It might only be Monday morning, but I’ve decided that it’s time to draw a line under the West Ham debacle so that I can try to get some kind of positivity going for the next two games. The way things look at the moment, that could prove a nigh on impossible task, but try I must. You can only hope that Latics’ players feel the same way too. Perhaps the only chink of light that you can take away from the West Ham game is that it absolutely has to be the low point of a terrible season. Whilst you wouldn’t bet against another performance like that, it surely can’t get any worse.
Parallels have been drawn with the FA Cup defeat to Canvey Island. A performance that so acutely highlighted the problems in the club and can now be seen as the starting point for the Jewell revolution that saw Latics rise to the Premier League in hardly any time at all. The problems then should not have needed bringing to anyone’s attention, the same applies now. If the preceding 37 games had not made it apparent that the class of 2007 did not have the vital elements that make up what we’ve come to expect from a ‘Paul Jewell team’.
I’m not going to waste my time trying to convince anyone that Denny Lendzaat has more ability than Jimmy Bullard; that Kevin Kilbane should be a better option on the left than Lee McCulloch or that Louis Valencia gives us more than Gary Teale. You have seen the evidence and either believe that or not. Either way it’s clear that no matter whether, or not, the squad has more technical capability than its predecessors, it isn’t able to live up to their achievements.
Whatever the relative merits of those players, and Jewell’s other signings this term the fact is that they haven’t delivered. The lads that we have lost had character, and had it in buckets. If those we have taken on have any character, it’s the moribund demeanour of the desk clerk who so desperately wants a change of career, but hasn’t the balls to do anything about it.
There lies the difference. At the end of each of our seasons in the second flight, the suggestion was put forward that the players we had were prepared to give up on promotion because it would see them pushed to the fringes of the squad as better players came in. Of course that was nonsense, those players had plenty to prove, and the belief that they could make it at the top.
This time around, just as we need that desire, just as we want to see some of that belief, we are served up with the proof that the squad is made up of jobbers, career footballers who know the value of their contracts. If they weren’t safe in the knowledge that they’ll be paid no matter what, or had one eye on that escape clause, then they just wouldn’t be playing like they have been.
If they were unable to show the passion or pride required in the West Ham game, then it seems highly unlikely that they’ll discover it for Boro. At least not on their own, facing up to that problem is perhaps the biggest challenge that Paul Jewell will have faced as a manager.
So, how does he break the malaise? There’s a temptation to say, ‘drop them all and put the reserves in’, but essentially there aren’t any. Ok so the likes of Taylor, Cotterill and Johansson could be used, but they’d be players on the fringes of the side and the sickness runs right through the spine. In any case, they can hardly call themselves blameless in our current plight.
The one thing I do know is that we’ll never survive playing to big Sam’s blueprint. When we play long balls, they are too often aimless, and the midfield doesn’t seem to know what a second ball is let alone how to fight for one.
If we’re to have any chance over the next two games then Jewell has to prove the commentators right. They’ve been telling us all season that he wants his team to play football, that if won’t be happy with them lumping balls up to Emile Heskey. There have been few indications of that this season, and I’m starting to come round to the opinion that the players have to be playing to order.
Hopefully that’s it, hopefully I’ve managed to extinguish all my negative thoughts, we’ll see when (or if) I sit down to write my match preview. I don’t like being unconstructive, but I’m, frankly, stumped. You can only hold out in the hope that the manager isn’t.
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