Losing to Stoke City at home could be summed up by the fact that it was just one of those days when nothing went right for us. We had countless chances and their goalkeeper was man of the match. On another day we would have won by a large margin.
Saturday’s defeat to Wolves was quite different. They scored early on and quite understandably decided to sit back and soak up our pressure. Despite having a full 88 minutes and an amount of injury time normally only seen at Old Trafford, to at least grab an equaliser, we found ourselves lacking the invention to break them down.
Perhaps we’ve been kidding ourselves slightly as to what this team is capable of. We’ve spanked the likes of Burnley and Wigan at home, but both sides came and played very open football against us. Against a Wolves side that were willing to sit back and be resolute, we had no answer.
I’ve read some reports claiming that Wolves defended magnificently. No, they defended well, nothing more. The point is that we never upped our game to an extent that warranted them slipping into a defensive gear marked ‘magnificent’.
With Lennon finding himself with two markers every time he got the ball, we were left without any thrust. Sideways ball after sideways ball was passed around, without anyone creating a real opening.
When teams sit back like this, you need to attack them from areas where you have time and space. That means the full backs, but Corluka somehow seemed more lumbering than ever when in possession and the only thing that Assou Ekotto attacked was a fan in the first row.
Dawson was the only player on the pitch who looked like he wanted to grab the game by the scruff of the neck and do something. When Dawson got the ball he pushed forward with some urgency, but unfortunately he just doesn’t possess the footballing skills to convert his enthusiasm into a tangible chance. Why should he though? It isn’t his job to do so.
It’s men like Huddlestone and Palacios who we expect more of. We all know that Wilson’s form has been patchy of late, but his passing was just abysmal on Saturday. He looks like he needs a rest and a Sandro-sized rocket up his backside.
Up front Defoe and Keane were both anonymous. I’ve scoffed at the rumours of Keane leaving in January, but after that performance, perhaps Harry would consider it. How many other Premier League teams end up substituting their captain every game?
The question of our lack of leadership is another that has risen, after a rudderless display. It’s not a problem that can be solved overnight. You can’t find a Roy Keane or a Dave Mackay just hanging round on a street corner.
Other teams like Liverpool and Arsenal have placed their faith in their star players and asked them to lead by example. It doesn’t look like we’ve got a John Terry-figure likely to emerge from our ranks, so why not just give the captaincy to Modric? He is after all a player that everyone can agree deserves to be in the starting line up every week.
Luka’s introduction in the second half gave us a bit more attacking verve, but it was all too little, too late. Crouch came on at the same time and in our ever increasing panic, we once more resorted to lumping angled balls up to him from the most unpromising of angles.
It’s worrying that we lacked the guile to mount a comeback and adds to the assertions that we’re flat-track bullies. Had Wolves not scored in that second minute and shut up shop, then we probably would have won quite comfortably, but the measure of a good side is how well they can cope with adversity.
Would I write off our chances of the Champions League after this display? No, but only because everyone else is so rubbish too. It looks like Wenger might be right and the league will be won by a very low points score this season.
Of our rivals for fourth place, only Aston Villa won. A win at United is always impressive, but let’s not forget that we played them off the park a couple of weeks ago. They’re unlikely to go out and win their next ten successive matches, as are anyone else. It’s incredibly frustrating to not be picking up easy points, when all around you are slipping up, but it just looks like it will be one of those seasons and if we can hang on in there, we’ve still got a chance.
The City game now looks likely to be even more of a barnstorming encounter. This one could sort out the men from the boys and the challengers from the also-rans. Although as we’re playing City, it’ll probably be a draw and we’ll all be none the wiser.
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