Before the game we were trying to think of the last game against Sheff Utd we’d enjoyed. The unanimous verdict was a 2-0 victory at Selhurst Park in the promotion season under Lennie Lawrence. No need for any revisions on that front then. We have (famously) conceded five or more at home and got something from the game. But it’s blindingly obvious that the improvement in the last two away games has not extended to avoiding giving away poor goals. Thirteen conceded in four games and everything else becomes irrelevant. This was a key game after two resolute away performances; but just about everything that could go wrong did.
So, let’s go through the goals. In the first few minutes, having failed to score the early goal that could have changed the game (it was something of a scramble in their box), an attack broke down with Sam left on the floor. A cross to the far post seemed to be being dealt with. But instead of the ball going into the proverbial row Z they were allowed to reclaim possession and it was squared to of all people Beattie. I’d need to see it again, but it was Youga’s area and I’m assuming it was down to him. At least we had got the obligatory Beattie goal out of the way and the game proper could begin. Only problem is playing 4-5-1 at home and behind and chasing the game from the start is not ideal.
A soft foul on Sam, decent free kick delivery and Primus buried the header. 1-1 and it should have been game on. Then a free kick for them and Speed, who has made a career out of escaping markers in the box, was given a free header to give them back the lead. Whose fault? Well, whoever was supposed to be marking him.
Conceding a goal just before half-time is always heart-breaking, but conceding three either side of the break is just about criminal. No doubt about their third. A fairly harmless cross was Weaver’s all the way. He dropped it (he may have been fouled but it wasn’t obvious) and the loose ball was buried. Another cross early in the second half got a touch on at the near post and Youga couldn’t avoid it coming off his toe into the net. Their fifth was apparently quite well worked, but as I was texting the latest update at the time I can’t really say. Let’s blame that one on the cat.
Bouazza pulled one back with his one meaningful contribution of the game (he did have a run and shot in the first half). But any thought of an unlikely comeback effectively disappeared a little later as Gray, possibly Bouazza, put it wide with only the keeper to beat.
Sheffield had other chances, including in the first half when Weaver came well out of his goal and with his clearance managed to find Halford (he of the returning long throw). His effort from well out came back off the crossbar. More chances were missed by them towards the end, but it really didn’t matter. We had a few chances too. Ditto.
To try to be reasonable this wasn’t a case of a spineless performance the like of others of late. There was no lack of effort and at times we didn’t play badly. We just looked like shipping goals and did. It is pointless to talk about whether we played well in the last 20 minutes – and certainly Holland and Bailey, both of whom were anonymous in the first half, came into the game and looked more comfortable when we switched to 4-4-2, with Youga departing, Semedo dropping to left-back, and Waghorn coming on to accompany Gray and then Todorov when Gray was replaced. Whether it was a case of the formation suiting them better or Sheffield sitting on what they had is impossible to say.
Did anyone have a good game? Not everything he did worked and sometimes he seemed to take the wrong options, but Sam was lively and involved throughout. Primus made a number of clearances and could have scored more than one. Semedo did his job in the centre and then at left-back; and Moutaouakil was pretty good. Gray worked hard to no great effect in a system which relies on both men either side of him pulling their weight. Against that Weaver’s frailty from crosses has hurt us in two consecutive games now, Hudson looked more uncertain than in previous games, Youga seemed to let his own goal (and possible earlier mistake) get to him, while Holland and Bailey failed to impose themselves on the game in the first half. But again its all meaningless when we give away poor goals. It’s another match after which if anyone asked me if Sheffield were a good team I’d have to say I don’t know. They didn’t have to do that much to score and win the game comfortably.
Can Pardew survive this? In his defence its not his fault if individuals give away goals, other than to the extent that he has picked them. What is curious, especially in view of the goals we are shipping, is that the loan signing to date is a forward, while another loan signing, Cranie, didn’t feature. Before the game it seemed that the defence at least effectively picked itself. That assumption has to go out of the window in light of the mistakes made. On the positive side it seems that Racon and Fortune are close to being back in consideration, hopefully Zhi before too long. Thoughts that we might have found a new formation and more resilience have just flown out of the window. Whether the manager carries the can for this we will just have to wait and see. For now its a case of another depressing summary of another depressing afternoon. Time enough for reason tomorrow.
Weaver: 4/10. Made one decent save when the game was lost. His error before half-time might have been enough to finish us off. Clearly there is a decision to be made over whether Elliot comes in for QPR. One off day is acceptable and happens to every goalkeeper. But his confidence on crosses and general decision-making are low and you just can’t afford that.
Moutaouakil: 7/10. I don’t think he was culpable for any of the goals (unless he was involved in the fifth). The blame lies elsewhere, although I see from the programme interview that he is deeply religious. Maybe having him and Primus in the same defence is costing us as divine intervention does not seem to be working in our favour.
Youga: 4/10. Costly errors saw him substituted. Seems that there is a serious question mark over his position in the team, which is a great regret as when he is playing well he adds a great deal to the team.
Hudson: 6/10. Did a lot right and can’t be blamed for any goals. But it did seem to me that he was less dominant than in other games this season. He’s still a big plus for us, but marshalling a defence that’s shipping goals can’t be good for anyone’s confidence.
Primus: 7/10. Scored one, could have had more. But played in a defence that shipped five goals at home.
Sam: 7/10. As above, was involved and lively.
Semedo: 8/10. Has to have some culpability when you are the defensive midfielder and we concede five. But I don’t think he did much wrong and slotted in capably at left-back.
Holland: 5/10. Seemed unable to influence the game in the first half. Came into it more in the second when we changed formation, but it was too late by then.
Bailey: 5/10. Same as Holland.
Bouazza: 5/10. Gets a plus for another goal but otherwise was out of the game. Always looks capable of so much more.
Gray: 6/10. Not easy to play the lone central forward when you’re losing the game at home. Is he able to not train with personal problems and then play?
Waghorn: 7/10. Not easy to judge in this situation. I hope he plays for us in better circumstances.
Todorov: 6/10. Came on when the game was lost. Was involved in one or two chances.
Collectively the scores look too high for what was another thrashing at home, another game when the last 20 minutes were meaningless as the game was lost. But in the midst of it all this game was about individual mistakes which cost us dear, not the abject overall displays that we have seen of late. Still lost though.