Like a splinter under the skin, it’s usually a minor irritant, but sometimes, if you don’t get it out straight away, it festers and infection can quickly spread. Another two points dropped at home in a match where despite Everton’s effort and organisation we were the better team, another game where we go a goal down, another opportunity slipping away.
We’re a quarter of the way through, give or take a percentage point, and patterns are revealing themselves. This promises to be a tight league from top to bottom. Battling for a top four where Chelsea lead but Liverpool are floundering and United surprisingly vulnerable, there’s everything to play for and to establish ourselves in the top four we must show the ruthlessness that goes with that status. From that perspective, we have to bank points from games like these, rather than allow them to slip from our grasp.
The pressure’s on all over the field. Every element of the team has to function to their peak. The focus is always on the strikers, especially so if we’re playing one up front. it’s becoming a well-worn path, but Crouchie -what are we going to do with you, you downright plonker. This absurdist masterclass was surely surrealist performance art, a slapstick satire on the post-modern society. Effort is futile and wasted, we may as well accept our pre-ordained fate. No matter how much we try to control the world, time and again it refuses to obey, often wildly and unpredictably spinning off into the ether, just when you think progress is being made. Have you noticed, the ball and the world are the same shape? Worthy of the Turner Prize, I have a clearer, more humble sense of our place in the cosmos but not our top four prospects.
It was so unco-ordinated, when he sarcastically applauded the Park Lane’s ‘Super Pav’ chant I’m surprised he managed to make left hand strike the right. If it were possible to make things worse, take the piss out of your own fans, why don’t you.
This blog is all about the team. We stand or fall as eleven not one. However, when our single striker is so off and when so much is played towards him, frustration is the very least of the emotions. Modric and Van der Vaart are programmed in their genes to play the ball into channels or slide the ball in behind defenders. They’ve being doing so since they were kids, yet so often they turned away in frustration, as if to say, ‘Of course, forgetting myself, can’t do that, silly me’. It makes things so much easier for defenders.
Once again we started brightly enough without making any real inroads. Promising signs of interplay between Luka and VDV and a welcome ease with our passing. Luka is taking a while to play himself back into form and there were signs that he’s on the right track. Twice in this period he was prominent in and around the box, and he makes things tick. They talk about strike partnerships but if Luka and VDV get it on, we have something to look forward to. However, certainly as the match wore on, we could have done with more drive from midfield to overcome the increasingly frequent flat spots.
Talking of plonkers, this week Wilson got his mum to write him a note so he was excused detention. Next time he may have to play in his underpants as punishment for flying into to tackles. The early, needless booking helped in the short run because, wary of a second yellow, he stayed on his feet and had a better game as a result but the half time substitution was inevitable. It disrupted the team and used up a substitution that would have been handy as we struggled to score the winner later on. It’s a sign of his anxiety but he’s had a long time to learn that remaining upright is an option.
After a decent start, Everton came back into things. They defended with application and were busy in the middle without ever being negative. In the past they’ve lacked potency up front but Yakubu was always a threat. It was a fascinating struggle with Gallas and Kaboul. Both had good games. Kaboul once more emphasised his potential with another useful performance. Unafraid to impose himself on opponents, he did well. A fraction impetuous at the edge of the box, a foul, just, and Baines punished us with a superb free kick.
We were back on terms quickly. With Crouch pulling away to the far post, he makes defenders uncertain, or in this case the keeper, and Crouch’s deadly knee left VDV with a simple touch. On the far post, a decent ball will take out the centre half and leave him one on one with teeny tiny Baines, but the little guy is shrewd. The art of the good defending includes how to nudge and touch without conceding a freekick and the full back used his height to snuggle into Crouch’s back, secure in the knowledge that the ref would keep him safe. Once we had a good shout for a penalty, first half to the left of their box, but that was it.
Games are won and lost in the periods when teams get on top. We made chances early in the second half but they fell to Crouch, who proved the toe-poke is a less potent weapon than he presumably believed at the time. Pav was no better when he came on, similarly fluffing his one big moment.
Heitinger kept his compatriot VDV quiet during this time, effectively patrolling the area in front of the back four. We could have done with JJ’s energy and drive to lift us as Everton dropped back towards their goal. Instead, our efforts petered out, epitomised by one of the best attacking full backs, Hutton, launching a series of high balls from 35 yards out, easier to defend than going to the byline. I would have switched VDV and Luka with VDV more involved in the centre but we have to get both of them into the box as often as possible.
Bale had a reasonable game. Despite the evidence from Wednesday, he’s not superman but as he was surrounded by two and three men, he used the ball intelligently without making the breakthrough himself. He could have worked back more, not only to help out at the back but also he’s better coming from deeper positions. Galls had a good game, doing that bouncy thing he does to stay in touch with the man he’s marking and barking instructions at the back four.
I know what you’re thinking. I admit, the Turner prize cannot be awarded for performance art. Oh, and we are in a good league position. Forgive me if I’m asking for just a bit more in matches like these.