Fiddlesticks. Yet more points surrendered. That’s 16 so far this season we’ve thrown away from winning/drawing positions (ignoring the parity that each game starts with, of course). It’s also worth noting that we’ve been ahead in 8 of our 17 games, and when you consider we’ve only led at half time twice so far, it becomes clear that there’s a very real problem in the second half of games. Whether that’s concentration, tactics, fitness, confidence or a mixture of the lot, I’m not sure. But it’s a crippling problem to have. All teams lose points, but to have given up 16 already.. well, you’re asking for trouble. And trouble we be in.
Those numbers don’t paint a fair picture of Saturday’s game, mind – a draw would probably have been the fairest result on the balance of play, although that doesn’t make losing our lead any easier to take. West Ham improved a whole load in the second half with the introduction of Carlton Cole, but even then, they still only managed to score through two nightmare goals from our point of view. I said it the other week when we were tonked by Southampton, but the teams at the top are already brimming with confidence – they don’t need a second invitation to do you over.
Funnily enough, I’d go as far to say that Saturday was our best performance of the season. There was a control and intricacy about our passing that I haven’t seen since the early days of Thorn’s tenure. Most of the matches this year have comprised loads of passing along the back line, while we struggle to spot a player in the team who actually fancies moving towards the ball.
Against the Hammers, there was an eagerness to get possession from players who have previously been found hiding. Regular ball-takers Sammy and Biggy were happy to ask for it in tight spots. What was more pleasing was that players who’ve lacked confidence for the majority of the campaign (namely McSheffrey and Hussey) showed entirely different attitudes towards offering themselves as options. I’d hoped that a break would have helped them forget what playing football for us was like, and we were duly rewarded with some pretty neat play.
The final ball still eludes us though. Gael has an eye for the killer pass, but was unable to pick a single one in what became a disappointing display by his standards. Cyrus’ somewhat scuffed cross was well dummied by McSheffrey in the build up to Clive giving us the lead, but I wouldn’t really class it as a good final ball (contrary to what Big Sam seemed to think as he eulogised about our goal to the radio people) – more good play by Gary to turn it into one.
The second half we showed decent adventure by leaving Clive and Lukas high up the pitch and McSheffrey buzzing around, picking up any loose balls to lead the counter-attack, which made for a welcome change to our usual uber-cautious style. Again, a clinical nature was lacking and we were unable to make anything of these opportunities to break, and sloppy ball after sloppy ball soon put pay to any chances to extend our lead. Tomkins and Faye were proving mighty tricky to outmanoeuvre too.
In terms of individual performances, I’ve noticed Richard Keogh has come in for a bit of grief for his part in the equalising goal, but as someone who was a regular critic of him last season (as he acted like a right prat a lot of the time), I’d like to put on record how well I think he’s done since his conversion to centre half.
He has been tremendous this season. I put this down to him being able to focus solely on defending, as most of his bad decisions last season stemmed from him being out of position, having fannied about higher up the pitch. He was immaculate in the first half on Saturday. I won’t go as far as to apologise for my comments last year, as I stand by the fact that he cost us a shed load of points. He’s been the most consistent this campaign though. And by consistent I don’t just mean playing every game – as is often mistaken for playing ‘well’ by our fans – he’s actually performed to a solid level in every match. We need more of that across the team.
Keogh’s form at centre back does leave us with a bit of a dilemma however. I don’t want to see him move back to the right while he’s doing so well in the middle, but a problem area for us is Cyrus’ stamina. He gets up and down like a maniac, but as it gets to 60 minutes, you start to notice that the lad’s half-dead. The logical alternative is to just move Keogh back to the right, and bring Wood in to partner Cranie. I do worry that we’d leave ourselves vulnerable to the right-back wally-brain-ness of Keogh from last year though, especially while Christie is still proving a decent outlet going forward.
It’s a quandary, that’s for sure. But it’s one that Thorn needs to work out, as it was physical and mental tiredness that eventually cost us for the winning goal, and it does make you wonder whether that’s one of the core issues behind our inability to see out the good positions we are finding ourselves in.
Our concern right now is to get some wins on the board, and quickly. I’ve no doubt if we can perform the way we did against West Ham, we have it in our locker to beat Gunny and co on Tuesday night for a start. Unfortunately for us, it seems that quality of performance really isn’t enough at the moment. Six points adrift at this stage in the season isn’t irreversible, but when you look at our record of two wins so far, it’s not far off.
I ain’t giving up just yet though. I saw enough from this group of players to know what they’re capable of.
Be nice now if the bastards could produce it for a whole 90 minutes.
Oh yeah. Message once again for the board/SISU/soppy Onye/boring Ken:
Where’s my loan player?
Word on the street is that it could be Michael Brown. Clearly a far more realistic option than Alan Smith, and would offer some much needed experience alongside Sammy.
Where are you?
We all know how awful watching your team lose is. Especially when it starts to happen all the bleeding time.
But when the opposition bring 7000 fans – I don’t care how things are going – you turn up. We don’t have much going for us at the moment, but as futile as it might seem to people, a bit of solidarity from the fans in the area would go a long way to helping us not feel like strangers in our own home.
It’d also mean that when they announce the attendance (which I hate by the way), I won’t have to recoil back into my seat in embarrassment while the people around me are joyously clapping a 13,000 home turnout.
That’s not good you know. That’s not good at all.