Good grief, what a productive week. West Ham away and Man Utd at home could quite conceivably have ended in nul points (and would almost certainly have done so under Wendy Ramos). Admittedly the second half vs Man Utd increasingly became a backs-to-the-wall effort, but we did create some chances, and a clean sheet against the European champions, with an attack of Berba, Ronaldo and Tevez, is no mean feat.
That feat becomes even less mean when it is remembered that we began without King, and lost Woodgate to the most innocuous looking injury early on. We’ve been rather spoiled by an injury-free year for Woodgate, but the manner in which he picked up his “knock” – with no-one around him – was rather worrying, and memories of the original, definitive “Sicknote” came flooding back. Whereas Sir Les would get injured every week because he’d get concussion from nutting someone’s right boot, Anderton just didn’t seem to be built for football, and his weedy little legs rarely took the strain. His sinewy frame and gaunt face gave the impression of a man built of elastic bands tied around twigs – with the result that if he strained too hard he would snap. It had slipped my mind until Saturday, but Woodgate’s history suggests that he is similarly constructed. Hence, in the finest tradition of Anderton he incurred an injury seemingly just by landing, after jumping a foot in the air, and off he went, clutching his back and grimacing, like a grandfather who’d overdone it a wedding disco.
The resulting ad hoc back-four of Zokora, Assou-Ekotto, Corluka and Dawson hardly instilled me with confidence at first glance, but my goodness they did well. A lot of Dawson’s recovery tackles may come about because he erred in the first place, but he still made those recovery tackles in fine style. Zokora I single out for particular place, not only because he was thrust into unknown territory at left-back, but also because he was up against the newly-crowned Ballon D’Or winner, Little Miss Ronaldo. Perhaps, with his pace and penchant for an occasional 80-yard run, right-back could become a more regular spot for Zokora, in the absence of so many other options. Assou-Ekotto had his usual perfunctory, unspectacular game, although rather more eye-catching this time on account of his new hairstyle, which looked a bit like the grid from that board game “Battleships”. Gomes was quality. I’ve been one of his biggest critics, but the lad had a blinder – the spectacular leaping saves obviously catch the eye, but I was most relieved/impressed by the fact that he didn’t fail to connect when coming for corners. Bravo, sir.
Elsewhere on the pitch… Modric continues to look like he’s adapting to the English game with every passing match. Thudd performed an impromptu castration upon poor old Pavluychenko, which prevented what might have been a cracking goal (has Thudd ever scored any other sort of goal?) Bentley still looks like a flashy boyband member who has yet to prove he can walk the walk. However, his early long-range volley was a further indication of the renewed confidence that ‘Arry seems to have instilled in the team.
So positives aplenty, but all the jolliness is rather tempered by a glance at the league table, which shows that we’re still only a point above the relegation zone. This despite an unbeaten record against the top four this season* which makes all the more infuriating our losses to Stoke, Boro, Sunderland etc. The top half of the table remains tantalisingly close, but we will require a string of wins, rather than the win one, draw one, lose one cycle we seem to have adopted. The Prem takes a back seat for a few days as Spartak Moscow are next up, which at this rate is likely to see me make my debut in defence. Point needed to progress, I feel confident.
* = Pedantry alert – I’m aware that Villa are actually fourth at the moment, but for all intents and purposes I’m shoving l’arse into that little group.