So where was I? Oh, yes…the almost inevitable end to a 38-game season that promised much and left us gazing – once again – at the promised land that the Nomads take for granted.
Their victory at Newcastle that day confirmed what we already knew…that we are a work in progress and a long way from the finished article. Thursday night football was back at the Lane, and while the optimism generated by a (misguided) belief that we were probably only 2 or 3 players from being a genuine challenger vanished as soon as the Welshman decided that he was the real deal - the fact that we splashed the cash so readily in the summer maintained the illusion for a few minutes at least.
Much like Monkey Jim, I have been reticent to get my thoughts organized into blog form since. Procrastination is one of my redeeming characteristics, and as the circus around Bale became ever more annoying, I found solace in the work being done by the Red Sox.
A model of inconsistency
For non-followers of baseball, they won the World Series. A moment of triumph made more remarkable by the fact that they were absolute bobbins last year, proudly achieving the worst season in decades and allowing most of New England to wonder what the future held. However, they defied the odds and won the title with players that, to be fair, were consistent rather than spectacular.
In a nutshell, that is exactly how I view the lads strutting their stuff at the Lane. The seven players that we brought in got my juices flowing when I saw them in the obligatory photo-shoot at the training ground, and I had high hopes that perhaps AVB had identified where we were weak and strengthened accordingly.
We even bought a striker.
Eleven games in…I remain firmly on the fence. It is perhaps ironic that I have decided to jump back into the conversation just after we lost at home to Newcastle. Thanks to NBC, I can watch every game without the need to funnel money towards the Murdoch, and when I tuned in at 7 am, I did think that we might get a result.
But that was before Tim Krul decided to step between the sticks. Over the course of the next 90 minutes, the current wearers of the shirt proceeded to show me exactly why we remain a work-in-progress, playing a style of football that was a long way from spectacular.
Sadly, the FIFA-sanctioned break then ensured that for the third time this season a disappointing defeat was followed by 2 weeks of being able to do precisely bugger all about it. Our growing band of international bright young things were then sent to the far corners of the globe to ply their trade, and some of them even played in games that meant something.
Which also ensured that the supporters sat and waited for a) the next game and b) the players to come back intact. As we now know, some of them didn’t and I once again wish to thank the powers-that-be-corrupt at FIFA for insisting that every country do something to fill their time in the middle of a busy season.
But I digress.
In the last few weeks, there has been a growing mumble of discontent at the Lane, with some voicing their concerns about not only AVB but also the talent that he has brought to N17. For the record, I am not one of them. I have faith in our coach – something that I did not have for the majority of last year.
The media has naturally harped on about the loss of Bale and that we have only scored 9 goals in 11 games – the fact that we have only let in 6 seems to elude them, for the moment – but what is increasingly obvious is that some of our new recruits are not performing as expected. Christian Erikson, for example, is a gifted player who was unbelievable against Norwich on his debut, but has since flattered to deceive and is now one of our walking wounded.
The same could be said of Erik Lamela, who has not been given a chance to get a run of games under his belt, mainly due to the form of Andros Townsend, but there is no doubting his quality. Of the others, Capoue has been injured since the Nomad game in August, Chadli seems to have vanished, Paulinho is capable but inconsistent and Cvrches is only now establishing himself.
Which brings me to Roberto Soldado. A striker. Apparently.
I don’t mind admitting that I was very pleased when we signed him. A prolific marksman in Spain and a full international, I had high hopes that he was the missing link. So why do I see Soldado and think Rebrov?
Ok, he is playing the lone striker role and he isn’t getting the service that he expects, but still…four goals in 11 games (3 of them from the spot) is not a good return on the investment. Every time I watch him, he looks as if he is struggling. He is not getting enough shots in – IMHO – and his movement seems labored.
Disappointed is probably an understatement. I wanted so much more for our money, and there is a part of me that still thinks he will come good in time, but the excuse that he (and the other new recruits) are settling in is wearing very thin. How long do they need? Is it the style of play? Does AVB even know what his best team is? Have we bought well or did we know that we had to move fast to get them to the Lane before other people could buy them?
Naturally, the impact that Ozil has made at the other end of the Seven Sisters Road has been immensely irritating, even more so when we were told by our dear friends at Madrid that he was not for sale, even as part of the Bale deal. But that doesn’t disguise the fact that the Nomads have taken the league by storm this season, and that is extremely worrying.
Granted, we are sitting in the top half of the table, are one game away from a League Cup Semi-Final and have already made sure that we get the chance to play against the Champions League Failures in the next round of the Europa. However, we now have two games against The Manchesters – one away and one at home – before two seemingly easier fixtures at Craven Cottage and the northern Stadium of Light.
Time for Jello
But we know that points are precious…knowing us we will get them where we least expect them and fail at the others. And it may just be my well-honed paranoia rearing it’s always welcome head, but there just seems to be a lack of urgency being demonstrated by our Lilywhite boys.
As I noted above, the team hasn’t really gelled as hoped so far, and the time has come when we need to stop hearing that as an excuse. Scoring goals wins games, end of story and we aren’t doing that.
At the same time, we need to start giving some of our new signings (the ones that aren’t injured) more opportunities. Lamela, for example, needs to get a run of games and although he has done well, Townsend must be the one to step aside for a bit. You don’t spend £30 million to leave a bloke on the bench – unless you are Shiteh or the Chavs – and, in my humble opinion, we need to get Erik moving sweetly sooner rather than later.
Up front, I am torn between wanting Bobby Soldier to come good and wondering whether a long-forgotten option might decide that he can show what he can do as part of a plan to engender a move in January – not JD, the other one. Would knowing that Adebayor was seriously being considered force Bob to up his strike rate? I have no idea…but we need to start hitting the back of the onion bag.
At the back, I am not that concerned. Granted, the 2-games that Danny Rose was supposed to be out has dragged on for so long that I half-expected us to recall BAE from the loving embrace of the Badger, but we are looking solid and I know that Big Jan can basically play anywhere. Especially when our sweeper-keeper helps out when required.
But, make no mistake, winter is coming. Games will start piling up and we must ensure that we keep pace with the early leaders, especially when considering the level of investment that AVB has been trusted with.
We will come good. And when we do, perhaps we can all stop thinking about the Welsh bloke who now plays for someone else.