Let’s face it, this game was written off by the majority of fans, most of all we didn’t want a draw, but given the choice of a replay at the JJB or losing to yet another injury time goal you’d have taken the draw every time. No matter how much there was to take away from this game, the biggest lesson remains, if you don’t do the simple things well, you can’t have too many complaints when you limp away with nothing.
As I wasn’t one of the, soaking wet, 150 brave souls who felt that sitting in an open stand for two hours, with the weather we’ve had recently, was a good way to spend your Saturday afternoon, I can’t offer you my own thoughts on the performance. From the various spurtings of WISH fm, MotD, Sky, newspapers and the Internet it appears that some, or all, of the following apply:
• Portsmouth battered us for 90 minutes
• Both sides put in a battling performance but Pompey edged it
• A much improved Latics performance should have resulted in a draw
• A much improved Latics performance could have resulted in a draw
• Although it came in the 92nd minute Kanu’s winner was a just end to the game
• We should all just give up and go home to the Second Division (or whatever they want to call it these days) as quickly as possible.
The one thing I can say is that the defending for Pompey’s two goals was diabolical. Is that the right word, maybe pathetic would be better. In both cases it was a case of “oh, I can’t be bothered stopping you getting that cross in, there’ll be someone else behind me to deal with it”. In both cases there was, first off it was Andrew Cole with a cracking finish and secondly Kanu who managed to get between two of our players to head the ball past Pollitt. So, if only on the fact that we don’t seem to be bothered about doing the simplest of defensive tasks any more, Happy Harry’s boys deserved the win.
This is the second game on the trot that Paul Jewell has marked out Latics’ defending for criticism. In truth he could have done it many more times. If you’re gifting the other team opportunities then chances are they’re going to stick some away. Whether that allows us to point the finger solely at the back four is another matter. Last season, Latics did everything together. They defended as a team, they attacked as a team. This season things are very different. Occasionally you will find them flooding forward or camping themselves on the edge of the opposition box, but how many times do you seem them going in the other direction doing the dirty work?
When it comes down to finding the reasons for that, I’m as lost as Paul Jewell seems at the moment. Have we got the tactics wrong, is it the personnel, or is it simply the case that the team spirit and winning mentality that the manager has nurtured since day one went south as quickly as you could say Jimmy Bullard to Fulham?
Of course there’s always going to be an element of fortune when your side gets beat injury time, but when it happens as much as it has this season, you just can’t hide behind bad luck. Teams concede late because they are unfit, because they lack concentration or because they’re just not good enough. Latics are allegedly one of the fittest sides in the division; the other two options are as bad as each other.
It’s a fact that this season represents the first time that Paul Jewell has (had to?) made sweeping changes to the line up over the close season. In the game against Blackburn the players who’d known each other the longest were probably Fitz Hall and Emmerson Boyce, and that experience had come elsewhere. It takes a while before players will put themselves on the line for each other, and no matter how well they tell us they are getting on off the field they’re playing like a bunch of strangers on it.
It’s a simple equation, the players we had last season had been through a lot together. There was a fair smattering of them that had been through a few highs and lows together and to put it simply were prepared to put themselves on the line for the team. The class of 2006/07 are missing that ingredient.
Before we can rediscover that spirit, Jewell needs to take things back to basics. Two banks of four, who will work hard, press the ball in their own half and can get forward quickly on the break is what got Latics where we are. Now that we’re facing relegation in the face it’s probably what we need to get back to. It’s debatable whether the squad we have now is technically better than last year’s, but it’s clearly not up to the task. It’s up to Jewell to decide whether he can get what he wants from the players he has, or he needs to go out and find another Bullard, another Kavanagh or both. At the moment it looks like we have neither.
There are some positives to come out of this game, firstly in the shape of our new signings. Granqvist and Haestad came through decent chunks of the game, apparently with good reports. The Swede started and word is that, after a shaky start, he settled down and put a good shift in. We might not have seen any fancy moves from our boy band member but there have been no bad reports, the way things are at the moment, that’s a good thing.
The other good thing came wrapped up our goal. Again it was a case of back to what you know with Teale crossing for McCulloch’s finish. At the start of his ban I called on the midfield to prove that Lee was no more than a squad player these days. They failed, and he will now get his chance to prove me wrong yet again. Teale will always have his detractors but carries one thing that the squad has been sorely lacking, pace. His cross for the goal may not have been the best, but we’ve not seen enough of them from anyone this season to be too fussy about it.
We should take the goal as a reminder that there are enough players knocking about who have seen some success playing Jewell’s way. The acid test is whether Latics can get them all fit and playing soon, if that doesn’t happen then we’re back to getting into a fight, with players that were bought to take a little more measured approach and the signs are that just isn’t going to work.
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