Seems we do after all have a game to go to tomorrow. And obviously a bloody important one. The number of home games we have left against teams that we would either expect (in normal circumstances) to beat or desperately need to beat is of course getting ever smaller and we simply have to win if we are to build on the relative improvement in performances of late. Every game (the exceptions that prove the rule being the coming replay against Norwich and conceivably a fourth round tie, hopefully against Orient) is now a cup final.
I find I’ve been writing less and less of late. There have been good reasons but also I’ve been feeling that there hasn’t been a great deal to say (it could be that I’ve nothing useful to say, but that’s never stopped me before). The die is cast regarding the manager and the type of team he seems to be putting together. There’s little point in quibbling and not much more in trying to speculate on who might come in during the window. It’s not as if we would have heard of any of them. There was a time .... but that’s long gone. Suffice to say that a 34-year-old right-back coming in for a month with the avowed intention of getting fit isn’t going to get the pulses racing, but who cares? If he does a job – which means getting clean sheets at home especially – it will have been good business.
The departure of Bouazza leaves me indifferent. Clearly its not positive, given the disruption to Parkinson’s plans, but in my opinion he hasn’t delivered for us what he looks capable of. It might look a little strange for Fulham to take him back and then offload him to Birmingham, but I guess it makes sense from their perspective. He is more likely to look good in a winning team, potentially increasing his value (or confidence if he returned) and Birmingham are more likely to shell out some money for him when the time comes. No hard feelings (at least not compared with their last-minute unjust equaliser and the sight of Murphy turning in good performances for them; damn, damn).
The sad element for me of Murty coming in is that it is further evidence, if such were needed, that Parkinson doesn’t rate/doesn’t trust Moutaouakil or Youga. We have brought in Cranie, McEveley and now Murty (assuming he plays right-back for us) to play instead of them. Both must be wondering why on earth they ever decided to come. Unless they wait in the wings for better luck next season it looks as though they will add their names to the list of signings over the past couple of years that just haven’t worked out. It is a long one (and Sinclair, Dickson, Fleetwood and McLeod would seem to fall into the same category).
If the rumours about Brown from Hull are true (and with only two recognised centre-backs we clearly need another), I would have thought that’s it for the defence. We’re back to three goalkeepers if Weaver is fit, Murty and McEveley are presumably the first-choice full-backs, while Hudson and Fortune for the moment have no competition for places. Holland playing there would seem to confirm that Semedo is not considered for that role.
Up front its fair to assume that Gray, Burton, Waghorn (if he stays) and Todorov (if he can play) are the main choices, with McLeod and Dickson in the cold. There are rumours of another coming in, but we are not especially short of numbers. What we lack as yet is a winning combination and that, for the moment, has to be dependent on just what combination we choose in midfield.
With Bailey out tomorrow it’s fair to assume that Holland and Semedo will play in central midfield. Without Bouazza the options out wide are Sam, Ambrose and Shelvey, depending of course on whether Parkinson repeats the formation against Norwich, using Shelvey in the hole and Burton as effectively a lone striker. Whether that is possible without two genuine wide men with some pace is questionable, but we shall see. And it’s not that long ago that Ambrose played in the hole. It’s difficult to think in terms of a midfield structure for the rest of the season until we know if and when Zhi and Racon are going to be available.
So still some way short of anything like a settled side – or stable finances if the accounts are anything to go by. I’m not inclined to get too spooked by last season’s loss, although it should serve to underline the backing that Pardew had to engineer a quick return to the Premiership. I’d be more interested to know how we are faring this year, given Richard Murray’s understandable intention of running the club now on effectively a break-even basis. That plan has probably gone out of the window in view of Pardew’s pay-off and what is now a desperate need to avoid relegation – and the further substantial cutbacks that would entail. Oh Dubai, so much to answer for.