Town made the headlines just over a week ago when Mark Robins walked out with just one game of the season played. Unfortunately for Mark that one game was a humiliating 4-0 home defeat to Bournemouth, a game where the unflattering scoreline actually flattered us as it could, and probably should, have been a cricket score.

Judging from performances on the pitch it looked like the man who saved us from relegation two seasons ago had lost the dressing room, and based on reactions inside the John Smiths Stadium he'd certainly lost the remaining minority who'd defended previously.

Anyway, Robins was gone, the media might have reported that he was harshly sacked after just one game of the season, but Town fans know he should have walked in May and instead he waited until we were well up against it before admitting defeat.

Until a new manager is found we have been under the stewardship of Mark Lillis, a man greatly admired by the fans and who has experience of the role - it seemed a perfect short-term solution.

Having performed admirably as (caretaker) manager when Simon Grayson was sacked, it was up to Lillis to quickly turn around what looked like a sinking ship.

His first game was merely to get some confidence back in the dressing room, a Carling Cup 1st Round match away at Chesterfield. 2-0 down at half time, it appeared the bad had got alarmingly worse, but Lillis managed to do what Robins couldn't - he got a reaction from the players and we saw a semblance of pride in the second half performance.

3-1 down with 10 minutes left, we scrapped back to make it 3-3 before eventually winning 5-3 after extra time. First task - complete - pride restored and confidence boosted ahead of two very difficult league games.

I'll give player ratings, and more importantly manager ratings, for each game. Where Lillis is concerned I'll look at the team he selected, the formation he utilised, the way he set the team up to play, and the changes he made once the game had started...


Cardiff 3 Town 1

Smithies - 5. Should have done better for their first two goals, poor distribution.
Smith - 7. Solid for the most part considering he was constantly left to in two on one situations.
Lynch - 5. Very poor, not strong enough against Le Fondre and looked sluggish.
Wallace - 6. Plenty of defenders will do worse in duels with Kenwyne Jones this season.
Dixon - 6. Similar to Smith, left wide open, Burgstaller and Le Fondre took advantage.
Coady - 8 (MOTM). Calm on the ball, made some good interceptions, seemed to be everywhere.
Hogg - 7. Got up and down the pitch well, better than usual in possession.
Butterfield - 7. Naturally two-footed, got the ball into Majewski and linked with Dixon well.
Majewski - 6. Got into the right positions, but unfortunately his end product was lacking.
Stead - 4. Very poor, couldn't hold the ball up and offered no real support to Wells.
Wells - 6. Worked hard and hit the post late on, but as usual isolated too often.

Lillis - 5. Our system played to their strengths. By playing a narrow midfield three with Majewski just in front we gave them the opportunity to dominate the flanks. Burgstaller and Daehli found pockets of space where they could hurt us while Brayford and Fabio are very accomplished wing backs who will hurt you if you give them space, which we did. We had no plan for Jones who caused us endless problems, and when they didn't go long and exploited the flanks it was Jones who again caused the problems when they got balls into the box. The changes Lillis made had no real impact on the outcome of the game - Ward was pretty anonymous while Hammill wasted a few good chances to cause them problems. By the time we tried to spread the play out wide the game was already lost.


Reading 1 Town 2

Smithies - 6. Distribution again not very good, and flapped at a few crosses, but largely untested.
Smith - 7. Got caught out by long diagonal balls a few times but made up with good tackles.
Lynch - 8. Much improved, stronger in the challenge and mostly composed on the ball.
Wallace - 9 (MOTM). Bullied Pogrebnyak, superb defensive performance.
Dixon - 7. Also caught out with long diagonal passes but did well to make up for it.
Coady - 8. Brilliant, great engine, range of passing, and seems a natural leader.
Hogg - 8. Did the simple things very well and constantly hassled them into mistakes.
Butterfield - 8. Took his goal very well and was at the heart of our best moves forward.
Scannell - 7. His best performance in a long time, worked tirelessly to keep the left side solid.
Bunn - 9. Close to MOTM, took his goal well and our biggest threat, but let himself down in the build-up to their goal.
Wells - 7. Again left up top alone too much, but managed a couple of decent efforts and unlucky not to win a penalty.

Lillis - 10. Perfection from the (caretaker) manager. Switching to a 4-5-1 system meant we weren't exposed down the flanks while having numbers in the middle of the park to pressure them high up the pitch. The plan for the first 45 minutes was to harass Reading whenever they got the ball as they looked to play it around between defence and midfield - both our goals coming from winning the ball and that area. Scannell and Bunn were the shock inclusions in the starting 11, with Town fans fearing huge mistakes had been made on Lillis' part, but both played huge roles in an immense performance from everyone involved. Lillis trusted the side he sent out to finish the job and wisely reserved his subs to kill the game off when Reading pulled a goal back with ten minutes remaining.


Appraisal

Lillis has done a tremendous job to re-build team spirit and morale in the camp, with the work-rate noticeably increasing from the opening day horror show.

I personally think it's a shame he doesn't want the job on a long-term basis as he suits the role perfectly given the key philosophies of the club being to bring through young players and play attractive football.

One thing's 100% certain though, he's only added to his reputation as a legend to Town fans, and has made the job for the incoming manager much easier than it was in the immediate aftermath of Robins' departure.

 

By Scott Castle

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