Due to the horrors of the real world (new flat! new flat!), a near-lethal bout of man-flu and, most pertinently, a mightily ropey wi-fi connection, the AANP ramblings of recent weeks have been trapped, like the three evil types inside the glass prison in Superman 2, on a usb stick, unable to make it to the interweb. However, to ease the pain of the international break, this back-catalogue of previews and match reports will now finally see the light of day – which means that you lucky things will be able to relive all the hundred-miles-an-hour excitement of the past three weeks or so! Huzzah!
22/9/2010: I guess this is what it would be like if the A-Team were locked in a shed, constructed their usual tank and burst out of said shed – only for it to break down immediately and for all four of them to be dragged out and shot to death. Having rather hung on for 90 minutes, extra-time promised some sort of rousing finale, so there was an unfortunately anti-climactic feel to the manner in which the game so swiftly became a lost cause, with the best part of half an hour left to play. (That said, pats on backs to all those who hung around to sing their hearts out in the dying minutes – oh that those on the pitch might have shown the same passion…)
Rare starts for Livermore and Naughton, and a debut at centre-back for Caulker. Each of them did just about what you would expect: some slick technique, plenty of youthful enthusiasm, some false bravado and a few moments of panic when hairy situations arose. None had me salivating in frenzied anticipation, nor cursing the day they signed up as lilywhites. Good luck to all three.
The grown-ups however ought to have known better. In the first half in particular there was a lack of leadership, with Sergeant Wilson – now resembling a poor man’s Zokora, of all things – Giovani, Bentley and Pav a little too willing to let the buck be passed, rather than leading by example.
Aside from the personnel, the first half formation was a mite curious. ‘Arry seemed to go for three deep midfielders, in Sandro, Livermore and Palacios, and they spent much of the first 45 getting in each other’s way; while Bentley was stationed out on the left, and Pav moped around waiting in vain for some service or some company up top. All generalisations you understand, but in general the tactical approach of the first half seemed rather a muddle, and we also spent rather a long time learning that precious little damage can be done if we don’t have the ball.
However, the second half brought more purpose, most obviously through the introduction of Keane, who bounded around with an enthusiasm that put several of his team-mates to shame, and the reversion to a more orthodox 4-4-2. Given l’Arse’s curious penchant for trying to win through looking pretty rather than outscoring the opposition, we actually created the better chances over 90 minutes. For all their possession, including that three or four-minute spell in the first half where we simply could not get a touch of the ball, we actually defended in sufficiently organised fashion to prevent them making many clear chances.
Thrown on when we went 3-1 down and the game was officially being stamped with the big red sign that reads “Cause: Lost”, I did rather scratch my head and wonder why ‘Arry opted against his inclusion from the start, particularly having made all sorts of noises beforehand about giving him some game time. True, he hardly covered himself in glory during his 20 minute shift, but the chap is still a mighty useful player, and I would purse my lips in frustration if he were shunted out of the door come January.
A damn shame to get knocked out like that, and the baiting from my Arse-supporting chums was an unwelcome throwback to the days of yore, but it is fairly undoubtedly a measure of how far we have come that the Carling Cup, the trophy that was the pinnacle of our season just two and a half years ago, is now this far down our list of priorities. Having taken a hammering at home to that ‘orrible lot from up the road, the sentiment on the train back up to Enfield was one of only mild annoyance, for this was very much a match played with the bigger picture in mind.