The Persistence of Error
I have been mulling over the comments that surfaced in reaction to the Bolton defeat, ones that pointed out our inability to cut out basic errors in our play. It`s a topic that has rumbled on all season: indeed, I posted an article on the subject on 4 October, in an report entitled 'Whistling in the Dark`.
At that point, we had lost four successive matches, three of which, typically, had occurred against teams currently languishing in the bottom half of the PL. I argued in that article that comments made by the management and players showed them to be in denial and that they were not focusing on real issues like this one.
I quoted Berra as saying on 25 September that, 'Everyone makes mistakes and it gets highlighted ... Hopefully, we`ve addressed it ... We know if we switch off, we`ll get punished and we`ve learned from it`. Have they? After Zubar`s extra time blunder against Bolton, MM commented that, 'He didn`t mean to make a mistake but a mistake it was and we continue to make them. And if we keep doing it we will keep getting punished`.
Absolutely: so why weren`t they eradicated beforehand? What goes on in training at Compton? Perhaps, as Berra suggested last Monday, because mistakes should merely be forgotten and not dealt with. He admitted, 'As defenders we will make mistakes - it`s all part of the job title - and you just have to make sure you bounce back`.
A trawl through the quotes uttered between the writing of the two articles reveals that management and players alike are aware of the problem, as well as the detrimental effect that crucial mistakes have had on the team`s results (and, consequently, the club`s PL standing).
After the disappointment of losing a close game against MU on 6 November, the manager complained that, 'We gave it away - it was us that let that slip for us to lose that game. I`m not going to go into detail because that stays between me and my players... I think we could have defended both goals better`. Were Henry and Ward given extra coaching to put matters right?
Then, we let in an early goal in three consecutive matches, a fault which should only have happened once, if errors had been properly identified. Against Arsenal on 10 November MM described the shipping of the first goal as, 'dreadful in getting dislodged as easily as we did`. Yet, on 13 November we made 'a really sloppy start` against Bolton but, as MM promised, 'We`ve got to dust ourselves down and get back to the drawing board`.
Unfortunately, the drawing board itself gathered dust because against Blackpool on 20 November, Mick observed that, 'We`ve conceded after two minutes ... a wonder strike - but still poor defending ... And then we`ve conceded again just before half time`.
And so it continued. On 4 December a good start came to nought when, as MM noted, 'we defended badly from a corner which gave them a goal and then defended even worse if we could have done for the second`. Stating the obvious, Mick continued, 'We`ve got to keep going and working at it`. Ward`s reference to a long team talk the following day gave cause for optimism because, there, the players identified what was going wrong and resolved immediately to do something about it [about time!]. As Foley said on 7 December, 'But we keep chasing games and it`s something we`ve got to learn from`. Mick repeated the sentiment the following day by commenting that, 'we have to stop making defensive errors`.
Initially, the victory against Birmingham on 12 December made it appear as though we had learnt the lesson. Then came the dire performance against Wigan on 26 December, which suggested otherwise. The manager made the point: 'We`ve committed hari-kari on two occasions ... they were two very poor goals to concede defensively`. So, how did the team respond? Quite well, according to MM, who claimed on Tuesday 28 December that, 'We came in on Monday and they were all honest, accepting when they`d made mistakes, and accepting they`d played badly and wanting to put it right`.
Wednesday brought a fine victory against Liverpool. But, if one were tempted to think that the players had finally sorted out the problem, our abysmal performance at WHU`s ground on the Saturday proved that it had been yet another false dawn. Summing up the season, MM observed that, 'we made a couple of errors in the game and were punished and when we had our chances we didn`t take them`. So, as Zubar reported on Monday 3 January, it was back to the training ground to put things right.
He clearly did not brush up on the offside rule, however, given his elementary error against Liverpool on 22 January. As the manager phrased it, 'We let them off the hook in the first half with trying to play offside and that opened us up. It was a dangerous one to play because he was running from deep`.
I could go on, but I have surely made my point. The team is good enough to compete in the PL, as victories against Chelsea, Liverpool, MC and MU prove. However, this season they have had a poor record against lesser teams, ones we have to beat in order to survive. As the evidence presented here reveals, basic errors have let us down ... time after time after time. They should have been eliminated months ago.
Quotes from MM and the players over the season apparently indicate that they are attempting to redress the situation ... so why are the players still making these errors? As MM so pithily put it, 'How are we bottom of the league? Because we`ve been bobbins against West Ham, Wigan, Bolton, Blackpool. They`ve all had points off us, the teams around us. And we`ve got to stop that. It`s alright basking in the glory of beating Manchester United but we`ve got to beat the teams in and around us in the table`.
Absolutely: we are not out of the mire yet.