Bolton 4-1 Latics
Sunday 9th December 2007

You can try to keep the sunny side up as hard as you like, but when you’re faced with the type of situation Latics are in, after the sort of performance they’ve just mustered at their nearest rivals (at kick off – both on and off the pitch) and no one would have to offer apologies for even the dreariest of pessimism.  There may be something in the theory that Sunday’s result only felt so bad because of the hope that the City game gave us, but then again, when your team is capable of defending like they did here, you should know that any hope is futile.

The simple matter is that Latics had chances, but didn’t take them and then, when the defence was put under the slightest of pressure, it crumbled.  If they’d managed differently on either count in this game then Latics would have come away with a different result.  The sorry thing is that both counts will have to be addressed if we’re going to get anything out of the season.

Wind things back a couple of seasons and defending came easy to Latics.  Losing the ball say them fall back into two banks of four and put pressure on anyone and anything that came into our half.  Simple really, maybe too simple for this league of superstar strikers, but everything has to start somewhere. 

When you’ve just conceded four goals, it’s easy to focus your ire on the back four.  After all, it is their job to defend, but anytime spent debating their relative abilities would be wasted.  Arguments that Taylor should have come in for Melchiot, that Bramble and Boyce are the better central partnership and that Kilbane is not a left-back are all very well but only serve to hide the fact that we have (Fitz Hall aside) a reasonable back line.  The real problem is how often it gets exposed. 

As great as a midfield with, what are essentially, two forwards playing on the flanks alongside one player who would try to get into the box, if he were playing centre half, and a ‘creative’ player providing the ballast sounds, it doesn’t make for a solid team.  Whether or not the players are even good enough, in this league, to do the jobs they would prefer to do is simply irrelevant, a midfield with an attacking bent is not what we need in this situation.

We may have applauded the football that Chris Hutchings’ side played earlier in the season but it’s basically got us nowhere.  Steve Bruce is starting again from scratch and that means we need to get ugly, before we can even think about playing any pretty stuff.  It’s not nice to think that, after nearly three years in the top flight, we have to revert to rough and tumble but we’re in a mess and solid foundations are required if we’re going to tidy it up.

The thing is that Steve Bruce is desperately short of players to help him do that.  Put Ryan Taylor and Kevin Kilbane on the wings and we sound a bit more solid, but without a recognised left-back that’s not a likely option. 

The problems really come in the middle of the park, with Scharner looking more basket case/less footballer with every passing minute on the pitch, Skoko big on willingness but short on pace and Brown still with plenty to prove and the temper to stop him getting the chance to.  Denny Landzaat may be much improved, but without the right people alongside him what chance does he stand.

It’s obvious that the new manager has a lot of shopping to do come January but there are games to play in the meantime and he needs to use what tools he’s got for the time being.  It’s a good job I’m not in the business of telling the manager who to pick, because basically, beyond accommodating one of Valencia or Koumas by sticking them upfront with Heskey, I’m clueless on that one.

I suppose that’s what Steve Bruce is getting paid the big bucks for, and on this performance he’s got about £1,999,999.99 left to earn on this year’s instalment.

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