There is going to be a longer preamble to this report than usual, partly because I have been on the road to Molineux for an extra day and partly because I enjoyed the anticipation of the match far more than the actual experience of it.
I am going to start my account on Monday (well, I began writing it last night but you know what I mean) when I, like so many of the WW fans, watched QPR on TV. So, we were warned, as was MM, who said that he was travelling down to Loftus Road. Nonetheless, many of the posts in the week did not recognize the threat and, clearly neither did MM, given his team selection.
If it`s hard enough to watch our matches on the box, even after paying my dues, it`s virtually impossible viewing any other games. Inevitably, my wife dismissed out of hand the argument that I had to preview the team we were playing the following Saturday. I reckon MM`s wife put her foot down too, telling her husband that he had to spend the week papering the walls. Why else did he take such a huge gamble (see below)? In my case, I gained a reprieve. My wife suddenly remembered that she was going to see Jane Eyre with a friend, an engagement which I had fortuitously turned down. Who wants to be the odd bloke in a foursome with three women … ?
So, I watched the match live. Initially, I hoped for a NU win because at the time I expected us to be competing with QPR for points rather than with the Geordies (that is, if any locals play in the team). As the match unfolded, I thought that QPR looked sharp, while NU appeared beatable. I therefore welcomed the draw.
Every game so far has had the label, ‘the Acid Test`, stuck on it. But, in each case circumstances have modified that assessment, whether negatively (we were playing weak, injury-ridden teams) or positively (we were up against quality opposition, ones which play in Europe … or have aspirations to do so). For the QPR game, however, I really did have my litmus paper ready. After all, if we cannot win at home against newly promoted teams , who can we beat? If that were true, we`re doomed. We were terrible.
I started to prepare for the match on Thursday evening, packing my bag for an early getaway the following day. It`s not that it normally takes a day and a half to get round the south-western section of the M25 but one cannot be sure.
At 6.15 a.m. on Friday I headed for Warwick to do some work, while my wife travelled to Glasgow to see our elder daughter, who had lined up a series of visits to wedding dress shops over the weekend. While, obviously, I like to see my daughter as often as possible, the thought of two days of trying on fluffy dresses filled me with horror. I backed out, promising all sorts of compensatory visits and jobs. In retrospect, Saturday afternoon at ‘The Bridal Path`, ‘June Bride` and ‘Pronuptia` would have been preferable to a seat at Molineux.
I arrived at West Park at 1.10 p.m. and donned my WW shirt, ready for a pint or two of Banks`s Bitter at The Varsity. Wrong! As the delivery promised before the Spurs match had still not arrived, I had to make do with a pint of Mild instead. It`s not as though the pub was full of supporters, all emptying barrels of BB before I had had a chance to join in. I think a letter to the company chairman is called for.
But, enough of this flippancy, what of the match? Unfortunately, it is following the same trend as last year: a good start sending aspirations sky high, followed by a big let-down. I still think we have a better squad and that our first eleven is capable of ensuring survival … but we lack adequate cover. On Saturday, the injury to Fletcher caused a chain reaction that virtually guaranteed defeat on the pitch.
Because MM could not call on SEB as back-up and he did not rate Vokes highly enough, he drafted in Ward. Elokobi took Ward`s place at LB and, as expected, he was not up to it. Even MM realised that and withdrew him at half-time, moving Ward back into defence. By then, of course, it was too late. I blame myself: I should have popped down to the dressing room for a word with Mick before the match started. But, surely PL players can cope with changing circumstances? Clearly not.
MM`s pig-headedness about Big Georg`s ability not only weakened our defence it also unbalanced the team in front of it. We lost the interplay between Jarvis and Ward, for instance. The team possessed no recognisable shape, with poor links between the three units, no width and a lack of bite in front of goal. They played like a bunch of headless chickens. Much of the play was sloppy and aimless. When Kenny gathered up Guedioura`s kick in the 87th. minute, the home crowd cheered the first shot on goal. It was that bad.
Given the situation, I would have kept Ward at LB, leaving Doyle upfront in a 4-5-1 formation, supported by Jarvis and Kightly or Hammill on the wings (if Hunt was doubtful). To open up the opposing defence, something we have patently failed to do in the last two games, I would have given Milijas a start. For the moment, we have to pack the midfield anyway, especially as the next match is at Anfield. We need to staunch the flow of goals, compete in the middle of the park and regain our composure.
Our timid approach to the transfer market has come back to bite us. We had the opportunity to fill in the gaps and add cover but, apart from the signing of Johnson and JOH, we refused to do any business. Did MM mislead them?
Yes, I know all the arguments put forward by the 3Ms (and by some fans) but they are looking rather lame at the moment (especially the one that insists that Elokobi is a PL class player). We`re paying the price for management`s complacency and a lack of imagination and enterprise. Contrast our approach to that of QPR. Sure, they have greater resources but we seemed to make little effort.
At some point an ultra-cautious transfer policy becomes a strait-jacket and is counter-productive. I kept looking at the single section of the upper tier of the Stan Cullis Stand and thinking about priorities. If we don`t possess a squad of 25 players of PL quality, what`s the point of extra capacity? Players like Wright-Phillips and Barton might receive higher wages but on yesterday`s performances, they deserve them. We don`t have to go mad but we need to do something to attract the right players (and they might not include Joey Barton, whose end of game antics were a disgrace. But Henry’s tackle on him was ill-judged too).
No-one came out of this match with his reputation intact, though WH made a fantastic save early on and had little chance with the goals. Even Johnson had a poor game, missing the crucial tackle that led to the third goal, for instance. Stearman made some excellent blocks and interceptions but drifted out of position too often. Ward, at least, strengthened the defence. We failed to control the midfield; Henry was poor and JOH inconsistent, while Jarvis and Kightly hardly featured in the game. Guedioura, like Kightly, looked rusty. Upfront, Vokes has lost all confidence (surprise, surprise) and should be sold as soon as possible and in the meantime loaned out to save us money.
As we can do nothing about the squad`s shortcomings until the January window (except sign up McFadden, perhaps), we should consider blooding our youngsters. They can`t be worse than some of those playing yesterday: Doherty as cover for Ward at LB?
As I passed through the M6 toll booth on the way home the rain was coming down in torrents. At least (I thought to myself) the QPR fans will have a miserable journey home but then I realized that I was travelling in the same direction and felt far more wretched.
Not surprisingly, I did not see any obvious WW fans at Warwick or Oxford services, though plenty of QPR ones, easily recognisable in their hooped shirts. I noticed loads of AV supporters too. It was hard not to warm to the QPR supporters, though I tried my best. They were really excited and emotional, as realization dawned that they might avoid relegation. My thoughts, if not my car, were travelling in the opposite direction.
I arrived home at 8.15 p.m., knowing that, with my wife away, I could watch the featured match (perhaps the Blackburn-Arsenal seven goaler). Instead, it showed our game, which at that moment was the last thing I wanted to see. Several cans later, I consoled myself with the fact that survival is still in our hands. Of course, one shouldn`t make a knee-jerk reaction and we have bounced back in the past … but we have made it harder for ourselves than necessary.