Archive | February 2015

Fifty Shades of Naivety

Thursday 26th February 2015

Yesterday was my birthday. Triffic.

I always think its extremely easy to say we were ‘shit’….or this player was ‘useless’….or that player was ‘lazy’ etc etc etc. When you are so gutted with a result however, I also find those kind of reactions completely understandable.

Providing a more ‘balanced’ analysis is far more difficult I feel, even more so when you have such passion for the team that you can’t help but feel has just completely let you down.

The basic facts however, show at half time in the tie we have a mountain of Everest proportions to climb if we are to progress.

So what went wrong?

For me I was relatively satisfied after about half hour. We had dominated the game, created numerous half chances and looked extremely comfortable at the back.

The opening goal was unlucky whatever anyone says. I accept we maybe could have closed the player down but I dont remember a single game where there hasn’t been at least 3 or 4 similar shots taken from such a distance and the vast majority offer little threat. We are quite happy to praise the Ox for his fine strike for example but I’m sure Monaco will look at the fact he could have been closed down.

Whatever way we look at the goal it was definitely exactly what we didn’t want to happen. Despite that however, I still felt if we carried on keeping the same shape and applying the pressure we were well capable of getting a positive result from the remaining hour.

Olly had one of ‘those’ nights. His effort and movement were good but he couldn’t hit a barn door with a banjo. Every chance that came his way was miscued. On another day he could have scored a hat-trick inside a few second half minutes. And when Welbs’ goalbound effort hit Theo on the deck and sailed over the bar it totally summed up our night in front of goal.

All of the above I can accept as part and parcel of the beautiful game.

What happened defensively in the second half however, I am really struggling to understand.

At home to Man Utd, when playing well, we went behind to an extremely unfortunate deflected goal. And then we went gung ho, left ourselves extremely exposed at the back and got picked off. All with plenty of time on the clock to get something from the game.

We all hoped we might have learned from that experience.

Last night suggested we havent. How we can leave ourselves so exposed at a time when we were seriously banging on Monaco’s defensive door is almost beyond belief.

At 2 nil we had to take risks. Again I understand that. And it that situation there is always the chance you might concede again against a counter attacking side. But we worked extremely hard to prevent that from happening whilst trying to get ourselves back in the tie.

The Ox’s strike gave us that lifeline. Above all else at that time it was massively important not to concede a third.

And we managed to do the complete opposite with what can only be described as a comical and suicidal last few minutes.

I am a very positive person and always try to see the plus points from any performance.

At the moment however, I am stunned.

Roll on Sunday, we desperately need to bounce back against The Toffees.

Frank
@stubbsy70

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Much Too Close For Comfort!

Monday 23rd February 2015

Heading into injury time with a two goal lead and a defensive performance that made that scoreline as comfortable as it sounds, our particular group were thoroughly looking forward to continuing the fun and games in the heart of our capital city.

Only when lying in my hotel bed watching the Sunday morning repeat of MOTD did I realise just how close the 93rd and 94th minutes were to completely ruining our day. At the time it looked like a dangerous cross but I genuinely didn’t know we were the width of a post from throwing away two massive points in a game that looked like producing nothing less than a victory all afternoon.

Our pre match build up on this occasion included an early start, a bit of brekkie in Balham and plenty of refreshment and banter in our usual Thornton Heath pre Palace haunt.

Those of us who remember the ‘good old days’ look back fondly on all the many hundreds of old style stadia we visited. They certainly had a huge amount of character and days out at the likes of the Baseball Ground, Ayresome Park, The Dell, the Victoria Ground, Roker Park etc etc etc will live long in the memories of all those who lived through those times.

Selhurst Park certainly falls into that category and similarly we have many happy memories of our numerous visits. On the other hand, in a football world that contains decent facilities and views we have definitely been spoilt in recent years! The away end at the home of the Eagles is pretty dreadful to be honest. Access to the toilets, refreshments and even the seats is appalling and the view is not great either!

A better view near the front

A better view near the front

Fortunately for the usual thousands of Gooners present the first half view was more enjoyable than the one experienced by our hosts.

Although the foul definitely wasn’t debatable, whether it was inside or outside the box was touch and go for our penalty. Probably an inch either way and it went in our favour on this occasion.

Santi made sure it was the perfect start and we were on our way.

Once Olly doubled our lead after more excellent work from Welbs and another superb pass from Mesut the result never looked in doubt.

Or it didn’t until deep into injury time!

Another big win and we celebrated long into the night with the expected gusto.

Changing competitions, much has been said about the decision to move our FA Cup tie to a Monday night. If there is anyone out there that genuinely still believes the FA and the TV companies give two hoots about those who actually want to attend games I am gobsmacked. No matter what they say, we are considered last, it is as simple as that.

I have no doubt we will take near on nine thousand fans to Old Trafford, even on a Monday night with no public transport options and two days holiday required for most. The fact is however, it would make absolutely no difference to these organisations if we didn’t.

The most amusing bit for me is the TV companies actually think they are doing the genuine fans a ‘favour’ by putting it on the telly on a Monday night. They think that those who would have travelled if the game was at the weekend will by quite happy with the ‘alternative’ of TV coverage on a Monday night! Simply laughable and a million miles from being in touch with reality when it comes to the travelling fans.

That competition takes a back seat this week of course with 3 massive games ahead of us, the first seeing us welcome Monaco to London N5.

I always believe number one priority in European home legs is a clean sheet. And my thoughts for Wednesday night are no different.

If we can achieve that and take a lead with us to France too, that has to be a positive result.

Make some noise boys and girls!

Frank
@stubbsy70

Into the Last Eight

Sunday 15th February 2015

Love is in the air this weekend. Apparently. Does that mean it wasn’t on Friday? Or indeed it has now been put away again for another year? All I know is this time 12 months ago we were looking forward to the FA Cup quarter final draw. We all know what that led to…….and this afternoon we went one step closer to repeating that feat.

On a personal level it has been an extremely ‘heavy’ and very entertaining weekend. Plans suggested it might be but you never know whether that will come to fruition.

Around 4am on Saturday morning, stood in my sister’s kitchen with a lump of cheese in one hand, a glass of port in the other and a ‘springbok’ being prepared in the background, the whole scenario suggested those plans were well and truly approaching a situation that accurately supported those plans.

Certainly Saturday felt long and slightly painful.

A few beers with a good friend and fellow Gooner were on the cards later that day and I don’t mind admitting I was extremely happy to hear him say “I’m not really up for a heavy one tonight mate”!!

Consequently we enjoyed a couple of beers and went for a ‘Chinese’, not something particularly newsworthy or entertaining in normal circumstances but when our table for two was donned with a red rose and the only food available was their ‘Valentines Special’ it did prove to be slightly awkward and amusing.

London has some great pubs. Possibly the most obvious statement ever. But being such a big city, even the most Londony Londoners (!) wont have been to every one. Especially on match days when we all have our tried and tested routines.

Today a few of us decided to try one or two new ones down in The Strand/Charing Cross/Leicester Square part of our great capital city. Just to calm the FA Cup pre match nerves of course. And a good decision it was, a fine couple of hours before we made our way up to London N5 for the main event.

Leicester made it very very difficult for us on Tuesday night and they are bottom of the Premier League. Middlesbrough are currently sitting top of the Championship. Does that not make them a potentially even trickier opponent on paper? Especially given they turned Man City over on their own patch in the last round.

With all that in mind however, if we put in the kind of performance we know we are capable of, progression to the quarter finals was certainly well within our grasp.

Professional is probably the best word we can use. Throw in the word thoroughly and I think we are just about there.

To be honest, our visitors hardly had a sniff until injury time when the game was already over.

We weren’t stunning. But once Olly’s quickfire double put us in control we never looked like letting that lead slip.

That will do nicely and means we can all look forward to tomorrow evening’s quarter final draw.

Crystal Palace could have joined us in that hat…..but they are not. But they are our hosts next on our 2014-15 football journey.

On we go……

See you at Selhurst Park.

Frank
@stubbsy70

Strange Game, Strange Performance, Good Result

Wednesday 11th February 2015

We are all very much aware that above all else the three points are imperative. Especially I feel, after a defeat. And from a strangely disjointed and unconvincing performance at least we have come away with exactly that.

Discussions with fellow Gooner Ian on our journey into London, surrounded ‘how many’ rather than ‘will we win’. I couldn’t help but think back however, to our Christmas game at home to QPR. Similarly to the Foxes they were bottom if my memory serves me right but if nothing else that game proved anything can happen.

We took the three points with a 2-1 victory but almost identical to tonight our visitors came close late on to getting something from the game.

Were we lucky to win? Possibly a little. I’ll take that however, for all those times where we have come away from games with less than we deserved.

Everything else on the evening went pretty well. A smooth journey up and some fine Chinese tucker from the Arsenal Fish Bar all washed down with a fine pint or two of ale made sure of that.

The football on the other hand was at best frustrating, at worst downright poor. And it is difficult to work out why.

Certainly Leicester played well beyond where their league position suggests and this should be taken into account when forming analysis. I am also less than convinced playing one small man up front works, even if that player is Alexis Sanchez. For me we look a far better outfit with a bigger man in that position.

A win is a win however and fir that reason alone we have to be pleased. If the performance is poor, that is a massive and crucial ‘consolation’.

One thing is for sure we will need to play an awful lot better if we are to progress to the FA Cup Quarter Final by overcoming high flying Middlesbrough.

But tonight doesn’t change my opinion that we are well capable of doing just that.

Come on you reds!

Frank
@stubbsy70

Defeat in the Swamp

Saturday 7th February 2015

Athletico played Real in the Madrid derby today and hammered them 4 nil. It can happen. We have seen our team lose to our geographical rivals before and life dictates we will see us lose to them again at some stage in the future. Fortunately in the many many times I have seen us lock horns over the last 35 years or so defeats haven’t been that regular.

Overall I cannot deny our hosts played pretty well today and their fans celebrated as if they had won the league like they tend to on these occasions. I assume the dvd will follow.

We've seen our team win the league from here....

We’ve seen our team win the league from here….

The reality is however, the most frustrating aspect is we have dropped important points, especially given we have been on a run of good form of late.

We didn’t play particularly well today, that is definitely true. I don’t think we played any better last season either. But the result was totally different of course. My point is those dividing lines are so so thin.

Again today we tried to be compact when defending and rely on our dangerous attacking options to provide our threat at the other end.

And whether deserved or not, for long periods it looked like it could work.

At one-all and possibly for the only time in the match, with about 15 mins to go, I felt we could go on and win it. And for me, although this sounds a bit obvious, it was during this period that the game was won and lost. Welbs drew a fine save and from the resulting corner Laurent saw his thumping header saved when if it had gone anywhere else it would have gone in. And if it had, I am convinced we would have gone on and won the game.

Just when it looked like we would come away with a point our hosts’ ex Gooner supporting ‘one of their own’ headed in and we made the journey home with nothing for our efforts.

Overall, on a day when our opponents played well, we were disappointing and the result doubles that emotion.

There is only one way to deal with that kind of situation and we have a big week ahead in this country’s 2 biggest domestic competitions.

Grabbing a hugely important three points comes first as we look to overcome a team that ended today’s hosts’ FA Cup adventure in the shape of Leicester City.

For me its a game that can’t come quick enough.

Keep the faith.

Frank
@stubbsy70

Gimme Five

Monday 2nd February 2015

David Ospina is keeping his place between the sticks right now, not for any other reason than he hasn’t done anything wrong since he has come in. In fact he has oozed confidence, something that can only breed similar for all those in front of him. I have to agree with Paul Lambert when he said his Villa side were still in the game until Mesut doubled our lead but let’s be honest here, that was only because, one good save from our Columbian aside, we were not already the three of four goals up our attacking play deserved. The game should have been long over before our keeper saved Villa’s only serious attempt on goal until deep into injury time when we were five goals up.

We can’t do anything else but be confident we can score goals in any game. That aspect has never been questioned for many years now. On that basis it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out if we can get our defending right, or certainly the balance between the two sides of the game correct, we have every chance of competing at the very very highest level. Slowly but surely, for many many reasons, we seem to be heading in the right direction.

Lunchtime kick-offs are never ideal, especially if you have enjoyed Saturday night to the full and/or have a lengthy journey to the match. Having been in excellent form since our poor performance on New Years day however, any time or journey to see us play seems full of anticipation. And Sunday morning was no different.

My journey was fairly smooth…..apart from one particular aspect I feel I must reveal, even if its relevance to football is a little bit distant!

Travelling is something I quite enjoy and have done for a long time. The miles we put in to follow our team would be all the more difficult if that wasn’t the case. I am also a massive fan of music, a subject that is definitely my biggest passion away from the beautiful game. And I like eating too! Especially out at establishments from kebab shops to those with Michelin Starred chefs knocking up my tucker. But, I’m totally convinced the three don’t mix. Stay with me on this…..!

For most home games, when I get on the Piccadilly Line I have 14 stops until I reach my destination. On Sunday I managed to get a seat (something I was very grateful for after a ‘moving heavy furniture’ incident recently had made something scream in my lower back) and I settled down to relax for the 25 minutes or so until I got off. Or I would have if it wasn’t for the gentleman sitting next to me listening to his choice of music at a level where even with his earphones on my whole journey would be accompanied by the sound of someone constantly bashing tracing paper with a spoon! Not only that but a student opposite (the badge on his sweater allowing me to be so confident in my accuracy) was munching away on a bag of sushi. Not that offensive on first reflection but the smell was more pungent than the inside of my shinpads after a game involving extra time! I’m sure you get the picture. And no, they didn’t get off before my stop. 25 minutes of uncomfortable, irritating, nauseating torture.

Out into the relative fresh air of Gillespie Road it was very apparent it was going to be a cold old afternoon. Something that only some good pre-match refreshment, banter, plenty of clothes and a thumping good performance can make you forget.

And boy did we get that combination right.

Reflecting on the game as a whole it is very difficult to find any faults to the team or the performance of any individual player. Our defensive shape was fantastic throughout and when the opportunities arose we looked extremely dangerous and powerful going forward. Mesut took many of the plaudits and he certainly put in a fine performance but I felt the Coq was magnificent once again and the improvement and confidence of Hector Bellerin so early in his Gooner career was a joy to behold. Theo is getting closer and closer to the levels he reached before his serious injury too, another extremely positive aspect to take from our afternoon’s work.

Overall then, nothing but extremely satisfying as we look forward to heading down the Seven Sisters Road this coming Saturday for another lunchtime kick-off.

We have to be confident we are capable of coming away with a positive result, our current form suggests we can be nothing else. But our hosts will be feeling exactly the same. For me it changes nothing. This fixture is the most unpredictable on the calendar and always will be. Form goes totally out of the window.

Lets make the usual noise we always do at the Lane and be safe people.

Come on you mighty reds!

Frank
@stubbsy70