CRISIS? WHAT CRISIS?
Mickey Blue Eyes
Let me begin with a "funny" sports story, one so old it can almost collect a pension in the telling: The England cricket team was playing Australia in an Ashes match, games moderately famous for mutual "sledging." As an incoming English batsman reached the crease he was given the treatment of, "Ya fat barstid. 'ow cam a fat cant like yew got to ply cricket?" To which the prompt response was, "I ate a biscuit every time I shagged yer ma"......Yes, I know......well-worn. But still at least funnier than Sunday's game with Crystal Palace. Make the most of it.
Midweek, I had mixed feelings about European competition. Of course I want the glory, but too often it is over reliant on keep-ball, or on someone making a mistake, or on a sudden burst of genius. The result can be a midfield bog. In that respect I am old-fashioned-English-footy inclined: I want the edginess of play in and around the enemy penalty area, of end to end quick fire raids and the skill and opportunism of long passing. Successful possession football is much more skilful but it also depends enormously on attrition. I cannot agree with those who say it bores them witless, but I understand why they say it. And No, I have no pressing desire for its polar opposite of slambamthankyoumam stuff. I just like a better balance.
Our midweek 4-1 win over VfL Wolfsburg was a near-classic example of the genre. The margin was as surprising as it was emphatic; all our early season concerns evaporated - well, until last Sunday anyway - as quickly as the German defence and midfield. To say it was a massacre is an understatement. It was all over two minutes after half time when the score went to 3-0, after which Our Boys played said keep-ball and sat back. Small wonder their manager Dieter Hecking was furious with his players afterwards. Giving the ball away in midfield is a sin, but in European competitions it is tantamount to mating with Beelzebub. None of it detracts from an excellent and well deserved victory against a very good side, one in which the Germans were force fed a taste of their own medicine. It brought proper praise for Roberto Martinez and a settlement of nerves around the Old Lady. We hoped normal service was resumed.
Then along came Crystal Palace, one of those weird Lahndan clubs, like QPR or Reading, who really should be playing in the Rupert Murdoch Essex League or the Daily Mail BNP Conference. For sixty years they were nicknamed "The Glaziers," a title with echoes at contemporary Old Trafford, but changed it to "The Eagles" in 1975. Presumably this was to give them a motivation similar to the Roman Empire, Romanoff Russia, Nazi Germany, and the USA burger-munching invader monkeys. Unfortunately for them it had the reverse affect. Often they were more like sick sparrows. Sadly for their fans their club went bankrupt in 1999 and then again in 2010 after being bought and sold by a series of spivs crooked even by cockney barrow boy/Canary Wharf standards; Lahndan controlled media call them "entrepreneurs" and "businessmen," while the rest of the nation must make do with "scroungers."
Anyway, eventually Palace recovered and managed to get back into the Premier League, where they cling on, just. But even short term manager Tony Pulis had enough of their current owner and left the job to the itinerant mad parrot that is Neil Warnock. Prior to our Sunday match they were in nineteenth position and we were twelfth. All of us expected a sound win as belated compensation for the pantomime of the same fixture last season.
Match day dawned beautifully bright and clear, the Mersey as Blue as the sky, temperature moderate, yet another perfect setting for a match. El Bob gave debuts to Samuel Eto'o and Christian Atsu in place of Aiden McGeady and Kevin Mirallas, left out Seamus Coleman, moved John Stones to right back and replaced him with Sylvain Distin at centre back, and in an ingenious stroke had Leon Osman in at the expense of Steven Naismith. Total, an overconfident five changes. Later, Mirallas, Naismith and Darron Gibson subbed for Atsu, Stones and Distin. The referee blew his starting whistle and everybody promptly went to sleep, including half our players, but excluding the enemy. I will not waste too much of your or my time with what followed.
We played competently for the first quarter hour, then morphed into a hideous circus of half-competent mildly-energised clowns, Leighton Baines excluded. I apologise, but really it is the only suitable analogy after this absurdity of - sorry again if this sounds pompous - shoddy, hesitant unprofessionalism. My usual optimism and patience evaporated as surely as our chances of a top four place. Instead of playing tikky-takky we played har-dee-har footy and lost pathetically to a team no more than moderate. Around me, seasoned fans failed to choose between laughter and tears. It was that awful. A late rally only managed to emphasise earlier slapdash horror.
Romelu Lukaku scored after eight minutes after a neat move sliced them open and got him clear in the left penalty area with the ball on his deadly left foot and he despatched it accordingly. In the seats we sat back expecting a rout. Unfortunately, so did Our Boys. Given our track record thus far this season it came as no surprise when Tim Howard gave away a stupid, needless penalty for an equaliser after the entire defence left it to each other to make a simple clearance. In the second half Tim also managed to jump under a harmless cross to let in a headed second that looked like a script from a Morecambe and Wise classic. That was before Osman did an inimitable pantomime donation of the ball for a third. Bainsey got our second with an inevitable penalty ten minutes from the end, but really we never looked likely despite some near misses. We got what we deserved, which was nothing.
More of this nonsense and we can expect to miss out the top half of the league table, never mind fourth. And I cannot even start to think what a repeat performance would mean in next week's derby at analfield. If Our Boys cannot summon determination for that game, of all games, then we are due a very long, very hard season of letting in lots of ludicrous goals. Which would be a pity, given the pre-season optimism and good will. Maybe too many people got too complacent. If so, a swift electric cattle prod in the nether regions would be appropriate.
Enough is enough, already. The joke is over. I never liked biscuits anyway.