Seems it worked when I promised to eat cheese if we won (before Leicester); promising a large takeway and more wine (before Notts Forest) obviously didn’t cut the mustard with the powers that be. So what to opt for ahead of Burnley on Saturday? As we only won at Leicester by the odd goal in three, and lost by two clear goals against Forest, there doesn’t seem to be much margin for error in finding something less distasteful than trying cheese and less enjoyable than the takeaway while still ensuring the right outcome. I’ve got no ready ideas, but will consult my French partner Suzanne (who is the closest thing to a power that is that I know).
She will no doubt point out that last Saturday’s result was set in stone as soon as I had taken back the egg and bacon muffin in the Eurostar buffet on the way back to London. We’d been stopped just the French side of the tunnel due to another train breaking down and, given uncertainty over the length of the delay, I thought it prudent to get something before they sold out. Just a sandwich would do. Try finding one without cheese, so the muffin it was. As I opened the steaming, limp packet just extracted from the microwave, it was clear that it wasn’t dripping with just moisture and melted lard. It was bloody cheese. I went back to check the menu and, sure enough, it said ‘egg and bacon muffin’. When I pointed out that the item was not exactly as described, there came back an incredulous shrug. Why would someone possibly object, or think this in any way curious? It was nevertheless willingly exchanged for a full English, not exactly what I had in mind but Hobson’s Choice. Is it enough that I promise not to turn away from cheese if confronted with it?
I’m almost happy to leave Saturday to fate, as most other things tried for home games haven’t worked (and I can’t remember what I had in mind before the Cardiff game). There are some good reasons to help explain why our away form (and results) have been the better of the two this season, involving formations, expectations, pattern of play etc, plus good and bad fortune; and that’s not unique. But just four wins from 17, and two of them coming against top-six sides, really does stretch the imagination. The fact that our home statistics are identical to those of Wolves isn’t any comfort; only Peterborough have secured less points (one less to be precise). As Sir Chris pointed out on the club site today, we’ve got the fourth-best away record in the division and this far into the season the contrasting form can’t be put down just to varying fortune.
Powell talked of the Championship being a “brutal” division. Compared to the relentless slog of League One it is, in that your mistakes tend to get punished much more consistently (Forest’s wayward finishing notwithstanding) and better defences result in most games being decided by small margins. If only the standard of refereeing was better. I’ve seen the replay of the Kermorgant sending-off, and noted Powell’s comments, but still feel that the decision was harsh. That might be down to the rather different angle we had from the East Stand, looking pretty much down the line. Sitting there it did seem that Yann swung a rather tired and aimless leg in the direction of the ball, which was being shepherded out. There was no chance of making contact with the ball, but that didn’t make it a deliberate kick on the defender (who was of course Halford). It was silly to the extent of perhaps being a cheap shot and as it invited the officials to make an interpretation, one which from their angles may well have appeared differently.
Whatever, we are without Kermorgant for the three games and that has to force a decision on the line-up for Saturday. There’s been plenty of talk about the drawbacks of playing 4-5-1 at least at home; trouble is, the record playing 4-4-2 hasn’t been any better. And now, having effectively swapped Wright-Phillips for Obika, we are back having three available strikers (one or more of the youngsters could come into the equation but are unlikely to be considered for the starting X1). If we had a full complement of four available the pressure would no doubt be on for a standard front two.
Nobody covered themselves in glory last Saturday and a number of changes could be made, but if all are fit for me the major decision is whether we stick with 4-5-1 and begin with Fuller on his own, perhaps asking Haynes to adopt a wide role, or change to 4-4-2, in which case for me Haynes is a shoo-in and his partner is whoever seems to work best with him in training, whether or not it’s Fuller. The time they were together last Saturday wasn’t encouraging, (I thought Fuller’s contribution was weak) but it wasn’t the best game to judge.
Irrespective of formation, the individuals chosen simply have to play better than the ones last time out, before and after the sending off. The frequent inability to hold and/or pass the ball with any accuracy or intent was shocking; let’s just hope it proves a one-off and has been forgotten. And although the focus is on midfield and the enforced change in attack, surely the priority – even at home - has to be to do something we’ve not managed since early December: keep a clean sheet. If that means being patient, fine. Let’s just not interpret keeping things tight as an excuse to waste the ball when we have it. Winning the individual battles and getting a grip on midfield is after all the best way to keep the opposition from scoring.
I do usually try to avoid such matters in a football blog, but being in Lyon when the Spurs fans were attacked can’t be just ignored. I was nowhere near the centre when it happened (I was on Friday evening, by which time the pub concerned had been repaired and nobody would have known anything had gone on). It goes without saying that the actions of a small group of disgusting thugs have nothing to do with football, nor are they in any way representative of Lyon. All the people I know there are horrified, and ashamed, by what happened in their city (and Suzanne was especially impressed by the interview with the Spurs fan attacked outside the pub with his son, for his considered and balanced comments). I’ve always found Lyon to be a delight, with people there as friendly as it’s possible for the French to be and with no evidence I’ve come across of the sort of social tensions seen elsewhere (Suzanne lives in Duchere, which has a strong North African-origin community). I was there during the ‘riots’ but from what I saw in Lyon these amounted to youths taking the opportunity for some summer fun; it was (and is) nothing like Paris in that respect.
That said, the attack on the Spurs fans did happen in Lyon and it’s not enough to just brush it off on the grounds that all cities have a least a little scum. I don’t think Lyon will do this. Suzanne sent me the local reports covering the arrest and charging of three Lyonnais. Hopefully there will be more and that those involved are dealt with appropriately.
Only remains to note that Lyon Duchere brushed aside PSG II in their latest game, winning 2-1 away (I don’t believe that they came up against a certain Mr Beckham, which might have been fun for them) but have actually dropped to third in the table as scheduled midweek matches for Duchere and Mulhouse (Suzanne did find it very funny when I mentioned them, saying the name of the place as it is written; ‘ha, you mean Myluz’) were postponed while Grenoble thumped Auxerre II 7-0 to overtake them both. Much as I too like Grenoble as a city, their team contributed to the dire match that I sat through against Duchere (0-0 doesn’t do it justice), so I can’t warm to them. Anyway, they’ve played 21 against 18 for Mulhouse and 19 for Duchere and have only the same number of points as Mulhouse and one more than Duchere. As you get one in this league for turning up, with 15/16 games to go it still looks like Mulhouse in the driving seat and Duchere hopefully set to pounce on any slip-up, although if I read the fixture list correctly it may be that Grenoble are the only one of the three with a league game this weekend, which means they will go at least one point clear if they put out a team. Hopefully they’ll be too busy eating cheese.