The atmosphere around the Stadium of Light last night was not that of a club in crisis writes Malcolm Dawson. Mind you when I arrived outside the ground an hour before kick off it was obviously typical of a League Cup fixture – quieter than Bishop Auckland on a Friday night when the bouncers outside the pubs outnumber the punters within. Surprisingly perhaps there was little talk of Di Canio’s departure, player power or possible incoming coaches. It seemed to me that those inside the ground were hoping that a decent performance would erase the memories of the dismal start to the season. There was a decent turn out too of Posh supporters on a mizzly September evening – more than Fulham brought. Pete Sixsmith was there too.
A WEIGHT OFF THE SHOULDERS
It was a cup tie and it was against a team who were two divisions below us, but there was a palpable sense of relief at the SoL last night as a predominantly British team shrugged off Peterborough United to make it into the last 16 of the Football League Cup.
Relief at the fact that the owner had taken action to arrest a situation which was looking critical if not terminal even after five games; relief at the fact that we have not stampeded into a quick appointment and are happy to look at several candidates while leaving the first team in the very English hands of Kevin Ball.
Nobody that I spoke to was anything other than pleased that the mercurial Italian had left. The players were welcomed with warm applause, particularly O’Shea and Larsson, who are reputedly the ones who led the delegation to Margaret Byrne. They looked like men who had had a huge weight taken off their shoulders.
It would be wrong to describe the 90 minutes that followed as a sparkling performance. Some of the team were rusty, hardly having played this season. Others were desperate to impress and maybe tried too much. But they won, are in the next round and looked like a better team than past results have indicated.
Cattermole had an immediate impact, sitting deep and winning the ball before moving it forward. At times, he reminds me of a parks player, constantly chasing the ball and then giving it away. But he played one exquisite through ball to Giaccherini in the 32nd minute, which saw the excellent Italian put us ahead.
Ball played him behind Altidore, in the role in which we always hoped Sessegnon would excel. He looked a very good player last night, quick, sharp and with the ability to create his own space. This one could work and his celebrations when he scored indicated that he had played a considerable part in ensuring that Di Canio was queuing at the Alitalia desk on Monday morning.
Another who looked quietly impressive was Ki, who does simple things well and also has the ability to create his own space. However, he let himself down with a nasty challenge on Lee Tomlin, raking his foot down Tomlin’s Achilles and putting the Posh’s most influential player out of the game after 10 minutes. Altidore worked hard, as always, and was unlucky with a thumping shot that hit the post in the first half and Johnson was always a good outlet on the left. He put in a wonderful centre for Roberge to head home to wrap the game up, having earlier curled one just round the post.
So, no embarrassment to a team below us in the pyramid and a feeling that players and crowd were united in the face of adversary. We go into Sunday’s game against Liverpool with a win under our belts and that sense of relief that a bully has been beaten and that there is the potential of salvaging the season and getting some points on the board.
Kevin Ball has said that he wants the job. He has done well with the Under 21’s – but so did Ricky Sbragia. Whoever takes over has to be vetted carefully and has to have either the credentials or the potential to make quick progress. Poyet seems to be in a strong position and could be an interesting appointment. I suspect that Tony Pulis or Alex McLeish will not be popular with fans, but they are honest and reliable men. I like the cut of Eddie Howe’s jib and he has done well at Bournemouth and I gather he was on the Everton short list in the summer.
Whoever it is has a decent bunch of players to work with, and more importantly, a group of players who have shown that they do care about the club and their own professional reputations. Talk of player power is nonsense – as Martin Smith said on Total Sport, if they didn’t care about the club they would just say they were injured and pick up their salaries as Angeleri and a few others have done over the years.
We await the appointment with interest – and hope that Bally can give his chances a real boost on Sunday.
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