A sense of perspective is always desirable, even if it’s a pain in the neck when you’ve lost. If it was a choice between winning today and emerging from the Eurostar tunnel on New Year’s Day to discover we’d lost to Watford, or vice versa, there’s no choice. If it was a choice between losing in the cup today or against Blackpool on Saturday, again no contest. I’ll admit to being somewhat ba humbug about the FA Cup. It can have magic and fabulous occasions for some teams, in some circumstances. But quite frankly I’m not interested in watching us play Chelsea, Man Utd (or City) et al, and we were never going to win it. I’d have been happy for us to get any loot going, but it wasn’t to be. Maybe next year.
Instead we had a low crowd watching a pretty ordinary game between two teams with only passing interest in the competition. We committed the cardinal sin in these situations of conceding first, after which they had something to hang on to and we struggled. The only really disappointing aspect of the game was that arguably the three players we picked who had most to prove, and to gain (Kerkar, Cook and Wright-Phillips), ended up all being substituted, for good reason. With our three loan players having exited, that causes concern about the depth of the squad, with Cort, Haynes and Wiggins unavailable at present and now Dervitte to face a one-game suspension. In short, no positives to be taken from the afternoon, so let’s forget it.
We lined up with Button in goal, Evina and Wilson as the full-backs, Taylor and Dervitte in central defence, Kerkar and Cook either side of Stephens and Pritchard in midfield, and Kermorgant and Wright-Phillips up front. It looked like a not inappropriate mix of resting a few and still wanting to win the game. How many times have we heard that in the past decade only for a cup side to disappoint? This was to prove no exception to the rule.
It’s not so easy to get a great perspective on a game from Row A of the Lower North, but the first half saw them produce three or four moments of danger and us perhaps one. The decisive moment was a ball in from their right which caused hesitation on our part – with Button and the central defenders seemingly unsure about whether to come for it/attack it. They didn’t and Beckford latched onto it to score with some ease. It would be too harsh to say that Button was culpable, but from his reaction you could tell that maybe he could have been more decisive. It couldn’t have turned out any worse whatever he and others might have done. Button did pull off a decent save from a free-kick, but in front of him on a sticky pitch we had neither the pace nor movement to put them under pressure. The one moment from us I remember was BWP wriggling clear and causing some panic, but it led to nothing and more telling was the fact that neither Kerkar nor Cook were making things happen down the flanks.
Behind at the break in a low-key affair and nothing much changed in the second half, until the next decisive moment. A ball through looked like a routine clearance for Devitte but he air-kicked and suddenly their guy was running on to it, only to be hauled back. It was one of the more obvious red cards we will see this season and, although the free-kick led to nothing we were a man down chasing the game.
We made a fist of it, with Evina becoming more prominent going forward, Stephens and Pritchard working well enough, and Kermorgant putting in the usual shift. Cook was the one to make way for Morrison to come on, having shown some useful touches but not really influencing the game. The subsequent double-substitution saw Kerkar replaced by Jackson and Wright-Phillips coming off for Azeez. Kerkar had looked short of confidence and, like Cook, struggled to really get in the game, while for BWP the fact that he was taken off for a youngster when we’re losing at home says a good deal. So does the fact that Azeez caused them more problems.
Huddersfield saw out the game reasonably comfortably. We did have a couple of moments, especially as it became gung-ho in the final minutes, but the game ended with their keeper having made one fairly routine stop from a free-kick and otherwise not having been called on.
So be it. We didn’t want a replay (OK, I’d have taken a replay in the last 20 minutes) and exiting the FA Cup means almost nothing other than being denied the opportunity of a pay-day. We’ve just had a splendid, possibly crucial, win away and Blackpool at home on Saturday is far more important. You can’t avoid the impression that the owners will be happy as long as we’re not relegated this season – and quite frankly so will I be. Barring something dramatic during the transfer window we’re not going to take the division by storm, making avoiding relegation the priority. So be it, as long as we achieve that.
There’s no player ratings from me for today. The game was really about some players being offered an opportunity to shine and them not taking it. That raises questions about the squad and how we want to play, what are our strengths. I think Sir Chris has some serious thinking to do about the best partnerships in key areas and our best formation, especially with Haynes presumably absent for a couple of weeks more. If Stephens plays best with Hollands, let’s have him back. We are down to three fit forwards, so perhaps 4-5-1 is best for now. Too many questions for this stage of the season, but the changes we make this month, including any we may sell, have to keep the primary objective in mind, which is consolidating in this league.