There has been many a Palace fan after many a game this season who have criticised, begrudged and loathed Roy Hodgson following his lack of substitutions in games.
At times, it has almost become a common feature of the post-match analysis and debate on social media. Some have even called for him to be sacked in more extreme tirades. Usually, such responses have come after we have dropped points, yet little has been mentioned on his inaction if we gain points. So, is Roy’s lack of subs costing the team points? Have we ever benefitted from his reluctance to make a sub? What could the reasons be behind his reasons for a lack of change on the pitch?
Research earlier in the season showed that Hodgson, on average, made subs in the 79th minute – the latest of any manager in the Premier League per game. This won’t surprise Palace fans who have witnessed Roy being unwilling to change the team. It has often been apparent when we have been chasing a game that Roy will normally wait until such a late time to see a sub. An example being in the recent game against Watford. When we conceded and were trailing 2-1 in the 74th minute, Hodgson waited 4 minutes before bringing on Benteke for McArthur, then another 5 minutes before subbing Ayew for Schlupp. This was to reap no reward as we lost, but it baffles many as to why there was such a pause between acting on a situation and changing the team to a more attacking setup. Such pauses show us Roy’s tactical philosophy in action: rigid, defence first, counter attacking and unwavering as he would prefer to stick with the structured 4-3-3 (or 4-5-1 if you see if more defensively) rather than twist.
The subs that are made earlier don’t always have the intended impact though. In fact, certain games we have been chasing have shown how the earlier subs Hodgson has made don’t always have an impact. Take the Brighton away match (sorry to bring it up), 3-0 behind and Roy brought on Sorloth after 58 minutes. In this instance the early sub didn’t pay off as we looked no different after Sorloth’s introduction and lacked any attacking flair to break down a stubborn defence. Another example where the earlier sub didn’t work as intended was in the following fixture at West Ham as Ayew was introduced on 66 minutes after we conceded two quick goals. Again, we looked ineffectual, despite grabbing a late equaliser, even after the attacking sub was made. Perhaps such 2/3examples highlight the quality of the particular players on offer as opposed to what the manager can do in such situations.
The above examples demonstrate how both late subs, or the personnel used to add to the team, can have a limited impact on a game. But what about the times when Hodgson hasn’t acted and we’ve gone on to win a game? The fact still remains that his average time for making a sub is around the 79th minute mark whether you perceive this unfavourably or not. The recent match against Fulham saw Roy take off Benteke for Meyer in the 72nd minute, no surprise there, as we were looking to see out the game and sure up the midfield. What is perhaps more surprising is that his closer to average 82nd minute sub did have an attacking influence as Batshuyi’s strike on goal lead to our second goal from Schlupp late in the game. Again, is it the quality of player which dictates the attacking influence on the game? Probably in this case.
An even more positive example of Roy’s lack of subs comes from the extraordinary 3-2 victory over Man City. Roy didn’t change the team until the 88th minute when Ayew came on for Zaha. Keeping the solidarity and rigidness for this game was great man management and Roy and the team got deserved praise for their structure, discipline and reading of the game situation. Not making subs would seem to fit into well with these tactics and the context against such a strong opposition. Would we have dropped points if he disrupted the team earlier? Who knows, but his inaction was positive here and gave the club a wonderful and important 3 points.
We have seen Hodgson’s lack of subs both impact matches this season negatively and positively. A further reason behind his timing or lack of subs may be due to a lack of squad depth or viable options from the bench to rely upon. Up until recently, our only other true attacking options have been Ayew (and Sorloth before his loan.) The remainder of our bench has been made up of midfielders, defenders and a keeper. You could argue that Schlupp is an attacking option but ‘utility man’ would categorise him best. It may be these lacks of options which have led to inaction, especially when chasing a win or draw, until the latter stages of a game. Yet, now with the signings of Batshuyi and Sako in January and the return of Wickham and Benteke, we should be seeing more positive changes when looking to turn a game around. The only thing that may prevent this is Roy’s rigid tactics.
The match examples above obviously only show snippet of how Roy’s subs have or have not impacted matches this season, each game has to be viewed on its merit. Although, begrudging the lack of subs and their impact on a game can be fairly short sighted. Not making subs can obviously impact a game based on its context but this can also be favourable and doesn’t always have to be viewed with negativity, it can merely be one factor contributing to a loss or a poor performance. We probably won’t see Roy making subs earlier in games for the rest of the season and possibly beyond, despite having more and better (attacking) options available now compared to earlier in the season.
His philosophy dictates the way he sets up the team and his game management. This isn’t necessarily a negative thing as it seems to reap rewards and watching Palace under Roy, especially more so recently, has been balanced, solid and definitely less horror free in comparison to the De Boer or Pardew tenures in the past.