Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Befuddled But Happy Thoughts

I’ll plead guilty to any charge of dereliction of duty. Instead of dashing back home after the final whistle (perhaps with some leeway to stay for Sir Chris’ celebration) and scribbling something asap, we felt an urgent need to raise a glass in tribute. Then each time it was time to leave for a train someone hadn’t finished, which left no alternative but to have another. By the time we’d made it back, picked up the takeaway, had more wine while watching last season’s DVD, it was well past my bedtime. My plea of mitigation is that the outcome was the result of my head still being somewhere up a mountain in Italy; I think it’s going to be there for a while yet, long after the hangover has cleared. So no match report from me, just some random thoughts (and they have to be random because there’s no possibility of me being able to join up the dots this morning).

First, I’ll accept full responsibility for our failure to win at Birmingham. We were haring back up from Italy to Lyon (along the Route Napoleon) on Saturday afternoon. Before 3pm UK time, the shirt came out and the badge was kissed. It was hot, bloody hot, so instead of putting the shirt on it rested on my lap. That seemed to be sufficient as the text confirming Cort’s goal came through. With about five minutes left we stopped for a glass. Parked and walked over to the bar, but stupidly I left the shirt in the car. Should be OK I thought as the game must be over. Another text, must be confirmation. Alas, I had clearly broken the unwritten code and we paid the price. It will never happen again.

What pleased me most in the pub before last night’s game (in addition to hearing about the Fuller signing) was hearing from those who went to Birmingham that the team showed all the signs of having retained the level of commitment and determination of last season. And last night that was evident in bucketloads. The quality of some of the play wasn’t bad either, but if individually and collectively the character and resolve shined through, in the tackling, covering and willingness to throw bodies in the way was exemplary. We maintain this – and have this as the template for the players brought in – and we will at the least be fine.

I thought the main difference between the sides in the first half – aside from the fact that we took our chances and they didn’t (in particular Beckford missed with his shot and Wright-Phillips didn’t) - was Pritchard. He found space out wide but also came inside and they didn’t seem to know how to pick him up. The changes they made at the break altered the picture and in the second half Pritchard barely got a look-in. No doubt their movement and link-up play going forward was better than ours, even in the first half; it was even occasionally enjoyable to watch after what we’ve become accustomed to in the past three seasons. But while Morrison and Cort were dominant in the air and our box was generally well protected, Leicester couldn’t say the same. I felt Cort deserved a lot of the credit for Kermorgant’s strike. He didn’t flick on the ball in but his presence made sure that no defender got near it either.

At half-time the game reminded me of Huddersfield at home last season. In each area of the pitch our players were winning the battles and we had the weapons to score. They presumably had something of a telling off at the break and a mix of the substitutions, their greater resolve, and the early goal back made for an extremely testing final 30 minutes. It was a challenge we rose to and they were probably limited to three true chances (the free header late on, the diverted cross which went just wide, and one break where their guy should have put in a better shot). On another night one might have gone in – and Leicester can undoubtedly feel aggrieved not to have taken something from the game – but we had our goals in the bag already. I don’t think we sat back but were rather pushed back by a good side, with some tired legs in midfield leading to an increasing reluctance to make forward runs (the priority being not to get caught out), leading to more hopeful balls forward and far less good possession in their half, which kept us under pressure.

It was delightful to see BWP score in a fashion reminiscent of the first half of last season. My only criticism of him last night was in his passing sometimes when having shielded the ball (which he did well). When a forward is in possession the tendency is for the midfield to be moving up, which makes it very dangerous to give the ball away with a weak pass, especially against a team like Leicester. But keep knocking them in and any criticism will be entirely relative.

Their goal was something that Powell and others will be looking at on the training pitch. From a goal kick their forwards stood some yards behind our central defenders. They then weren’t sure whether to move forward to contest the kick or back to cover the forwards. Hesitation meant they got caught betwixt and between, creating the space. It looked like something Leicester have worked on; full marks to them, no problems as long as we learn the lesson.

A thoroughly entertaining game – and one played in the best of spirits by both teams (I can’t remember a bad foul) – and a really great result. If they had nicked an equaliser late on we would have been left wondering where the first win will come from, increasing the pressure on Saturday, and worrying about our ability to hold leads. Instead we can enjoy the table (top and bottom), which in some obvious respects reflects the world being back to normal. The fact that there were no bad tackles doesn’t mean that the ref didn’t make two bad howlers. I thought we should have had a penalty in the first few minutes, when after a corner their guy went through Morrison from behind to get to the ball. Then in stoppage time there was a clear shove on our defender as he went to contest a ball through, which resulted in their winger getting clear. That almost cost us two points. And as for making Morrison leave the pitch for the final corner, with Schmeikel coming up, surely there has to be a little common sense.

So there’s still a grin on my face as I wait for the hangover to subside. Thanks to the poor planning on the part of my partner Suzanne’s relatives (why on earth plan a French wedding without looking at the fixture list?) I can’t make Hull on Saturday. Unless ... The wedding is in Lille. Can I make some excuse about not feeling well, run to Lille Europe for the Eurostar, get across town, watch the game, then get a train back? Everything is possible, but this may be to risk more brownie points than I have in the bag at the moment.

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