Billy Barr’s Gift to Kevin WIlkin

Here’s my column from last week’s Leader. It forms part of the paper’s comprehensive pre-match coverage every Friday, featuring interviews, an in-depth look at the opposition and lots of statistical analysis. All content in the column (c)

With attention naturally focussed on the future, I hope we don’t forget to look back as well, as we’ve lost a couple of good servants over the last few weeks. Billy Barr has now moved on after failing to get the permanent job, but his stint as caretaker manager has allowed KevinWilkin a closer understanding of where the current squad stands than we’d had over the course of what preceded it this season.

That’s because Barr, in looking to reinvent and reinvigorate the squad, has tried new things. Some have worked, some have not, but the changes have challenged the players and we’ve found out a little more about what they can and can’t do, both collectively and individually.

For a start, I think the question of whether the current squad can play 4-4-2 has been answered definitively. There was early promise when Barr tried the formation out at Hereford three weeks ago. However, Hereford are limping horribly through the back end of the season, facing an increasingly inevitable catastrophe. Subsequent events have suggested the 4-4-2 doesn’t suit the current squad of players, despite there being a clamour for it to be adopted from some quarters, and the reversion to a 4-3-3 last Tuesday illustrated once again that it’s the formation which allows most players to feel comfortable.

We also saw that a more fluid interpretation of 4-3-3 can bear fruit. There was more interchanging of positions than there was in the Saunders-Morrell version of the system, more flexibility once we got the ball down in the other side’s half, and it looked good. Johnny Hunt described it as “Total Football” after the game, and that thought had crossed my mind too.

Mark Carrington was particularly interesting. It’s no shock to see him come forwards from right back in a 4-3-3 as it’s a prerequisite of the formation that the full backs offer width. However, usually his movement is vertical, working up and down the flank and offering an overlap. Here moved laterally and often popped up in promising positions on the edge of the area.

Rob Ogleby also offered something a little different from usual. Able to drift in from the right a little more, his hybrid position between target man and winger allowed him to run the channels and he also occupied a very big back four well, winning a decent share of headers and inconveniencing defenders when he lost out in the air, forcing their clearances to fall short.

This worked because a final piece of the jigsaw fell into place. Our midfield pushed high up the pitch and won lots of second balls. This allowed Dean Keates to get the ball in advanced positions, where his killer passes could split the defence open. Often Keates is deployed deep in midfield, and quite understandably as there’s no better deep-lying playmaker in the division. However, when he drifts ahead of Joe Clarke and Jay Harris he’s able to really hurt the opposition.

So Barr has passed some useful information on to his successor. He and Andy Morrell have left a sizeable legacy.

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