Pressing the Self-Destruct Button
This result disappoints me more than the outcome of any game this season. This was a game we could have - and should have - won, but we gifted the game to Aston Villa, thanks to an unnecessary foul by Berra in the box, a dreadful clearance by Jarvis and a moment of madness by Henry. And it`s dumped us into the relegation zone. Oh dear, I have just heard that Bolton have gone 1-0 up.
After the high of the Spurs game and the low of the FAC match against Birmingham City this was a crucial game for us. And we started poorly, conceding a penalty in the 11th. minute, which Bent converted. It seems as though Berra panicked after failing to control the ball and lunged at the attacker.
However, this reverse seemed to galvanize the team and we dominated the rest of the half, scoring two goals in the process. Leading the charge was Kightly, who was playing a blinder. With prompting from Frimpong, a massive presence in midfield, he ran Clarke ragged down the right flank. In the 21st. minute we scored. Frimpong drove forward before passing to Kightly, who turned inside and perfectly threaded the ball home past an AV player and beyond the reach of Given.
We could have gone ahead in the 27th. minute when Henry`s shot was blocked on the line by Albrighton. Two minutes later Edwards missed a sitter, merely heading Jarvis`s cross into the hands of the AV goalie. Fortunately, he atoned for his miss shortly afterwards, steering home a powerful header by Johnson from a corner.
At this point WW were tearing AV apart and, pessimist though I am, I thought we could go in at half-time two or three goals to the good. It wasn`t to be and AV came out and scored in the 52nd. minute. Jarvis picked up the ball near the WW corner flag but, instead of controlling it, he took a wild swing. It ballooned up in the air and Clarke, under it, headed the ball on to Keane, who hit it beyond WH`s outstretched hand. Perhaps Wayne could have stopped it but it was just one of those days.
Even worse was to follow a minute later. Frimpong, whose partnership with Henry, has transformed our midfield was hit in the face. Unlike most contacts between players this was genuine and after several minutes on the floor, he had to be stretchered off. Immediately, our team fell apart. It just goes to show how important to the team are key individuals. To add to our misery, Kightly was seeing very little of the ball.
If the strength in the tackle and the dynamic running of Frimpong suggested Guedioura as a replacement, we were to be disappointed: Milijas trotted onto the pitch. All impetus disappeared. Finally, in the 73rd. minute the red mist descended on Henry, who stamped on the prone Albrighton. The AV winger made a meal of the lightest of touches but there was only one outcome and off Henry had to go. Thank you very much Karl: that`s both our enforcers out for a few games.
We held on for ten minutes but were always struggling. Eventually Keane administered the killer blow, a screamer from 25 yards that went in off the crossbar. Who said he was over the top? Although the referee played eight minutes of extra time, we were never going to score and we were left with the bitter thought of what might have been.
So, what now? As a result of events on the pitch, our chances of survival have lengthened appreciably. While Kightly`s return to form will help us, the problem will be to get the ball out to him. And, we have been dangerously weakened in the inner midfield, an area in which shortcomings in the past have let us down. We are likely to concede a lot more goals in the upcoming matches. We can only hope that Frimpong`s injury is not as bad as it seems. He is vital to our survival. As for Henry`s action ... well, it was idiotic.
The defeat is also going to have an impact upon MM, who was coming under a lot of pressure as a result of the defeat on Wednesday. It upset a lot of people not only because we lost to an average Championship side but also because that`s what we looked like too. Somewhat unexpectedly, it caused a tidal wave of anti-MM sentiment, certainly on the websites. It was very reminiscent of the hostility the manager faced last October, which peaked during the course of the Swansea game. Incredibly, MM was able to play a 'Get out of Jail` card then and he survived.
This time round, he might not be so lucky. This surprises me, even as an MM doubter, because I had not reckoned on the strength of the reaction to the team`s poor performance in a competition which has become merely a side-show to the real business of PL survival. As I blogged after the match, I was philosophical about the outcome. While I would welcome a cup run, if only to extend DDV`s season (I bet he regrets his decision to ditch Swansea), it`s not at the top of my wish-list.
Incredibly, given the twisted order of priorities displayed by the board over the allocation of funds, they seem to be at one with me in this. MM fielded a side that looked weak at the back, fragile in midfield and toothless up-front. It was as if he wanted us to lose so that he could concentrate on the PL. In this respect, he had to win today to justify his policy ... and we lost. Never mind, about the two great goals and the exhilarating play for a quarter of the match. We lost and we are third from bottom, with a gap opening up above Blackburn, a point above us.
When combined with murmurings from the chairman about the unacceptability of our position, now made worse, MM might be in trouble. With further development of the ground being postponed, will money be made available to buy players, perhaps under a new manager. If the board has finally woken up to the precariousness of our position, perhaps they will open up the treasure chest, though they will have to oil it first. But do it quickly, there`s only ten days left.