All Action, No Plot

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England 2-1 Ukraine: If It Ain’t Broke…

It wasn’t particularly broke, it didn’t need fixing. Curious then that Fabio suddenly came over all Norman Bates, picked up an axe and started swinging wildly until something was indeed broken.Lennon was doing a decent job on the right. He had not set the world alight, but there was always a threat, a bit of a buzz, whenever he got the ball and ran at his man. “Menacing” might be the word I’m after. That part in a horror film where the delectable and scantily clad young jezebel finds herself on her own in a dark house – you get the feeling something worth watching is about to happen, even though it might be a red herring.

Lennon on the right offered a genuine attacking threat, balancing (albeit asymmetrically) the Cole-Barry-Gerrard-Rooney combo from the left. At least, that’s how it was in the first half. The withdrawal of Lennon ten mins into the second half robbed England of their only pacy outlet, and coincided with the drop from “urgent” to “perfunctory”.

The introduction of Beckham ought to imply a general shoring up of things, with the game in the bag and 15 mins to go. Instead he was brought on with only a one-goal lead and 35 mins to play. Beckham didn’t get within 30 yards of the Ukraine by-line.

However, Beckham did provide the cross for the winner, which is basically his raison d’être in the team these days, and is something Lennon generally can’t do (certainly not from deep). So was Fabio right after all to withdraw Lennon? The case in his defence – Beckham’s assist – has been made; the prosecution argues that his introduction of Wright-Phillips once Ukraine had equalised indicates that Capello recognised the need for pace missing since Lennon’s withdrawal.

I guess the conclusion is that the whole bally lot of them rather lost urgency in the second half, and the replacement of Lennon with Beckham was a contributory factor – but, when it was needed, Beckham offered an attacking threat, albeit in a vastly different way from Lennon.

The Rest of Them

Elsewhere, it’s broken-record time, as Gerrard’s performance for country was again patently less impressive than his typical displays for club (which is the cue for all Liverpool fans to create life-size models of All-Action-No-Plot Towers and then burn them down in incandescence). Gerrard remains a square peg in a round hole for England. He is most effective behind the front man; but this would negate Rooney, who in a different sort of way is also most effective behind the front man. The bar ain’t big enough for the two of them.

Gerrard on the left is fine against Slovakia, but one wonders if he’ll be quite as effective on the left in the latter stages of a World Cup. Personally I’d go with J. Cole left, and Gerrard-Barry in the centre, with Gerrard having more licence to attack than Lampard currently does. The whole business of Lampard playing a more “disciplined” – i.e. defensive – role had me flailing my arms and muttering in frustration all night.

My man-crush on Rooney continues, but that darned red mist enveloped him once again.

James – calamity.

Ashley Cole – strangely beset by an identity crisis that had him thoroughly clueless as to his nationality, with the result that he spent most of the game passing to Ukrainians. Someone dig out the boy’s passport and talk him through it.

Terry – good assist, and smartly-taken goal, but reckless in conceding the free-kick for their goal. Oh that Ledley’s knee was healthy.

Crouch’s goal was also smartly-taken, but the celebrations for both goals were rubbish. Crouch at least had the decency to look thoroughly embarrassed by whatever the hell he was doing. The Terry-Rooney routine was as appalling as it was perplexing.

However, the bright and breezy take on the game is that we were excellent in the first half, patient and dangerous; and when we absolutely had to raise our game in the second half we did. Three points is all-important in qualifying. If/when we make the World Cup Finals, no-one will care about that dodgy half 30 mins in the second half vs Ukraine in April.

All Action No Plot 2008 Awards…

What better way to fill a 31st December posting than with some end of 2008 all-action-no-plot awards?

Let’s not beat about the bush – the calendar year 2008 has been largely woeful. No plot, and only sporadic moments of action saw us go into freefall after the Carling Cup win and head towards 2009 just above the drop-zone. However, you can’t take the all-action-no-plot out of the team, so without further ado…

All-Action-No-Plot Performance of 2008
Even this mundane year has seen completely mental 4-4 draws against both Chelski and l’Arse. However, for all sorts of glorious reasons the outright winner, by four clear goals is the 5-1 win over l’Arse. To quote the song – even Jenas scored! To see us tear apart the old enemy, to see them implode to the extent that they started headbutting one another, to see Steed sweep home the glorious fifth – and watching it all with a gooner mate, before returning to an office full of gooner mates… bliss.

All-Action-No-Plot Haircut of 2008
David Bentley will throw a right strop if he doesn’t win this one, having worn out the mirrors in the dressing room, and openly dedicated more time to flicking his on-off fringe than fighting for the badge. Jermaine Jenas went through a Samson phase early in the year, growing his hair, miraculously becoming half-decent, only to cut it short and become rubbish again. The winner is therefore Jermaine Defoe’s brief flirtation with the Wembley arc – across his head.

All-Action-No-Plot Goal of 2008
Robbie Keane’s late equaliser vs Chelski springs to mind, and Jenas’ late strike vs l’Arse is likely to be forgotten despite its quality, but the one that really made me leap out of my seat was Brylcreem boy David Bentley taking time out from his hectic schedule of personal grooming to thoughtfullly silence the Emirates with a 40+ yard uber-volley.
As I blogged at the time: Coca-Cola once ran a bunch of posters, showing grown men who ought to know better getting rather carried away at football matches. The line was something along the lines of “One day you will see a goal so beautiful you will want to marry it, move to a small island and live there with it forever.” That’s Bentley’s goal, that is. I want to marry it and have lots of baby wonder-goals with it.

All-Action-No-Plot Celebration of 2008
With Robbie Keane dispensing with the intricate gymnastics, there aren’t too many stand-out nominees. Woodgate’s lumbering jog of exuberance in the Carling Cup final epitomised how we were all feeling, but the best celebrations came around 12 hours later, as Lennon, Jenas, Hutton and, most memorably, Ledley King stumbled out of Faces, with traces of blood barely detectable in their alchohol streams. Classy.

All-Action-No-Plot Moment of 2008
The look on the face of my gooner mate Hawthy as we spanked them 5-1 was priceless, but let’s face it, that would have counted for precious little if we hadn’t completed the job a few weeks later at Wemberley.  It might not have been aesthetically pleasing, but seeing Woody get punched in the face by the ball, which then apologetically stumbled into the empty net, as Woody himself and Berba went slipping and sliding around the turf – I just wish I had been sober enough to remember it more clearly.

All-Action-No-Plot Chant of 2008
Take a bow the Dinamo Zagreb ultras (and there won’t be many times in my life that I come out with that line). We didn’t understand a word of what they said – just as well, I’d imagine – but their song was so good that the Park Laners adopted it as their own, for 15 crazy minutes.

All-Action-No-Plot Manager of 2008
Sigh. This will have to be won by default. Wendy Ramos masterminded the 5-1 over l’Arse, and won us our first trophy in nine years – then undid all the good work and sold Steed. Whereas ‘Arry arrived on a chariot of media goodwill, somehow stumbled across a string of welcome wins, but has since rather lost the magic touch. So the All-Action-No-Plot Manager of 2008 award goes to my boss at work, for giving us wine on the morning of Christmas Eve.

All-Action-No-Plot Young Player of 2008
How old do you have to be to be “young”? I’d say, completely arbitrarily, that 27 is still quite young, so anyone born in the ’80s qualifies for this award. Therefore Ledley wins it, as he lifted the cup for us, which is more than anyone else can say this millenium.

All-Action-No-Plot Player of 2008
As hinted by the preceding award, we’ve not exactly been blessed with stand-out performances this year. Can’t really give it to Keane, after his dastardly exit to his “boyhood club”, Berba had an average year by his standards. Jenas had a bizarrely purple patch at the start of 2008, but normality was soon restored and he quickly became rubbish again. Therefore, the true “player” of 2008 was the man who played away on his stunning wife, the numpty – and got caught, the numpty. Ashely Cole, you dirty cheating rat, show your face and claim your award.

It makes little sense, it’s been manic and much of it beggars belief – 2008 has been quite an all-action-no-plot year. God bless ye merry folk, and all the best for next year. See you in 2009!

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