Briefly joint leaders last weekend, we had our balloon well and truly burst by a much more determined Stoke (who did the same to us last season after that heartening victory over Newcastle). Pete Sixsmith tries very hard to sound positive but cannot hide the doubts…
The mantra we have chanted so far in this fledgling season is “That was different from last year – we’d have lost/drawn/scraped through/been hammered in the games with Bolton/Blackburn/Norwich/ Chelsea.”
We were beginning to convince ourselves that we were made of sterner stuff and that although we had some weaknesses, the strengths just about outweighed them. And then we went to Stoke …
It was the same as last season in that we gave away a bad goal and huffed and puffed. But there were still differences.
First of all, Stoke are a much better side than 12 months ago. They no longer rely on just hoofing the ball upfield. They use the flanks, have an excellent target man in Ricardo Fuller and a midfield of high energy players who get forward to support. They also have, on this display, two excellent centre halves in Shawcross and Faye who read a game, time their tackles well, win a lot of balls in the air cleanly and then can pass the ball to one of their own players. So I don’t see Danny Collins getting a game there.
With the addition of Tuncay and the return of Beattie, they will do well and have every chance of finishing near the top of the “not quite good enough for Europe, but too good to be sucked into a relegation scrap” part of the Premier League.
Decent fans as well, although I have to say that I prefer Daughter of Darkness to Delilah.
Secondly, our performance was disappointing rather than dismal. There were times when we moved the ball well and played Bent in, only for him to be thwarted by a poor finish and a good tackle. We made a sensible substitution, replacing an ailing Richardson with Reid and seeing how much sharper the guitar playing, hill running, muesli eating Irishman is.
He is by far our most creative player and you beat Stoke by having one more creative player than they have – and that was Reid.
Gordon looked sound and controlled his box well and Kenwyne had a grand tussle with Faye and Shawcross, which they just shaded. On that cold night last October, we came away with no positives and defeat was the beginning of the end for RMK.
However, once again we were seriously lacking conviction at the back and this is clearly Bruce’s priority. Nosworthy came in for Collins and gave the kind of performance that drove Mick McCarthy wild. Some good headers and challenges interspersed with missed tackles and a continuous worry that he would give the ball away and cost us another goal.
Ferdinand was okay but he is much happier dropping off and knowing that he has a player alongside him who will bully the opponents. With Anton, you always think that if a centre forward bullies him, he will tell them that his big brother and his Manchester mates will sort him out later and then he will have a little snivel into his hankie.
Cattermole had a stinker and was left on far too long. He may well be having problems with his back so a couple of weeks off might help. Leadbitter should bide his time before departing for at least two seasons of Championship football at Portman Road.
As for Cana, he spent most of the game in front of the back four, trying to calm Nyron down and trying to stop Anton from crying at that nasty man Fuller.
So, not a great day for the 3,500 who travelled down in expectation of a tedious 0-0 draw. After the rustic delights of Norwich, Cromer and King’s Lynn, it was a pleasure to have a late breakfast and a couple of outstanding pints of Draught Bass in Uttoxeter. Another pleasant small English town with a gents’ in the bus station that had pottery ducks and geese and real and plastic flowers. Worth checking out.
The manager now knows that we need another central defender. It will be interesting to see if anyone comes in tomorrow. What’s Charlie Hurley up to nowadays?