I would start Giuseppe Bellusci at Burnley tomorrow. Honestly I would. I can hear the clamour for Steve Evans to drop him but where Bellusci is concerned, you have to try and look at the bigger picture.
I’m not going to defend the mistakes he’s made in the last two games. They’ve been costly and they’ve been stupid. We don’t need our centre-backs to look flash or to look cool. We need them to stop goals against us.
Bellusci needs to accept that and he has to take responsibility for his actions. When his mistakes led to penalties I didn’t see him holding his hands up. I saw him blaming the referee. In reality it was impossible to argue with either decision.
He also has to learn his lessons. The overhead kick at Nottingham Forest was not so different to a similar blunder away at Nottingham Forest.
You shouldn’t make that error twice.
But in fairness to Bellusci, in general he’s been good recently. His all-round performances have been decent and, in my view, he’s been the best of our centre-backs. That’s not to say he can carry on making costly mistakes week after week because obviously that has to stop, but in the cold light of day, if you take Bellusci out of the team then you’re probably taking out our best centre-back.
If it was down to me I’d be sticking with Bellusci and Liam Cooper in the centre of defence for now. I see that as the strongest partnership available to us – although I stand by my view that changes in that department are most certainly needed in the summer.
I like Sol Bamba and he’s good when he plays well, but it’s unfair to suggest that Bellusci’s made more mistakes than him this season or cost the club more goals. Bamba’s been a culprit too. I still remember the Huddersfield game, the 4-1 defeat, when Mark Hudson got ahead of Bamba and scored with a header, despite the fact we had eight players in the box and they had about three. For my money, Cooper would have dealt with the ball and got rid of it. He’s more old-fashioned in his defending and more inclined to mark a man.
When I watch Bamba he looks more in the mindset of zonal marking – guarding an area of the box rather than tracking an individual player. It’s in vogue these days, or it is under certain coaches, but I think back to a story Johnny Giles told me after he took over as manager of West Brom.
At Leeds we always marked players. In his first game at West Brom, a player called Graham Lovett was caught napping in the box and a goal was scored. Johnny asked him what he was doing and Lovett said “the last manager told us to mark space”. Johnny looked at him as Johnny would and asked: “When did space last score a goal?”
It goes back to that old saying about walking before you try to run. Our defensive record hasn’t been good this season and when that area of the team is being questioned, you really don’t want to see a centre-back trying to clear a last-minute cross with an overhead kick. It’s asking for trouble and trouble is what we got.
But I still think it’s wrong to disregard the way in which Bellusci is playing completely. It’s the easiest thing in the world to latch onto mistakes and, don’t get me wrong, somewhere along the line a player has to pay for them. I just don’t think I’d be rushing to drop him at Burnley tomorrow. From Evans’ point of view, he really has to try and get into Bellusci’s head – to make him realise that but for these brainstorms, he’d be racking up some decent displays.
The truth is that we’ve thrown away five points in the last two games. We were in a position to win both of them and we’ve come away with one draw. It’s not going to matter in the grand scheme of things because we’re not going up and we’re not going down, but when I think back over the season, when I think of the points we’ve thrown away with cheap concessions, it’s fair to say that we might have been higher in the Championship than 15th. You can judge a defence on the sort of goals they concede.
Okay, Alex Smithies might have come for the ball, but when QPR went behind on Tuesday they were picked open by a great pass from Luke Murphy and a clever run from Chris Wood.
That’s what you want to be doing to other clubs but, by the same token, that’s what you should be forcing clubs to do to you – to open you up with quality play and earn the goals they score.
In this league you cannot be a soft touch and unfortunately we are too often.