Is Three at the Back the Answer?

I’m surprised to be thinking this, but three at the back might be the answer Gary Mills is looking for.
The second half fightback against Eastleigh with such a formation encouraged many to see it as an option, but that was an aberration which didn’t convince me we should pursue that shape further. It was kitchen sink tactics: two down after a poor first half, Gary Mills took a gamble and shook everything up, changing to a risky formation to pull us back into the game.
It worked superbly as we drew level, but that didn’t make it a viable long-term option. It was an emergency approach predicated by the match situation, a fact which was emphasised when we relented after getting to 2-2 and therefore left gaps at the back which led to the concession of a decisive late goal.
The same shape with a different philosophy at Woking looked more sustainable though. It allowed us to field two strikers who created a lot of chances, while our three centre backs were well equipped to cope with late pressure.
We’ve had success playing 3-5-2 before. When we were relegated to League Two in 2002 we looked bedraggled. Denis Smith switched to three at the back in a very bold iteration of the formation. The wing-backs were essentially wingers, and with Carlos Edwards on the right and Paul Edwards on the left we tore into sides with pace and verve.
It didn’t hurt that in midfield we had Darren Ferguson creating, and Andy Morrell up front, feasting on plentiful service to become the country’s top scorer.
It was a specific response to a particular problem from an experienced coach: Smith judged that the division wasn’t strong and backed his attacking players to score more goals than an open formation would concede. He also had the benefit of quality at the back, even if he didn’t have numbers: Andy Dibble, Brian Carey and Dennis Lawrence were outstanding.
Could a similar approach work again? I really don’t think the division we find ourselves in is particularly strong: when we were tilting at the title we came up against clubs like Fleetwood and Crawley who’d bought sides capable of rising up the divisions, but since we’ve slipped from that level the top teams haven’t been so strong. This may be a division you could dominate by putting your eggs into the attacking basket.
But would this formation suit our squad? Smith’s side faltered after promotion because he lost the Edwardses and Morrell. Morrell was the lesser loss as a team that creates lots of chances will still score goals, but the wing-backs’ departures tipped the balance. We replaced them with Jim Whitley and Shaun Holmes, both good players but less attack-minded so we lost our thrust down the wings.
We don’t have flyers in their mould, but Javan Vidal and Sean Newton enjoy getting forward, so perhaps we could replicate Smith’s gung-ho approach. Certainly we have a play-maker to play the Ferguson role in Dominic Vose, albeit from slightly higher up the pitch.
Perhaps three is the magic number.

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2 thoughts on “Is Three at the Back the Answer?

  1. I think we should proceed to 4-3-3 with caution, but it might just work. Brian Carey and Carlos Edwards were players of a very high quality. Carlos was a good defender and was very mobile. I think the formation relies enormously on the wingbacks, Vidal might be up to it.

    On another topic please could Mr Griffiths comment on a rumour sweeping the internet.
    a. You recently visited Valencia as an intermediary of Wrexham Fc.
    b. You went to sign Iban (Player checks out on Soccerbase) the exciting reserve team striking prospect.
    c. You were provided with Eur50,000 cash to seal the deal, but the deal broke down because when you arrived via Hamburg you only seemed to have Eur40,000 in cash.

    My question to you Mr Griffiths : Is there a grain of truth in ANY of the above?

    • I couldn’t possibly say….but yes, yes and yes!

      On a purely coincidental note, there was a car in the Glyndwr car park when I arrived for yesterday’s game with the plate “NEY 06”. When we sign a certain Brazilian superstar from Barsa, I’m sure you’ll thank me!

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