31 December, 2006

Good Evening and welcome to ...

... tonight's edition of "Guess the Formation".

Our first question is: "given this set of players ... Smith, Thompson, Cullip, Breckin (c), Curtis, Southall, Clingan, Perchio, Commons, Holt (Gr) and Tyson ... what formation would you expect them to play?"

You're right ... it's 4-3-3. Unless it's 3-4-3. Or 3-5-2. Or 4-3-1-2. Or any of the above.

Nottingham Forest 1 - 1 Tranmere Rovers

First off, credit to Tranmere. I remember seeing Rotherham (under Ronnie Moore) doing the same to us before. In fact I've even written about the tactic before. This was text book. Southall was left totally out of the game. Clingan and Perchio were outmuscled in midfield. The ball spent years in the air. Time wasting was the order of the day. And it worked. We simply couldn't pass today. Without service Commons, Tyson and Holt were spectators.

Secondly, we don't half whinge. Honestly. Given the absence of our two major scapegoats (at least for part of the match) we just moaned and whined about football in general. The bloke behind me was giving it all the "just pass the ball to a red shirt for fuck's sake". Then, when we started passing to red shirts (backwards or sideways because of Tranmere's work-rate) he pipes up with "this is Chuckle Brothers' football ... to me, to you". At no point during the ninety minutes did I hear any encouragement, not even a "Come on", from him. And he was nowhere near the only one. No wonder we're such bottlers, especially at home.

Thirdly, their goal. It was obvious Taylor would score for them and judging by his celebrations it meant a lot to him. I was never one of his critics (apart from a couple of frustrated elbows) and I'm actually pleased he scored against us (although a 2-1 victory would have been better).

Fourthly, our goal. Despite all the whining about wanting short passing and not going forwards enough, the goal came from us defending deep and using a long-ball counter-attack. Clingan swept a magnificent cross-field ball (very long) to Curtis who managed to break on the left wing. He put in an excellent cross for Perchio to run onto.

Fifthly, their keeper. He needed booing. Yes, he injured himself. But he did it clattering Tyson, and it's to Nathan's credit that he stayed on his feet when we should have had a free kick. So tough.

As for the players:

Smith: much improved.
Thompson: I think he was playing right-back and did OK.
Cullip: Still organising, still our strongest defender.
Breckin: Caught out once or twice but reasonable.
Curtis: Totally out of position for most of the game, causing Breckin to make some last-ditch tackles.
Southall: Marked out of the game.
Clingan: Muscled out of the game and ineffective (apart from the goal).
Perchio: Muscled out of the game and ineffective (apart from the goal).
Commons: I have no idea where he was supposed to be playing but he certainly put in a lot of effort till his hamstring went.
Tyson: As ever he looked dangerous till he was taken off (presumably for his calf strain from last week).
Holt: Ineffective. It appears that he needs Jack as a partner to play for us.
Agogo: On for Commons and worked hard for not much return.
Dobie: On for Tyson and did nowt.
Holt Snr: On for Clingan. Added a bit of muscle to our midfield but didn't affect the game much.

Lastly, we're no longer top. In some ways I don't care. Promotion is what counts. In some ways I'm fuming. This is bottling it of Arsene Wenger proportions (if we fail to win promotion then it's bottling it of Keegan proportions). But this is just the half way point. Get the juggernaut back on track, grinding out three points without playing well and I'll be happy. Get promotion and I'll be happy. Get first place and I'll be happier. But you can never tell about a manager till he has been tested. I don't think CC will be tested at all this season, unless that Keegan-style descent into madness happens.

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