Tuesday, 28 September 2010

And in the 91st minute, they have a corner...

Something has come to bug me over the past few days. After seeing the high/lowlights of Town's 1-0 defeat down at Swindon, I rewatched the goal. It came from a Swindon corner put into the middle. Their lad outjumped Peter Clarke and powered his header down into the bottom corner. Danny Wilson will have been a happy manager with that goal.

Lee Clark, on the other hand, ought to have been very unhappy with his team's defending, not just because his captain was outjumped, but because one of the very basics of defending set-pieces was flouted to his side's cost: there was no man standing on the back post waiting to make a clearance if it came near him.

This is a problem at all levels of the game in varying forms. Bolton scored a goal on Sunday where Zat Knight flicked it on into the corner from a corner kick. Patrice Evra - the Manchester United left-back - had wandered two yards off the post he was meant to stick to like glue. The result was that he couldn't do his job properly. Lee Dixon picked up on this in his analysis of the game for Match of the Day 2, and I have to say I agree with every word he said.

When I was defending set-pieces as a kid, I generally got stuck on one post or another. In operating this system, our defence made the goals smaller by at least a yard on either post. They stuck me on a post because I was never going to outjump a centre-half attacking the ball in, but I could be of use in making the goals that bit smaller. Sometimes one would go over me because I wasn't tall enough to get to it, but that could be chalked down to just being one of those things as well as an outstanding finish.

So a man on either post makes the goals smaller. What other principles should teams observe when defending a corner kick? Well, I like to see teams leave at least one player forward. This makes sense from both attacking and defensive perspectives: it makes a break from the corner easier, especially if that lad breaking is a quick player, but it also means that the opposition will pull two players back to defend against the possibility of a counter-attack. Fewer attackers forward, a less congested penalty area, less chance of a striker giving their marker the slip in a crowd of bodies. Couple this with the men stood on the post, and you have a smaller goal, easier marking and a better chance of making a counter-attack.

I was very disappointed to read Lee Clark's comments about the Swindon goal this morning:

"I felt that the defensive side of the game was very good on Saturday and we had to defend quite a lot as we didn't keep hold of the ball as well as we like, but unfortunately over the course of ninety minutes they will get an opportunity and their lad scored a terrific header - if any of my lads scored that goal, I would think it was tremendous. You have to hold your hands up sometimes and he beat one of our lads in the air before heading it in the only place he could to score"

Why can't he see the problem? The only reason he could score there was through a defence not taking proper responsibility. From a 91st minute corner, it's criminal.

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