I told you last week that I wouldn’t be at this one, nor was I able to watch it live on TV. I managed better than the Likely Lads though and avoided any info on the game until I was able to sit down with my Sky+ about 7pm. There was certainly enough about the game to keep me sat there through the full 90 minutes, my main conclusion being that it would be great if we could pause the live action at the JJB so we can visit the concourse for a beer or a pee (is there any difference?).
Someone who did go has promised me a match report, so I’ll not attempt to give you a lukewarm Sky tainted version of proceedings and instead let you have my thoughts on a few of the more obvious points of the game.
What use is dominating possession, being the better team and playing the better football? What comfort are kind words and considerations from the opposition and pundits alike? Latics may have the best squad of the bottom five or so teams (blame the sky panel for that one not me) but when they are as capable of designing their own downfall as they are upsetting the applecart then we shouldn’t be too hopeful about this season getting much easier, any time soon.
There’s not really that much you can say about Titus Bramble, that hasn’t been said before. His form has been one of the high points of this season and yet through momentary lapses of concentration he has cost Latics enough points to make the difference between wondering whether we can push on for a top half finish or whether we will ever break out of the increasingly tight relegation battle.
Unfortunately, for a player with a record for such lapses, the focus will always be on those points that he has lost us, rather than those gained that he helped build the foundations for. Equally such errors detract from failings elsewhere on the pitch that have, possibly, as much effect on results.
Yesterday Latics dominated well over two thirds of the game and only managed an own goal for their troubles. For the best part of those periods they looked dangerous without every looking like they had that killer touch. A striker may help in that regard but the problems don’t stop there.
In the lead up to the game, much was said about the ability of Mickel Arteta, the clear inference being that he was the player with the ability to make the difference. A team like Latics surely don’t have someone along those lines do they? As it happens we do, in the main I’m talking about Valencia, but honourable mentions should also go to Palacios and Koumas, the problem is whether or not we use them enough.
For the first 35 minutes, when Latics were on top, Antonio was in the game but then we slipped out of things and he disappeared a bit. Later on as the game stretched, the Ecuadorian came back into things and we started creating chances again. It was probably a bit late at that stage and when Latics got themselves back into it every ball should have been looking to the right wing, getting him involved and encouraging him to cause problems.
The other two? Well we all know Koumas’ faults and Palacios is still settling in, but between the three we’ve got enough to cause problems for those teams who tackle us on the assumption that we’ve nothing to offer in terms of skill and guile, providing we give them the platform to do it on.
Which brings us to the final stumbling block, the pitch, we all know it was built on a tip, we all know that it was a bog before that, we all know that the Rugby play on it as well and anyone who played on the old Robin Park pitches could have told you what the likely outcome was. Even if you’d missed all these clues you’ve had eight years to work it out.
Of course it’s difficult to keep a pitch going in those circumstances, but things are getting worse. In addition to the sparsity of grass and liability to cut up should you look at it the wrong way, some areas of Sunday’s pitch looked like they had been trampled on by horses rather than the tinkled toed ballerina’s shoes that we’re told football boots have become.
Whilst Bruce can do (or try to do) something about the other issues, unless he’s got hidden skills, there’s little he can do about the pitch. There isn’t (and never will be) time to dig it up and start again and apart from keeping our fingers crossed and hoping it can hold together something like until the springtime it’s hard to see what can be done. Surely there’s someone out there with ideas, they might cost but the alternative is probably more drastic on the balance book.
So there are the issues that I saw from my position in leafy part of WN5, there may be a match report on its way but I’m not holding my breath. Of course TV viewing doesn’t give you a proper view of what goes on in and around the stadium and I’ll pass you to Joe Hawkins over on his blog for some of that. You can also feel free to let me know your thoughts, by leaving a comment below, speak now or forever hold your piece.
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