John McCormick writes: Until recently I’d been on the same wavelength as Gus when it came to picking teams but I have to admit Gardner’s inclusion against Chelsea confused me. Then for Spurs Gus reverted to the kind of team I’d have picked, with me hoping AJ would realise he had to turn in a performance or two to remain a chosen starter. And did AJ perform? Well, sort of. But if he and the rest of the team that turned out against Spurs wanted to think about a proper shift they could do worse than reflect on the likes of Sobs from ALS and our own Pete Sixsmith, who labour on, week in, week out, to try to bring us some optimism when the overpaid bunch they support turn in yet another pathetic performance. And with that rant over I turn to Pete for his take on the weekend’s events:
Not a good weekend football wise, was it? Stoke, Fulham, Palace, Norwich all won and put a little more daylight between us and safety. Cardiff and West Ham were the big losers but are still six and five points respectively ahead of us. It doesn’t look good.
For the first time this season, I came out of the ground seriously contemplating relegation. Up until yesterday, it had been a relegation battle, but this performance almost convinced me that Doncaster, Bournemouth and Millwall are likely to be be paying their first visit to the Stadium of Light next season.
This was a disappointing showing from a group of players who have experienced the bounce of a new manager coming in after the previous much disliked one had departed and who had mentally and physically committed themselves to the SAFC cause. But against Spurs, they looked physically and mentally tired. The crisp passing that we saw against Manchester City and at Stoke (before KF changed it all) looked far more laboured and too many players found it hard to raise their game for the second time in three days. A buoyant Spurs side were well set to take advantage of it.
For some players like Bardsley, Larsson, Fletcher and Colback, this is yet another relegation scrap, the fourth or fifth that they have faced in succession. For O’Shea, Brown and Giaccherini, it is in direct contrast to years spent racking up Championship titles with their clubs. Instead, they are playing with colleagues who are nowhere near as good as the ones they have left behind.
Poyet sounded as down as the occupants of the male toilets in the East Stand, but far more animated. It was quiet in the toilet, there was little conversation, just a collection of resigned sighs as we looked at our feet and realised that the game was not far from being up.
The manager didn’t sound too happy either in his post-match comments. Apparently, the press had to wait for an hour before he appeared to talk to them, and he was distinctly low key and pessimistic, making it clear that the honeymoon period was over. He now knew what he had to work with and I suspect he didn’t like it much.
Some will say that we were unlucky in that Lee Mason missed a blatant handball by Sandro and that the Spurs winner was an own goal by John O’Shea. That Defoe might easily have had a second half hat trick should bring that line of reasoning to an end. Throughout the team we lacked pace and guile, none more so than Jack Colback. The more I see of him, the more he falls into that category of “useful player”, a step up from the likes of Colin Symm, Steve Doyle and Carl Robinson, but only a small, Jimmy Clitheroe type step. He missed an excellent chance in the first half when he went too wide instead of cutting in and thrashed the ball into the side netting after Altidore put him through. Would that the positions had been reversed!
Then, he was outfought and outpaced by Dembele, whose cross was bundled over the line by John O’Shea to give Spurs the lead and to rack up our fifth own goal in nine matches. Unlucky? Absolutely not. Poor defenders concede own goals. O’Shea looked tired and under pressure throughout the game. The midfield lacks any genuine creativity and the opposition will easily work out how we play and will push Ki further and further back. Because of the lack of genuinely good players to take us forward, we will forever be on the back foot and putting pressure on our creaking defence. Brown and O’Shea are hardly in the first flush of youth.
Poyet will at least try things. He opened with Johnson and was rewarded with a well taken goal. Despite his lack of pace, he is one of the few players we have who can strike a ball and who can turn up unannounced and, as such, he needs to be a regular. There is little else with any genuine quality in the club.
The week has been a very poor one for us. There is a heightened feeling that relegation is a matter of when and not if. Poyet is blameless at the moment; he is picking up the pieces left by the previous three managers. Bruce signed a lot of very average players in his final transfer window and we are stuck with them; O’Neill tried to buy quality but both Fletcher and Johnson look weary of playing in a team where things they cannot do are expected of them. The players brought into the club in the summer by whoever it was are just not good enough. Celustka, Mannone and Altidore are probably the pick of them; Giaccherini would be excellent in a good side, but not in one where he has to do so much leg work, while the rest strike me as distinctly average.
Whether Poyet decides to use the likes of Diakite, Roberge, Cabral and Mavrias in the next two absolutely crucial games is a huge decision. They may freshen things up, which is positive, or they may be as poor as we suspect they are, which will leave us bottom of the league and in single figures points wise at Christmas. In 2002 we had 18 points,(would that we had now) while the disastrous Mick McCarthy team had five. This present lot look more like Mick’s team than Wilkinson’s.
West Ham look as bad as we do and they have a crowd that regard Sam Allardyce with the same feelings that the Tory Party of Margaret Thatcher and Norman Tebbit had towards Nelson Mandela. Norwich are a strange side who can fluctuate between the appalling and the mildly effective. We need a minimum of four points and ideally six from these two. Should we continue to miss chances, hoof the ball into our own net or come across referees who can’t recognise a legitimate tackle or a handball in the area, we will be out of this league before the Christmas decorations come down.
It gets harder and harder to keep the faith – but we must try.
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