First, an apology and a warning. Sorry for the lack of updates and a word on what’s coming in the immediate future. From my end at least, the updates will be spasmodic. I’ve got a shocking internet connection at home – and with essays, dissertations, birthdays and the Christmas period – it is also proving a hectic time of year. I’ll try and get on here as much as I can to give a regular point of year, but I hope you’ll understand if I can’t.
So, as somebody asked on TFI the other day, where are we? Well, I thought a few people got a little carried away after the Everton defeat. It’s not like we expected to win – having now gone on our worst away run for the best part of seventeen years (according to someone on the Voy board). It’s also true to say that we started that game particularly well. We adjusted to the conditions first of the two sides, had a decent early chance – which probably only served to raise everyone’s expectations – and were undoubtedly the better team in the first half.
Anyone watching the game would probably have agreed with the general commentariat consensus that the subsequent defeat was another example of the dreaded second half syndrome. Whilst to a degree that’s true, it is also worth pointing out (as Sanchez did) that we were the victims of another shocking refereeing decision. As a qualified ref myself, I hate slating my fellow officials but how Yakubu’s first was allowed to stand with Tim Cahill clearly in an offside position and obviously interfering with the play in the build up is beyond me.
What worries is the lack of matchwinners in our squad. Nick posted a link the other day to those joyous last few moments up at Ewood Park back in 2001. Then, we had the likes of Saha, Boa Morte, Sean Davis, Lee Clark and Hayles ready to pop up and deliver something special. Soon they were to be joined by Steed Malbranque, certainly the best player I’ve seen don a Fulham shirt in my time of travelling to the Cottage. Now, we’ve lost them and don’t seem to have replaced them with anyone who possesses the same mecurial talent. It might be a sad reflection of the club we’ve become, but relying on the likes of Kuqi (not good enough), Dempsey (a good trier and promising, but not the finished article) and Murphy (who seems more likely to offer flickers of his former brilliance) won’t get the job done. Even more disappointingly, we’ve also lost some of the defensive quality we did possess – van der Sar saved 10-15 points as season, as, in his own understated way did the European Cup winner, Stevie Finnan.
That means that Sanchez has to go into the market again in January, as he’s already noted. But this isn’t Football Manager. He can’t sign a superstar on loan and our profile is simply too low to attract one of the game’s bigger names. We know seem to be in the position of shopping for one of the up and coming stars or a youngster with potential. Either way, thrusting a new signing into the top-flight line-up will be a big gamble. It certainly will be interesting to see which areas Lawrie opts to strengthen. I’m of the opinion that we still need another central defender – we’re just too porous at the back – and maybe another left-back, as surprised as I have been with the performances of young Nathan Ashton. We could do with a creative player in the midfield – of the kind that I’ve already suggested we miss – and a striker, especially if the rumours about the true extent of Brian McBride’s injury, are true. In fact, if the legendary American won’t kick another ball, we’ll need two.
The Christmas period is absolutely massive this year. Either, we record some morale boosting wins and put some distance between us and the rest at the bottom of the table or we’ll be sucked into another relegation battle. First up are Newcastle at home. Another manager under pressure and another side who are underachieving, even if last week’s last-gasp win over Birmingham, has eased the strain a little bit. As difficult as it is to envisage, it’d be lovely to grab a win. Hopefully, I’ll be back on Saturday/Sunday to preview the game and discuss why it did or didn’t happen.