I wouldn’t want you thinking that I didn’t do a Birmingham report or a Stoke preview because I had nothing to say about them, in fact I probably had too much to say. The simple excuse is I didn’t have the time, but, even more so, I really struggled to get the balance right.
I didn’t want to come across too grumpy about the 15 minutes where Latics completely lost the plot and left themselves in too big a hole, but neither did I want to appear dismissive of the clearest indication of what’s wrong with our season by focusing on the quality of play in the first half or the fact that the team didn’t go onto total freefall and managed to wrestle some semblance of control back for the last quarter of an hour or so.
So we got all Latics’ inconsistencies laid bare in one game, but how hard is it to avoid them?
You get hammered one week, then grind out exactly the sort of result and performance that was required the week after. As icing on the cake you then come out in your next game and stamp your authority on a team that, so far this season has been doing better than you, going to the break with a narrow lead. Do you:
A) Start the second half as you finished the first and knock the visitors into submission?
B) Keep things tight, expecting a backlash from the other team?
C) Go to pieces and throw the game away in ten minutes of naivety, stupidity and general cluelessness?
Not that I’d make too much of losing to Birmingham. They might not have been streets ahead of us in the league before this game, but they’d started to be a damn sight more consistent. They’d not lost in 5 games and had won their last 2, including draws against Liverpool and City. They’d also got a ‘goals against’ column as good as anything that you’ll find in the top four (and better than some in it).
And then comes Stoke a side just a point behind Birmingham but with a different looking set of results. It’s been a mixed bag and recent times have seen defeat to Hull and a home draw with Wolves. Last up was a loss to Arsenal and the (hopefully) demoralising to do over the Christmas party. Still, think of Stoke in the mood that the Birmingham game has left you in and it’s hard to muster any kind of optimism (cue sweeping generalisations).
When I picture Stoke these days, it’s not a pretty picture. I think of a side as dour as their manager looks, a gang from the council estate running roughshod over the ‘exclusive gated cul-de-sac’ of the Premier League. (I’ve said before that I’ve no problem with that, I just wouldn’t want my side to be in that mould.) If you want to get anything out of them then you’re going to need fight, you’re going to need leaders, you’ll need to stand up and be counted.
Can Latics manage that? Who knows? I’m not so worried about how they play when they’ve got the ball, they’re pretty good on that score no matter what, but how will they fair without it, especially when the other team has a go. If they can muster a Sunderland like performance then they’ll do alright, play like they started the second half last week and we could end up with another embarrassment on the CV.
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