After all that huff and puff, yet another perfectly winnable game has eluded us.
I think the first thing to acknowledge is that up to 70 minutes, we were the better team. Up to 70 minutes, we had more fight than Swansea. Up to 70 minutes there was only one side who really felt they could win the game.
But eventually, those 70 minutes were not enough, and that big 7-0 was a key point in the game (I’ll come back to this later).
There’s been a lot of keen words said about how well we tried. Now, I’m not one to go bandy about work-rate; the way I see it, it should be the norm that a player gives his all. If they’re not working their arses off, they’re not doing their job. That said, when you’ve 11 players on the pitch working together to make it impossible for the best passing line-up in the Championship to play football, you’ve got to give credit where it’s due. We worked tirelessly.
The quality in the final third wasn’t there though, that was clear. But we still did enough to worry them, and if we only had it in us to create genuine goal-scoring chances, we might have taken the lead long before our top-class fitness training kicked-in and our legs turned to frankfurters.
We should have been ahead though. Boothroyd didn’t mince his words when it came to the penalty decision. He’s right; it was a definite penalty, and the only question you’ve got to ask is why would a striker who has an open goal and is about to score his first goal in months, pass up that opportunity in favour of going down?
There’s no reason other than if he was impeded. The goalie made a right hash of things, and the best he could do at that moment was to drag Jutkiewicz to the ground. He did so, and got away with it.
The referee got that wrong and we’re right to be angry about it.
However, that was not the reason we lost the game. Boothroyd has complained that the referee did not “do his job”. Well Aidy, he’s not the only one.
Going back to my earlier point, as we hit the 70 minute point in the game, there was a very noticeable drop in our intensity. This isn’t hindsight speaking, I was saying this at the time. Since half-time, we had pummled Swansea in every sense of the word, and they couldn’t cope with our pressing. Gunnarsson was fantastic (if you know me, you’ll realise that’s not something I’ll say regularly) and Lukas ran himself into the ground.
But if we were going to win the game, we had to keep the same level of performance up for the full 90 mins. As soon as the signs of tiredness appeared, that was the point to react and shuffle our pack.
There was a reaction alright, but it wasn’t by Boothroyd. Brendan Rodgers was right on the money, making purposeful subs when he saw the game needed it. He bided his time, and did what our own manager is always preaching about – he managed the game. He recognised the point when his subs would have most impact, and sure enough the game was flipped on its head, while we were left persisting with a line up that had clearly hit a brick wall.
I want to be clear that this isn’t a criticism of the players. As a team, we stuck to our task and did everything but create the chances to score. Nathan Cameron’s inability to pass the ball to teammates is, as ever, a common gripe of mine, and Lukas needs to work on his sharpness around the box. But it’s fairly clear to me why we did not win the game on Tuesday; a lack of adaptability and awareness by Aidy Boothroyd.
Our players were tired, and to maintain the intensity and domination we were enjoying, he needed to make changes, at the very least to keep the Swansea players on their toes. He didn’t though. He just stood there conversing with Father Ted while the pattern of the game changed, and his opposite number pounced on our vulnerability.
Don’t take this to be a Boothroyd-bashing post or anything. I’m not saying the bloke should be sacked. I’m saying we had a chance to win a game against a very good team, but he was unable to read the game and it cost us. That’s his job, and if he’d done it better (like Brendan Rodgers) I’m sure there were points in that game for us.
It’s worth noting that Swansea scored in the 76th minute, which gave plenty of time to rally and go again.
But nothing. That was the most frustrating thing. He showed zero-bravery in his use of subs, and just watched for 15 minutes as his team went through the motions – surrendering another 3 points in the process.