All evening Bale’s ability to carry the ball forward at pace seemed as though it was likely to be our best chance of a goal and so it ultimately proved. With ten minutes to go he for once found a bit of room after Holtby and Defoe had moved the ball quickly into his path and sprinted forward. His run was nearly ended by a crude Tettey challenge but he made into the box and finished expertly. It was the least we deserved having had much the better of the second half but it was still a real relief to see it go in.
It was a poor quality and pretty uneventful game overall but especially in the first forty-five when Norwich’s goal and Defoe’s miss were the only things to distract from the wind, the up and unders and some robust tackling from both sides. In that first period we were outnumbered and outplayed as Parker and Dembélé failed to impose any rhythm and Bale and Lennon struggled to find space. Our full-backs were pinned back and just about all of our players seemed to decide that the best way forward was to smack the ball skywards into the carrier bags, crisp packets and newspapers swirling over the stadium in the hope that by some miracle it would end up at Defoe’s feet. It never did of course and our front two were left isolated and unable to affect the game at all. The whole side seemed to lack intelligence, composure or the physical ability to cope with the Norwich midfield in particular.
That the ball never stuck to Defoe or Dempsey hampered us hugely but AVB’s response brought immediate improvement after half-time when we looked the better side from the off. Bale was sent to join Defoe up front with Dempsey more on the left. Walker and Benny also pushed much further forward, the former especially. We had more physical presence and it enabled us to force the home team back; even the wind dropped, as though it realised it was now up against a much more formidable being.
Lewis Holtby had spent a lot of the first half warming up on the touchline and all of the interval on the pitch. The other subs were cocooned in gloves, hats, duvets and pyjamas but Holtby was virtually fully stripped and ready for action, minus headgear and in short sleeves even on this miserable evening. He got his chance with about 20 minutes to go when he came on for Dempsey. He straightaway provided some much needed impetus and drive and was instrumental in the equaliser. We’ll see a lot more of him that’s for sure. I’ve always assumed that he’d play off a forward but the perfectly good tackle (for which he was unbelievably yellow carded) and the fact that he stayed back to be the last man at a corner suggest he’s got bite in his game and perhaps fielding him alongside Dembélé (Parker looked very limited last night) might be an option.
West Brom on Sunday, still probably minus Adebayor unfortunately. We’ve had three draws in a row, each hard fought and each the result of inadequacies up front rather than anything. If Defoe’s not scoring he’s hardly worth playing he brings so little else to the game, he should’ve equalised before half-time in this one and done better with a chance later on. Bale’s genius got him off the hook; we should appreciate it whilst we can.
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