I have let a couple of days pass to take in the result, the performance and the reaction – all of which have surprised me to be honest. It seems whenever anything goes wrong at the club, be it on or off the pitch, the ‘supporters’ always, without fail, need someone to blame; and not for the first time this season Pulis won this honour after Saturday's 2-0 defeat to the Champions of England. The game was poor, the performance from players and fans alike was poor – but aren’t we all entitled to a bad day at the office?
Once more we decided to change things around and played 5 in the middle, which in theory would have given us a numerical advantage over the 4 men of Man Utd, the decision most likely made to get bodies around the likes of Scholes so he couldn’t take control of the game. We failed miserably in this respect, but was it a failure in tactics or in the execution of them?
When it transpired that the midfield was sitting back, Pulis moved Etherington and Whelan around, to little effect in the end, but it perhaps illustrates that the players had a gameplan and something wasn’t going right in actually sticking to it. It was painful watching the 5 man midfield integrate into a back 9 with Liam at right back and Huth making his way to the middle, I fear had Giggs been on from the start instead of the hapless Nani, things could have been even worse.
Cast your mind back only a couple of weeks to the Chelsea game, a more ‘attacking’ team where we played only 3 or 4 in the middle, do you remember Lampard or Ballack getting as much time as Scholes did? The ‘blame’ for Saturday’s capitulation has to be laid at the feet of many including the players and the referee. Pulis wasn’t the one not closing down, he wasn’t the one that didn’t send off Scholes, he wasn’t the one that gave a free kick for a perfectly legitimate shoulder barge – on another day we would only have been one nil down against 10 men. Football is about application but it is also about lady luck and getting the rub of the green, we didn’t get that on Saturday – there are things out of our conscious control that we have little bearing over and for one reason or another they caught up with us, manager and players alike have both said in the aftermath that something just didn’t happen and that it was most unlike a Stoke performance, add to that a couple of questionable decisions and the picture doesn’t look as apocalyptic as some fans would have you believe.
Most of the time we will adopt a defensive stance, we know that, and it is up to Pulis and Coates to ensure that we bring in sufficient quality to supplement that work ethic we have worked so hard on, as when it fails us for whatever reason, as indeed it did on Saturday, we have no quality on the ball to fall back on. We know Pulis tried and failed to bring in pacier options in the fullback and forward positions but didn’t manage to do so, we also know that he tried and failed to get a real ball playing midfielder in too, so we know that the longer term more offensive strategy is very much at the forefront of his thinking.
We have been in the Premier League just over ONE season - do people really think that the way we played Saturday is how Pulis will be setting out in 3 or 4 years time? The team is evolving, the style will evolve with it. Yes we have Tuncay, a big step in that direction, but he is being fed by the ‘limited’ Whitehead and Delap so he will not shine as much as he did when playing nice one and two touch football with the likes of Downing and O’Neill.
I’m not going to do player ratings as I'm still pretty depressed at it all but Sorensen, Huth and Kitson were perhaps the best of a bad bunch. I watched Whitehead and Collins closely and each were the worst in their respective areas, I have a feeling Collins will settle into the LB spot eventually but the jury is still well and truly out on Whitehead I’m afraid and that purchase is perhaps one question that can be put to the Manager as we already have an extensive list of workers in that area of the pitch.
I imagine many will disagree with my largely forgiving sentiment but we still have to remember who we are, yes we did better last season in the same game but that had more of a cup tie feel, we have moved on with personnel and stature since then and really are trying to mix up our play and that takes time. Man Utd have put more goals past better and more established sides already this season – "but Wigan beat Chelsea because they got at them" I hear you say; they also shipped 5 against Man Utd trying to do exactly the same – I can only imagine what the Chelsea fans are saying right now…