Monday, May 07, 2007

A Month Of Saturdays: April 2007

Needless to say, this month's A Month Of Saturdays was written shortly before the Blackburn debacle and Roeder's subsequent resignation...

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In my last monthly review, I bemoaned the chronic shortage of goals; we scored four times in March, all in the first leg of the ultimately ill-fated UEFA Cup tie with AZ Alkmaar (and all in the first half at that), and drew a blank in our four other matches.

What a difference a month doesn’t make, eh?

In April, over the course of five Premiership games, we managed just three.

And yet it all started so well, with a 2-1 victory at Sheffield Utd. Given our alarming propensity for allowing supposedly lesser opponents to knock the stuffing out of us, particularly on the road, it would have raised few eyebrows had we capitulated at Bramall Lane. But Obafemi Martins gave our opponents’ defence a torrid time and grabbed a goal, and even when the equaliser came heads didn’t go down – on the contrary, Steven Taylor’s popped up to power in a corner for a deserved winner.

Two days later and a dreadfully sluggish home game with Arsenal concluded in a 0-0 draw, a result that was far harder to assess. On the one hand, faced by arguably the most fluent footballing side in the league, our goal remained intact. But on the other, the Gunners were far from their best and were there for the taking if we could have mustered the energy to grab the game by the scruff of the neck. As it was, both teams enjoyed a lethargic Easter Monday stroll in the park, while both sets of fans were left wondering why exactly they’d given up their Bank Holidays just to be lulled off to sleep.

Still, the following weekend brought a timely reminder that there are things more worthy of griping about than taking a point from last season’s Champions League finalists. Like a miserable defeat to Portsmouth, for instance. Pompey took full advantage of our slovenliness to banish the memory of their Easter Monday tonking at Watford to record a 2-1 win in which of all the players in black and white only Martins looked remotely interested. At least Lua Lua, introduced as a second half substitute, didn’t score to compound our misery.

After that particular low came another modest high, in the form of a scoreless draw with Chelsea at St James’. Like our previous visitors from the capital, the champions were strangely out of sorts, despite needing to win to keep the pressure up on Man Utd. We controlled proceedings, had the best of the chances and ensured we emerged from our home encounters with the Big Four without suffering defeat – but afterwards there remained the nagging feeling that an opportunity to throw a rather larger spanner into the works of their title defence had passed us by.

That continued the unenviable record of having not scored at home since 10th February, but at least we’d been scoring sporadically on the road, even in defeat. Until, that is, we pitched up at the Madjeski Stadium on the last day of the month. Not even the very welcome presence of Michael Owen in the starting line-up could prevent us from sliding to a very poor loss to Reading. Encouragingly, Owen looked sharp for the first twenty minutes, putting the ball in the net on one occasion only to be denied by the flutter of the linesman’s flag, but as he faded the Royals grew in confidence and shortly after half-time Dave Kitson – a man whose hair is so ginger it can probably be seen from space – scored the solitary goal that ultimately condemned us to defeat. Shola Ameobi also made an appearance from the bench, but there was more injury trauma to endure, both Emre and Sibierski’s summer holidays starting early.

And so we limp on into the final month of the season, patched up and largely out of sorts, knowing that whatever we do we can’t now haul ourselves up into the top half of the table and are destined to finish far closer to the gutter than the stars.

Three words, Fred: not good enough.

Three words, Glenn: watch your back.


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