Maybe I’m just getting cranky in my old age. Maybe I got out of bed the wrong side. Maybe I was still feeling alienated by a dreadful first-half performance by the crowd, many of whom seem to have forgotten (or never had) the idea that support is most needed when things aren’t going right. But I didn’t feel ecstatic about the recovery from 0-2 on Saturday. Relieved, yes. Happier than at 3.45, undoubtedly. Confident that this was the turning point? Well, not yet.
My overriding feeling was that through a combination of poor team selection/formation, poor defending, plus some bad luck (we weren’t so bad as to merit being two down after 15 minutes; sometimes it just happens) we nearly conspired to drop points against a very bad (at least very limited) team. We – especially Pardew, who should carry the can for the first half – got lucky.
I’m not suggesting that we have some divine right to win these games, and we know that it’s going to take a little time for a strong team to emerge from the options available, especially given early injuries to forwards and defenders, with Pardew having acknowledged that he has yet to get the balance right. But perhaps it will help if a couple of options are ruled out here and now (just why some of them arose as options is beyond me).
Bent and Iwelumo together up front? After the Stoke game I assumed it was clear to all that this is not a viable combination, unless we are relying on long balls in some desperate attempt to chase a game (or if injuries leave us with just this two). Neither played especially badly in the first half, but they held the same line with no movement deep or forward, with the result that the Wednesday defenders were able to hold their positions and cramp the space in the final third. Todorov, with movement and intelligent lay-offs, made a world of difference. He was a key factor in their defence being pulled apart. If we play with Reid, Thomas, Zheng, Ambrose etc the forwards have to work to create space for them.
Reid on the right? One of those things you try on the training ground – well, the guy’s all left foot and does his best work inside, so try him wide right and he can come inside. One of those things that having seen it in a competitive match needs to be filed under ‘don’t try again’. Ever. At least Pardew had the good sense to make the change for the second half.
What else? I thought Samedo was our best player in the disjointed first half, but Zheng’s introduction was the third key factor to the second-half recovery. I’m sure Samedo goes out with a defensive midfield brief and he did it well. Presumably at 0-2 and facing humiliation Pardew told ZZ to go for it – and his intelligent movement and passing, plus his extra drive, paid dividends.
Weaver? Do we sing his praises for the save at 1-2 or continue to carp about the confusion that any half-decent ball into the box causes us? In the final 10 minutes on Saturday I still thought we could lose as any corner or free kick for Wednesday caused us problems. Deano wasn’t the best at coming for crosses, but the defence got used to this and adapted. He still controlled his area. One thing that worries me is that there seemed to be no communication between Weaver and the back line. It’s up to the goalkeeper to organise the defence. Sort it out. Please. And a word of praise for McCarthy. He didn’t look a natural at right-back, but that’s not surprising. He went out and did a job without fuss.
Reid and Ambrose? Still for me the biggest issue. Potentially these are the two players, plus Thomas, who could put us apart in this division. Equally Reid does his best work coming inside and is no winger, Ambrose can play telling balls and make very good runs but does not give the impression he can control a game from central midfield. I’m still not convinced that we can accommodate both – and if we do I’d be inclined to have Reid central and Ambrose playing wide.
Overall maybe it’s best to focus on Napoleon’s lucky general phrase, while accepting that we won’t find a way back against better teams than Wednesday. I hope we get to see Racon and Varney against Stockport. After all, if we don’t get more options how can we be expected to keep ruling them out?