After three successive defeats I was beginning to fret and that made me wonder whether the boys were coping with the strain better than I was. To find out how they were feeling and to assess the level of morale in the camp I decided to look at what they had been saying to the press. However, in an attempt to avoid putting extra pressure on the team (do they read our blogs and, if so, do they care what we say?), I resolved to wait until the end of the (then) looming Wigan match. Naïvely, I hoped that I would be forced to scrap the article. In the event, as we all know, the result has given all of us a licence to panic.
The reports indicated that on the surface at least the mood among the management and players remained upbeat. As Fletcher claimed on 30 September, “We`re still confident and we know we`ve got a good team and a good squad which is seen every day in training.” Two days earlier, Captain Henry, speaking in the aftermath of the Villa defeat, offered us soothing words: “We need to kick on and start picking up points and we will. I`ve got every confidence in every player in that dressing room that we can.”
Will we and should we have? It`s evident, for instance, that we have problems in defence, weaknesses which have proved costly in most of our games. Apart from the question of ability, are the players really learning from their mistakes? A day before the Villa derby Berra admitted that, “Everyone makes mistakes and it gets highlighted … Hopefully, we`ve addressed it … We know if we switch off, we`ll get punished and we`ve learned from it.” So, what happened in the 88th. minute then?
I also worry about the perception of the problem in the minds of management and players and what they consider to be the best way to deal with it. On 29 September, Hahnemann put down the poor run to the vagaries of blind fate, arguing that, “When we get those lucky bounces, we`ll be picking up points again and that`s what we have to remember; sometimes things just happen for a reason.” Who said that one makes one`s own luck?
The other reason put forward for our defeat against Villa was that we were playing against eleven men. As the manager stated the following day, ” We could have done better when the ball came in – but I don`t think Warnock should have been on the pitch.” I, too, felt that the tackle on Doyle warranted a second yellow card but we should get used to seeing eleven men trooping out of the other dressing-room at the start of the match.
Clearly what was needed after the Villa match was a morale-boosting victory against one of our relegation rivals. However, having counted eleven men in their line-up at the kick-off, it was obvious to me that Wigan were in a determined frame of mind. Then, in the tenth minute we made it even harder for ourselves by voluntarily withdrawing one of our players. What other explanation is there for Henry`s mindless tackle than a plea to be removed from the game. As MM later observed, the incident was theatrical, proving Henry`s assertion on 11 September: “Tackling should be allowed. It`s an art of the game.”
It was a stupid, reckless and completely unnecessary foul and, apart from losing us the match, it has wrecked our already tarnished reputation. It made a mockery of Henry`s insistence that, “Our aim at Wolves is never, ever to go out and kick anyone.” What is more worrying is the effect it will have on referees. In the Wigan match opposing players regularly fouled our lads, notably Doyle, without punishment, yet Edwards was penalised for a minor infringement. … on the edge of the box. Gomez, the victim of Henry`s tackle, ran up: goal, end of match! The captain`s irresponsible action is going to come back to haunt us for the rest of the season.
All this suggests that we are in denial and that we are not focusing on the real issues: getting the tactics and the balance of the side right; addressing the weaknesses in certain positions; selecting players purely on form and not out of a misguided sense of loyalty; giving the players we bought in the summer a chance; eliminating lapses in concentration; avoiding stupid errors, especially in and around the box; and recognising the enormity of the task facing us.
MM is certainly aware that something has to be done. As he noted on 27 September, “There`s no point talking about playing well and then losing games.” Quite right! Even so, two days later he was commenting, “There`s no reason to panic. We got into this situation last season when we lost to Birmingham … We`ve got to get results … But we`ve played very well.” He trotted out the same mantra after the Wigan match, “We played well although I`m a bit sick and tired of saying that when we keep getting beat.” Perhaps, it`s time to change the tune. Last season, we survived because he had the nous to change tactics. We are already six points down on last year`s equivalent fixtures, so how are we going to do it this time round? Just think: come January when we have to strengthen our side, who will want to join us?
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