Jeremy Robson would be the first to acknowledge that he does not suffer fools gladly. Woe betide them, as our old teachers used to say, if the fools are currently wearing our red and white stripes. In an ideal Robson world, football would still be something viewed from the Clock Stand paddock of Roker Park, just to the left of the halfway line. Here’s Jeremy’s very particular take on the ups and downs of the season just ended …
We’ve seen everything and it’s nearly all been said about this season.
Two weeks of elation or just plain relief have masked the month after month torment of dreadful performances, schoolyard defending and a lack of goals. It seems almost impossible to consider that Paulo Di Canio was our manager for the first half a dozen games. De Fanti also now seems a dark and distant memory. That’s not to say that all is well with the current incumbent. It isn’t. Far from it.
A large section of our support are firmly behind Poyet, but I am yet to be convinced that he can bring real stability or even just consolidation in the PL. Why you ask? OK. Let me tell you why.
Any manager who would persist almost unremittingly with Jozy Altidore as his first choice striker for several months is clearly missing something. It was obvious to everyone except Poyet that this was a player out of his depth from day one. Most of us could see it in 20 minutes. It’s not as if he performs his striking role badly. He doesn’t perform it at all. It’s like a rock band looking for a bass player giving the job to the first bloke to turn up with a ukulele. On such a basis, George Formby could have been in Led Zeppelin.
Poyet described the need to bring in players in the January transfer window who could “hit the ground running.” Ustari was no more than insurance cover for Mannone, and while Santiago Vergini has shown in recent games that he has a lot to offer, some of his earliest performances showed that adjusting the the pace of the PL was a hurdle. He could hardly be described in the manner that Poyet put it.
The same applies to both Scocco, yet another “striker” yet to find the net, and Bridcutt. Therefore any evaluation of Poyet’s judgement of players can at best be described as mixed. Having said that, allowing Connor Wickham to languish at Sheffield Wednesday and then Leeds before bringing him back in a last dying act of desperation is what really should concern us about Poyet.
Watching young Connor return to such a run of form and goals must have Poyet experiencing one of those rare moments of quarrelling emotions, somewhere between agony and ecstasy, the sort of feeling that I could only get if my mother-in-law were to drive off a cliff in my brand new car.
Wickham should have been brought back months ago. Player of the Month immediately upon his return, he might have been dreaming of a plane ride to Brazil in the summer as opposed to another weary trip up and down the A1 to Yorkshire and back.
The other real blot on Poyet’s record is the nonsensical 5/6 man defensive formation which was designed to contain Liverpool at Anfield (and did), was then used against West Ham at home (and failed), before collapsing completely at White Hart Lane. Rather than accepting this tactical faux pas, Poyet dropped his captain, John O’Shea, for pointing out the error of his ways, and spouted long in the media about how the players approved of it. Their approval was so great, that it was immediately abandoned.
Following the White Hart Lane embarrassment I was reminded of a Saab I owned some years ago. There was something wrong with it, and in fact there were so many things wrong with it that it was difficult for even the smartest Saab mechanic to figure out precisely where the problems lay. It was fixed eventually at the end of a long process of trial and error. One fault impacted on another in a concatenation (now there’s a first for this site -ed ) of worrying events, much like the formation and team selection for the Spurs game.
Ki disappeared from the team as either a result of injury, form or a general lack of interest in proceedings. The fans’ darling earlier in the season, who in reality is a lightweight, one paced midfielder who can’t tackle. He passes the ball well enough, but not where it matters. The longer he was in the team the more it became clear why he was 6th or 7th choice for Swansea City’s midfield.
The reappearance of Wickham and disappearance of Ki, and the sudden upswing in performances and results is not coincidental. Nor is the emergence of Vergini as a player of real PL quality, despite the fact that he only got to start because of Bardsley’s suspension at Man City. The defensive experiment of previous games was cast aside and that has also contributed, but these factors have all combined more or less at the same time either through management, but more likely through desperation and default. They have worked and we should be grateful for that of course. Cattermole stayed past January and his commitment to the cause has seen him play some of his best football since he arrived. He has even had a shot and scored. Who’d have thought that possible?
The roller coaster of a season we’ve had has been the most bizarre nine or 10 months that any of us have seen. It’s hard to lay the blame for our earlier failings on Poyet, much as it was hard to blame Di Canio either. Likewise, good fortune and happenstance are probably where we should credit our recent good run of form. What was it Napoleon said about generals?