Monday, 20 August 2007

Finding The Magic Brew

When they come to write the definitive guide to great sporting evenings last Saturday is not going to feature strongly - unless of course you happen to be a French Stoke supporter.

I suppose by the law of averages, involving some quirk of fate and/or a very unlikely liaison, there is somewhere out there such a person. We don't choose our teams, so maybe Pierre's Dad took the aspiring young Potter to his first game and he's been a supporter ever since. There has to be some reason why any French person would back the awful version of football that Pullis seems to embrace. Come to think of it, why would anyone want to watch their humourless, nasty, wooden team?

Of course this sounds like sour grapes, and it's not intended to gloss over our shortcomings on the day. But I haven't seen football like this since Cambridge took the long-ball game to its logical conclusion, involving advancing down the touchlines through throw-ins until they were close enough to deliver a bomb into the box. The system requires a couple of strong target men - and Stoke had them. It would be churlish to ignore the quality of Fuller's goal (or to just blame it on McCarthy). But after one team that came to defend in numbers and another that was happiest when the ball was hoofed high I hope we have seen the worst of the Championship (well, I suppose not as we haven't played Palace yet). If not, it's not just going to be a long, hard season, it's going to be a bloody boring one too.

That's done with the whining (well, not quite - I though the ref should have clamped down on some of the Stoke challenges sooner than he did, with a couple of promising moves deliberately stopped with fouls and no cards issued), let's get the negatives out of the way. On another day Pardew's changes might have worked; this time they didn't - and backfired. Weaver's inability to deal with crosses could easily have cost us dear; Yassin settled down to play well, but was beaten a few times in the shaky first 15 minutes in a way that Thatcher wasn't. McLeod was anonymous and Bent wasn't great. Ambrose and Reid both had good moments (the move that led to Ambrose shooting wide was the only piece of good football in the match) but I thought struggled overall.

I felt that we were a team falling between two stools, the excuse/reason perhaps being the players not available/not yet ready. If you want to play a passing game with movement don't bring on Iwelumo at half-time (of course his height was useful to help the defence but that can't have been the primary motivation). That sort of game is better suited for Todorov or Varney. If you're going to play a simpler game involving two big strikers don't have Thomas, Reid and Ambrose across midfield. Reid's best moments were when he came inside; presumably Pardew either feels he is too much of a defensive liability to play him in the middle or wants to accommodate Ambrose. Either way, only on occasions did it work and I felt left us lacking pace in midfield (with Sam not getting enough of the ball). It may well be that with Racon and Zheng getting up to speed Reid and Ambrose are competing for one place.

If Yassin is out for a few weeks I can only assume that Sankofa comes back into the reckoning; hopefully he is up for this having been effectively passed over with the signing of Yassin. Along with Gibbs and Faye he makes up the (so far) invisible trio. And before making any judgements on the team Pardew presumably had Todorov, Varney, Holland, Racon, Zheng effectively unavailable and Gibbs and Faye seemingly out of favour. Along with those actually involved on Saturday there's a good team waiting to get out. I just hope the blend and key partnerships will be formed before too long - and that all concerned have the patience which may be needed.


Anonymous said...

Pards must have some idea what his best eleven is but I'm blowed if I do. If we fail to get promoted in the next couple of years there will be a hell of a lot of dead wood to get rid of.

Anonymous said...

Agree totally with the 'Stoke look like Cambridge' comment.
It was painful to watch - like rugby union players gaining field position with put ins/throws more than football.
I have a sneaky feeling that we'll be the ones with smiles on our faces come May though.
The passing game will out!!!!