A numbers game – WBA report

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Latics 0-1 West Brom
Sunday 15th January 2006

Now it’s not often that a football pundit makes you think, but on Sunday morning one of them imparted a piece of wisdom that, if not earth shattering, made me nod in recognition. Basically his point was that it is easier to go on a losing run than a winning one and it’s harder to come out of one. Much has been made of the way that Jewell’s team, in past years, has bounced back from a short period of losses but at the moment our league form, and lack of players, doesn’t suggest that a springboard to success is around the corner.

 

Did this run of poor league form start off with defeats against the best teams the league has to offer? Not as far as I am concerned. Talk of 8 defeats in 12 is misleading and the Games against Charlton, City and West Ham should have been enough to put the previous five games to bed. We have also shown enough form in the cup games against Newcastle, Bolton and the second half against Arsenal to suggest that we’ve not become a bad team overnight. The thing is the last three games have been against teams that are having to fight for things and poor results against teams in that position aren’t anything new.

Think back to defeats at home to Rotherham and the like, and the turgid mid season results in both of our last two seasons and it’s clear. When teams set their stall out to defend, be solid and stop us playing, we just don’t have the guile to do anything about it. On Sunday the only attacking outlet that was working for us was down the right and yet players didn’t have the nouse, or maybe the confidence, to get it out there quickly and often. A large chunk of fans have no confidence in Teale, it’s dangerous if the players are going the same way.

Part of me is saying that the only way out of this is to spend some money. It’s looking increasingly like two potential targets will be moving before the end of the month, if Jewell fancies Ashton and Taylor then it’s probably worth going the extra mile if they aren’t going to be available in the summer. The squad is looking mighty thin and from Sunday’s evidence even some of the lads that are playing aren’t fit to be (McCulloch looked to be struggling to walk back on after half time). The other part of me isn’t sure; it isn’t just the lack of numbers that we’re struggling with. There’s a quality missing from our play that was definitely there in the first part of the season.

I’m not 100% certain what that is down to, it could be a lack of confidence, it might be a lack of passion or it might be that they’re knackered. What worries me is that it could be a lack of hunger, a belief that they’ve done their jobs and their positions are secure. If that’s the case then they need their arses kicking. Jewell himself has suggested that there are players that are reading too much into the good press they’ve been getting, dangerous in any game but more so when you’re results are finely balanced. Yes they’ve probably done enough, but it would be nice to carry our heads high to the end of the season rather than thinking it was a good job we had an excellent start to the season. The players have a lot to be proud of so far this season, whatever the reasons their running the risk of letting that slip.

As for the match? Well in a funny sort of way I though the first half was a decent game, the standard of football was terrible but both teams were having a go. Sort of like second division played by millionaires. Scharner again impressed but it’s clear that he’s not fitted in to the pattern of play yet, if carries on improving on this form then I can’t see him getting many appearances at centre half. Elsewhere it became obvious that not only was the left wing an unfamiliar position for Jimmy Bullard, it was an experiment that didn’t work.

Indeed it was so ineffective early on that Jewell switched Teale and Bullard around. The other more obvious point that this half raised was that if were are going to carry on without bringing a striker in, we’re going to struggle. I’m not writing Connolly off as an option, and I was looking forward to seeing what he’d do over a run of games, but there’s been no indication as to when he’ll be fit and none of the other options look to have what it takes.

As is so often the case, the sending off spoiled the game. I can’t see how anyway can have any complaints about it. The first challenge was clumsy and I suppose the ref didn’t have to book Moore but he had plenty of reason to do. The second was clear cut; Roberts had done the defender all ends up. Yes he ‘made sure’ that Moore fouled him, but a player of his experience should know better than to get into that position in the first place.

After that I don’t think Robson had too may options other than take one of his strikers off cue laughter and probably the biggest cheer of the afternoon from the Latics fans as Ellington’s number came up, the Albion fans didn’t agree responding by telling their manage that “you don’t know what you’re doing”. Now I don’t know about you but in his position I’d also be looking to keep a player on who can hold them ball, for all he can give, that’s not Nathan.

The second half should have only gone one way but resolute defending on their part and a general lack of imagination on our part left the game open. In fact that’s not fair to West Brom, their goal may have come from a breakaway (and yes, it was a foul) they too had a decent period of dominance in our half of the pitch.

Roberts’ chance in injury time was probably our only clear cut one of the game, Teale got some good crosses in, but at the end of the day they didn’t provide too much in the way of clear opportunities. There are too many ifs after this game, but each one sounds like a poor excuse. The fact is that we weren’t good enough on the day and as much as we were unlucky, West Brom deserved their win.

There’s not much chance to mull this one over, the Leeds game comes 2 days after; a trip to Boro follows at the weekend and then it’s to Highbury for the second leg. After what seemed like an extremely slow start to the season, the games are coming thick and fast now. That doesn’t give much chance to fix things, whatever the problem; someone has a job on their hands. How much we enjoy the rest of the season depends on how well they do it

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