We can all envisage the nightmare scenario at 10 to six on Sunday: the scores stand at Aston Villa 1 Newcastle 1 … Hull 0 Man United 1 … Sunderland 0 Chelsea 5.
Suddenly, three last-second penalties are awarded: to Hull, the Mags and us. You can work out the rest: Cisse sends the goalie the wrong way but hits the post, Hull survive on equal goal difference, but more scored, and the Mags climb above us.
Pete Sixsmith, disconsolate and angry after last night’s shambles at Fratton Park, actually thinks it will be even more clear cut. His seven-word verdict last night did not have the defensive horror show “threatens” relegation but “means relegation”; only my editing made it less pessimistic;. Similarly, there was no question mark in his suggested headline for this piece. What follows is not for the faint hearted …
When I started doing these pieces 18 months ago, Colin said he wanted thoughtful and reflective articles, done after the din of battle had died away and there was time to take a long view. You could work out your emotions, positive and negative, and give a balanced and calm verdict on what you had seen, thereby enabling readers all over the world to get the considered view from the world’s greatest football club.
Well ******** to that.
I am sat writing this at 11.00pm on Monday having just watched the team throw away a one goal lead, a place in the Premier League and the possibility of any worthwhile investment from Ellis Short.
I am angry. I am frustrated. And I truly, truly believe that we will go down on Sunday and that the Mags will stay up.
For the second game running the opposition invited us to win the game in the first half. The team that Paul Hart picked was there to be taken – Kanu, slower than an arthritic tortoise, Utaka no idea of how to play off Crouch, Campbell dreaming of a sun kissed contract abroad. And what did we do? Same as at Bolton. Put the ball over the bar, didn’t arrive quickly enough in the box to support Kenwyne, showed no urgency or initiative.
Hart’s team talk at half time must have been along the lines of: “Well, they’ve had their chance. Let’s go out and play some football.” Kanu put on his slippers and lit up his pipe and Traore came on to put the fear of God up our defenders. After five minutes of the second half, I feared the worst and began to read the letters page in Rugby League Express, not wanting to see what I suspected would happen.
Then we scored. A good goal and our first in the League outside the North East since before Christmas. I punched the cushions, wriggled about, the cat shot me a dirty look and scuttled off upstairs and I began to think of the calm and relaxed atmosphere on Sunday with 42,000 chortling as the Mags slid away.
It’s amazing what can pass through your mind in a minute, because that’s all we held the lead for. Woeful defending allowed Utaka (as prolific a goalscorer as Darryl Murphy) to get in front of his marker and score. Never mind the red herring of Alan Wiley’s mysterious whistle; it was rank bad defending, only to be surpassed a few minutes later by Ferdinand who gave the ball away and allowed Utaka a clear run at goal. From a goal up and ecstasy to a goal down and deep, deep depression.
Ferdinand has gone to pieces as the season has unwound and has been dreadful recently. The back four is horribly exposed by pace (Bolton didn’t have any) and I dread to think what Drogba and Anelka will do to them on Sunday. Distribution from the back is abysmal, putting continued pressure on the midfield.
Still, a point would do and we had chances, but by this time we had reverted to lumping the ball up to Jones and he is not that kind of player. I thought he had a good game and you can see why other managers like him. Once Cisse came on, Jones became diminished and although we had chances, I had no confidence that we would score.
The third goal was academic; we can’t go down on goal difference, but it showed what a soft touch we are and must encourage Shearer and the Toon Morons for Sunday
We will certainly lose on Sunday and I think that Hull and That Lot will win. Yet another relegation, one which was totally avoidable even after Keane walked out. I have no sympathy for the players bleating about “We don’t want a relegation on our cvs”. No? Well try to do things like passing accurately, tackling firmly, hitting the target with shots and not playing like a bunch of cissies.
I do have some sympathy for Sbragia, but he is not adventurous enough and he must realise that this lot can’t hold on to a dog lead, never mind a goal lead. Quinny must be shocked and horrified at this debacle. There are few more honest and genuine people in football and he must despair of ever seeing this club achieve anything. I know I have.