Naive Management And Impotent Strike-Force To Blame
Let me start by saying this write up of Saturday’s game would’ve been the same had we managed to win 1-0. As I stood there in the freezing cold, watching what can only be described as the ultimate long ball game with the odd pass and move thrown in for good measure, all the below thoughts were being formulated prior to their equaliser and the final whistle.
Birmingham have only lost one game at St Andrews in approximately 500 years so a draw was probably the most likely. Considering the players we have missing and those only just returning it’s not the worse result in the world. It’s annoying to concede with only 10 minutes left but as far as the game went, a draw was the fair result.
Let’s get started then. Stan Collymore was on TalkSport as I drove home going on about what a great set of away fans Spurs have got. Being one of them I’m not going to disagree with him but his other point was our defence and how we need to stop conceding and learn how to close games out, which I don’t agree with, well not entirely. Obviously, we need to start keeping clean sheets, but if we could do that we’d be sitting top of the league right now. However, it’s not the defence who are costing us points at the moment. It has been in the past but recently there’s been vast improvements, the main reason behind that is the form of William Gallas who was again exceptional on Saturday as was Bassong. Both had to deal with a strong and in form Jerome who was a handful all day.
If you look at the above image you’ll see just how well we did defensively compared to Birmingham who are regarded as a solid unit. We restricted them to shots from outside the box a lot more effectively that they did to us, which considering the amount of long balls they pumped into our penalty area in the final 20 minutes is quite an achievement.
We failed to win because our famed attacking players failed to deliver, and when I say attacking players I’m not talking solely about the strikers. They’re obviously there to stick the ball in the net which they’re just not doing but the supply wasn’t quite as good as people might think. You can also see from the above image just how many shots we managed from inside the area, 11 in total and 9 from about 18 yards. To only score one goal from those areas and that from a defender at a set piece is the real reason we didn’t win.
I’ve supported Peter Crouch in the past, stating his game is more than just scoring goals but I can’t defend him any longer. The bottom line is he’s a striker and is meant to score goals. Sure, they’re also meant to hold the ball up, link play and create but putting the ball in the back of the net is what they get paid to do. Crouch just can’t do it. He’s absolutely terrible at it. He doesn’t even head the ball any more. He’s developed a new technique of letting the ball hit him in the face instead. Excellent for little lay-offs and assists but not so effective when trying to power a header past a keeper.
We’ve got to give Defoe the benefit of the doubt for the time being. I heard one guy on Saturday night saying we need to replace all four strikers which I thought was a little unfair on the little man. He’ll come good and showed signs of getting back to his old self, he just needs more match practice and a goal. At the moment he’s trying too hard.
Onto the other two members of what I consider an attacking quartet, Bale and Lennon. Neither had the best of games with both being fairly quiet. I’ve read this morning on this sites forum that people felt Lennon had a good game and it was good to see him getting back to his best. Having watched match of the day and thinking back to some of his more “stand out” moments I can see how people would come to that conclusion but from watching the game, and I believe those around me would agree, Aaron Lennon is far from his best.
On numerous occasions, far too many to remember, he had the opportunity to run past the defender for a through ball but instead remained wide and stood still. Both Modric and Hutton were screaming for him to make the runs he’s become known for in behind the defence but he didn’t do it. His performance was a lazy one, highlighted in the first half when he picked the ball up 25 yards from our goal and played a simple ball inside to Wilson Palacios. The one two was on and Palacios played the perfect ball inside the defender for Lennon to run onto, but he hadn’t moved from his initial position. Whether this was a tactical thing or a confidence thing I don’t know, but he could’ve offered so much more. When he did get into the final third, he spent too long dithering on the ball, allowing Birmingham to close him down and steal the ball.
Having said that, he did still manage to get some dangerous balls into the box which is more than can be said for Bale. It’s impossible for him to play well in every game but he offered little threat after the 25th minute and the ageing Stephen Carr had him in his pocket for large periods of the game.
His passing was poor for the most part, so poor had it been other players, like Palacios, forums would be calling for his head this morning. The majority of crosses he managed to get into the box were from corners and as you can see Carr marshalled him fairly well, keeping him away from the final third where he’s less dangerous. Everyone can have a poor game and we shouldn’t blame a player when they do, especially when they’ve had such a brilliant season, but it’s only fair to look at all the attacking players.
However, even with Crouch having a shocker, Defoe not fully fit, Lennon looking lazy and Bale out of form, the one man who could’ve made a difference but once again looked lost and confused when things weren’t going the teams way was Harry Redknapp.
What the television wouldn’t have shown was a message that Redknapp gave to Ekotto around the 70th minute mark. With a stop in play he called Hutton over and issued instructions. Hutton jogged over to Ekotto and clearly explained to him that he was to push forward and support Bale. As Bale wasn’t having much luck I have no problem with that, except for the fact we were 1-0 up, dropping deeper and starting to lose the midfield battle. Ekotto did as he was told and at one point got so far forward once he realised he was in Birmingham’s penalty area he just stopped and didn’t know what to do. I’m not saying Ekotto would’ve been in a position to stop Zigic heading the ball across goal, in fact there’s no way he could’ve stopped him but there’s the possibility he wouldn’t have been completely alone. It was also the 3rd time in succession Birmingham had looked for the long diagonal ball to the far post and each time Zigic had been left alone and we still didn’t learn.
Then there’s the fact Redknapp himself has said he was worried that we were dropping too deep. May I ask why nothing was done about that then? Would it also be a viable option to bring on Sandro or Dawson instead of Pav for Defoe to tighten things up when we know the penalty area is going to be bombarded? It’s great playing attacking football and on another day we score more than one goal, but when we don’t the last thing we should do is put on a striker who can’t hold the ball up, isn’t very good at passing or linking play and continue to play 2 up front.
It shows a naivety that a manager of his experience shouldn’t have and if he can clear his name of the fraud accusations I would fully expect anyone at the FA with the smallest amount of footballing knowledge not to offer him the England job for that reason. It’s more than just putting your arm around players.
You’d think we’d lost the game from all of that. Sorry for the slightly depressing and negative look at things but it’s so frustrating watching us make the same mistakes over and over. As I said, I don’t think we should look at this as a bad result but we must learn from the mistakes we make in these tough away games if we want to be in that top four again. Next time we’re 1-0 up away from home with 10 minutes to go, I pray we don’t start telling our full backs to push up and bring on another striker. If we do, then we’re going nowhere.
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