What's gone wrong?
The current Championship table does not make pretty reading for Town fans. Having won just one of their opening eight matches, and with the league’s second worst goal difference, it is already abundantly clear that Town have a massive task on their hands to ensure that they are not embroiled in a relegation dogfight for the third year in a row.
So just why have Town started so poorly? Are the players simply not good enough? Are they underachieving? Or has it been a question of poor preparation?
In truth, I think it’s fair to say all these issues have played a part in Town’s dismal start.
Town’s terrible end to the 2013-14 season should have served as a stark warning that, without significant reinforcements, Town would be in for a season of struggle in 2014-15.
For much of last season it was obvious that Town desperately needed reinforcements in a number of key areas. A commanding centre-half to replace the departed Peter Clarke, and a striker to help bring the best out of club record signing, Nahki Wells, were high on the wishlist of many Town fans.
Somewhat surprisingly, however, Town began the new season having failed to significantly strengthen in either of these key areas. If you add to this the fact that one of the few bright lights from the end of last season, Adam Clayton, had left the club (in mind if not body) then you begin to realise that the team that started against Bournemouth on the opening day was arguably even worse than the one that had narrowly avoided relegation the previous campaign. With this in mind, it is hardly surprising that Town have got off to a slow start this season.
The 4-0 humiliation at the hands of AFC Bournemouth on the opening day, and the subsequent departure of manager Mark Robins, served only to emphasise just how ill prepared Town were for the new campaign. Indeed, the performance on the day was so bad that you could legitimately ask just what exactly Town had been doing all pre-season.
"If his defensive partners do not start performing to a higher level then Town are in for a very long season indeed."
Although I accept that there is no point rushing into signing players just for the sake of it, in my opinion, it is unacceptable that Town lined up against Bournemouth with the team that they did. An isolated Nahki Wells and a back three comprised of one centre-half, a right-back, and an untested academy graduate more accustomed to playing in midfield, was always likely to be a recipe for disaster.
Ultimately, I believe the players that Town have eventually signed are all good additions, and I appreciate that sometimes you have to be patient in the market to get the right player at the right price. The signings of Jacob Butterfield and Mark Hudson for nominal fees are proof of this and they have both already shown enough to suggest they will be astute signings for the club.
The problem is, however, that both these signings did not arrive until deep into the transfer window. This, coupled with the upheaval surrounding the departure of manager Mark Robins, has meant Town have been playing catch up for the first few weeks of the season.
Without wishing to sound like Stan Ternent, the players have not really had time to gel yet as a result of playing under three different managers and styles of play. If you spend all pre-season practising and learning one manager's methods and techniques, only for him to depart after the first game of the season, then it is hardly surprising that Town have got off to a slow start.
Nevertheless, although Town’s preparations for the season have been far from ideal, there is little doubt that the squad should still be performing better than it currently is.
Town’s defence, in particular has not been good enough so far this season.
Simply put, 18 goals conceded in 8 games is not good enough. With the exception of the recently arrived Mark Hudson, every member of Town’s backline has made a defensive error that has led directly to a goal. Although Hudson has been a revelation since signing from Cardiff, and is exactly the type of player Town have been crying out for years, he cannot carry the defence on his own. If his defensive partners do not start performing to a higher level then Town are in for a very long season indeed.
At Championship level, there is generally not a great deal of difference between the vast majority of sides. It is therefore so, so frustrating, that Town are gifting goals - and indeed points - to their opponents.
Town’s derby defeat against Leeds United was a prime example of this. The game was evenly poised until Town’s Joel Lynch was caught dawdling on the ball by the impressive Rodolph Austin who then proceeded to fire a shot straight through goalkeeper Alex Smithies. This gifted Leeds the initiative and from that point on there was only ever going to be one winner.
What is particularly worrying, is that Town have barely managed to survive their previous two Championship campaigns despite getting off to good starts. Under both Simon Grayson and Mark Robins, Town lost just two of their opening eight games. At the same stage this season Town have already lost five matches.
If Chris Powell had any doubts over just how big a task he has ahead of him this season then he surely knows now after a harrowing first three games in charge. It is not an irretrievable situation, and Town are more than capable of staying up, but they must improve – and quick – or there is only one direction that Town are heading this season.
By James Thornton