There is an old adage which I am sure we all know, never mess about with a winning side. Sadly, or so it would appear, it is an English saying yet to be translated into Italian. On a miserable day, a poorly selected side put in a distinctively average performance against a no more than competent side on a truly awful pitch.
I heard Claudio a few days ago talking about the need to rotate the squad over this busy period, I had hoped he was at the Christmas Sherry. Rotation, as we all know to our cost, just does not work. That mistake was made worse by a failure to change things around by taking a few players off. There are two ways to look at this result, on the plus side we did better than last year and kept a clean sheet. The fact that only the gooners won of the top sides was also a plus so we actually strengthened our place in 2nd. On the negative, we missed a glorious chance to open up a far bigger gap between the others and, indeed, to go top for even a few hours.
In a similar vein to the Villa game, we started slowly and allowed Southampton far too much of the ball. I was grateful that they did not actually create that much as – good keeper though he is – I do worry each time the ball goes near Ed De Goey. And why, with all the time he has spent on the bench this season, has he not been practising his kicking which – if it were possible – has got worse!
We should have taken the lead after about 12 minutes when a fantastic ball in from Jimmy left Zola with an open goal. Somehow, and I can still not figure out how, he managed to hit the inside of the post. That really was the story of the game. Southampton work hard, close down well and are clearly very well organised, but they are extremely flattered by their league placing. With one possible exception – when Ed saved well with his feet – all of the chances to win the game fell our way. The incredible thing – and I guess the brain might be losing it a bit with Turkey overload – is that I cannot remember their keeper having to make a save until about 3 minutes from time. Willie Gallas hit his effort well from close in but their keeper managed to palm it away for a corner. Gallas then turned villain by saving two efforts on their goal. Not on purpose of course, but two goal bound efforts hit him before Marcel somehow managed to put the ball into Bates’ penthouse when 5 yards out!
The performance all round was dreadful, certainly the worst for some time. The finishing was poor with hardly anything going close to goal. The passing was dire, and our repeated attempts to play Southampton at their own game – hoof it football – made us look as average as them. But, and it is a big but, we didn’t lose! Once more, here was a game that would have been snatched from us in the past with either of the two donkies Beattie or Davies banging in a goal. They didn’t score, we remain unbeaten, and we did gain a point on last seasons result so I guess we will have to be happy with that.
There are, in my humble view, two things that are going to stop us winning the title. Firstly, the pitch. How on earth Bates could even consider allowing Fulham anywhere near it is beyond me. I know at times it was pouring with rain, but it looked cut to pieces even before the start of the game. Why is it that we cannot get a proper training facility and someone who can lay a decent piece of turf? The other reason, and I hate to say it as I had been gaining confidence with him of late, is Claudio. He picked the wrong team. OK, mistakes like that can happen but when it does, for goodness sakes, do something about it. There is no point in going through them all one by one, but two players do deserve a special mention. Quique De Lucas and Bolo Zenden. They were worse than awful. De Lucas, in particular, had as bad a game as it is possible to imagine. Why continue to put him through it when Jesper was sitting on the bench?
The result and performance were made worse, I think, by the fact that I was in the West Stand today. It makes the Library sound like a Who concert! Maybe it was just the upper tier, maybe it was too much Turkey, maybe it was just a lot of part timers out for a Christmas treat. It was just so bloody quiet!!
I know I sound like a miserable sod today, but at Christmas I expect to eat Turkey, not pay a small fortune to watch them play. I look ahead and see that Leeds have just started to put a run together and then we have the small matter of Arsenal. I hope that this performance was something we needed to get out of our system, otherwise we are facing a couple of major problems!
TEAM; De Goey – Babayaro, Terry, Desailly, Melchiot (Gallas 86) – Zenden (Lampard 85), Petit, Morris, De Lucas (Gudjohnsen 81) – Zola, Hasselbaink. SUBS NOT USED; Pidgeley. Gronkjaer.