Sunday, 31 January 2010

A dangerous stroll in the park

If there ever was a damp squib of a football match then this was it. Passion? Skill? Drama? Today’s 2-0 win over bottom of the table Pompey simply had none. The biggest plus must be the three points that see us move back up the table into 6th place.

A tonic of sorts
Let’s face it, it’s been a crap week. The Derby loss to United was a real blow to everyone associated with the Club. This was closely followed by the inevitable departure of Robinho, a setback of a different kind in my opinion, although I’ll talk about this more in my next post.

So first and foremost we needed a good, solid result against Portsmouth today, and partly, we got that. But there were a few negatives to be drawn from the game all of which I hope we can put down to being hangovers from the events of Old Trafford in midweek.

Poor, poor Pompey
The atmosphere at the ground was flat from the off, even before a ball was kicked. In a sense this can be put down to the opposition. Poor old Portsmouth, worse off in more ways than one these days, offered little in the way of making it a hotly contested game. Propping up the Premier League table at the beginning of the day, they are no nearer changing that situation at the end of it.

A shot that hit the cross bar in the first half and a shot off target from point blank range in the second showed that Pompey did at least have something to offer. But when your luck is down, your luck is down, and Lady Luck is certainly nowhere near Portsmouth Football Club at this moment in time. Avram Grant will of course want to take the positives, but the sad fact is that there were little. Pompey are bottom of the table because they are a poor side.

Fortunate City
Portsmouth’s strife turned out to be in City’s favour today. In fact, if Pompey had been any better then we would’ve been in trouble for sure.

I am glad that Emmanuel Adebayor got his first goal since returning from the African Nations. His was an excellently taken strike, executed to perfection from Stephen Ireland’s through pass. Vincent Kompany’s commanding header minutes later gave the Blues a welcome two goal cushion going into the second half, a cushion that – looking back on the game – we badly needed given our own lacklustre play.

The root of our problems today were both of a physical and mental nature. The many Blue passes going astray told of a tired team. People talk of squad depth at Eastlands these days, but in some areas of the team – particularly the more industrious areas – we have not got it.

Central midfield immediately comes to mind. Nigel De Jong and Gareth Barry get through a lot of work in this department, but Barry particularly I think needs a rest. The lad has more or less been an ever present since the beginning of the season, only missing three games. Of course, this is one of the reasons why we have brought cover into this area in the form of Patrick Vieira, but we have yet to see the Frenchman as he continues to recover from a calf injury he sustained during his last appearance for Inter Milan.

And looking around the squad, there aren’t many more options in this department. Kompany and Pablo Zabaleta are the most obvious replacements, but defensive injuries and international call ups have meant that this duo have been needed elsewhere.

The result today was a tired midfield which lacked drive. We were not helped by Ireland once again playing out of position, being asked to play on both wings as opposed to his favoured central position. We were also not helped by a poor performance from Martin Petrov. The Bulgarian seemed to spend a lot of time complaining about not being in the side under Mark Hughes. The departure of Robinho and fitness of Shaun Wright-Phillips have since gone in Petrov’s favour, but today he did himself no favours: spraying balls around aimlessly, afraid to take people on down the right (albeit his weaker) side, shooting wildly, and of course doing what he will always do and never making strong challenges.

Mentally too, I felt that we weren’t in the game. The crowd was flat partly because of our opposition, but it was partly because of the lackadaisical way we went about the game. It almost seemed as if we expected to turn up and win. I know that we more or less did that in the end, and I know that developing the expectation to win is a major part of what we are trying to do here. But that expectation must be backed up with the work rate, concentration and the creativity. Clearly these three things were not always in the mix for the Blues today, and that can be a dangerous concoction from which to drink. All the crowd needed was a strong, committed tackle or a spurt of pace going forward, but it rarely got that, aside from the usual exemplary efforts of Carlos Tevez and, when he entered the fray, Craig Bellamy.

Taking the long view
Come April or May, no-one will remember the nature of this result, but they will look back and remember the win. It is of course only the points that count, and today we bagged all three. It shows how far we have come in the sense that we have won this game without really expending much effort. But we won’t be able to win many more games in this fashion from now on.

Indeed, the fact that we did not do more to try and annihilate Pompey and clock up a drubbing of a score line may count against us at the finish line if goal difference comes into it. That certainly would be hard to take. Sometimes, strolls in the park do not turn out to be as pleasant as they may at first seem.

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