Tuesday, August 31, 2004

The Knight's last crusade

In the wake of Robson's departure, the media have focused in on the fact that, like Ruud Gullit, he left club captain Alan Shearer on the bench for what proved to be his final match in charge before being dismissed. However, those who claim it was that decision that cost us the game at Villa and consequently lost him his job have patently been paying no attention whatsoever to the matches prior to this catastrophic defeat, reality swept aside to make way for a convenient and neatly poetic fiction.

The truth of the matter is that, aside from blasting home a penalty against Middlesbrough on the opening day, Shearer has done precious little. Of course he himself might disagree, but when you've got a striker who's frankly looked poor in the previous two games and two forwards champing at the bit on the bench, then it makes perfect sense to change things around, however big the personalities involved. What's more, the press seem to have ignored the fact that Kluivert enjoyed a successful full debut, combining well with Bellamy in the first half at least, and scoring a great goal into the bargain. No, the problem - as ever - was not up front but in defence.

The really telling comparison for this dismal capitulation is not with the 2-1 washout against the Mackems that saw Gullit packing his bags, but rather with the corresponding fixture last year.

Ten minutes into that game we'd had O'Brien dismissed for a professional foul, leaving Dyer, just returned from injury, filling in at right back, and shortly afterwards Jenas and Bellamy both left the field injured. And yet we got stuck in and ground out a stoical and committed 0-0, even having enough second half chances to nick it.

Barely four months later and it's a different story. We conceded an early goal to Mellberg and then clawed our way back to lead at the break, before a second half horrorshow that saw Villa score three times through Cole (after an awful mistake from that waste of space Bowyer), Barry and substitute Angel. And of course Nobby Solano was instrumental in the victory.

The result leaves us managerless and languishing in the lower reaches of the table with just two points from a possible twelve. We had an identical tally last season, but this term's first four fixtures have undoubtedly been easier.

At the moment we're not so much an embarrassment of riches as an embarrassment.


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