What do you do after seeing Sunderland throw away two points against lowly Portsmouth? Go home and kick the cat, start a few rows, reduce yourself to watching Stacey kicked out of the National Karaoke Championships? At least
Pete Sixsmithhad some musical therapy lined up …
I’m very pleased that I have had 18 hours or so to mull over this , as if I had written it straight after the game, Bill Taylor would have been even more worried about my pessimistic bent, while Jon would have been much happier with the use of short, pithy words like “c***”, “s****” and “r*******”.
Eighteen hours later, after a most enjoyable evening spent in the company of England’s finest folk singer and guitarist Martin Simpson at The Davy Lamp Folk Club in Washington, things look bleak, but not as bleak as they did at 6pm on Saturday.
Make no mistake about it; this was two points thrown away against the poorest side I have seen since our performance at Upton Park last season. The fact that we could not kill them off is worrying and is beginning to seriously undermine the players and the fans confidence in the decent start we have made to the season.
The injuries/suspension situation should not be used as an excuse. All we had to do was to close the game down, either by scoring a second goal or retaining possession of that round thing called the ball. As the game moved into its final phase, the chances of a second goal were getting fainter and fainter, so we needed to concentrate on keeping possession.
Avram Grant made it clear that he was desperate for point and he believed he could get it. He replaced midfielders with forwards and for the last ten minutes played a 4-4-2 system, which competent teams should have been able to counter by breaking quickly and catching them out.
We didn’t. We consistently hoofed the ball away and, when it came back, hoofed it away again. The anxiety in the seats spread to the players (or vice versa) and I felt we would not hold on. When the board went up for four minutes of added time, I had minor palpitations, which were soon to take on the effects of a mini Krakatoa as we gave the ball away yet again.
We had a free kick in the Portsmouth half. Common sense dictated that we hold the ball, drag their forwards back and play out time. In Rugby League, they call it “sticking t’ball up yer joompah”. What did we do? We took it quickly, were caught offside and allowed a desperate Pompey side to launch another attack.
They got a corner from it, took a bad one, but our defenders (who, to be fair, had been competent all afternoon) didn’t attack it and Kaboul poked home a barely deserved equaliser.
Of course, the main question is “How did it come to this”? Why were we in a position where we had to hang on against a side with relegation/insolvency/oblivion written all over them?
Midfield, I’m afraid. This started out as our strength in those halcyon days of August and September. Cana and Cattermole grafting, Malbranque burrowing, Reid painting pictures with his left foot and setting up Jones and Bent.
Look at it against Portsmouth. Cattermole injured, Malbranque benched, Cana reducing his effectiveness by getting booked early on for a tackle that he might just have got away with in the Enver Hoxha Memorial League and Reid having the kind of game that justifies Trappatoni’s refusal to pick him.
If the midfield don’t provide, the forwards don’t score and both Jones and Bent need better service. Henderson worked hard, but his shooting is on a par with Jeff Whitley’s and if Campbell is a midfield player – well, if Doggarts window were still there, my presence in it would draw crowds.
Defensively we looked ok. Turner and Da Silva were hardly bothered by Kanu and Dindane and the introduction of Piquionne to partner Dindane made their strike force sound like a pair of French Children’s TV Presenters. George did well in the first half, but did not handle a marauding Ben Haim in the second, while Nyron was as entertaining as I have ever seen him. His tripping himself up, followed by three rolls and a spring up would have wowed Billy Smart. He actually played quite well.
As for Portsmouth, they looked not unlike we did 4 years ago; weak and ineffective and looking like cannon fodder for the better sides. O’Hara did well, Brown rattled a few shins and the manager at least threw caution to the winds and had a go. I thought the turn out of their allegedly “wonderful” supporters was pathetic; 250 at most. Even Wigan and Fulham bring more than that.
So, we are now firmly placed in mid table, looking up at Birmingham and Fulham and down at West Ham and Everton. Saturday’s results did not help us and we really do have to dig deep and start to play as we know we can. We have taken 5 points from the last 21 and with Villa and Citeh up next, that could easily become 5 out of 27. That’s relegation form. Surely we are not going to have to go through that again?