1. Actually Not A Bad Performance
A pretty distracting feature of this latest drama was the overbearing urge to fling the head skywards and yowl away in despair. Difficult to focus on much else I mean, when beating the chest, tugging great clumps of hair from the scalp, uttering every oath known to man and similar such healthy mood outlets.
But having stared vacantly off into the mid-distance for a good few hours, Reason gradually returned to her throne, and the old silver-lining-finder in the AANP blood kicked in and started doing its thing. At least, I began to muse, this wasn’t one of those defeats in which we sat back, ceded possession and gradually dropped deeper and deeper until stuffing up the whole thing in the dying seconds.
Replaying the whole dashed thing in my mind, I actually thought that this wasn’t one of our worst performances of the season. In fact, it was probably one of our better ones – although the bar here is admittedly low. In the first half hour or so, we looked pretty threatening each time we buzzed forward, and before and after the opening goal we might have had another, if those tasked with such things had taken a bit more care.
Things drifted a bit thereafter, and by the hour mark we were behind, which is pretty poor form at home to Bournemouth, dash it; but then for the last half hour we again got our affairs in order and hammered away.
Moreover, even The Brains Trust seemed to up their game, dispensing with that back-three guff and going full Ossie by the climax, with no fewer than 5 attackers (plus two others christened by Mother Nature as wing-backs) flitting about the place. The naysayers may point out that a fat lot of good it did us, but after the negative dross of the last three years – and three managers – I don’t mind admitting to feeling a gentle thrill as one after another forward were shoved into the mix and the strategy became ever more akin to teenage AANP gaily throwing caution to the wind on Football Manager.
For all that I still thought we rather obviously lacked someone in the centre with a twinkle in their eye, but the poking and prodding around the area, and steady stream of half-decent crosses at least made us look like a team pretty annoyed to be behind and pretty determined to correct the situation. Just a shame that amidst all the excitement we rather neglected the whole business of sweeping up behind us. And frankly, with the upcoming fixtures as they are, losing this one verged on criminal negligence, but still. Nice to see us doing some attacking, what?
Nice also to see Sonny zig-zagging about the place with some of his old joie de vivre. I hesitate to suggest that he is now fully restored to his former glories, but after last week’s throwback goal, yesterday I eagerly lapped up every hint provided that his tendency to collect the ball and dribble north was slowly morphing back towards that of 2021/22.
And whether it was to do with the Bournemouth approach or some other cause, in the first half in particular it did seem to me that the Son of old was occasionally hoving into view. It helped that rather than collecting the ball inside his own half, and promptly failing to hold it up, he generally received the ball yesterday around the final third and pointing in the correct direction. After all, a Sonny jinking towards the opposition goal is infinitely more pleasing upon the eye than a Sonny trying to shield the ball when facing his own net.
He popped up with his goal, of course. Not necessarily one about which to write home, but if a recent Golden Boot winner struggling through leaner times finds a straightforward close-range opportunity thrust his way, one doesn’t ask questions. Sonny tucked the thing away with minimal fuss, and one could almost see the injection of additional confidence ooze onto his map as he wandered off for the regulatory knee-slide.
So that was welcome stuff, but as mentioned it was his general air, in the first half in particular, that brought a bit of fizz to proceedings. Those moments when he picks up the ball around 20-25 yards from goal, in an inside-left sort of channel, and then dips the shoulders this way and that, makes to duck outside, and then inside, all the while with a general air of a bumblebee that has stumbled upon a whole gaggle of flowers in bloom and can’t decide which to get at first.
At one point when Sonny scuttled off into the area he cut in and out so often, and threw in so many stepovers, that I rather fancy the Bournemouth laddie tasked with stopping him was struck with a spot of motion sickness. It would have been one heck of a goal if a defensive foot hadn’t spoiled things; but the general sentiment remained – the fellow had hit a bit of an upward trajectory.
Bar perhaps that hat-trick against Leicester, this seemed the first time all season that Sonny had looked a genuine nuisance at the top of our attack. The onus changed a bit in the second half, as our heroes took to swinging in crosses, but and of course it all fell apart fairly miserably at the end, but this at least gave reason to stride off into the next coiuple of fixtures with a bit of purpose.
I also thought in that first half that Perisic was having one of his better days. This stood to reason – if not really required to do much defending, and allowed simply to park himself in the final third, jiggle between left and right clog and swing in crosses with either of the aforementioned, Perisic becomes quite the attacking asset.
And so it transpired, at least in the first half. At this point, Porro was seemingly still adjusting to things and appeared to have received special dispensation not to get involved with any attacks until 4pm local time, so it was all Perisic.
This got my vote. The Bournemouth right-back became the latest in a pretty long stream of souls who have this season discovered that Perisic doesn’t actually have a weaker foot, so it didn’t really matter in which direction he tried to escort him. Perisic’s crossing was a constant threat in the first half, and he chipped in pretty regularly in the second too, at least until the formation switched from Wing-Backs to All-Guns-Blazing.
Oddly enough, given that all season the theory has been peddled that Sonny’s ills have been at least partly due to Perisic stepping on his toes, the pair seemed to stumble upon quite the understanding. As Son drifted infield, Perisic overlapped, a routine that, despite its breathtaking simplicity, seemed sufficient to have Bournemouth defensive brains melting, and amongst other delights brought about our opening goal.
Given the struggles of Son to date this season, I presume that the winnings pocketed by the Perisic-Son combo yesterday were at least in part due to obliging opponents; and the thought of Perisic being shoved back and forced to dig in defensively against more accomplished opponents does bring out the cold sweats; but as an attacking asset he’s a pretty handy chap to have around the place.
As mentioned, it was a while before the memo about wing-backs making merry in the final third reached Pedro Porro. Unfortunately, before he was able to crack on with this part of the routine, he made an almighty hash of things at the back, landing the collective right in it.
I’m all for our heroes trying to be proactive, and looking forwards before all else on receipt of the ball; but there’s a pretty obvious asterisk to be slapped against such recommendations: viz. that one carry out such undertakings without imperilling the entire blasted operation.
So when Porro received a pass on the touchline, deep inside his own half, one could salute his initial pivot – infield and forward, bearing all the hallmarks of a wing-back looking to inject a bit of fizz and impetus into things. At that point however, a splash of good old common sense would not have gone amiss. Red and black shirts were converging en masse. Porro had made his point, about beetling forward and showing intent and whatnot; now was the time for him to shovel the ball elsewhere and move on.
Alas, the blighter made a pretty serious error of judgement, in trying to take on and dribble through the advancing Bournemouth horde. It was a pretty wretched attempt all round actually, as he didn’t achieve anything near a successful dribble, his touch so heavy that it amounted virtually to a pass straight to an opponent. In a trice he had ceded possession to no fewer than three attackers. The rest was rather a formality, and well might P.P. have hung his head in shame.
This punctured the atmosphere like the dickens, which was a real shame because, as mentioned above, we had tucked into this one with a bit of appetite in the early knockings.
However, to his credit, Porro set about his business in the second half looking every inch a man who wanted to redeem himself. He was a pretty willing galloper to the byline, as occasion demanded; but vastly more eye-catching was the stream of crosses delivered from his right boot to the penalty area. True, one or two went a touch askew, but in general he sent them over with lovely whip and shape, and I was pretty dsigruntled to see so little fruit borne from them.
Ultimately then, for all his second half efforts, the chap ended the afternoon in debit rather than credit, but whereas some amongst our number attract a fair bit of stick for their faux pas, Porro seems the sort of egg who will make a few decent contributions to the cause in his time.
5. Davinson Sanchez
Hard not to mourn a bit for poor old D. Sanchez, what? Full disclosure, of course, I think the fellow is an absolute disaster of a defender, and ought to have been carted off the premises long ago – but to err is human and all that guff, and in fact yesterday I’m not sure he even erred so significantly.
True, his attempted challenge on the Bournemouth nib in the build-up to their second was at the half-hearted end of the spectrum, but it seemed to me that the ball’s journey from his foot to that of the goalscorer (Solanke) was as unfortunate as it was inept. It seemed fairly reasonable to expect a nearby teammate – of whom there were several – to do the decent thing and step across to hammer the ball clear.
Anyway, nobody did, and having begun that move by losing his bearings in what is unfortunately rather trademark style, he ended it by delivering the assist for the Bournemouth goal. A pretty standard day at the office, by his wretched standards.
But apparently thereafter the chap was booed when he next got involved, and that just isn’t cricket. I’m all for filling the air with a choice curse or two in a moment of instinctive reaction when a lad really stinks the place out; but to wait until his next involvement and deliberately give him the bird says more about those doing the cat-calling than the object of the cat-calls, if you follow.
I suppose the thought probably entered the Sanchez dome at that point that a spot of public support from The Brains Trust would not go amiss; but if he had set his heart on any such vote of confidence he was in for a bit of a shock. An ugly business, substituting a substitute, and unlike a mass brawl involving all 22 plus the benches, I’m not sure it is a sight that too many people genuinely do enjoy. Sometimes, however, the greater good demands these things. Tactically, one understood. On a human level, however, I did rather want to shove a consoling bourbon his way.
That said, if Sanchez never plays for our lot again, I will chalk that up as a major bound in the right direction. The long-awaited overhaul ought to start with him. His confidence is on the floor, and I get the impression he doesn’t exactly instil much steady assurance amongst those around him either. Pack him off to Ligue Un or some such, and let him start again. I’ve no idea what fate befell Monsieur Lenglet yesterday, but if he remains incapacitated a pretty sizeable call awaits for the trip to Newcastle next week. It could be sharp intakes of breath all round.