Survive and advance. Not much more to say about the ins and outs of this one. We are playing Chelsea early next week and it will be much tougher than this. After three away wins win which only for the second half burst at St. Mary’s did this squad look anything like we hope it will be, we know should get three home games on the trot, presuming that Leyton Orient has been sufficiently compensated and we can forgo that particular fixture.
Quick goal followed by a typically frustrating remainder of the first half when we wasted, stalled, stuttered and Jose did more than mutter on the sidelines. Dele was too slow—again—, though he got one good chance away, Bergwijn and Son each ran a good chance into the ground, Winks and Ndombele were each guilty of lazy passes that presented Shkendija with a chance to counter. In the second half we had a miserable time clearing the ball under only modest pressure before Davies finally made a poor long pass which was easily intercepted leading to a shot Hart had no chance to stop—Dele the final defender too slow to the ball.
So just as fan frustrations were mounting, Jose inserted Kane and Lo Celso for an ineffective Winks and a disappointing Dele, and soon thereafter the game changed. Real threats led to a Son strike from a rebound and an easy Kane header (our fifth free header of the game) to put it away. Seems like we avoided injury, so bring on Newcastle this Sunday—we owe them one for last year.
As I watched that final 30 minutes, for the first time I could actually contemplate a midfield pairing that seems is finally coming to fruition. Tanguy Ndembele seems to have passed the Jose test—as he played all 90 minutes—guilty of a couple of careless passes, but effective throughout. And he was joined by Giovanni Lo Celso at the end. Why can’t we expect years of this combination—both inventive, one left-footed, the other right, both aggressive, both seemingly prepared to make the effort to boss the middle of the park.
Tuck them behind Son-Bale-Kane with either Hojgberg playing as a third pivot or Sissoko or Winks behind, and when we need goals, Lucas or Bergwijn or Lamela running at pace or causing trouble just ahead, and I think we’ve got the makings of a real dynamic attack group. Sadly it is Dele who seems the odd man out—I just can’t see how he can fit except as an occasional substitute or starter in a cup game when Bale, in particular, might need a break.
Far from our best, but good enough.
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