The Difference that a Player Makes
This was a game that we had to win and not merely to erase the memory of the dreadful performance against Liverpool on Tuesday. And we did ... and I was there.
However, while I am ecstatic at the victory, we should be under no illusions that we have turned the corner. Before Cissé was sent off we never looked like scoring and QPR deservedly took the lead in the 15th. minute as a result of a typical defensive lapse. Bassong, who otherwise played a stormer, lost Zamora at the critical moment.
Indeed, even when we had a man advantage for fourteen minutes before the break, we played no better. It was like the end of the Liverpool game. There was no movement, no urgency and very little skill. The only half-decent play we put together came in the second minute of injury time, with fine interplay down the left flank which ended when Jarvis blazed high over the bar.
MM must have said something significant at half-time, though, because the players came out for the second half in a much more positive frame of mind. Within a minute we had drawn level, MJ volleying home a cross from Doyle, who had come on for Stearman. Whether or not the substitution was forced on Mick because of an injury to Stearman is a moot point but it worked. One can safely say that Doyle is back and playing as well as he has ever done.
For the next half an hour we were all over QPR, a repetition of the 30 minutes or so before half-time in the AV game. We should have scored in the 51st. minute when a header from Fletcher and a poke from SEB failed to cross the line. The incident occurred at my end and I still don`t understand how QPR survived. My friend and I feared that it might be a costly miss ...
... but It didn`t matter for once because Doyle netted in the 70th. minute. O`Hara started the movement, playing the ball through to SEB, who laid the ball off to Doyle to fire past the keeper from close range. Naturally, any WW goal is well received by us long suffering fans but there was real joy to see the Irishman finally end his goal drought. He`ll expect a start on Saturday against the Baggies.
Obviously, as we are WW, we failed to make it easy for ourselves by adding the cushion of an extra goal. On the contrary, we had to endure 10 minutes of agony as the home team exerted constant pressure, as we failed to maintain our momentum and slipped back to defend in and around our penalty area. QPR creatred several chances, including a long range effort from Traore which Hennessey superbly tipped over the bar. So, a normal day at the office for him.
When the final whistle blew after exactly four minutes of extra time we could finally relax, punch the air and hug our neighbours in the stand. For the moment the abiding issues which we need to address were forgotten and we could all bask in an unlikely victory, courtesy of a moment of madness by a volatile Frenchman.
So, as it`s now 11.30 pm, the euphoria has abated somewhat. What are the lessons to be learned from today? Firstly, it`s a bloody good job that we have Bassong and Frimpong on loan. Both are immense players, the one strengthening our defence with his composure on the ball, his positional sense, his soundness in the air and his ability to distribute the ball and the other adding bite to our midfield with his drive, finesse and solidity. I feared the worst when Manny limped off and pray that he is fit for next Saturday. We need him. I was surprised to see that Berra had to make way for Bassong because I have thought that he has been the more secure at CD than RJ, the shocking penalty against AV notwithstanding. Johnson started poorly but improved over time. It was his innocuous and perfectly legal tackle that provoked Cissé`s retaliation. I cannot confirm that statement because my MOTD recording packed up as the snow deepened.
Upfront, we ended with three strikers and, although it was down to the specific circumstances, it did allow us to compare them. Of the three, Fletcher looked jaded and less effective than the other two. He even missed his signature headed goal. Doyle, on the hand, looked sharp and in control, running intelligently off the ball and passing the ball accurately and with vision. SEB played his customary all-action role and exhibited one or two nice touches amid the bustle. He unsettled the opposition with his general belligerence. I`m still not certain that he is a PL performer though.
In midfield, it was good to see O`Hara back. He was quiet in the first half but became an ever more influential presence as the game progressed. We`ve missed him over the last few weeks. He will help make up for the loss of Frimpong, should he be out for some time. But, who are we going to play in the inner midfield with both our enforcers out?
To round off a near perfect day, on arriving home I saw that the other results had gone our way. Unfortunately, next Saturday we will have to do it all again but this time against 11 men. Even so, this win could be the fillip we need and it also pulls another team down into the relegation mire. Now, what must I do to obtain permission to see my third WW game in eight days?