Spurs was one of the games I planned to attend. Only tentatively originally, because Helen and Will (daughter and Spurs-supporting boyfriend) had a wedding to go to and they said I could borrow Will’s season ticket and bunk down at theirs, but it was all lined up until the game was moved to a Monday night and the plan was scuppered.
Thank God I didn’t go. What a waste of a journey it would have been. Instead, I stayed up here and watched it, which was painful enough. Although we went close and then took the lead our forwards never looked like scoring and it was always a case of could the defence hold out. Maybe earlier in the season they could, but not now. Speed is gone, confidence is gone and there’s so much shuffling of players that crucial element of communication appears to have gone with them. I don’t think Spurs were as good as a 5-1 win implies but we were as bad as a 5-1 defeat indicates. Surely there’s no way back, which begs the question,”Have we hit bottom?“
This was one of those games that wreck my sleep and as I awoke at 5.00am “have we hit bottom” was one of the thoughts that was whizzing around an over-stressed brain. I really do need a holiday, or maybe just a team to perform reasonably. And it would help if the manager’s post-match e-mail made sense.
So have we hit bottom? Can we get worse or is the only way up? I’m not referring to league position as we may yet have a relegation to endure but in the way we perform on the pitch. Before I attempt to answer that question it might be helpful to think about how we got here, wherever it is.
We’ve had how many seasons of underperformance under how many managers? Steve Bruce came and went, then Martin O’Neill, and neither set the place alight. Their best players departed, leaving others who were the epitomy of mediocrity until Di Canio came in with a new manager bounce that was enough to shake them up and save last season. However, management style and weird transfers subsequently caused a car-crash that made Bruce and O’Neill look like Arsene Wenger. So in came Gus.
Gus had impressive wins against Man City and the Mags but with teams like Arsenal, Liverpool and Man Utd at the SOL it’s no surprise we were still bottom at Christmas. Even so he appeared to have steadied the ship, and with good cup runs came optimism. The weak teams were coming and we could make up the deficit.
Only we didn’t. Self-destructive tendencies in some cases, injuries in others, notably Fletcher, but some of the losses must be laid at the door of Gus, who didn’t appear to use the transfer window well and more recently, as he seeks to field a winning side, has made change after change in the starting line-up. In some ways that is not surprising. The months between Gus coming and the January window were full of promise and with a strong enough squad on paper maybe he thought we’d have enough once morale was addressed.
Was this due to our manager’s inexperience? Is that the reason for a number of surprising team and tactical changes? Some of these these have been tremendously effective, but not as often as we’d like or we need, and some, such as leaving out Jonno or bringing in Cuellar for O’Shea have been baffling (but, then, what do I know about football management?). In my opinion it’s this inexperience which is at the heart of our demise. A more experienced manager might have just – and it’s a close call, so bad were we – managed to get us out and then keep us out of trouble but new boy Gus had next to no chance and has done well just to keep us in the mix, especially bearing in mind those self-destructive tendencies.
So where do we go from here? Up or further down? Let’s think short term, until May, and longer term, from next season.
The consensus from some Liverpudlians on Sunday was that we would go down but bounce back. Then on Monday some Evertonians, fresh from a trouncing of Arsenal, told me they didn’t relish the prospect of a visit to the SOL as we would be fighting for our lives. How things must have changed after Monday night. The Liverpudlians must be thinking we won’t return, if they are thinking of us at all, and the Evertonians will be thinking things like: “if we concede only three in the first half we’ll be OK in the second” or “run at them and they’ll cave in”.
Such thoughts will go beyond fans with the result that Saturday is a massive game for Gus. Not because it’s must win but because it will show what he can do as a manager to lift a team that seems to have lost its spirit, and with that its hope. Even a loss might provide a lift, provided it’s a hard-fought loss to a club with a point to make and not a cave-in. If he can achieve that then the bounce-back next season is possible; if he can pick up a point then anything’s possible. But another abject failure doesn’t bear thinking about.
Me, I think Gus can achieve something against Everton despite his inexperience, mediocre players and the gloom surrounding us. He has, as far as I’m concerned, got it right as often as he’s got it wrong and I’m not calling for his neck. I also believe relegation will have been discussed when he took the job on and he and Ellis Short will handle it. That’s where the longer term comes in. I’m optimistic that he’s up to the job and he’ll get there. We might lose on Saturday, and we might go down this season, but we won’t submit easily; next season, with a refreshed squad and players that play and perform as a more experienced Gus wants, the rebuilding will bear fruit.
I’m not looking forward to the next few weeks but I’m keeping the faith.
The Everton ‘Who are You?’ and Guess the Score will appear tomorrow (Thursday).