Pav’s Cafe has been a fixture on the seafront at Westgate since I was a teenager. Three generations of the family have been lured by the smell of burnt onions wafting across the sands and sat at the cracked, polished formica tables. Floors sticky with layers of prized ice cream cones dropped by anxious toddlers, we queued to be served with the utter indifference so common of British shops of my youth.
I declare this to be our place of pilgrimage to honour Our Saviour. Personally I don’t fancy schlepping over to Russia, although the ultra-orthodox amongst you, well, feel free, and these days you can get the new fast train from St Pancras to Margate. I recommend the journey anyway if only to prove that in England you can actually get somewhere quickly on public transport. Whether you wish to go there is irrelevant. Then it’s a short pleasant stroll along the prom. Some of you may cherish the spot at the DW stadium where after heading straight at the keeper he bundled in the rebound but I need a place with a bit of history.
Roman Pavlyuchenko is back and already is in danger of falling victim to the curse of raised expectations. I was delighted both with his goals and the warmth with which his team-mates toasted his success at the final whistle. The question this evening is not if he plays but with whom. Freed from the responsibilities of being a target man, he revelled in his role playing off Crouch. Coming from slightly deeper and facing the goal is his style. What impressed me most on Sunday was his movement. Immediately and instinctively he moved across the back four and then into channels, where Modric was on the look out for a little something to slot through to him.
We were all anticipating that he was the replacement for a toiling Crouch. Their playing together was either a tactical masterstroke on Harry’s part or a happy accident created by JD’s determination to be sent off for no discernible reason. Something tells me that it was the latter but probably that’s just me. Defoe must partner him tonight but his orders must remain unchanged: don’t drift 5 yards too far up the field, be patient even if it takes time for us to break down the Bolton defence and look for Luka or Nico (Modric must play after Sunday) as he comes inside. I identified the biggest problem with this a couple of weeks ago. It’s not so much the fact that Pav and Defoe might get in each other’s way, it’s the lack of familiarity with the system caused by relying so heavily on Crouch, the big man up front and the long ball. Harry should have at least tried a plan B long ago but Pav has rotted on the bench. The players must adjust quickly and have not been supported by the coaching staff in this but their passing game will suit the personnel that I hope to see as the whistle blows. And the fans can help by seeing this as a promising boost for our form rather than the second coming.
We start strong favourites and the Cup is a realistic target this season. We are a home game against a team that cannot score away, never mind win, from a quarter final versus opponents who we should respect but not fear. Complacency is a real danger and we must be alert at the back if Kevin Davies plays. King knows him well but the less experienced Dawson and Bassong or Kaboul will be bullied if they are not careful. If he can’t take a chance, Davies will set one up, and if he can’t set one up he’ll get the centre backs to concede fouls outside or in the box in their desperation to get between him with his back to our goal and the ball as it is played up to him. He can also move wide, thus taking his marker with him, but this is less of a danger with two 6 foot full backs. Daws should take him and this could be the biggest test yet of his maturity. He must not panic or be forced into rash challenges. Sometimes defenders must accept that you just can’t win the ball every time. His colleagues must be alert to the second ball and WP and Hud must get in front and around him to deal with the threat.
Finally, the news that Lennon will be out for longer that first thought is a real blow. Not only have we struggled at times without him, his return to the team would have been a real shot in the arm as we reach the climax of the season. It would have invigorated and inspired everyone. There’s still time.