Monday, 12 April 2010
Now the Titanic, that was a disaster.
So what do you want me to say?
'There there, let Mummy kiss it better. Did that nasty referee man disallow your goal? Did he give a lollipop to those Portsmouth ragamuffins and ruin your weekend.? Was that naughty pitch too slippery for you?' If you're looking for a comfort blanket; somebody to commiserate with you at your painful loss; a fellow fan to join you in a howl of pain at the injustice of it all you've come to the wrong place
Do we really believe that there's an International conspiracy to stop English teams reaching the Champions' League final or even the semi-finals of the World cup? That there's a code of conduct hanging in the referees changing room that says 'top four good; everyone below, especially Tottenham, to be penalised; protests ignored, appeals turned down, claims waved away; entreaties discounted?
Or do we manage to do all this entirely unaided; achieve it by our own incompetence? Perhaps it's too soon to look ourselves squarely in the mirror and admit .' God your ugly!'. Well perhaps not 'ugly' exactly but not quite as handsome as we thought.
The pitch and the refs certainly affected both semi's. But that happens in virtually every match and to believe in conspiracy is to let ourselves off the hook. You don't need to be Maigret to spot the signs of a serial offender here. That offender is ourselves and once again we won every statistic going and lost the match. We had better players, more possession, more accurate passing, more shots, more of everything except goals. We had 20 corners and several free kicks in dangerous areas but rarely threatened from any of them even though the dead ball kicking was generally good.
Only Bale shone although Modric worked hard on a pitch that made running with the ball and short passing treacherous. But we were too leaden in the build up and Huddlestone and Palacios treated the pitch like a mine-field so cautious was their approach . Not for the first time this season we were confronted by a packed, hard working defence that we were too slow of thought and movement to break down. We had better get used to it and get back to the tactical drawing board because, even though we are only on the fringes of the elite, more and more teams will adopt these tactics against us. My fear is that come the summer Crouch will be retained and Pavlyuchenko 's chips will be cashed in.
We had several chances unfortunately falling mainly to Crouch whose rapier like skills are still in the box unopened.. We had one knockdown from the front pair which Defoe put straight at James. Otherwise lunging Portsmouth bodies prevented any clear cut chances. James saved a header from Crouch and a cunning chip from Huddlestone. Crouch scored a perfectly good equaliser which was ruled out for a foul by Kranjcar on James. James' face afterwards showed the true story: Kranjcar had pulled out of the challenge and James dropped the ball. This was clear on replay but refs. don't have the benefit of replays.
We weren't sunk by these external factors but scuppered ourselves by our inability to finish or create clear cut opportunities and by defensive indiscipline which enabled Piquionne, Boateng and Dindane to break with menace. Eventually Dawson slipped and they scored. But we could and perhaps should have been home and dry by then. The penalty was debatable but if it had occurred at the other end we would have been screaming for a 'nailed on' spot kick. It is a myth to suppose that if you get the ball first it can't be a foul.
It's effect on the game was minimal, we might still be playing and not have scored. However the fact that Palacios picked up his long expected two match ban will impact on the Arsenal and Chelsea results. Elsewhere Man.City thrashed Birmingham, no mean feat, and unlike us are ona goal fest.. If you don't score you can't win. Liverpool could only draw at Anfield with Fulham and it might just be a two horse race for 4th.
Last week we blamed injuries, this week it's the pitch or the referee; or both. The so-called 'lack of mental strength 'which is the accusation that the fans level at the team is no more clearly evident than in the attitude of the fans who cry 'foul' or the rightly ridiculed lament of fans that 'we wuz robbed'. This turns teams that came second into genuine 'losers' .Portsmouth had a game plan and they were disciplined enough to make it work.
Arsenal come to the Lane on Wednesday without Fabregas and others and this again is winnable. The iceberg sized pack on Huddleston's ankle after he was subbed makes his fitness unlikely but Ledley might make a comeback for this one which will steady the ship although he didn't play well at the Emirates. Lennon and Jenas loom on the horizon. Three points are the only antidote to our suffering now. They will quicken our pulses again, the veins in our foreheads will stop throbbing and it will be all on for 4th. which is a real prize rather than a bauble, proud Cup tradition or not.
I know, 'you don't get any prizes for coming fourth'; apart from the voucher for a gold card entry ticket to the rich man's club; the promise of an introduction to the elite players of the world; a more secure grip on the best of our own players and visits to WHL of the finest teams in Europe. Nothing to play for there then.
This was not our best chance of winning silverware; that's next year now. Nor have we blown our one chance in a lifetime to get into the Champions' League; that's still on. Nor was Saturday a 'disaster': hopes were dashed but nobody got killed. We just lost a football match we probably should have won. Now the Titanic, that was a disaster.