Saturday 1 December 2007

Tonight I Hate Three Gits

Let’s get the niceties out of the way first. I’m not even going to try a lame joke about positives. There weren’t any. Once more at home we’ve not played well enough to deserve to win, we fell foul of set-piece moves that were clearly worked out on the training ground and must have been tried in their previous games, suggesting poor planning, Burnley offered an unpleasant excess of aggression, and the officials were dreadful.

We didn’t lose this game because of the referee, Shoebridge, or his yellow assistant Evetts. But yellow was appropriate for them both, given two incidents in the first half.

Danny Mills became entangled with one of their number and tempers flared. But it seemed to be over when another Burnley player came in from behind and clearly kicked Mills. It was deliberate, premeditated and a sure-fire red card. It was right in our line of vision from the East Stand and in the line of vision of Mr Evetts. He ran onto the pitch, presumably to talk to the referee who may have missed the incident. But when he couldn’t get his attention he drifted back and said nothing. It was gutless.

Then just before the break came what proved to be the pivotal moment of the match as Iwelumo was grabbed in a headlock by the Burnley defender going for a high ball. It was right in front of the referee, who decided instead that Iwelumo, once he had broken free of the unwelcome embrace, went on to foul Kiraly.

If the officials had done their jobs we could have gone in at half-time at 2-2 and playing against 10 men. If there is a replay of the first incident and the Burnley player is given a retrospective red card I will feel even more steamed up over Evetts’ cowardice.

Now for us. After the defeat against Sheff Utd Pardew did change things around. Can’t say that before the game I liked the look of it, but let’s give it a go. Out went 4-5-1 in favour of 4-4-2 with what looked something like the most experienced 11 we could put out. Both wingers (Sam and Thomas) were dropped (I assume), with Sam on the bench, with Reid moving back out wide left and Ambrose on the right, while Holland replaced Semedo (also on the bench). Varney started, while Chris Powell came in for the injured Basey.

A midfield of Reid, Holland, Zhi and Ambrose. Three Premiership players and China’s captain. But on the downside there’s no genuine wingers and no pace. So it proved. Throughout the game we singularly failed to get in behind the Burnley defence or to stretch them. It meant poor service into Iwelumo and Varney – and it has to be said that Burnley’s method of dealing with Big Chris proved effective while Varney again came up short. He worked hard, had one strong shot in the second half, but overall our midfield didn’t produce enough and our front two didn’t make much of what came their way.

Of course we lost because we conceded goals. In the first 20 minutes Burnley won two free kicks in dangerous positions. Both decisions were harsh in my view. But first time around the ball was played in with pace and a Burnley player got to the ball first. A deft touch gave Weaver no chance. It was a training ground move and we should have been prepared for it. So they decided to do it again. Same type of ball in, same result. Just bloody awful.

We created little in the first half, just one decent move. Ambrose, who had a hit and miss game, went on a super run down the right and squared it on a plate for Zhi. For the second game running he missed a key chance, with his first touch letting him down this time. But at least we got back in the game as an indifferent cross was flicked on by a defender and Reid took it on the volley. The shot was simply unstoppable.

The game was still on at half time, the problem being that we weren’t playing well. And quite frankly nothing changed in the second half. We threatened a few times, had the ball in the net (with Iwelumo ruled offside), but at no time were coherent or able to really stretch their defence. Of course, they were content to get behind the ball and defend what they had. Who could blame them? Running the game out for a 2-1 win or at worst 2-2 was looking good for them. Then we decided to gift them a third. From a cross it was clear that Mills’ hand came up to the ball. I don’t know if he was pushed. If he wasn’t it was inexplicable. 3-1 and game over.

Sam, McLeod and Bougherra came on with little chance to change the game. The only thing of note there was booing when McLeod replaced Varney, possibly the first time a Pardew decision has not been accepted by some in the crowd.

I don’t want to try to draw any conclusions. There’s another two games coming up over the next week and I have no idea what formation and players Pardew will put out. What are our problems? First, after four clean sheets the defence has shipped six in two games, suggesting that the run of zeros was flattering; six conceded in six games is probably closer to reality. Second, we are still struggling to find the best combination in midfield – for a Plan A and a Plan B. Third, collectively our options up front look inadequate (I’m disappointed Dickson is staying at Gillingham but if Pardew thinks that’s best all round so be it). Apart from that we’re laughing.

This season is just proving impossible to make any sense of. We go on losing runs and winning runs – and don’t seem able to produce any consistency, or to be able to impose ourselves on teams. It’s not enough to say that’s just what this league is like. We aspire to be promoted, and believe we have a squad capable of achieving this – but have been turned over at home by Plymouth, QPR, Sheff Utd, and Burnley, while failing to beat Scunthorpe and Barnsley.

Tonight I hate three gits: Shoebridge, Evetts, and the Plymouth defender who took out Todorov. With Todorov out of the picture we just don’t look like the same outfit.

Player ratings:

Weaver: 7/10. No chance with the goals once more.
Mills: 5/10. Was looking like man-of-the-match but inexplicably gave away a penalty and seemed unbalanced after that (a little like against QPR after a bad mistake).
Powell: 6/10. Deserving of sympathy for having to come in after injury. Worked hard but looked rusty.
Fortune: 6/10. Looked OK for most of the game but don’t know who to blame for two headers from two set pieces.
Sodje: 6/10. Same as Fortune.
Reid: 5/10. Sorry Andy. Took the goal superbly but otherwise was crowded out and didn’t have the pace to get away from their players.
Holland: 6/10. Looked capable and did get on the end of one in the box. Just like it says on the packet.
Zhi: 5/10. Bad game. Missed a good chance.
Ambrose: 6/10. Did some good things and doesn’t deserve some of the stick he gets.
Iwelumo: 5/10. Repeatedly fouled and didn’t get the protection he deserved. But if I was a Burnley defender tonight I’d be telling myself ‘job well done’.
Varney: 5/10. Worked hard but no evidence of understanding with Iwelumo or suggestion that he would punish Burnley.

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