It isn’t normal for me to sit down at midnight to pen a blog, but I’ve just driven back from the game, a handy 5 hour round trip, and I’m still really cross. I’m hoping the catharsis of writing this all down will mean I get to sleep tonight.
Things started in a rather surreal setting, not just for me, perched up high once more in the Main Stand, my first time ever at the very top of the Top Balcony (back to Upper Gwladys for QPR), but for the whole crowd. Quite a few latecomers, and an almost complete lack of any comers from Humberside. meant the ground seemed half full 5 minutes before the start, and only marginally better when the whistle went. What followed was the quietist I’ve known Goodison since we played Stevenage in the League Cup last season, and that I could understand. No atmosphere for the players to feed off at all; but then part of their job is to get the feisty tackle in, to create the chances, but no, once more our crab-like progress from back to middle, middle to back, repeat, repeat, repeat, has no energy and no amount of half hit passes does anything more than increase the tension, rather than lift spirits. But then we started to have joy down the Hull flanks, and an exquisite piece of play by Mirallas got him to the line to cut back for big Rom to finish with awesome power.
These two are creating quite a partnership. From what we see, they are good mates off the pitch, and their understanding and interplay is becoming one of our noteworthy features. The goal actually prompted some crisper and more incisive passing, and could have led to that all-important second goal, but we all know that didn’t come. Basic looked strong, Barkly had some fine runs with that great ability to run at pace with exceptional balance and strength, and even passes going to feet. It only seemed a matter of time before the game would be wrapped up, interrupted only temporarily by the half time beverages.
The second half was a different story. It was as if the half time tea and oranges had been replaced by mince pies and stollen cake, washed down with a heavy Port or some of Grandma’s sweet sherry. A hopeful ball aimed behind Baines led him to waft a foot at it, and the ball bizarrely deflected in to the path of a Hull forward, almost in the manner of a Phil Neville vs Wigan thru-ball. Almost. But whilst we escaped danger then, that seemed to be the signal for calamitous defending – first Barry allowed Myler (hilariously introduced at the start of the game as David Mellor – my pen was poised to write that no wonder they lost if he was playing etc etc) to wrap his leg around him as he tried to shepherd the ball out of play, and then Distin (unsurprisingly based on recent form) and Jagielka (much more surprising on recent form) inexplicably seemed to lose all confidence and misplace pass after pass. None of the back 5 were immune. Add to that, Howard’s seeming lack of energy, and urgency, and it was only a matter of time before Hull thought they could get something out of this, and duly they did. Another misplaced pass gifted possession and the elusive Aluko beat Howard far too easily at his inside post, the only place he could have hit it, and the only place Howard really needed to defend.
Was this the game when large sections of Goodison fell out of love with Roberto? Very possibly. Rather than show urgency across the park, Howard led the way in a dilatory and half-hearted approach to the game, when a poor Hull side were still there for the taking. We continued the laborious build up play that led to nothing, summed up by Pienaar on the ball near Hull’s area and someone behind me shouted “Howard’s on!”. The restlessness spread around the Old Lady,and the boos were being heard long before the final whistle. Martinez has to find the blueprint for Plan A, because even that isn’t working, with Seamus once more reluctant to take on his defender, and Baines erratic on the flanks; but we also need that Plan B and C, if not the odd D thrown in from time to time. If sides are going to press us high up the pitch, it seems obvious to most of those I talk to that we need to bypass those pressers at pace, and then they are down on numbers against us, and spaces should open up. It isn’t that easy, obviously – if it was, one would hope that Bobby would have sussed it.
What he will have sussed is that there are a growing number of very unhappy punters at the moment, not just because they’d got us down for a 3-1 home win, but because we know we’ve been rumbled by the opposition, and we haven’t found a different way to play. Until we do, I’m afraid to say there’ll be more games like tonight.
Saturday beckons and if we give the ball to City with the alacrity that we gave it away tonight, then they’ll slaughter us. I suspect we may play European style, and go for the defence and a breakaway model. That might make a refreshing change as it at least shows a change of tactic; but depressingly, we could have competed almost toe-to-toe with City last season with the same players we have now. Try that this year, and on current form, we’ll be looking at 3-0 at best.
I hope I get to eat my words.