A strange sense of foreboding wafted over my hungover frame at about 4.30pm on Sunday. My view was obstructed for this game by being several hundred miles across the North Sea in Copenhagen (who beat local-ish rivals Brondby 1-0 that day by the way; not that I was there for the game, just a few (few?) beers with friends in one of the most vibrant cities I’ve ever been to), but I was sat comfortably on an airport chair, following the game via twitter.
If my twitter feed was to be believed, we had not just dominated possession in the first 30 minutes, but we should have been out of sight. The reality, when watched on Sky Match Choice, seemed rather different. We didn’t carve out that many chances, despite having 80% of the possession, and frankly some might have called us ‘patient’, but I think we lacked ideas in that period. Once Palace got their goal, things changed, almost as if a switch had been turned on, and all of a sudden their self-belief grew, and they made much more of a fist of things.
By that stage, despite there not being a glut of chances, we could have been in a very different position had the old game of ‘Ifs and Buts and Maybes” played out slightly more in our favour, as arguably our possession stats by 30mins might have justified. But we all know, football just isn’t like that. If a penalty had been given for handball when Atsu’s skill bounced a ball on to a Palace arm; If the resulting ball played in had been hit by Osman a foot to Speroni’s right (or left, you choose); and of course If Howard hadn’t committed suicide when he saw Dithering Distin and Sleepy Stones arguing about how best to deal with a ball that was going nowhere at all. No such thing as ‘If’ though – it wasn’t, he didn’t, and he did, in that order.
Off went my phone at 30 mins, a penalty pegging us back, and as Scandinavian Airlines closed the cabin door, I descended in to a sleep only matched by our back 4 that day, and that strange feeling in my gut that things weren’t going to work out how we all wanted after the daft results of late the previous day, or earlier in the Sunday lunchtime kick offs.
What disappointment to land in Birmingham to see what had unfolded in my sleep.
Sky’s coverage confirmed to me what I’ve been thinking for these past few weeks. It is slightly bizarre, when you’re looking at most goals conceded in the Prem, and only Evian have conceded more in the top flights across Europe, that I can say this – that it is a fickle finger of fate that has punished individual errors far more brutally than it did all last season, and it is a lack of clinical finishing that has stopped us from a “we’ll score more than you” luxury that our neighbours managed last year. It is unfair on just blaming the defence. The second goal could have bounced anywhere, the first goal might not have happened at all (see above, it did, but you can’t help wondering), and the third was as sloppy a piece of individual play as you’ll see on a football pitch, combined with the impact of a high pressing full back creating a gap when chasing the game.
Palace played well. They played well in the sense that they denied us opportunities, but not through fast flowing football. In Bolassie, a player I’ve admired from afar, they have a constant threat when he can be bothered; in Jedinak, a player to compare with McCarthy’s work-rate and ‘they shall not pass’ mentality; and in Speroni they have one of the, previously to last season, most under-rated keepers in the Prem. But we should have won. We generally have better players, but we didn’t play to our potential, and they did. We will see more results this year, as there has been an equalising squad enhancement at most clubs, and City and Chelsea will probably fight it out for the title and leave the rest behind.
So we shouldn’t be too downheartened. In Atsu we have a player who can every bit of match Deulofeu’s trickery, pace and ability, plus a better eye for a pass than the currently out-of-sorts Spaniard (as in out-of-the-team). In Howard we have a keeper who excelled on Thursday, and lost his mind on Sunday (sounds like a song) and will no doubt replace Robles on Saturday after the flappy Spaniard has an outing to the Valleys on Tuesday, and who will be determined to erase Sunday from his memory banks. We have Lukaku who looks better every game. We have Eto’o to strike fear in to Skrtel after 70 minutes. And hopefully we’ll have our two marauding full backs. I think McGeady and Naisy will also return, and I hope to hell I’m writing something more upbeat next weekend.
No Ifs, Buts or Maybes. Just a win. Not too much to ask. Is it?