The script is depressingly easy to write. Two clubs go into battle with similarly pressing needs to lift the early-season gloom, but one of them is Arsenal, they’re at home and unlike us, they’ll probably have an established PL striker to call on (Bendtner, of course, being unavailable). Pete Sixsmith wonders whether the fighting spirit we showed to get a draw, though no more, against West Brom can help us prolong an unbeaten record in London that stretches back to April 2010 …
At 3.06 on Saturday, the knitting needles were out as 35,000 of us contemplated a very public execution of Steve Bruce, preferably on the pitch at half time. The first draft of the Seven (Sixer’s seven-word matchday verdict – ed) had been written (“Inconceivable that Bruce can survive after this”) and, although we basked in glorious autumn sunshine, the atmosphere was icy cold.
Then, the players began to stir themselves out of their lethargy, play a bit of football and push the Baggies back. A correctly disallowed goal from Larsson was the catalyst and the old one two from Bendtner and Elmohamady restored parity.
From then on, we looked likelier to win than to lose and there was some disappointment that we lacked the final push to take all three points and complete the come back. Had we done that, we would have skipped down the stairs and gone home with light hearts thinking that all in the garden was rosy. Or maybe not.
There are some positives we can take from this. Whatever we think of the manager (and it’s not much judging by comments on here and on the message boards), he has not, as the pundits say, “lost the dressing room”. The reaction of Elmo to his goal – straight over to the manager – suggests that there is a decent corporate spirit amongst them and hopefully Bruce and Black will be able to turn this to good effect before we visit Ashburton Grove.
We played some decent stuff at times. Bendtner was outstanding and looks to be a far more complete player than either B£nt or G$an. Sessegnon showed some wonderful touches but needs to be more clinical with his passing and his finishing.
Brown did well after the horrendous opening and Turner improved as the game went on. He will be pleased to get a full game in after a long lay off. It was good to see Meyler back in first team action, even if it was only the last three minutes.
The crowd stuck with the team and encouraged rather than jeered, although there were no ringing endorsements at the end. “Could have been worse” was the general comment as we trooped out.
But the opening!! How can we explain that? Yet another unnecessary free kick led to the opener. Why Brown felt he had to commit a foul in that danger area is a mystery. Then he compounded it by failing to pick up Morrison, who headed in. For the second game running, Brown was exposed by a player bearing the same name as a Bradford-based supermarket chain. Extensive research shows that there are no Asdas, Tescos or Sainsburys playing in the Premier League; he can relax.
For the second, Gardner lost the ball and Turner appeared to be ploughing through treacle as Long outstripped him and fired home. That was followed by a string of misplaced passes before the players decided to stop making idiots of themselves and show that they can actually run, tackle and pass the ball to each other.
The failings did not disappear, but they were less pronounced. A better side than Albion would have kept hold of the game and gone on to win it comfortably, but they are similar to us – a lot of decent players but no outstanding ones.
Cattermole was recalled, struggled at the start, but was playing well when he was booked for a foul on Reid. It wasn’t as bad a decision as the one that Jack Rodwell got at Goodison, but it emasculated Cattermole and he had to be very careful not to pick up a second yellow.
He should have done for a reckless challenge on the same player, but the referee Lee Mason, perhaps realising that the earlier one was harsh, gave him a final warning. Bruce reacted quickly and took him off, replacing him with Colback, the spark went out of our midfield and the game meandered to an end.
Where do we go from here?
I would imagine that Bruce still has the month of October to show the owner that we are not in terminal decline. Games at Bolton and at home to Villa should be winnable if we can eliminate the basic errors that continue to be made.
I cannot think of one goal that we have conceded this year that was so good that it could not have been stopped; possibly Suarez’s at Anfield, but all the others strike me as being totally avoidable. Stupid free kicks given away, poor marking and a lack of composure in our own box have all contributed to this. Brown and O’Shea were supposed to give us defensive stability; it’s time for them to justify their large salaries and take command of the situation on the pitch.
Bendtner will do well up front but needs better service. I thought that McClean might have been given the last 10 instead of Ji, to see if he could cross the ball for the Great Dane.
There’s plenty to talk about over the international break. For what it’s worth, I see little point in dispensing with Bruce’s services unless there is someone lined up to replace him.
However, if we are showing no signs of improvement by the end of this month, I would be looking for a change and I would be looking for a young manager with something to prove. Pity Gus Poyet has just signed a new contract at Brighton – he would have done nicely!!