LEON, SANTA'S LITTLE HELPER*
*Due thanks to Alan
Mickey Blue Eyes
Take my tip......don't go down with a cold on a Saturday match day, as I did for the Norwich match. You end up on the couch sweating out the bug while consulting text scores. Then you hear we've gone one down and in your delirium hurl your hot blackcurrant Lemsip against the nearest cushion. It's shit, people. Don't do it. Go the match and die in your seat.
So I filled last Saturday couch time reading while mentally reprising the Arsenal away match in riot torn Spiv City; that game was yet another of this season's hard luck stories. I am convinced I caught the bug in the utter dump of a pre-match pub across the way from the Emirates. Actually, we did quite well and in the second half were easily the better team until they got the winner twenty minutes from time with a once-in-a-lifetime volley. When you are on a roll, they go in instead of ricocheting off a roof truss.
Another tip: if you accompany a friend with walking sticks who cannot stand during a game, do not on any account sit behind adolescents with efflorescent acne and a porcine brain to go with it. Do not engage them with polite requests. In fact do not engage them with the English language at all, since their method of communication is a series of resentful proletarian powder-spattered grunts ending with the word, "Like." You might as well stay home and yodel in the attic. Which is exactly how I felt when Van Persie's volley went home. Nice, though, to hear the cockney fans whistling frantically for the game to end. Moyesy has the tactical measure of Wenger these days, if not the resources to make it count. Nice, too, to see young MacAleney and Gueye almost take a coat of paint off the far post after they came on as subs. An equaliser was the least we deserved. Pity, that. It was the season thus far in a nutshell.
By the time Leon equalised against Norwich I was in chapter VIII of J.K.Galbraith's classic American Capitalism reinforcing my perfectly justified Socialism. It seemed appropriate the chapter was titled The Unseemly Economics of Opulence. It is many years since our soubriquet "Merseyside Millionaires." Now we are "The People's Club." Or something. How times and fortunes change. Opulent we are not. Hence, bless them, Apostolos Vellios and Denis Stracqualursi. Naturally Norwich took the lead with their only effort of the match, a sort of weird shuffle, miskick and slow dribble over the line while John Heitinga, Tim Howard and Bainsey all counted the lace holes in their boots. It takes ages to get blackcurrant Lemsip out of a cushion cover.
When Wednesday rolled around I was just about ready to wrap up like Shackelton (Ernie, not Len) and venture forth. I was in the ground by 7.15 pm, unable to tolerate steamy claustrophobia in the pub and even steamier ludicrous transfer rumours that swirl at this time of the year. Then brothers John and Dan arrived and we swapped insults about teenage angst and acne versus colostomy bags. The acne and angst lost out. Badly. Routed in fact, as usual. Given our season thus far you wondered if it would be the only satisfaction of the evening. But it turned out alright.
Moyesy's team selection seemed to me to be about right, so really it boiled down to a question of attitude in the face of an enthusiastic, very young Swansea side. We had a clear edge in experience, and, as it turned out, in patience. Defence, same reliables plus John Heitinga; midfield Seamus wide right, Royston wide left, centre three of Felli-Leon-Phil; up front, Louis. Later, Maggy came on for Seamus, Tim for Royston, and Denis for Louis.
The first thirty minutes were tentative but not overly boring. Both sides tested and probed without threatening much. Then in the final fifteen minutes of the half Swansea seemed to run out of determination and could easily have leaked three goals. Royston was in good form even though he's clearly a car crash waiting to happen in every game - the crowd love his unpredictability and determinism, something we have lacked for a couple of seasons now. Fans are out of their seats every time he gets the ball. But less so when he switched wings and in the second half started hitting the ball against defenders in ways uncannily reminiscent of Jimmy Mac. Still, he's always willing to chase around and take a kicking into the bargain, and an English crowd will forgive you virtually anything for that.
He was at the heart of the only goal of the game when it arrived after an hour. An attack down the right looked like it was about to fizzle as a Swansea defender tried to usher the ball over the goal line for a goal kick. Instead, Royston got all irrepressible, chased him down and forced a corner. He took it himself and swung a beaut over to right side of the penalty spot as a bouquet of heads went in for it and their 'keeper stayed on his line. Leon just threw himself into it, it hit him on the left rear of his head and bulleted home. The second shortest man on the pitch had just scored a headed goal out of a crowd. Gosh.
Almost immediately Swansea went down the other end and almost scored what would have been a stupendous equaliser, a brilliant end to end move, down the right, and a magnificent cross to their inrushing striker. All he had to do was head it firmly either side of Tim Howard and it was home. Instead, he headed it firmly into his midriff. Well, it's about time we had a bit of luck.
After that it was almost one way traffic and we really should have wrapped it up by two or three. But as usual we could do little right up front, where Louis has now become a target of the boo-boys, a useful scapegoat in times of high dudgeon. This is probably why Moyesy sent on the Argentinian Firecracker for an interesting if unintentionally humorous fifteen minutes.
In summary, it was a slightly encouraging game bossed mostly by Felli in midfield and enlivened by Royston's efforts. Unusually, nobody produced a howler and we hardly ever looked in trouble. The only downer was Bainsey hitting the first man with his dead ball kicks, much the way Mikky did before he left......
At the time of writing we are eleventh in the league table, a fair reflection of our play thus far in a season all sensible fans knew would be a transition. Having no money makes it an even rockier ride one way or the other. There were signs in the Swansea game that maybe it won't be quite as bad as some of us thought, but I wouldn't make book it on it. The older players look shot to me, Phil, Louis, Tim, and Sylvain Distin is taking his time with a full recovery from injury. And if we want to bring in a player of experience and substance we will have to sell an asset first. I wouldn't want to be the man making those decisions, not with survival at stake. So gird up your loins and buckle down for the struggle. You'll need strong nerves.
Meanwhile, compliments of the season to you and yours. And smile, it works wonders.