Tom Jenkins discusses Neil Lennon’s latest strange habit…
Recently it has become apparent to most fans that the latest annoying thing during matches is that our manager point blank refuses to make a substitution before the 80th minute, if at all. It is a strange habit to have gotten into but it has been a feature of his reign thus far, albeit it now borders on the ridiculous whereas before it was merely puzzling. When you look at it more closely, however, it is almost understandable why Lennon is so reluctant to alter his starting line-up and this is another annoying thing that people have begun to notice: there are little to no players able to make a difference on the bench.
I must admit I hadn`t registered this until a fan tweeted about it during the Rotherham mauling on Boxing Day, where, with the exception of the returning Wellington and The Goal Madine, our bench boasted attacking options of Stephen Dobbie and Filip Twardzik, not to mention the fact that Emile Heskey started the game. With players like that to call upon, who wouldn`t stick with what they had even if they were abysmal! However substitutions are necessary whatever the situation in terms of playing staff because a shattered Wellington will be just as effective as a fresh Stephen Dobbie. But in recent games this fact has been ignored.
The fans after the Blackburn game commended Neil Lennon for not making any subs as ‘he left the players to it and they got it done`. This is all well and good because we actually won the game, but had we not I doubt people would have been so forgiving. What I found insane was the fact we had 3 central midfielders playing, albeit playing well, on yellow cards by the 80th minute, yet despite having both Danns and Spearing (able replacements for either Vela or Pratley) available to be put on, nothing occurred. It was obvious the trio had been tasked with hustling and kicking Blackburn`s danger men yet two of them were booked after an hour before Pratley gave away his 87653rd foul of the game to receive a card ten minutes from time. The decision to leave them on could have been hugely costly as they could either have been sent off or, because they couldn`t make challenges, cost us a goal. I was appalled by this choice despite it, in the end, seeming to pay off.
This negligence was on show on Tuesday and in my view led to the defeat when after David Wheater equalised for the second time against Wednesday, again there was no activity on the side-lines. The obvious man to come on and change the game was one Zach Clough, yet he wasn`t introduced until we were behind once more and it was too late. We could have had a slim chance of winning the game had we gone for it at 2-2 but Lennon opted to sit on a point with 11 shattered bodies just waiting to be picked apart. For once we had the option of an impact sub and we still didn`t use him. Infuriating!
I hope against hope, even though it is unlikely, that Lennon will use his bench more often because, if we are honest, the situation is becoming bleaker in terms of results. If we have a chance today to get a result with 20 minutes to go and he sits there and changes nothing I will be furious. At this stage we can`t afford to drop points in winnable positions and substitutes were invented to help teams get over the line. For the love of god, Neil, use them.