My eyes hurt after that performance. So did my ears. Not sure who the two chaps were behind me in the Upper Gwladys, they’d clearly hopped over the Pennines to watch the team they support, so fair play to them, but get to know who your team is if you’re going to continue from first whistle to last, all the 120 minutes plus the pens, to commentate on the game – badly. The worst offence was saying all game how well Galloway was playing. Er, that is, until Browning was substituted. It reminded me of watching a game at Forest (sorry) and the two numpties behind me kept shouting out “You’ll never beat Des Walker!”, every time, ahem, Wes Morgan made a timely tackle or interception.
Anyway, casual racism aside, what did we witness last night?
Let’s start with the positives, that won’t take long. We won a penalty shoot out, that’s a good start, and without the ‘benefit’ of cocking up penalties less badly than the opposition (step forward Mr Berbatov); these were 4 excellent pens despatched, and a fine Robles save from a poorly taken, slip-aided kick from the otherwise excellent Hollahan.
Which of course leads me nicely to our goalkeeper, who was spotted claiming a ball outside of the 6 yard box for a start, which I thought must have been a foul or something, but was also spotted making some excellent saves with faultless ground kicking. That’s Joel Robles. Yes, him, the same one. He played pretty well last night, we’ll excuse him the early fluff/miss that allowed the ball to drift through the 6 yard box, because thereafter he looked in control and gave the side some solidity at the back. If ever there were a performance that could earn you a place in the starting line up on Sunday, this was it, but we all know this is unlikely to happen, and Howard will return. Assuming he does, we need to give him the same support Joel applauded himself when he commented on how the fans helped him last night. We’ll leave Roberto’s stubbornness to another day, assuming of course that he does indeed bring Tim back for the League games.
Funes Mori did ok, perhaps generously given Man of the Match given Joel’s performance, but another 120 minutes under his belt and allowed for the most part to develop his understanding at the back with Stones, and then, somewhat inexplicably, with Gibson. I’m assuming we won’t see that pairing very often this season.
Anything else? Can’t think of much, other than Deulofeu’s obvious passion at the end, and for sparking the best period we had in the game that ultimately led to Osman’s scruffy performance-defining goal. But even he looked out of sorts at times, as most certainly did Barkley. No game by the scruff of the neck moments from young Ross after he came on.
Perhaps when you make 8 changes, and bring in players like Osman, Gibson, and Mirallas who’ve barely played all season, the impact is in two ways. The obvious way is that these three in particular tired visibly as the game progressed, and in the case of Osman, it meant that his constantly misplaced passing was augmented by falling over whenever the wind got above 2 knots. Squad players need game time, but do you give them all that game time in the same match? We quite clearly lacked both cohesion, which you might expect after so many changes, but also lacked energy consistently across the team.
Which leads me perhaps to the less obvious impact of making 8 changes – despite saying you’re taking the competition seriously, and saying you want to win a trophy, you are sending a message by putting a largely reserve team on the pitch that is quite the opposite. If you then bring on superstars like Barkley and Geri, is it small wonder that they can’t raise their game if they think the Manager can’t really be bothered? Do you expect your mercurial early 20s striker to get up for the game if your Manager doesn’t? Actions speak louder than words and all that.
More worrying for me, apart from the casual racism and my own 220 mile trip to watch that performance, was the body language from many of the players. Again, I’d excuse Joel, who I thought stepped up a gear in that respect last night, he looked like he wanted that game, wants that No1 shirt to feature every week and not just be on the bench, and his demeanour suggests he’s turned a corner (no puns needed). But McCarthy was for me the worst offender, frequently berating his team mates, arms outstretched to colleagues and the ref in equal measure. Get a grip, get your team driving forward, support everyone, don’t argue amongst yourselves because you didn’t get the pass you normally get on a Saturday, because those guys weren’t all playing. Sort yourselves out – look like you want it, play like you mean it, and we’ll be behind you even more than we are already.
Last point – Gareth Barry was one of the best players at the Club last night, and that’s without even being on the pitch.