It`s not a game of 45 minutes each way!
In the 44th. minute I pointed out to my friend that we were entering the danger zone because our players seem to think that each half lasts precisely 45 minutes. Two minutes later Johnson, on his goal line and already thinking about his half-time cup of tea, left a ball for Ikeme. If our goalie was never going to reach it, Ince could and he netted the simplest goal he`s ever likely to score.
In that instant, RJ`s loss of concentration arguably cost us the game. Up to that point we were coasting, comfortably containing Blackpool and even scoring a goal. In the 15th. minute a Peszko pass found the overlapping Zubar and his inch-perfect pass dropped onto SEB`s head and into the net.
While we were not engineering clear-cut chances, we were working the ball forward quickly and delivering passes to players running into space. The appearance of O`Hara, Peszko and Zubar in the starting line-up was largely responsible for this improvement in our play, though we have to thank Ward, who injured himself in the warm-up, for this.
I was particularly pleased to see Zubar return to his best form (hence his picture in the frame: let's try and be positive) and he has probably saved his WW career as a result of his performance today ... that is, if he wants to resurrect it! I hope the injury that forced him out of the game in the 68th. minute is not serious because we need him against Leicester on Thursday. Hunt, his replacement, is no full back and was rusty as a winger.
Watching Peszko play reveals that Foley is no wide midfielder either. The Pole was his usual combative self, winning balls and running into space. However, as he often hurried his crosses, he did not make the impact that his energy and tenacity merited. O`Hara also added something extra to our game. If not everything he attempted came off, at least he has vision and the ability to pass the ball to an unmarked player ... on the same side and over a distance. He also confounded DS`s criticism of him not being a team player. He tracked back, defended when called upon and on one occasion dispossessed Ince with a glorious, well-timed tackle.
Had we gone into the break with a one goal lead, the second half would probably have taken a more favourable course. The players would have grown in confidence, while the opposition would have become desperate in their search for a goal. In fact, the opposite occurred. Blackpool pushed up more strongly, while defending a higher line at the back. Our play, on the other hand, became ever more frantic and disjointed.
The critical moment came in the 52nd. minute when a JOH cross caused consternation in the Blackpool defence. The ball fell to SEB a few yards from goal and with a clear view of the empty net. Agonisingly, he shot straight at the goalie. On other occasions, he squandered promising openings by a lack of ball-control.
I told my friend that SEB's miss would probably come back to bite us ... and so it proved. In the 77th. minute Ince drove forward from midfield and, unopposed, smashed the ball into the net from outside the penalty area. Ikeme got a hand to it but could not deflect it round the post. How many of this type of goal have we let in?
To provide a symmetrical end to each half of the game, Johnson`s mind again went AWOl in extra time, this time retaliating to a push by decking the perpetrator. At least, this will give Batth his opportunity, especially if the absence of Stearman from the bench indicates his imminent departure.
At least, the loss has concentrated our manager`s mind, with reports tonight suggesting that he has realised the need for fresh blood. If he doesn't have to convince the long-suffering supporters in the stands of that, he might have more difficulty in persuading the board to embrace that course of action. To reiterate, we desperately need a LB, a CD or two and a target man upfront.
On the train back to London, full of disconsolate (but surprisingly philosophical) WW supporters (and two happy Blackpool fans), my friend and I considered how many of the team we wouldn`t want to leave. After Ikeme and Sako (and possibly JOH) we stalled ... and we even put a question mark against Sako. It`s not that don`t recognise his talent, merely concluding that he is wasted in our team, as currently constituted. And, he is not the force he was: even the quality of his dead-ball deliveries have deteriorated.
It`s no fun going to a match any more. I can accept defeat if we see players making a real effort, attempting to pressurise the opponents and create chances, even if we lose to a better side. It`s the aimlessness of much of our play that is so frustrating: by that I mean that we hardly ever create a half-decent chance, never mind a shot to test the opposition`s goalie. At the same time, I expect us to ship a goal at any moment. A major contributory factor is the lack of leadership on the pitch. Henry is no Ince or Bailey and his nervousness on the ball and poor ball distribution (leaving aside his penchant for committing reckless tackles) do not inspire confidence in him.
My expectations have dropped to so low a level that I have come to fear the worse, even when, like today, we were in command of the game for most of the first half. Welcome to Molineux, Deano, you have a tough job ahead of you and to compound the problem some of those opposing your efforts are in the same club!