Monday, 30 November 2009

Another day, another dollar, another draw

I was nervous going into Saturday's game with Hull, but I did not expect a 7th consecutive draw. I was so frustrated I felt sick. Maybe I should see a doctor.

We are certainly not at crisis point, but this trend needs to be arrested quickly. All City fans, whether they be of the uber pessimist or die hard optimist ilk, must recognise that something is not right. What is the problem? How do we go about fixing it? These are the real questions, pretty much identical to the ones I asked after the Burnley game.

From 5-1 to 1-1
Let’s be honest, Hull will have headed home laughing their socks off. Phil Brown must have been incredulous on that bus. It seems their luck has changed for the moment and fair play to them. Apart from the industrious Jimmy Bullard – their best player by far – they had very little to offer other than the usual fouls on SWP and awkward, bouncing punts forward for our centre backs to deal with. They’ll struggle staying up but if they fight like they did yesterday they’ll certainly give themselves a great chance.

Aside from a miscommunication in the first half (the crowd blamed Richards but Given didn’t seem to be telling him anything in terms of leaving or clearing the Hull cross), and of course the goal in the second (to which I was irate that we again allowed opposition attacker a free header in our penalty area so late in the game), I thought we saw defensive improvements. I’ll admit that Richards continues to look shaky, almost resembling the schoolboy that needs to be told where to position himself. He still looks at his best when going forward, purely because of his strength and speed. It was much better from Lescott, I think he had his best game in a blue shirt, which was still not great but given his recent form was a positive. He looked more commanding in the air, did better with clearances, and of course saved our blushes by clearing a shot off the line in the second half. It was better from Bridge too – again not great shakes but the left back positional sense looked a bit more assured.

I think Jimmy Wagg’s post match phone in on BBC Manchester indirectly underlined these improvements. In recent weeks the defence has rightly been taking the brunt of criticism. This week it was the turn of the attack, again, rightly so. And I must say I think the attack has been getting away with it of late.

It was not that we did not endeavour to go forward. It is just that our control of the ball and concentration in the final third was woefully lacking. To many times did the final ball go astray. Too many times did it not reach a blue shirt. Too many times was it inaccurate. Our set piece play also seems to have regressed. We seem intent on hanging corners to the back post area. Why not mix it up? Why not try a fizzing inswinger into the box? This isn’t acceptable. We have to expect and demand more from this crop of attacking talent.

Robinho was the best of our forwards on Saturday, looking dangerous every time he was in possession. Adebayor continues to disappoint after a blistering start. The only target man we seem to have in the team is Santa Cruz. I wished we used him more like the battering ram he is rather than employing him in approach play positions around the edges of the box.

It is also futile to push forward the ‘we were robbed by a bad refereeing decision’ argument. It probably wasn’t a penalty and SWP had a decent penalty shout turned down at other end. But this is not the point. We should not be hanging on these decisions against team like Hull. It smacks of desperation. We should have pulled away long before the referee pointed to the spot.

Underlying problems: confidence and leadership
One of our most assuring performers, Nigel De Jong, speaks of the confidence being there but the rub of the green as deserting us. Well, I think we are a side running low on confidence. Great players have come in and perhaps the squad has half expected immediate results. And when those results have not come off, heads have gone down. This is where team spirit and leadership come in, or in our case lack of them.

And that is partly down to the squad being new. This is the reason why Hughes has brought players like Barry and Toure to the club – to play well and lead. But it is no mean feat to come straight into a club and take up the captaincy immediately. Leaders need to be built up and need to feel an affinity with the club they lead. Of course, this takes time. Richard Dunne is gone, so there is no point harping on about how much we miss him. The Irish centre back, a legend of the club, was never going to be our long term future. Players like Onuoha and Lescott are.

So when Hughes rightly talks of the team showing a collective anxiety, we know and the players probably know that there is no-one amongst them who is currently capable of quelling it. Only time will provide the solution. Before we can seriously think about the top four, this team needs to build character. To do that, I think it needs to lose together as well as win. It is vital we remember that the team is still only in 6th place, five points off 3rd. But the weight of expectation dictates that this team’s back – however rightly or wrongly – is up against the wall. This is where the foundations of a winning team spirit are built – not by winning your first five games and having it all too easy.

A note on the future of Mark Hughes
In no way should we be contemplating parting company with our manager. The chopping and changing of managers has never brought good things to this club. I know that it is different now in the sense that money is no object. But we need consistency, badly. At the very least Hughes should be given until the end of the season.

The pro-sackers should be careful what they wish for. There are no guarantees in football and a new boss won't guarantee us anything. Impatience has been the enemy of this club for far too long. It would be madness to prolong this trend to make it 12 managers in something like 20 years. Mansour and Khaldoon need to apply patience here, and I believe they will do it until the end of the season.

A note to Jimmy Bullard
Finally, even if it is at the expense of City, it is good to see the Hull midfielder enjoying his football again given his horrible luck with injuries. Bullard is an excellent player, and I would like nothing more than to see him in the England World Cup squad. I congratulate him on a well taken penalty and a celebration that was truly legendary.

1 comment:

  1. Could not agree more that we should stick with Hughes and that impatience is our biggest enemy. The side as a whole are clearly struggling for confidence and self-belief but there is plenty of time to turn it around. Putting a clock on it will only prolong our problems. Now more than ever this team needs our support, not criticism.