North Stander: Sorry, Paul, but the criticism is justified. This is a ‘slump’, not a ‘blip’

Gwion Edwards and Cole Skuse pictured after Town had conceded at Portsmouth.
Picture: Steve Walle

Gwion Edwards and Cole Skuse pictured after Town had conceded at Portsmouth. Picture: Steve Waller www.stephenwaller.com - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

North Stander TERRY HUNT reflects on a poor away day for Town at Portsmouth, as they fall out of the automatic promotion places in League One

Luke Chambers is shown the red card by referee Brett Huxtable after picking up a second yellow.
Pi

Luke Chambers is shown the red card by referee Brett Huxtable after picking up a second yellow. Picture: Steve Waller www.stephenwaller.com - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

Why on earth was Paul Lambert banging on about the referee's performance after his team's dismal defeat against Portsmouth on Saturday?

He should have been fully focused on his own mystifying selection and tactics - and another dreadful display from his increasingly lacklustre players.

If it was a tactic to distract attention from those shortcomings, it certainly didn't work. Social media was awash with criticism of the manager on Saturday evening. As I said last week, the Lambert honeymoon is well and truly over.

While some people go to extremes - just because your honeymoon has finished doesn't mean you instantly get a divorce! - I have to say much of the criticism is justified.

Flynn Downes and Tom Naylor collide.
Picture: Steve Waller www.stephenwaller.com

Flynn Downes and Tom Naylor collide. Picture: Steve Waller www.stephenwaller.com - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

Yes, Lambert is right when he says we would have taken our current league position if we had been offered it before the start of the season. There is, as he says, a long way to go.

But that's missing the point.

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What is so worrying is our slump in form. Slump is the word now, because it's been going on for so long. A "dip" or a "blip" is something which comes and goes quickly. A "slump" hangs around, like a bad smell.

MORE: Town show interest in loan deal for ex-Col U star

Luke Chambers looking to win the ball but Craig MacGillivray already has it in his grasp.
Picture:

Luke Chambers looking to win the ball but Craig MacGillivray already has it in his grasp. Picture: Steve Waller www.stephenwaller.com - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

Lambert certainly has some questions to answer after the game at Portsmouth. Firstly, why did he revert to three at the back, with wing-backs?

Why, in particular, did Toto Nsiala start, leaving the reliable James Wilson on the bench? It defies logic.

By all accounts Nsiala is a very nice chap, but this season he can only be described as a liability. So it proved at Fratton Park. An early yellow card meant he was walking a tightrope, and Lambert was forced to withdraw him before half-time.

Another question for Lambert. When Nsiala came off, why on earth didn't he revert to 4-4-2 and abandon 3-5-2 which so clearly wasn't working? But no, he ploughed on, with Cole Skuse playing out of position at the back.

Ronan Curtis (11) scores the only goal of the game as Portsmouth the the lead.
Picture: Steve Wall

Ronan Curtis (11) scores the only goal of the game as Portsmouth the the lead. Picture: Steve Waller www.stephenwaller.com - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

Only much later, when Janoi Donacien was introduced to play right-back in a traditional back four, did the team start to come to life. Meanwhile, Wilson warmed the bench for 90 minutes. Absolutely mystifying.

More questions. Why did Will Keane start, and not Kayden Jackson? Early in the season, when we were flying, it was clear that Jackson and James Norwood were a lethal combination up front. Lambert seems to have abandoned that.

Then there is the goalkeeping situation. On what basis is he alternating Will Norris and Tomas Holy? Is it because the terms of Norris' loan deal stipulate that he has to play?

Surely defenders need the same goalkeeper playing behind them game after game to build an understanding? Mind you, our defence changes every game, so there's no chance of any understanding developing!

James Norwood appears to handle Jon Nolans through ball ahead of shooting wide.
Picture: Steve Wa

James Norwood appears to handle Jon Nolans through ball ahead of shooting wide. Picture: Steve Waller www.stephenwaller.com - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

MORE: 5 observations from Town's defeat at Pompey

Town fans have long given up trying to second-guess Lambert's team selections, and formations. An hour before kick-off, when the team is announced, we look at our phones and try to work out how the team will set up. We're usually wrong!

According to my rudimentary maths, Lambert has made 55 changes in our last eight games. So, an average of seven per game. Some of those were cup games, so it's slightly unfair. But you get the point.

Lambert, of course, seems to think we're over-reacting. He always said we would have bumps in the road this season. But a bump in the road means a couple of defeats - not the dreadful run we've been on.

Town manager Paul Lambert has words with Toto Nsiala after substituting him at Fratton Park.
Pictu

Town manager Paul Lambert has words with Toto Nsiala after substituting him at Fratton Park. Picture: Steve Waller www.stephenwaller.com - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

We've now dropped out of the automatic promotion places for the first time since August. Of course, we're not halfway through the season yet, but the most worrying aspect is that Lambert appears to be nowhere near knowing his best line-up.

If this chopping and changing and utter lack of continuity goes on much longer, we'll be outside the top six and playing catch-up.

We've stopped hurting teams.

MORE: Norris expecting to stay at Town

Will Norris, pictured in action against Portsmouth on Saturday.
Picture: Steve Waller www.steph

Will Norris, pictured in action against Portsmouth on Saturday. Picture: Steve Waller www.stephenwaller.com - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

No creativity, no cutting edge. Yet again, very few efforts on goal at Portsmouth.

You know the most infuriating thing? This is all so unnecessary. We started the season really strongly, so Lambert should have settled on his strongest line-up way back then. We have, as I've said so many times, the strongest squad in League One. But the manager is in danger of throwing it all away.

All of the above makes the Boxing Day game against Gillingham at Portman Road an important and no doubt nervy affair. We must get back on track.

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