Filed: Monday, 13th January 2014
By: Paul Walker
We haven’t had too many days to remember this season - apart from every time we play Spurs - so Saturday’s outstanding performance at Cardiff will live long in the memory.
Mainly because it was so unexpected after the harrowing week Big Sam and the boys (plus the infants) have forced us to endure.
And a few myths were put to rest. Had Sam lost the dressing room..no..were we unfit…no…had the team spirit gone..no….do the players still want to play for the manager, seemingly yes.
A week of media overdrive regarding when, not if, Sam would be sacked, was the backdrop. Plus our impending financial meltdown if we do go down.
But we all know that there is no chance of Sam being axed now. At the station on the way home I bumped into an old mate, Gary Jacob of the Times, who always writes some decent stuff on the Irons.
He said that the Davids had never had any intention to sack Sam, they couldn’t find a better alternative and were just looking for some glimmer of light in the current crisis to move on and back their manager.
And the way they both did interviews in the car pack at Cardiff said everything about them, they may not always be right but they could easily have hidden themselves away.
Now a couple of weeks ago I wrote a piece begging for strong management, and I admit I could not see it coming from the current management and board, so bad had things got.
But what we have had, may not be the outcome of strong management many had hoped, but the Davids have shown strength to hold their nerves and to strongly back their man. Sam, too, has pulled the squad together. That’s strong management.
I noticed that Ravel Morrison was not even on the bench in Cardiff, having been so for the defeat by Manchester City at the Etihad. Sam said something after that to try to explain why he felt the team were backing him by suggesting there is always one or two disgruntled players who will rock the boat.
The non-stop briefings about Morrison’s future by his entourage could easily have been what Sam was talking about. It struck me that Morrison has never played in a poor side in his life, so sheltered a life has he led in Manchester schools football and at Old Trafford. Now he seems not to know how to handle it apart from sulking.
In his absence on Saturday, the spirit looked so much better. The clips of video showing our players being congratulated by Nolan and James Collins in the tunnel after the game said everything about our spirit. I suppose I just needed to see it first hand.
It must be said though that the 2-0 win in Cardiff was only the first brick in the wall of our recovery. There is Newcastle and Chelsea next, so there is every chance the vultures will be hovering again soon. We need to produce a long, consistent run now to get ourselves away from the bottom, otherwise the all-round effort, battling and character shown at Cardiff will be wasted.
But for now, just enjoy the moment, as the 2,000 plus of us singing away in the away section did.
All the lads on the pitch deserved credit, in particular Adrian, Jack Collison and Matt Taylor. And that is more than can be said for the abject displays at Nottingham Forest and Manchester City. It is hard to remember a week where so many of us have been shaken to the core by what we have witnessed, and with me approaching pension age in March, I have seen some rubbish at West Ham!
I don’t want to make light of what happened at City, but I never really believed our players were not trying. They were at a low ebb confidence wise, easily deflated, over run and out played, by a wonderful City side. They just couldn’t cope with world-class players. More backbone, certainly, was needed and Sam did at least achieve that at Cardiff.
But one person stood out head and shoulders above the rest; Mark Noble take a bow. He’s always been my favourite of the modern era, if he wasn’t playing he’d probably be sitting with the rest of us in the Bobby Moore Lower.
Installed as captain while Kevin Nolan takes his ever-extending winter break, Noble was stunning. Covering for everyone, all over the pitch, leading by example and when his lungs must have been bursting he managed to get out of defence in those final seconds to take Andy Carroll’s pass and bury the Welsh club, right in front of the away support who were going mental.
What is it about football that inspires people to cuddle and hug the fat, tattooed guy next to you? (think I’ll leave that one there.)
And too his credit, boring old Alan Hansen, surely now on borrowed time on MotD, gave Noble full credit for his performance. I just hope Noble’s display can put an end to the nonsense and snipping he gets from some fans. Noble cares, just like you and me, and it shows.
I got to Cardiff not only to see the team arrive, but to watch the pre-match preparation (I know that will amuse my match-going mates at the Boleyn who always want that extra pint and I always moan that we will miss the start).
But Saturday gave me the chance to watch body language and judge how the squad are. You all, no doubt, witnessed Nolan and Joe Cole celebrating at the end together on TV, and it showed they cared, too. Beforehand, Nolan was heading into the ground laughing and joking with the players, doing the job Sam clearly wants him to do.
And there was an interesting mini-session in the build-up which saw Matt Jarvis, while most of the lads had disappeared to the dressing room, going through a practice all of his own. Taking a pass on the wing, he ran, jinked, and crossed in shadow boxing mood - no opposition obviously - looking for the timing and accuracy that has not always been on show of late.
He did it maybe two dozen times, and what do we get just before the break. Noble to Matt Taylor, Taylor out to Jarvis and then first time into Carlton Cole for the first goal. A small detail, maybe, but significant.
Also time, I feel, for a little praise for Roger Johnson, a player - with respect - that none of us expect to see playing once the injury crisis ends or a new defender arrives. We probably only turned to him in desperation anyway, there has got to be a reason why you are bombed out by Wolves and playing in the third tier for Sheffield Wednesday. Arriving pissed-up for training probably didn’t help his cause!
But the game before he joined us, he had been facing non-league strikers in an FA Cup tie at Macclesfield, then he is thrown in at the very deepest end and finds himself facing some of the best players in the world. Yaya Toure to name just one. I was not surprised he was backing away so fast and almost ended up standing in the away end with the rest of us!
But against mere mortals like Cardiff, he can at least get tackles in and win the ball in the air. He was once a top defender at Birmingham (surely that’s how we happened upon him with our Gold/Sullivan/Brady Brummie connection), and he might just rediscover that level, who knows?
He arrived after that embarrassing defeat at Forest, the perceptions of which were made worse I am sure you all agree, by some really appalling ITV coverage. Chubby Chiles, sneering evil Roy Keane and motor mouth Lee Dixon were shocking, failing to even begin to understand why Sam did what he did.
My issue with Sam on that game is he threw in far too many kids all at once. They coped, just, for an hour but in the end the pace and strength of a Championship side overwhelmed them. But ITV were clearly so angry that their flagship match had been reduced to a testimonial by Sam’s team selection, Keane and Dixon were in full flow.
Keane started to doubt the professionalism of our players, after also slagging off Forest’s Greg Halford for his time at Sunderland. Now this is the same Keane who showed such great professionalism by walking out on his country at the World Cup because he didn ‘t like the training camp, also the same player who had too be bailed at the local nick by his own manager at Manchester United after a late night escapade.
Also the same player who ended Alf Haarland’s career with a wicked tackle. And he is preaching too us?
Then there was Dixon, seemingly still locked into the dark ages of George Graham‘s 4-4-2, who kept moaning about our three at the back. I am sure Sam set it up that way with Alou Diarra there to try to protect Dan Potts and Callum Driver. They also clearly didn’t have any research on several of our players, Reece Burke at just 17, was a mystery to them. That’s being unprofessional lads, when you are working in the media.
One good day in Cardiff does not wipe away the memory of what had happened earlier in the month and season, but it is a start. Get Joleon Lescott in, a couple of strikers and we could turn the corner. But as the away lot were signing on Saturday, we are now winning abroad!
Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.
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