Steve Bruce knows it, Niall Quinn knows it and you can bet your life Ellis Short will leave neither of them in any doubt that he knows it, too. This was a catastrophic apology for a performance and came tailor-made for extending a dismal run of games that has brought one point, no goals since Gyan’s against Spurs and considerable despair. Pete Sixsmith endured the Eastlands massacre …
Up until 4pm Sunday had been a very pleasant day. A new coach to take us there, good company, an early arrival in Uppermill and a stroll along the Huddersfield Narrow Canal to the Diggle Inn, where a lovely pint of Copper Dragon Golden Pippin was consumed. Back to the Wagon, a half of Ginger Tom and off to Eastlands hoping for a point.
Then it all went wrong – and wrong in huge capital letters as we capitulated to a very good Manchester City side.
Let’s deal with City first. They looked Champions League material, although they were helped by our impersonation of qualifiers from San Marino. They knew that the Saturday results gave them an ideal opportunity to secure a top four place and they were motivated, focused and determined to show their fans that they had it in them to move up a level.
I couldn’t see a weakness in them. The back four is huge, and they played as a unit. The midfield is strong, and they played like a unit with pace and imagination. Up front, they played like a unit with Balotelli’s strength complementing Tevez’s pace. It was an outstanding performance, with Toure and Johnson the pick of the bunch.
You may have noticed the word “unit” getting a good airing in the previous paragraph. My Collins Dictionary defines the word as “a team of people that performs a specific function”.
You know what is coming next.
We were not, at any time in this debacle, a unit. Rabble is an appropriate word. A sentence to describe it would be “A disorganised, feeble and gutless showing that once again made us the laughing stock of the Premier League”. Not pretty words, but for anyone who witnessed this live, on Sky TV or on a scratchy video link in other parts of the world, I defy them to pick fault with any of them.
Defy is something we didn’t do. After the first couple of minutes, when we competed a little bit, we just folded. The first goal came after defending that would have shamed a poor Sunday morning side. Bardsley and Mensah were nowhere to be seen as Johnson and Toure skipped past them.
Five minutes later, Bardsley gave away a penalty and Howard Webb got it right, despite my assertion that he hadn’t. End of game, City eased up a little and we at least had some possession – which we wasted at just about every opportunity.
Henderson, Muntari, Ferdinand, Bardsley consistently gave the ball away. Nobody won it on a regular basis while the forwards had to look for scraps. Gyan worked hard up front, created the sole chance we had in the first half and looked a frustrated figure at the end as yet another good run into space was not spotted by those behind him.
The second half was damage limitation time. A team that could perform as a unit would have dug in and kept the score respectable. A team that had some basic tactical nous would have denied City’s runners space and would have gone forward to tackle them.
We did neither. It was a craven surrender at the end, typified by the ludicrous pass from Cattermole that gave Toure his (deserved) goal. Cattermole was pushed back, nobody came to help him and he failed to take the easy way out by conceding a throw in. Result: a goal of incredible stupidity and a pass that typifies our current form.
We have taken 11 points in 2011 and have gone from Europa League possibilities into relegation candidates. There is always a team that gets sucked into a relegation battle and that is us. One point out of the last 21, one goal in the last five games and a run-in that looked comfortable in January, is now full of elephant traps just waiting for us to fall into.
Changes are needed in the first team and in the complacent mind set of players, management and supporters – this one included. The signings of Muntari and Sessegnon, heralded in some quarters,(ok, by me) as a major breakthrough, have been disastrous and have actually weakened us. Henderson is going through a terrible time, Mensah looks short of pace and confidence, we have a centre half playing at right back and a right back playing at left back and the forwards look as if they couldn’t shoot fish in a barrel.
Tactically, we have no variation and I had the feeling on Sunday that players were playing their own game rather than to any agreed team pattern. Surely Muntari must realize that playing the same pass all the time won’t work. Surely the full backs must realise that a high ball to Gyan is pointless as he needs the ball at his feet. Someone tell them we sold Kenwyne Jones in August.
Managers dictate tactics and if a game is a tactical shambles, they must take the blame.
It’s all well and good shooting off e-mails after the game and apologising, but this is the third game out of four when the tome from the Press Officer who writes Bruce’s message has said that it was an unacceptable performance. So, what is he (Bruce, not the Press Officer – although after Sunday, he (isn’t it a she – ed?) might actually do better than Bruce) going to do about it?
Some suggestions: restore Malbranque and Zenden to the midfield at the expense of Henderson and Muntari and consider using Colback as well. Use Elmohamady as a full back who can push forward and go to the by-line as Kolarov did, as Johnson did last time out, as Baines did at Goodison; play Onuoha at centre back with Turner; try to use the quality that Gyan and Welbeck bring to the team by actually giving them something they can work with and so they don’t have to chase all over the park looking for scraps.
If that fails hand the reins to the Press Officer.
West Brom up next in the first of the “easy run-in” fixtures. I await the visit of the Baggies with the same kind of trepidation that Prince William must have when he thinks about his Uncle Andrew’s attendance at his wedding. It could be bloody by 5pm on Saturday.