The home team troop off dejectedly to a chorus of boos from their fans after being thumped by a four goal margin. Sound familiar? But this time it’s not us and, even more surprising, it’s us handing out the thumping. As Del Boy might have said in Only Fools and Horses had he been able to speak French properly, “Quelle surprise.” ( Which I think is French for “Fuck me, I didn’t see that coming!!!!”) Well, I don’t know about the rest of you, but, while an away win itself was no surprise, given that our away record has been very good in terms of points accrued, I didn’t expect four goals and a clean sheet. Our miserable ‘goals for’ and ‘goal difference’ tallies, home and away, have hardly prepared us for that.
So, what went right? How did a team that had a few days earlier only managed to fluke a win at home against Everton with, Jermain Defoe’s injury time shot apart, our only shot on target suddenly discover where the opposition’s goal was to such great effect? Were we so good or were Newcastle so bad? The truth, as in many similar games this year, is probably somewhere in between. Newcastle clearly missed Cabaye and Remy yet it still required
Hugo Lloris to make some important saves at crucial times. And this time our forwards were not as kind to Krul as they’d been at the Lane earlier in the season, when the TV pundits’ and sports reporters’ praise for his record number of saves (14 was it?) to help secure Newcastle’s 1- 0 win overlooked the fact that a number of these were due as much to some poor finishing on our part, an Erikson toe-poke straight at him from six yards out particularly sticking in the mind.
We only have to look at some of our own heavy defeats this year to see that games that end up as a thrashing can turn on one or two incidents; a missed chance, a goalkeeper error, a defensive mistake, a disallowed goal, an unjust penalty and/or a sending off, for example. Obviously there’s no excuse for a team folding completely just because a couple of decisions go against them but anyone who has actually played the game at any level knows how a goal at the right time can galvanise teams, whether they be chasing the game or struggling to hold on to a lead. Last weekend, had Everton had an Aguero or a Suarez, or even, maybe, their own Lukaku, they could have been out of sight by half time, such was our distressingly inept start to the game and, even without such riches in their front line, we still needed Lloris to rescue us on a couple of occasions before we got to grips with the game.
Certainly, we’re not alone in having been on the wrong end of a few thrashings – we only have to look back to last weekend again to see Arsenal shipping four goals in 20 minutes at Anfield. On the subject of Liverpool’s goalscoring, I still wonder whether it’s a case that this is disguising some defensive problems that might undo their challenge and that, should they lose Suarez to injury (this year he seems to have learnt that his manager’s instructions to show more bite weren’t meant to be taken literally and he’s therefore unlikely to be suspended again), they might find that his form ( like Gareth Bale’s for us last season) is making them look better than they really are. And Man. City haven’t been blowing teams away the way they were a few games back since losing Aguero. ( Typical of our luck that he pulled his hamstring after dismantling us at the Lane, when we’d much rather he be available to hurt other teams now that we don’t have to play them again).
Undoubtedly, Adebayor is a key player for us at the moment. It’s a sign of a striker on form, or at least in luck, when he can be virtually anonymous for most of the game, as he was against Everton, then score from his first real chance, then score with a tap-in and a mishit bouncer at Newcastle. I still worry about whether he can keep this going or if he’ll go on a mental and/or physical walkabout sometime soon, leaving us all scratching our heads again, but, for now, we should just enjoy him while we can, I suppose.
The same goes for our run of league form, and we’ve got to give Tim Sherwood some credit for that. I can’t remember whether he himself made the comment or whether it was one of our fans at the start of his tenure as manager, but I seem to recall the phrase ‘bog standard’ being bandied about when we quickly reverted to a 4-4-2 formation after AVB’s departure. Wednesday’s game at Newcastle suggests that Tim isn’t wedded to that, thankfully, and that, reservations about his apparent dislike for holding midfielders apart, he has some tactical nous. Dembele playing on the right for a while and bullying defenders with his strength and skill in places where it was likely to hurt the opposition was an interesting, and seemingly successful, idea, for example. And Bentaleb, who has seemed a fairly safe pair of feet in terms of keeping possession in midfield, showed some hitherto unseen attacking qualities, his cross from the left leading to Ade’s first and his cute backheel giving Chadli that chance for an easy tap in for our fourth.
Apart from the results, I’ve got to say that I also admire the way Tim conducts himself when speaking to the media. It’s refreshing to see managers not whining about referees every time a decision goes against them and not looking for easy excuses. He seems to have a good sense of humour – which he’ll need, obviously, in his position – and, at the moment, it would be hard to imagine him getting caught up in the kind of mind games Mourinho is playing with Wenger and Pellegrini.
Maybe that will change if, by some miracle, Spurs don’t get their usual late-seasonal attack of top-four vertigo and we somehow become a threat to Chelsea. The best way to do this, of course, would be by going to the Bridge and winning there for the first time in God knows how many years. Personally, I don’t care if we go there and ‘park the bus’ or play ‘19th century football’ as long as we get a result. And, much as I don’t like Sam Allardyce’s style of football, his ‘I don’t give a shite’ response to Mourinho’s comments after West Ham’s 0-0 draw there a while back is, I feel, a good template to adopt for how to handle the Portuguese master of sports psychology.
A good win at Anfield would also be just what the doctor ordered, particularly since our failure to qualify for last year’s Champions League can be traced back to our throwing away a comfortable winning position there with two ludicrous defensive mistakes. Certainly, we don’t want it to come down to goal difference. Not unless our Newcastle performance is the start of something and not an aberration. Our next home game will hopefully tell us one way or another, as it’s there where we’ve really struggled to create chances, and I live in hope that it’s not a case of normal service being resumed without delay.
Before the Newcastle game we were 5th with a zero goal difference, having scored only 32 goals in 25 matches. That performance should now fill us with confidence to go on and build a much healthier goal difference. No looking back. And no looking down –no more vertigo attacks.
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