Well first of all, an apology to ‘Arry Redknapp – I could barely disguise my displeasure yesterday at the twitchy one’s purported plan to field his weakest possible XI, instead of his full-strength team, in an effort to ensure defeat vs Man Utd and reduce fixture congestion as we battle relegation. However, it seems the cheeky scamp was playing us (meaning me) for fools all along. Play his weakest possible team? He had no such plan lined up at all. Oh how he must have chortled when he submitted his team sheet at Old Trafford, replete with Pav, Modric and Corluka, and not a Ricky Rocha in sight. How Alex Ferguson must have quaked in his boots when the cunning plan was unveiled. While Defoe was benched and Woodgate completely absent, the team was nevertheless fairly strong, at least if measured by salaries.Alas, it didn’t work. While an improvement upon the Burnley mess, we never really looked like winning and Man Utd were not required to hit top gear. There were some encouraging signs – the continued decent form of Dawson, the continued positive attitude Bentley, a better showing from young Alnwick – but there was also a pretty obvious difference in class, neatly epitomised by the build-up and finish to Berbatov’s goal. We struggled to put them under sustained pressure, and created few decent chances.
Thanks to the wondrous efficiency of the London Underground – comparable to Darren Bent in terms of value for money – I managed to miss the first ten minutes of the game. I therefore missed the goal (insert another Darren Bent gag here) – and also, it appears, the only worthwhile contribution of the last two games from the Hudd. Despite being given the platform of a 4-5-1 formation he created little over the 80 minutes I saw. I do doff my cap in his general direction in recognition of the sweet little pass for Pav’s goal, but he really ought to have been looking to pull the strings throughout. Instead, Man Utd won the midfield battle, while Hudd’s distribution was at best average, and his work-rate pretty woeful.
I may do him a disservice, in that he’s not a natural workhouse of an athlete, and therefore even if he is sincerely attempting to harry opponents and win tackles, the effect on the pitch is of a fat man lumbeing from point A to point B as if treading through quicksand. While nippy opponents scurry hither and thither, Hudd puffs and pants after them, apologetically sticking out a leg in the general direction of play, well after ball and opponent have passed him by. Given his limitations in winning the ball, much depends upon what he does with it – but when his passing radar is a little awry he’s more of a hindrance than a help.
The Hudd emerged in the team as the heir apparent to Michael Carrick, a player who was also a relatively weak tackler for a deep-lying midfielder, but who made up for it with his quite exquisite passing ability, not to mention the capacity to dip his shoulder and turn away from trouble, irrespective of how many opponents were crowding him out (a talent these days exhibited by Modric). Hudd’s passing can occasionally be of a similar, jaw-droppingly good level as Carrick’s was – but there’s the rub: it’s occasional. And typically, such occasions will see us already in cruise control in a game, and playing at the Lane. Cruise control hasn’t really been in operation this season, and the need for bite in midfield has been painfully obvious.
Still in his early 20s there is time for Hudd to develop his game, but how many more chances do we give him to prove he can boss a game from central midfield? Opponents of lesser ability but greater energy will continue to get the better of him, as Burnley did last week, and this might not be a risk we can afford to take given our current plight. It’s a tricky one, as his passing has at times had us drooling, and is very much in the stylish Tottenham mould. Rumour has it that Martin Jol (blessed be his name) is considering a bid to take him to Hamburg, and it’s certainly conceivable that he would thrive in a European league. However, too many more anonymous games and ‘Arry’s patience will snap, if it hasn’t already done so.