Sam Allardyce and his players head to Derby County on Saturday with the manager having plenty to ponder regarding his lineup.
Four players are out suspended in Kevin Nolan, Julien Faubert, George McCartney and Jack Collison, while Big Sam has to think about whether to play the fit, but not match-fit, Winston Reid and Sam Baldock. Gary O’Neil is also pushing to play after eight months out.
As ever at this time of the year, the transfer window dominates media activity with the manager ruling out a number of names put to him in the press conference while being adamant that James Tomkins is one he wants to keep at the club.
How is the squad looking for Saturday?
SA: We are pretty depleted. I think that our injury problems are doubled and escalated by our suspensions. It is very unusual to actually get three players who were on four bookings all booked in the same game and missing the next game along with Jack Collison. There are four out on suspension and five or six out injured.
It makes life very difficult for us. The defence is the biggest problem we have as the rest of the squad is not quite as weakened as we are at the back. It is about a side that needs to go out and play to its very best in a very difficult game at Derby, whoever is in the team.
Do you have anyone back to help?
SA: Sam Baldock is back in the squad but hasn’t played for five weeks. Gary O’Neil is in the squad, he has played three games behind closed doors. Winston Reid has been out for seven or eight weeks but not played a game. He is fit so we have to include him in the Derby scenario.
The players selected need to go out and do their very best. It is a little concerning but it is for one game only so maximum effort from everyone is needed to try and continue our fantastic away record and then we will have plenty of fresh players back from suspension to look at for the Monday game.
Can you afford to even think about that visit of Coventry yet?
SA: The game on Monday sort of takes care of itself. Jack Collison, Julien Faubert, Kevin Nolan and George McCartney will all be available again. That makes life a little bit easier. It would also have always been two different sides playing because it is such a short space of time.
It is about the disruption. Making changes disrupts the flow of the team and it is beginning to do that. That has ended up costing us a few points, even though I think under the circumstances the performances have been very good.
How do you reflect now on the 1-1 draw at Birmingham City?
SA: It was just too many chances missed at the time. That would have put the game beyond Birmingham and we had one slip up on a corner. There are lots of things we have talked about. Not retaining possession in the second half like we did in the first half, which allowed too much pressure to come on us.
We have ask ‘Is that why we made a mistake and cracked’ and ‘What contribution did the changes make?’
If you are a substitute you have got to make a bigger and better contribution than you’ve made. You are supposed to lift the team. We put you on because we want you to lift the team. We need you to come on with the energy and ability you have got and make us better, not make us the same. I don’t think any of the subs lifted the team when they came on.
We have had all those discussions.
In the end, Birmingham are a very difficult side to play on their own patch. It is not bad being disappointed with a draw with the problems we have had, when you know you should have won.
You must be very impressed with how Dan Potts is doing at just 17?
SA: He has done very well. The idea of a young lad training with the first team on a regular basis gives you the opportunity as a manager to see the lads that the staff are promoting. They are writing out the reports and see players who are building up the higher-end performances.
For me it is about bringing those players up to the first-team squad – playing against the first team in tactical sessions. Danny has jumped the queue, there is many a young professional in the squad that is older that hasn’t made the first team.
If they are looking on they need to get to his level and beyond, then they will get in the first team. It is a great achievement for Danny and he is very capable. We have to be very careful with him that it is not too much too soon. We don’t have to prolong it for too long because he will feel the pace at some stage.
Kevin Nolan will miss his first minutes of the season. Who will captain the team?
SA: I don’t know who will be the captain yet. It is the farthest thing from my mind. It is about getting the best eleven out on the field that is available and the best system for that eleven. That is my concern and when we have done all that, we will look at who the captain will be and give them the armband. Hopefully we can continue a very good record away from home.
The transfer window is upon us and clubs will no doubt be looking at James Tomkins. Are you expecting a bid?
SA: Probably but it wouldn’t be big enough to tempt us. I was speaking to David Sullivan yesterday and while there might be some interest in James it would have to be mega bucks for us to even consider that. Not that we want to, but you never know what’s round the corner and it would be the same with anybody else really.
We just have to wait and see.
What about players coming in? We have seen Jordan Rhodes and Ricardo Costa linked?
SA: We have identified names and made some inquiries into some players which is encouraging indeed. It has to be the right price but more importantly it has to be the right quality. [Huddersfield’s] Jordan Rhodes has only been an inquiry but we have had a straightforward ‘No, not for sale’. That is out of the equation. It was just an inquiry, nothing more than that. No [interest in Ricardo Costa].
We have got the experienced players in our squad. It is the younger end with potential we are looking for to add a bit more vibrancy to the squad. That gives you a good balance. We are looking for potential to get better, the same we got with Sam Baldock.
What are the plans for New Year’s Eve after the Derby match?
SA: There will be no time for the players to be celebrating. They will be in the day after recovering as quickly as they possibly can. Anyone who wants to try and sneak out is not only harming the chance of a result but also their own career basically. Those days are long gone when you want to be seeing players sneaking out because it is New Year’s Eve. It is a great temptation but you have to resist that if you are a true professional.
Have you got a stand-out memory of the year?
SA: A stand-out memory has been joining a club of this magnitude. The home attendances and the away support is a stand out thing for me. We are filling the ground at home. Perhaps they could be a bit more intimidating on the opposition but tthey are there in their thousands and away from home, 6,500 here, 4,500 there.
It has been the standout memory for me. That makes you want to reward them for their support and try and give them what they want. That is a team that finishes in the top two of the league at the first time of asking.