide. At that point the balance against CC tipped and he had to do some work to pull it back rather than blame referees, bang £20 notes on the table or list his previous successes.

In the second quarter of 12 games injuries were starting to bite, confidence was draining away and we W3 D5 L4 which was lower mid-table form. CC paid the price after effectively saying he couldn’t find a way to motivate and engage the players he had to now use because his first choices were not fit. This was a damning indictment of the recruitment strategy but also CC’s much vaunted 2 players for every position talk which was just that – talk. The 15/16 season delivered some wonderful football and results at Hillsborough, less so away from S6, and a fantastic day at Wembley. 16/17 was a conservative grind of a season which was embellished by the 6 wins at the end of the season, the play-offs were so disheartening. CC had a positive impact on the club but his powers had waned and he needed to go. I think a small majority of fans thought it was correct, a sizeable minority didn’t – more trouble in store. As it turned out it appeared that Swansea had already been lined up for CC but history has proven that didn’t work out either.

The third quarter of 11 games started well with the win at Forest but the slippery slide was then well greased. We W1 D4 L6 and looked like a team who would only be saved from relegation due to the fact that there were 4/5 clubs worse than us. Jos came from left field with no experience of the Championship (but a decent record in Germany) and he walked into a maelstrom of injuries, plummeting confidence and cup games that a threadbare squad didn’t need. After a flurry of draws the defeats just started to mount. We appointed a new CEO who had had a bad time at Charlton and the outcome of our gamble on trying to achieve promotion with expensive, older players came home to roost when the accounts for 16/17 were published. January and February 2018 were dark days with many fans not being convinced by JL but with others, like me, wanting to give him time. On the good side Adthe started to find some form and confidence in the cup games.

The return of Tom Lees, Barry Bannan, Hutch (fleetingly) and FF, Joey finding his feet, and a surge in confidence for Nuhiu and Joao finally gave Adam Reach some support in trying to carry the team forward. The 2-1 win at Leeds was critical for confidence and belief. The last quarter of 11 games saw us W6 D2 L3 which was top six form. Apart for the QPR aberration we defended better, competed in midfield and looked dangerous going forward. In the middle of March we just wanted the season over as quickly as possible, to finish out of the bottom three and to move on. By early May we were all up for the season to carry on!

17/18 was a difficult season overall but we ended on a positive note with good form and results, some fantastic goals and the emergence of young players from the Academy who could have a good future if they keep their heads down and work hard. It’s been a very difficult learning curve for JL but hopefully what hasn’t killed him has made him stronger. From his first 10 leagues games he W1 D4 L6, from his last 10 he W6 D2 L2 – a remarkable transformation from relegation form to top 2 form across 4 months. We now feel like we do have something to build on. We have made early decisions on the retained list and getting players signed up including Pudil and Nuhiu – hopefully signs that action will be early this year. We have waved a fond farewell and offered best wishes to Loovens and Wallace who have both offered good service to the club – but their age meant that changes had to be made to reduce the age of the squad. Jacob Butterfield goes back to Derby with the reputation of being the new Giles Coke – one good game in which he looks like a world beater and in everything else anything but.

The next piece on here will be looking forward to the summer and 18/19 – there may even be a hint of optimism!

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