Overachieving? Hughton V Monk
With apologies to “Shakespeare” for sort of nicking the idea for this from the SHA forum; his thread on there really got me thinking – how does our current squad compare to Hughton’s? So I had a quick Google of players with more than 15 games in all competitions that season and had a go at coming up with a subjective “best” XI (which co-incidentally is more or less the team that played Blackpool in the 2nd leg of the play-offs) to help make some comparisons.
Subs that season were from a much bigger squad:
And this is where the fun begins – how would Monk’s best XI fair against that lot? I’d say the 2 teams are pretty evenly matched, Hughton’s team possibly edging it because of the centre-half pairing, more consistent wide-men, King’s finishing and a massively better bench. If the teams played each other ten times I reckon Hughton would win 3 or 4, Monk 2 or 3 and there’d be a good few draws!
Who from Hughton’s squad would get into today’s team?
Probably: Curtis Davis, Nathan Redmond, Chris Burke, Marlon King (and Stephen Carr if fit).
Maybe: Caldwell, Murphy, Townsend and Wood.
Probably not: Zigic (God love him but the Juke is way more effective on a about a quarter of the wages).
Definitely not: Ramage, Mutch or Spector and the rest of the squad players
The stand-out thing for me was how poor Hughton’s centre mid options were. I know we’re not currently over-endowed with creative talent in that department but I reckon our reserve pairing of Craig Gardner and Charlie Lakin are both better than anything Hughton had. He never really had a settled pairing there either, and Gomis was especially woeful as I recall – which makes the 5th place finish and Europa league performance all the more remarkable.
Obviously Hughton had far greater strength in depth than we do now, but that doesn’t mean we can’t achieve this season – but it does mean we need A LOT of luck with injuries and suspensions. What will count against us is the fact that the Championship is probably slightly better quality and more competitive now than it was then. Although Hughton had to deal with the fall out from Pannu’s post-relegation fire sale, he still had a wage bill of £25.1 M and was able to bring in 9 free transfers and 6 loans. Monk has clearly been working under hugely bigger constraints with just 1 transfer and 4 loans, whilst wages will have reduced from last season’s £22.5M to well below £20M as loanees returned to parent clubs and others left in the summer.
Which brings me round to Mr Monk. He’s the best manager we’ve had since Hughton and it’s hard to argue we’ve had a significantly better manager in my lifetime (Jim Smith was my first manager) – albeit Bruce and that Scottish bloke actually achieved things. However, it’s also not unreasonable to argue that we are about where we should be given the players and finances at his disposal – so he’s doing very well but perhaps not quite as brilliantly as some would have you believe. That last sentence might put the cat amongst the pigeons.
Overall, as much as I personally enjoyed the Europa games (I was as gutted as I’ve ever been at football when we didn’t qualify for the next stage) and the atmosphere for Blackpool at home was truly something special, I don’t personally have the fondest of memories of much of the rest of that league season under Hughton. The football was functional and effective but often low tempo and low quality (perhaps a hang-over from the previous incumbent). If I had to choose, I’d choose Monk and his team any day of the week – especially given the financial constraints. Although a top 6 finish might be a touch unrealistic, there’s no reason we shouldn’t aspire to it. It’s great to be enjoying going to Stans again.
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