Beaten but Unbowed: Part 2
Well, we lost but in the cruellest manner possible. WH, who had kept us in the game in the first half, gifted MC a goal with a momentary lapse in concentration. Then, he failed to hold on to a shot and Kolarov tapped it in. If it`s any consolation to Wayne, Hart did the same thing, which indirectly led to our penalty and goal.
I was looking forward to MM`s team selection with interest, given the advice he had been given over the past few days by bloggers on the various sites. My first reaction was: where was Milijas? Possibly, MM did not want him injured for the vital game against Wigan next week or he did not think he would put in a sufficient tackling shift. Probably the latter.
As expected though, we lined up in a 4-5-1 formation with JOH slotting in behind Doyle. It`s his favoured position but it didn`t make it any easier to score goals. No-one even shot on-target in the first half, with too many balls being fired over the bar from a distance, a feature of our game that continued through the second half. I`m all for having a go but be sensible ... and keep the ball down.
The second half continued in the same fashion with MC doing most of the pressing and looking far more dangerous as they homed in on our goal. As in the first half, their passing and running were superb and they engineered numerous chances. Thankfully, their shooting was wayward and we survived.
Our defence proved more obdurate too, a welcome improvement on last Saturday`s showing. Johnson had his best game for ages and Berra played alright. Ward, as ever, was outstanding. Indeed, his over-lapping runs down the wing gave us one of our best attacking options. With Zubar running down the other flank we won`t need proper wingers (apart from the feisty Hunt) ... and we seem to play better without them at the moment. But, I`ve read that Zubes wants to play at CB and that could be a solution to a problem.
The midfield kept a tighter rein on their counterparts too, pressing them throughout the game. Henry was more solid, though he still gives the ball away with his sloppy passing. At last, Guedioura was selected for the first eleven. In the game, he buzzed around as energetically as ever, sometimes to good effect and sometimes not. He, along with JOH, were the worst culprits in the misdirected, speculative shots from a distance stakes (though it was his shot that led to our goal). Even so, it`s nice to see someone actually try to make something happen, even if he is sometimes rash, falls over his feet and gives the ball away. He recovers well though. .
Upfront, Doyle was his usual industrious self without looking likely to score a goal for most of the game. But, no-one did, until a rebound off Hart fell to Doyle, who was fouled by Kompany as he prepared to tap the ball in. Hunt coolly slotted home the penalty. Now, MC were on the back foot, as WW came sweeping forward. It seemed like a replay of last year`s match. Pity about Johnson`s goal at the end, as it denied us a grandstand final couple of minutes.
So, what did this game prove? It showed that we can raise our game when required , even if we had to rely on some uncharacteristically poor finishing by MC and the brilliance of WH in the first half. The problem is: we`ve been here before. If we can contain a team like MC for much of the game, why can`t we play with the same level of commitment, drive and energy against the Wigans of the PL. Perhaps, we will next week ... we jolly well have to. And, today`s game should give the lads a confidence boost ... just as long as it does not degenerate into complacency.