Pete Sixsmith emerges from a rotten post-derby week to watch our uneasy passage back to winning ways. Before treating the upcoming two games – which would have involved unappealing trips to London – as reason enough for a half-term holiday from his Soapbox, Pete looks back on the good, the bad and the ugly of Saturday’s display – and wonders whether letting Steed take a penalty was someone’s idea of a practical joke …
That has been a bloody awful week and I won’t ever go through another one like it. The repercussions of that humiliation are not over and won’t be until the subject of season ticket renewal comes up in April. A lot needs to be done to convince the likes of me that a regular seat is worth it.
We started the process of rehabilitation on Saturday with a win over Stoke City. Those last four words have not been used much over the years.
We did beat them a couple of seasons ago with goals from Cisse and Healy on what was just about the coldest day in living memory. My Hellenic based brother who was present that day, opined that it was colder than Oldham Athletic away in 1986, up until then the yardstick. Other than that, it’s been lots of draws, with most of them pretty turgid affairs.
That we did win was down to the officials’ failure to spot Lee Cattermole’s handball on the line. He did try to head it out and the ball did roll down his arm, but it was a penalty kick and a red card for him, had it been spotted. It wasn’t, we got away with it and Stoke lost their cool.
It allowed us to get back into a game that we were being pushed out off. The first half had gone well and we deserved to be a goal up.
Asamoah Gyan took it well and he had caused them a number of problems. The penalty he won was a bit soft, but he did go down and Walters, who gave it away, was rubbish all game, so maybe we deserved it.
When I saw the goal machine known as Steed Malbranque walking up to take it, I had some reservations. The last time he scored was against Barrow 11 months ago. The last top level goal was against Hull nearly two years ago. I had never seen him take a penalty. But he had picked the ball up and he had the courage to take it.
We knew that had it gone in, Stoke would not have come back; game over and the opportunity to begin to repair the damage to the goal difference. A pleasant afternoon with no anxiety or tension ending with a satisfied viewing of MOTD.
He missed it. The keeper could have read the first 10 pages of Proust and still ambled over and collected it, it was such a weak shot. Why was he allowed to take it? Had they worked out before the game who would replace Bent as penalty taker? Was Steed’s name put forward as a jape?
Clearly, Pulis told his team to shape up for the second half. They did and pushed us deeper and deeper. Of the returning old boys, Whitehead was the weakest. He seems to be there but does little. Collins had some difficulties with Elmohamady, Jones played well – but Gyan is a lot less predictable and I feel we may well have got the better of the deal there. Tuncay (I know, he played for Boro) was outstanding.
What of ours? Welbeck was played up front and did well. He looked far more confident, took players on and rode some typical Stoke tackles.
It was good to see Mensah back, but he failed to last the 90 minutes. He went down twice and writhed magnificently. He looked like a Pentecostal accepting the word of the Lord. The rumours are that he has dislocated his shoulder.
If so, we will probably have a new centre half pairing on Tuesday as Turner may well be heading for the bench. He continues to look shaky and wobbly and he may not be the player I thought he was last year. Bramble and Da Silva at WHL?
So, we go to London for two games which could well decide whether we are looking up at the stars or down at the gutter. We have some problems, but the arrival of Gyan in the starting line up is a real boost. He looked the business on Saturday. He is an intelligent footballer with pace and the ability to destroy defenders. He will get better with time.
I’m packing the Soapbox away for the next two games – can’t get away from work for Spurs and won’t pay those ridiculous amounts for Chelsea. I hope that when normal service is resumed for the visit of Everton, we will be sitting comfortably in the upper echelons of the PL – but I won’t be holding my breath.