If I thought that a night out in Loughborough watching hilarious Joe Lycett, followed by a night’s sleep and then an 8km run, would make me less angry about this game, I was very much mistaken.
Instead, the (mainly) joy of the first 77 minutes was undermined in agonising and deeply frustrating fashion as we concede two quickly, and a third in the last minute to condemn a side of nearly-men to another excruciating defeat. A defence of vampires, that every time they see a cross, they turn to stone. If we’d lost 3-2 to a much-improved West Ham side in almost any other fashion, it wouldn’t have been a massive shock, as they’ve been one of the surprise packages this season, with much justification. But it was the manner of the defeat, once again, that just serves to make me want to scream and shout.
You will know that St Domingos is a site that prides itself, often in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, in focusing on the positive elements of the game, and I’m certainly proud to be associated with that. But. Big, big, massive but (and no humour to follow that this week, it hardly seems the time or the place), today of all days, I have the Mother of all football hangovers, not even augmented by an alcohol-induced one for which I would have been fully justified.
What I was hoping to talk about was a re-energised and forceful centre forward, the Lukaku that we know and love; to talk about the mosquito-like qualities of the excellent and surely Rio-bound Lennon, buzzing around in defence or attack, and moving like we rarely see a forward move; or, and this hints at what’s to follow, the fact that we played 2/3 of the game with 10 men, and fully deserved first our 2-0 lead, that should then have been 3-0, and ultimately what should have been a comfortable win. But no.
Instead, the moment of madness that was, not for the first time, Mirallas in the tackle, justifiably seeing Red after two stupid bookings – don’t dive lad, and don’t dive in lad. This wasn’t the turning point at the time, but maybe the fatigue of his remaining team-mates was caused by having to do his shift as well as their own. We may have seen the last of Mirallas in a blue shirt beyond his obligatory ban, and given he doesn’t appear to have learnt his lesson, in fact his lessons, we couldn’t be surprised. And what a shame. On the ball and going forward he’s so exciting to watch. I remember his first derby game, albeit limited by injury to the first half, when he tore the RS a new one, and we were all on the edge of our seats wondering what this new talent was going to bring us. He’s scored an impressive 1 in 4 for us since his arrival from Greece, and given he’s a wide player and often injured, that’s not a bad return, hence the frustration; he’s scored some amazing goals for us, he’s one of the most likely players to score when one-on-one that we’ve got in the squad, but he continually divides able opinion, and yet now, probably, not so much. Perhaps I shouldn’t be writing this whilst still obviously really raw, but if the lad starts making overtures subsequently denied to leave – again – I’d help him on the bus. And even if he doesn’t, I think Everton can do better, and I think they should look to capitalise on an exciting but flawed talent. Too many times Kev, too many times.
But Mirallas can’t really be blamed for our inability to defend hopeful lobs in to the box. We have been exposed under the high ball every time this season, even though Villa (even Villa) took 79 minutes to realise it, and a similar time for West Ham to exploit it. Yesterday’s defeat showed once again that however wonderful Jagielka is at blocks and tackles, he’s no John Terry in the air; Funes Mori is learning his trade, but his birthday yesterday was marked by his inability to move towards and attack the cross; and as for our wide defence, the half-arsed attempt to prevent the cross for the second goal looked almost statuesque, but not in a good way. If we can’t defend the ball when it’s thrown in, we sure as hell need to defend it better out wide to prevent it coming in in the first place. Good grief.
And Mirallas can’t be blamed for the substitutions from hell. Again, I’d have loved to be talking about a tactical master stroke of playing 3 at the back and generally nullifying any threat from West Ham. Well, Mirallas can be blamed for that plan to be ripped up after a mere 30 minutes, but after that, for another 40 minutes game time, the reshuffle looked to be achieving excellent results. But then, mystifyingly, Lennon is replaced by Niasse, and we concede two minutes later. Really? Why not stick Geri on, at least he runs a bit and had been known to defend; or perhaps then would have been a better timing for Barry, rather than when we’ve already conceded twice; or even Osman, who has the experience to close a game better than Niasse (no, I’m not blaming Niasse, I’m blaming the bloke that put Niasse in the firing line).
Defend, close a game out, we’re 2-0 up, we’re knackered, we’re vulnerable to crosses, defend defend defend. I’m at a loss to explain why we didn’t, except that we probably can’t.
I’ve just shelled out nearly £100 for two tickets for our next League match; I was, up until yesterday, looking forward to buying my first ever season ticket two days after Arsenal. I’m now wallowing in self-pity and anger directed at my team. And that is NOT how I want to feel. I’m cross, I’m raw, I’m fed up.
But see you all at Goodison next Saturday…..
Must be mad.