No Palace Revolution
If I woke up yesterday with a self-inflicted hangover (I only got to bed at 3.45 a.m.), the one I am suffering from today was caused by a bunch of headless chickens. While our players put in a little more effort than they had done on Saturday, they still lack the brains seriously to trouble the opposition.
Of course, SEB did score, providing us with a glimpse of what he was doing so effortlessly when his Championship goals helped us to promotion at the end of the 2008-9 season. Chesting down a Stearman free kick, he turned and shot: perfect! Even so, by then I had filled my notebook with references to his failure to do exactly that over the course of this (and previous) games.
If only Davis`s screamer from a distance had hit the back of the net instead of the post, it might have given the players the boost they needed. Although he made mistakes (who in the team does not lose possession or mishit/misplace passes?), at least he tried, was capable of beating a man and of making ground.
Searching for any other positive thing to say about our play, I can only point to the welcome return of O`Hara. He replaced Sako in the 60th. minute and immediately made an impact. At last, we had a bona fide playmaker on the pitch, one with the vision and the skill to assist our forwards ... but are they operating on the same wavelength?
Of the others, only Sako showed flashes of skill and application. Crosses still go begging, however. And, he is no longer the ace he used to be, as opposition managers detail two defenders to marshal him. He also has a tendency to over-complicate, sometimes ignoring a better, more direct option. In the 49th. minute, for example, he beat his man at the corner post but instead of driving into the box and shooting, he turned back and the opportunity vanished.
To go to a WW game at the moment is like watching the Groundhog Day film. You know that we are unlikely to score, that we will lose possession and misplace passes and that we will let in a goal or two. It`s the certainty of it all that takes away the enjoyment. Where there`s no hope, there`s no tension. I rallied a little after SEB`s goal but it would have registered as a slight blip on the cardiograph. It would have helped had we pressurised CP a little more effectively.
What has happened to the team over the course of the past three months? While we did lose to CP at home on 2 October, we completely outplayed them in the first half. Indeed, we started brightly yesterday and, although we did not look like scoring (Davis`s effort apart), we were holding CP for the first quarter of the game. The crowd was in good voice too. Then, CP scored and it all fell apart.I wouldn't worry so much if we were making progress but we've gone backwards ... a long way!
Whatever one thinks about individual players, collectively the team is capable of much better performances than this. So, who is to blame? The easy answer is that they have lost confidence and that in trying to avoid error make it more certain that they will commit them. Alternatively, one might argue that SS has addled their brains by trying to impose an alien system on them. If so, the charitable conclusion is that it has confused them. The cynical view is that they are deliberately sabotaging their manager`s efforts.
Is it the manager`s fault? As a person, he seems aloof and, it is said, rather abrasive. This suggests that he might have alienated players by trying to change the system too abruptly and paying too little regard to the tender feelings of a squad traumatized by relegation. Optimistic bloggers point to the time it takes to revolutionize a team`s mode of play, but how long does it take? How many hours have they spent on the training ground at Compton struggling to come to grips with notions which are easy enough to grasp and only a little more difficult to execute. After all, our squad sits on (or very near) the top of a very broad pyramid of footballers. Surely, they have proved their ability to accommodate new ideas.
Is the board to blame? Many of us have pointed out weaknesses in the team, ones which have remained unresolved. Once again, our lack of pace and power at the back was apparent yesterday and if one might argue that Ward and Foley will not often meet such a tricky pair of wingers in the Championship, they regularly are found wanting. While we have bought players, the money has not always been used effectively, and gaps remain. Why have we not recruited a new central defender, a full back or two and a striker?
Of course, I want the club to remain financially viable and not take the Pompey route to destruction. However, the board's over-cautious actions (I`m being charitable here) are taking us down an equally disastrous path. Going on past experience, the board will not free up all the money available to us to remedy the situation in this window.
And, if money has to be used wisely (and it should), why have we spent it on the wrong set of priorities. Why did we earmark millions of pounds to ground improvements before we had built a team capable of attracting the crowds necessary to fill the stadium. It`s not as if ours is sub-standard, an impression reinforced by the experience of viewing the more basic facilities at places like Crystal Palace, Fulham and QPR. At times, one wonders if Mr. Morgan, our chairman, has a hidden, non-footballing agenda. He bought the club for nothing under the promise to spending £40m. on players. When one extracts money he has made from TV rights, parachute payments, sales and property developments, how close to that figure has he got?
Well, we shall soon see because the board has to act quickly and decisively while we have the opportunity to do something about it. Specifically, it has to back the manager and give him the funds necessary to bring in players capable of working to his plans ... and get rid of those unwilling or unable to adapt. Alternatively, it has to sack him because he clearly has failed to get the current crop of players to carry out his instructions.
Critics might argue that it would mean further delay because the new manager would have to start from scratch, assessing and evaluating the squad before making decisions on tactics and personnel. If so, why has MM had such an instant impact on the fortunes of Ipswich? There comes a point when the only possible course is a fresh start. Reluctantly, because I bought into the Solbakken revolution, I am coming round to that point of view.
In the short term, we have to utilise our assets as best we can, including looking at replacements for the under-performing members of our first eleven. Fortuitously, the Luton match on Saturday provides us with a great opportunity to see how individuals like Batth and the returning Cassidy shape up. Even better, I would play Griffiths upfront with Cassidy because they complement each other. I watched the Hibs-v-Kilmarnock game over Christmas and Griffiths impressed me with his ball control, his vision, speed of thought and ability to bring his team-mates into play. We have criminally neglected his talents, perhaps on account of his youthful cockiness. We could do with a little swagger upfront.
If nothing is done, we are in for a rocky ride to the end of the season. At the moment it`s difficult to predict where we are going to get any points: you couldn`t even bank on us beating Bristol City and Barnsley. I`ve never felt more depressed about WW in my whole life. It`s no fun supporting them because the players do not seem to be making an effort. They appear to be going through the motions and they transmit this attitude to the fans, who either boo or, as in my case, merely cease to worry. Yesterday, my abiding concern for most of the second half was to get the dreadful spectacle over with as quickly as possible. Afterwards, I even turned down the opportunity of a drink at the nearby Clifton Arms: I just wanted to put the whole ghastly experience behind me.
This month is going to be one of the most critical ones in our club`s history and I fervently hope that the board makes the right decision. Welcome to the new year, if a depressingly familiar one!