If Swansea was reassuring, Reading was inspirational, and Wolves was sobering, this was a fully-fledged reality check. We weren’t terrible, on another day we would have won comfortably. But neither were we robbed. We were pretty ordinary and with the breaks going against us lost to a pretty ordinary team, one which had two shots all game but which defended a lead quite comfortably for more than half the game. It was depressing, with any notion that The Valley can become a fortress for us this season quite frankly already out of the window.
Contrary to prior reports both Linvoy Primus and Martin Cranie were in the starting XI – although neither would finish the game. This limited any perceived need for further changes of personnel, with the shape of the team the same as for previous home games at least, with Andy Gray returning in a basic 4-4-2.
The first 20 minutes or so I thought were poor and shapeless, on the part of both teams. But we could have been 3-0 ahead. First, a Primus header from a corner came back off the inside of a post. Then rather surprisingly from a scramble from another corner the ball broke to Luke Varney and he scored – apparently, I thought the keeper had saved it until everyone wheeled away in triumph. Then came the incident that seemed almost irrelevant at the time but, just like our failure to score a second against Wolves, came back to bite us. Varney turned well in the box but instead of planting the ball into the bottom corner of the net he picked out the same spot as Primus. The rebound fell to Gray and instead of putting it into an empty net he blazed over the bar.
Sheff Wed had done absolutely nothing in the game so far. But then a certain Wade Small picked up the ball and decided that if the defence is flat and you run at an angle you can slice through it. He did, running from around the centre-spot to the edge of the area without a real tackle, before scoring with aplomb. Having seen that, a few minutes later Marcus Tudgay decided to do something similar. I don’t think Nicky Weaver had much chance with either shot, but how two players were allowed to slice through our midfield and defence will be something for the training ground on Monday.
It was a little stunning to be behind at the break, given the balance of play. It was less surprising to be behind at the final whistle. We did create some openings. Lloyd Sam, who had another mixed game, put in another couple of delightful crosses, Darren Ambrose came on - the formation in the second half seemed to fluctuate as Primus and Cranie departed for Ambrose and Basey after Svetoslav Todorov had come on for Gray - had for and had a couple of good shots (in between a poor free kick on the edge of the box). Varney nearly broke through, helped by Todorov’s passes. But overall we just didn’t do enough and seemed unable to up the pace. Wednesday were able to sit behind the ball and run the clock down reasonably comfortably.
There was a wonderful cameo moment in injury time. We won a corner and Weaver sneaked forward to add the extra body. It has to go down in footballing history as the most pointless foray forward by a goalkeeper. The corner curled out of play for a goal kick.
If the first didn’t, the second half highlighted our weaknesses. It wasn’t a game for Todorov to make an effective return, with Sheffield packing the space in front of their area, and we weren’t really able to shake things up. There wasn’t much of a plan B, although whether Primus and Cranie were unable to last 90 minutes and that curbed our options I’m not sure. We looked short of real quality against a team which had been given a chance and had taken it.
I was a little disappointed that Jose Semedo had not come into the team in place of the injured Jonathan Fortune. He has filled in as a defensive midfielder and full-back and I thought this might be his chance. The case for Yassin Moutaouakil returning, despite defensive mistakes, is there, while Ambrose, Zheng Zhi and Jonjo Shelvey have to come into the picture. What has been a fairly settle side so far this season did not look impressive today. It’s up to Alan Pardew to decide whether the combinations can get better or whether there is a need for change. That’s what he’s paid for. Me? I’m off for more red wine in a desperate effort to forget.
Weaver: 7/10. I wouldn’t blame him for either goal and apart from those two shots had nothing to do – except kick better than he did against Wolves.
Cranie – 6/10. Adequate but uninspiring. May have been carrying an injury.
Youga – 7/10. I’m not sure whether to give him 4 or 8. Much of what he tried did not come off, and he may have been partially culpable for their first goal at least. But he was trying through the game and nearly made things happen going forward.
Hudson: 7/10. Seemed in control through the game, but we conceded twice.
Primus: 6/10. Nice to see him back, apart from the fish factor, but didn’t last the game and his header came back off the post.
Bouazza: 4/10. Disappointing. After some good runs and crosses in the first half faded completely out of the game. Should have been taken off.
Holland: 6/10. As it says on the box. Dropped back to central defence and did all he could, to no avail.
Bailey: 6/10. Not bad, but not a great game either.
Sam: 6/10. Mixed. Seemed unable to create space or make himself available when he didn’t have the ball, but delivered crosses that could have turned the game.
Gray: 5/10. Well policed by their defence and missed a great chance. Disappointing.
Varney: 7/10. Gets a point for scoring and caused them problems. Just not enough of them.
Subs: Ambrose (looked lively, hope he can play a real role for us this season as he has something that few have at this level); Basey (was as anonymous as Bouazza); Todorov (not the best of games for his return, but great to see him back on the pitch).