Well, that was the weekend that was. I don’t know about the rest of you but I still feel shellshocked and unable to make sense of the display against Preston. All you can say is that it was more worrying than just a bad day at the office. That the team may have had little idea how to play together was perhaps understandable; that too often they were pressured into lumping balls forward – and were seemingly happy to do so – suggests either a very poor game plan or motivational or fitness problems with key players. For me it was as disappointing as it gets after the vibrant and entertaining football we have in recent months shown we are capable of producing.
First things first. To my mind anyone entertaining the notion that we would be better off without Pardew needs their head examining. So does anyone who thinks a manager is not going to make mistakes. Mistakes after all are errors of judgement, nothing more. And unlike most businesses football is a zero sum game. Preston deserve all the plaudits for Saturday. So, by implication, does their manager. What’s far more important is an ability to absorb and to learn.
There may well come a time when it will be better for us to part company with Pardew – although the odds are heavily in favour of the eventual parting of the ways being down to another club wanting him than us wanting rid. But that time is, I hope, a very long way off. Let’s not forget, Dowie didn’t get the job because he was the greatest manager in the world. He got the job because we weren’t exactly flooded with quality applicants to replace Curbishley and he seemed the best option at the time. As it couldn’t have turned out worse for us that goes down as a possible error of judgement on the part of the board. Doesn’t mean it was a clearly bad decision, or that on the basis of it we want changes there. Obviously not. (By the way, I do not feel in any way qualified to comment on the announced departure from the club of Peter Varney. I have never met him. But what is clear from others’ comments is that those who have have nothing but good to say about him, which says enough for me.)
So that’s that one cleared up. Criticism is fine as long as it is intended to be positive. Booing the players from so early in the game on Saturday is plain daft and those who did should feel ashamed of themselves. This is a well-worn debate with nothing new to add. All the time just ask yourself what good do you do and are you contributing to a happy outcome?
After the game I felt very much like I had after the Hull game. Disappointed with the result, alienated by the performance. At that point I all but wrote off our season in my head, to the extent that I couldn’t get upset losing at home to Colchester. It was a fair game and a fair result. The trouble with this bloody team is that it can’t make up its mind whether its world-beaters or relegation-fodder. A few changes, adapting to the loss of Reid, and suddenly we’re playing like we could win the league. Then we go to Scunthorpe and prove we can’t. Pardew is quite right to remind us (on the club site) of the recent good displays and to encourage us to keep the faith. We will, just allow a little time for another wound to heal.
What is now clear is that this collection of players has shown that collectively they are not good enough to be consistently better than others in this division. Might seem obvious but maybe it needs stating. It does after all involve a change in my expectations. We have singularly failed to go on a run of wins as we are not strong/good enough to be able to overcome bad luck, setbacks etc. Pardew may have come to the same conclusion himself. Is it a managerial masterstroke that, having concluded we could not get automatic promotion with what we had, it is the better option to bring in new players on loan, even at the cost of short-term incohesion, so that we can peak for the play-offs? Let’s hope so.
In the immediate aftermath of the Preston game I said I didn’t want us to get a play-off place. A part of me still feels like that. In an ideal world we would accept that we have thrown together a collection of players and asked them to gel despite crucial injuries and enforced changes of tactics to cope and that we have a better chance next season of dominating the league and getting promoted with a decent chance of staying up. But in the real world we have to accept that it’s better for the club if we get promoted somehow, get no points next season, and return with the finances in better shape. Promotion this season by whatever means still has to be the goal.
One negative thought, which may need expanding on another day but which does not bode well for the play-offs, should we make them. This team and the club in general has not so far coped well with pressure. Before we developed delusions of the ‘next step’ we valued character. Lawrence went for players who had it in buckets (Shirtliffe, Miller, Peake, Melrose etc), so did Curbishley (Kinsella, Robinson). Pressure games in those days we won (Leeds, Chelsea, Sunderland). Since we went back up we have either managed to avoid pressure games – Curbishley was a master at keeping us out of relegation fights and when we finally found ourselves in one we capitulated. And last season going into Easter I would still have made us favourites to stay up, notwithstanding the Tevez disgrace. In the end the team couldn’t cope with the pressure and buckled in a way that previous Charlton teams would not have done.
Does the team now have the character to succeed under pressure? Well, the jury has to be out. The pressure games we have won (Stoke, Palace) have been ones where we scored first (and against Stoke we nearly surrendered the win in the final minutes). In others (Watford, Bristol City) we have got ourselves into the position to win only to fail to see out the game – indeed, to finish the games looking more likely to be beaten than to win. Going’s getting tough guys and we have to show the character to get into and succeed in the play-offs. What was most disappointing about Preston was that absence of character.
Anyway, at least I’m not alone in talking nonsense in the immediate aftermath of a game. At least Wenger had the good grace and intelligence to retract his comments on Taylor. It would be surprising to see Ferguson perform a similar U-turn. If he doesn’t I hope he picks up a decent fine for his offensive remarks about a referee. Man City had a better shout for a penalty over the weekend than Man Utd but Ericsson accepted the decision. No, it doesn’t mean that Ferguson is a winner and the others aren’t. But the prize for the funniest weekend remark came from Ronaldo about feeling afraid to play his natural game in England. That natural game would be more at home on the stage than a football pitch.
As for banning players for life for deliberate attempts to hurt opponents? It doesn’t need to be said that any such notion is unworkable as the principle is unprovable – unless the player states intent (aka Keane). Two of the worst tackles I’ve seen in recent years (let’s leave aside Muscat’s assault on Matty Holmes) were Alan Smith on Richard Rufus and, more recently, Wayne Rooney’s attempt to cut in half Chris Powell. Powell saw him coming and jumped up. If he hadn’t his standing leg (probably the other one too) could have been decimated. Rooney had clearly lost his temper, for whatever reason. So would the authorities call for life bans if the player in question is not a Birmingham defender but one of the most valuable in the country?