Most reports are bursting with the sort of hurt and disappointment such an abject performance brings. In the good old days this would be considered normal fayre – we were that bi-polar, but in recent years that have seen us lose but 2 Premiership games at home under Scolari, albeit to Arsenal and Liverpool and the mishap versus Citeh (our new bogey team) in January or whenever, so yesterday was a real bolt from the blue. However, just like Liverpool I’d say it had been coming. Our away performances haven’t been great so a decent team punching above its weight with a very noisy and partisan crowd urging them on was always likely to pierce our side at some point. Blackburn had chances to put us to the sword but failed to take them but Liverpool didn’t falter in that respect. At home, this vulnerability has slowly seeped in over the last few weeks, with Big Pete’s outstanding form and opposition poor finishing being the only reason we haven’t conceded at home, and it has been noted some very venerable contributors that our ‘laissez-faire’ attitude and general sloppiness born of arrogance would catch us out at some point.
Yesterday was such a day. Drogba is way off beam at the moment, piss poor free kicks, taking corners (albeit because no-one else can) and wandering round like a forlorn lost minstrel looking for his mandolin. In fact he may as well have lit up a Gitanes as he so resembled those rather sad bands of social lepers huddled outside workplaces desperately getting their nicotine fix. Anelka as a lone striker with support from Kalou and Malouda might have been a better choice, giving us a fluid front line with Malouda and Kalou switching sides to cause the likes of Bramble et al some degree of concern. Ashley Cole was swamped at times, Mikel Obi tried desperately to assert himself on midfield with no support from anyone. Branners is a great defender, but hr is no organiser. Bosingwa……sometimes he looks so exciting surging forward, but at one point when Ramires was in the box looking for support, Bosingwa was wandering around on the edge of our own box so far from the ball he may as well have been at home watching it on Sky. Anelka held the ball well, as he always does, but was given little in the way of options from an unbelievably static front line and midfield and often found himself with the ball but tripping over Flo or Zhirkhov in the same position. Someone has made the point that we’re far too left oriented and yesterday was a case in point, crowded and getting in each others way.
And then we come to Ramires. Yesterday he was poor, but he is young and we have to be patient. As someone who was in the ‘keep Kezman’ camp and wanted to see him given another chance, and then paradoxically wanted Malouda out after his first season having been absorbed into the ‘instant results now’ camp temporarily, I think the young lad needs that season to get things wrong and to develop and enhance his trade. The premiership is very different from anything he’s experienced before. You can’t sit here and praise Arsenal for giving kids a chance and then get on their backs when we play them, it just won’t help.
And on another point..yes he was poor, but he was badly exposed and ill supported by senior players who at times hung him out to dry with hospital passes and no obvious ‘man on’ shouts. I’ll say this he may have been poor, but Essien was worse against Fulham and I don’t see the same levels of vitriol aimed at his shite display. And if Ramires is too lightweight and gets knocked off the ball too easily then where does that leave Mceachran who is even thinner? What Ramires needs is a comforting arm (yes, the sort that Ray Wilkins could provide) around him to keep his spirits up and turn the negative into learning positives.
This leads to my own feeling that the treatment of Ray Wilkins did affect the team. I’ve been at work when redundancies have been made and dealt with in an entirely appropriate and decent manner. The affected people have always walked off with a generous compromise agreement that has cushioned the blow BUT every single one of those departures has had a negative affect on the remaining staff and it has taken weeks to get that team back to working optimally again. Now look at the magnification of that performance drop when the treatment of a well liked colleague is done so shoddily as with Ray. He was a friend of the players, a friend of the staff and for what currently appears to be no real reason he has been summarily sacked whilst his alleged ‘friend’ did nothing to change the way it was done, or find him another role. As the guys on Sunday Supplement said yesterday, this means he is either a powerless puppet (and hence no Ferguson or Wenger) or he just didn’t care. And for me that calls the integrity of the man into question. I’d hazard a guess that had a similar thing happened to Steve Clarke then Mourinho would have made that a resignation issue. As would Ferguson over Phelan, or Wenger over Rice.
Captains of aircraft, of cruise ships, of army battalions and of industry always tend to have a trusted band of lieutenants by their side, and usually one of those is an XO – a number two, someone who can support the boss with options and possibilities or observations that the main man can’t always see. It’s just not possible to see and do everything, and this applies on and off the football the pitch as well. Maybe Ray would have spotted the Ramires performance and nudged CA into pulling him out of the fire, maybe he wouldn’t. But whoever was there yesterday failed to see it, despite 41,000 all spotting the lad was in trouble and being swamped. So, ask yourself this – if Rays successor was there yesterday, why didn’t they spot it, and if they did why didn’t they suggest it? Further to that, this makes me question CA at times anyway. Yes, he might be used to the Autocrat method of club management, but surely as a person, as a man, you have some pride, some dignity. Surely no-one is happy being a puppet? Yesterday, he looked like Avram Grant, isolated, confused, bemused and perplexed. as no doubt most of us did. However we’re not paid to change things, and bringing on Kalou for Malouda was typically Avram, or at best a Ranieri-esque tactical louse up. As was the decision to put a right back in place of a tailor made but untested centre back. If I were Bruma, I’d be asking just how shit does everyone have to be before I get a game. If after the first 45 he’s had a hellish game then steady things up with Ferreira. I’m not blaming Paolo here by the way, but he is not a centre back. That decision alone was as bad a piece of man management as Capello replacing Green with James for one cock up….at which point that distrust means Green might as well have gone home. Bruma could well be thinking about a move, and I for one wouldn’t blame him. Ancelotti won us the double last year, and gave us a flying start this season but yesterday he looked bereft of ideas and inspiration, as did the whole team.
Now, lets give Sunderland some well deserved credit. To a man they played with fire in their belly. They were hard into the tackle, supported each other, and left no part of the pitch undiscovered. The goals weren’t lucky but well worked and well deserved and had Cech not been is such fantastic form, with one Banks like save and 3 or 4 others of world class status, then we’d have been buried and humiliated further. Michael Turner is a vindictive nasty git, but yesterday he was a absolute tiger, Henderson was superb, Richardson a thorn in the side, and the pairing of Wellbeck and Gyan looked ominously fluid and empathetic. As for Craig Gordon the goalkeeper, I can’t say because we did nothing to trouble him really. But for an outsider, you’d have only picked out one of those sides as reigning champions and it wasn’t us! Steve Bruce picked his two strikers and stuck with them, Sunderland didn’t park the charabanc, and came for goals which they duly got. Well done to them, and well done to Steve Bruce, a fully deserved and fought for win.
As for us, well if the rumours of a ‘drains up’ meeting post Inter Milan were true then lets hope something similar happens today because despite it being heart-warming like the old days, to the point where the gallows humour in my part of the MHU was in full flow, this is not what’s expected. Defeats at SB will happen, but what’s unacceptable is the passionless and gutless effort of yesterday, 3 or 4 players excepted. As others I’ve spoken to so rightly say, the last game like that was the anodyne 0-0 versus Hull that done for Scolari, a game in which we managed precisely zero efforts on target the whole game. A big big change is needed for Birmingham, a team with a formidable home record themselves, or we will get murdered on Saturday. Sadly, I’m not sure I can see that change happening in one week.
On the assistant front, my contact within SB who plays golf with Robbie, Gus, Franco, Ruud etc has spoken to GFZ. As you’d expect the man is honourable and has said it’s a loyalty thing and he would be uncomfortable taking Rays place as it would feel like jumping into someone’s grave. So that’s a ‘maybe’ then in my book!