An Encouraging Team Performance
For various reasons the last match I attended was the one against QPR at home. Consulting the calendar in my season-ticket pack, resplendent with its Gala Apple Union Jacks stickers (my wife`s response to seeing them stuck on various kitchen utensils when I wash an apple), that game took place on 17 September.
It`s been a frustrating 17 weeks and although I have been able to follow the team on a murky freeview channel, I would prefer to support WW in person. I am therefore pleased to be back, thereby enabling me, as A4D so eloquently put it, to share in the misery. And it has been a miserable time in my absence, the abject surrender to QPR marking the beginning of the slide down the table, and wiping out the euphoria of the first three matches. August seems so long ago.
At least, it has made the website hum with activity. Whereas discussion of potential recruits has remained somewhat low-key (most of the contributors have adopted a world-weary or cynical view according to temperament), the part that the coaching staff and the board have played in landing us in this predicament has been hotly debated. It`s all good knockabout stuff but as likely to affect club policy as I have of convincing the happy-clappers that I really am a genuine WW supporter.
At the beginning of December a friend of mine, the one who enticed me back into the fold by taking me to Craven Cottage last season, asked me if I wanted to watch the Spurs at WHL. That seemed like a good idea, given that I could not travel up to Molineux and that he would act as minder for me. If I survived the trip, I could contemplate a visit to Loftus Road on 4 February, a real six-pointer ... or perhaps not by then!
So I bought a couple of tickets and a romantic dinner for two ... not with my friend, of course, but to provide an opportune moment to tell my wife. It didn`t work. She thought that I would be jostled and that the constant twisting of my neck would slow down my recovery. I assured her that this would not be the case as I only had to focus on the WW goalmouth. She wasn`t convinced: she`s obviously a closet MM fan.
It was therefore with a mixture of excitement and anxiety that I made my way to Victoria Station yesterday lunchtime to meet my friend, his son and daughter and their partners. Clearly, a football supporters` transit stop and watering hole, I noticed Spurs, Chelsea and Leeds fans but no-one supporting our team. Preparing myself for the hike down White Hart Lane, I took in liquid refreshment and joined in the discussion: 0-3 was the consensus of opinion, based on an assessment of how well Spurs are playing at the moment.
We reached the ground at 2.45 pm and finally saw some WW supporters. Settling into our seats in the corner of the ground, I had a panoramic view of the pitch, a bonus for a bloke with a stiff neck. Then the game started and I couldn`t see. Blimey, I thought, as I stood up, I 've been transported back to the Jack Harris stand. It also made writing notes particularly difficult, as I found out when I had to decypher the scrawl this morning.
I had been waiting a long time for this moment and it didn`t disappoint: an exciting game and an unexpectedly good result, even if my nerves had been torn to shreds by the final whistle. Akela`s statistics might show that Spurs outplayed us but it was a battling performance by our lads and we fully deserved the draw. And, there was an element of luck about the Spurs goal too, Modric`s shot squeezing in under an unsighted Hennessey.
And we had our chances to win. Edwards missed a sitter in the 36th. minute (which looked even easier on MOTD) after good play down the left flank. Frimpong might have scored just after half time but his fierce shot was well saved by Friedl. He looks like an upmarket version of Guedioura but with the same puppyish lack of discipline. He's as likely to pee on your carpet as he is to s*** on the opposition. If we can channel his energy, he's going to be a great signing for us. Just what we need. MM wisely pulled him off in the 66th. minute after another red-blooded tackle threatened his continuing involvement in the game anyway.
Amazingly, as in the last two seasons, we seem to stumble across a 'winning` formula in the new year, even if, strictly speaking, it`s a 'drawing` formula at the moment. We really do have to win a few games if we are to survive. And we might. The set up, with Henry and Frimpong operating in front of the back four, makes us far harder to break down and provides protection for the defenders. When O`Hara returns, playing behind Fletcher, we will score goals, that is, if our wingers can consistently drop the ball into the box.
It was a great team effort yesterday and all of the players raised their game. We harried the Spurs man on the ball, tracked back quickly and double marked danger men like Bale. Our central defenders were solid- Johnson is returning to form and Berra is doing a 'Ward` - and, as a result, most of the Spurs shots were long range efforts which usually cleared the bar. Of course, it was not all that easy: we are still not helping our cause by sloppy passing (often due to the failure of other players to run into space), poor control and our inability to move the ball effectively out of defence. All too often, we merely hand the ball back to the opposition, who run it straight back at us. And can we adopt an alternative tactic to the hoof upfield?
It was great to see Foley in the starting line-up. He is our most dependable defender and, if I miss the sight of Zubar charging up the pitch, I can put up with that if I don`t have to worry about our right flank being turned. Ward had a harder time on the left but coped. He moved into midfield when MM brought on Elokobi in the 84th. minute, the manager`s reasoning being that George was the closest thing to a Don Everall`s bus that he had at his disposal.
Kightly, while not yet back to top form, is certainly improving and deserves his place. Both he and Jarvis have the ability to beat their man, but on yesterday`s showing they still lack a certain amount of self-belief. I would like to see them 'pin back their ears` and just go for the corner a few more times. To be fair to Jarvis, he was up against Walker, one of the nippiest FBs in the PL. Fletcher, therefore, had few crosses to head home, though he poached a typical goal after a glorious corner kick from Jarvis. For once, Johnson`s header was on target and Fletcher netted Modric`s clearance off the line.
At the back, Hennessey is still performing heroics, keeping us in the game and restricting our goals against total. I was disappointed to see him let in a shot, which on other occasions during the match he gathered with ease. Rerunning the goal on MOTD, I noticed that Modric`s shot luckily avoided several defenders` legs, while the same players obscured WH`s view of the ball. If only ... no, it`s churlish to say anything bad about WH!
It`s a good job that we are picking up unexpected points in the capital because the teams around us are making a fight of it. I note that yesterday a ten man Samba-less Blackburn beat Fulham and moved out of the bottom three. They`re only a point behind us now and with a better goal difference. We have to hope that Newcastle and MC do us a favour. At least, we pulled back a point on WBA!
We certainly returned to the Seven Sisters Station yesterday with a lighter step, though my friend`s son, a Spurs supporter, was noticeably more subdued than his father and me. At Victoria Station the beer slipped down very easily, encouraging us to believe that we can survive but without it hiding from us the enormity of the task ahead. I repeated this assertion to my wife when she met me at the station but all she was interested in was picking up the curry.