Monday, February 04, 2008

Same old problem, but we are improving

Leaving WHL on Saturday afternoon following our last minute capitulation to the reigning Premier League champions felt like we’d lost. That statement on its own shows how far we have come in recent months. OK we dropped two points, but to dominate a game against ManUre in the way that we did and to be disappointed to not beat them shows the bar is being raised at Tottenham.

In the last month we’ve thrashed Ar5ena1, drawn against Ar5ena1 and ManUre when we probably deserved to win them both, and lost to ManUre when we felt we weren’t too far off a draw. That’s not a bad return against two of the Big Four. If we continue to make progress at the current rate, then next time round I’m sure we’d get a better return from four fixtures such as those.

But rather than getting too far ahead of ourselves, let me spend a few minutes discussing Saturday’s game. Drawing a match that we’d spent most of the game leading, right up until the last kick, will always feel like a defeat – something we’re pretty familiar with this season. Despite being one of only two teams in the Premier League not to concede in stoppage time last season (the other being Newcastle), we have now leaked injury time goals in seven of our 25 matches this term. In fact, if we looked at the situation statistically, 40% of our league matches have resulted in injury time goals (for and against). We would have eight points more right now had none of our league matches had any injury time this season. Our failure to concentrate right up until the final whistle is currently the difference between 10th place and 11th, but will most likely be more significant come the end of the season.

Anyway, enough of my ranting – Ramos and co are well aware of the problem and will no doubt be doing what they can to fix it.

There were also plenty of positives that came from Saturday’s match against ManUre. Alan Hutton played well on his debut, Woodgate looked composed again, Pascal did well on his unfavoured side, Cerny pulled off a few good saves, we looked dangerous on the break, everyone worked hard, and I’m sure there were plenty more that I've missed.

What pleased me more than anything though was our improvement from the previous week’s game when it came to defending as a team. I don’t mean our ability to make the last ditch tackle or clear the ball off the line. I mean defending and keeping hold of the ball. At Old Trafford I thought we defended valiantly, but on Saturday at WHL we defended far more cleverly.

When we made a challenge or intercepted a pass, we used it to launch an attacking move. We held onto the ball. The defender found a midfielder and he found an attacker. At its most basic level, the midfield did what we needed them to do – they linked the defensive unit to the attacking one. But it wasn’t the midfield that caught my eye, it was the intelligence of the defence and the need to win the ‘second ball’.

At times during the cup game last week it was like watching England’s second half performance in the rugby – we just kept giving the ball away. It’s all very well congratulating ourselves on breaking down a ManUre attacking move, but if we immediately put ourselves under pressure again then we don’t do ourselves any favours. Rather than rugby, Saturday’s match was more like basketball. They’d attack, we’d stop them, build from the back and attack ourselves. Despite the end-to-end nature of parts of the match, it probably required less energy as our players had time to calm things down and control the pace of the game.

It might be a subtle observation, but as far as I’m concerned it shows we’re improving as a team and it also proves Ramos’ ability (he noticed the problem at Old Trafford and acted upon it so that it didn’t repeat itself a week later). I strongly believe he knows what we need to do and, other than the odd slip up, he is taking the traits of more successful clubs and trying to get us adopting them. It will take time but the first three months can be considered a success.


Markspur said...

Great points, but don't forget the diabolical refereeing, when a Utd player should have been sent off in the first half, and their player holding onto our players shirt in the box in the second. Also Keeno should have buried one when clean through! Plus Berbos volley in the first would have gone in sweetly another time! So I claim a moral victory saturday, with so many positives making the trip worthwhile. Every time a Utd player fouled one of ours, his team mate would harrass the ref, hoping to diffuse the situation and make the ref forget his immediate concern, and cheat us out of an advantage. Maybe an old ploy, but one Utd are proficient at. Woodgate was outstanding, he tackles with his head, legs and everything else, winning the ball fairly and professionally, a great acquisition and great to see the board signing some experienced heads! Hutton showed pace and tenacity in the tackle, and should become a favourite, plus with Bale and Gilberto ready to come in, some interesting years should be coming our way! Buying four defenders where we have been naive in these departments, shows we are ready to take the next step, but we do need someone to dictate the forward play from midfield when in possession. Huddlestone shows some promise, but needs to mature still. He had Hutton clear on the left once or twice, but decided to look for other options, delaying the break, and losing possession, which almost lead to a goal for Utd. Once, Berbo took the ball deep, and straight away our players took shape and prepared to attack, we need a midfielder or defender to be able to do this, but we are getting their! Utd are lucky mancs, but they will never change while Fergie is in charge. So here's to the League Cup Final, and hopefully the UEFA Cup and the future, we are on our way! COYS!

Markspur said...

Huddlestone shows some promise, but needs to mature still. He had Hutton clear on the RIGHT THEN WENT LEFT once or twice, but decided to look for other options, delaying the break, and losing possession, which almost lead to a goal for Utd. Oops! COYS!

N7teen said...

Good points markspur I'd agree with you. Clattenburg was abysmal (again). He really seems to favour ManUre at any opportunity - I think he was the ref that disallowed Mendes' goal and I also think he was in charge last season when Ronaldo was awarded that ridiculous penalty.

Anonymous said...

Not a United game, but he was in charge for the Reading Cup tie when Robbo was alleged to have carried the ball over the line. (To be fair, the incompetent lino gave that one)