In a turn up for the books we find ourselves at home for the second week running – nothing to do with the fact that we were late starting at home I am told, just a quirk of the computer. We will be hosting Swansea City. Kick-off is gloriously at 3pm on Saturday (don’t get used to it). Trains? Well Shenfield, Wickford Witham and Colchester all feature large on the disruption list this weekend so, as ever, check before you leave.
Swansea then or, if you prefer, Abertawe. Currently 15th in the table with 5 points from their 6 played thus far, leaving them three places and one point above us with their 1-2-3 record. The one win that has come their way this season was the 2-0 defeat of Palace, an achievement for which I understand that they are considering not awarding points in the future. The other two points gained so far have come from goalless draws, both on the road, firstly at Southampton on the opening day of the season and then a couple of weeks back at the Bobby Moore Stadium against Spurs. With the Palace win also coming away from home they are in the unique position of having won all their points this season abroad. Palace’s failure to score in any of their matches this season may well have deflected attention away from the fact that Swansea have netted just the three times in the league this term, suggesting that a point might be their first priority this weekend.
According to the work-experience kid of as yet-to-be determined gender wearing a hoodie who seems only able to communicate with some strange grunting noises, they did bring in a number of strikers during the window as the likes of Fernando Llorente disappeared in the direction of the Severn Bridge en route to being allowed to elbow Andy Carroll. I was most disturbed to hear about the re-arrival at the Liberty of former player Wilfried Bony. Nothing against the chap himself and clearly things weren’t working out at Man City for him – so much so that even a loan period at Stoke seemed attractive. I’m not even put out by the size of the fee - £12m for a player they had sold for £25m looks decent business on the face of it. No, the thing that annoys me to the extent that we should all march on Parliament to demand a points deduction the equivalent of a small nation’s defence budget is this: on his return he has taken the squad number “2”. This is just plain wrong on every level. I appreciate that squad numbers are here to stay and that we have become used to people “making the coveted no.37 shirt their own” but dear lord the first eleven shirts ought to at least bear some nod to tradition. Your no.2 ought to be your right back. Or at the very least a defender. You can’t stick a no.2 shirt on the back of a centre forward. It’s just not right. Civilisation will collapse you mark my words.
The other principal striker brought in came in courtesy of the statutory loan from Chelsea in the form of Tammy Abraham. Abraham impressed on loan (of course) at Bristol City last season and, for all I know, is a perfectly decent young fellow. However, as regular readers will know, this column despairs of the names given to modern footballers. Back in the day your right-back – wearing the no.2 shirt of course was often a balding bloke called Bert. Whatever your inside forward (in the no.10 shirt) was called it certainly wasn’t a girl’s name like “Tammy”. Further investigation from the work-experience kid of as yet-to-be determined gender wearing a hoodie who seems only able to communicate with some strange grunting noises shows that the player’s first name is actually “Kevin” and that the “Tammy” bit is short for Tamarebi, deriving from the player’s Nigerian heritage. I guess “Kevin” is just a bit too dull for the modern pampered player of today. It was good enough for Kevin Lock who won a Cup Winner’s medal back in ’75 though, although granted he did have a bit of a girly haircut at the time. Abraham (to get back on topic please - ed) netted 23 times in 41 league appearances for Bristol City earning him both their young player and player of the season gongs and he has been capped by England at U18, U19 and U21 level. On hearing of his ancestry there were recent rumours that the Nigerian FA were to come-a-knocking and these rumours were followed by further rumours that the player might respond positively to such overtures. However the player himself acted promptly to declare that he wanted to continue in the England system. Although only a youngster (19) he has adapted well to the lifestyle of the young professional footballer and already has an incident of driving without a licence or insurance incident under his belt.
The other loan arrival was Portuguese midfielder Renato (dangerously close to a girl’s name that) Sanches. Sanches was awarded the “Young Player Of The Tournament” trophy at the conclusion of Euro16 as part of the victorious Portugal side that defeated France in the final. He missed out on this summer’s Confederations Cup tournament held in Russia having been sent to Poland to take part in the U21 Euro tournament. Whether the player had been sent to the kids as an attempt to bolster the junior squad or as a reflection of poor form is a reasonable question to pose. Having made a €35-80m (around £30-70m depending on how stingy Thomas Cook were being that day) transfer from Benfica to Bayern prior to Euro16, he failed to make much of an impression in Bavari,a with Lothar Matthaus being quoted as describing the player as “one of the three worst” in Germany last season. Don’t hold back Lothar – speak your mind mate. Now depending on whose version you believe Slav was offered Sanches during the “not signing Carvalho” debacle, an offer which, if true, sort of makes you wonder if anyone actually realised just how different Carvalho and Sanches are in terms of position played. It’s a bit like going in to sign Lionel Messi and being offered a goalkeeper instead.
Sanches ended up on loan at Swansea, starting the 1-0 home defeat to Newcastle. It’s fair to say that it wasn’t quite the dream debut he might have wanted. Carrying what is euphemistically referred to as “a bit of timber” he proceeded to give the ball away on numerous occasions before being replaced, leading to what most people have described as “mixed reports” in the press. The reports weren’t mixed – they were universally poor.
They also rescued Sam Clucas from Hull as they were circling the plughole en route to the Championship. Clucas has an interesting CV. Starting off at Lincoln City he dropped out of the league having appeared only in cup competitions for the Imps. He joined the Glenn Hoddle Academy, an organisation which, in between telling players how to earn a living as a football pundit despite having nothing interesting or intelligent to say about the game, also takes players who have fallen out of the league system and prepares them for a return to the pro ranks. At the time the Academy had a tie-in with the marvellously named Jerez Industrial who were plying their trade in the Spanish 4th Division. Returning to England he had spells with Hereford, Mansfield and Chesterfield. He signed for Hull in 2015 for £1.3m and left them this summer for over ten times that amount (£15m) which represents a good profit for the Tigers. However the best thing about the player is the fact that he has a cap – just the one mind – for the England C team, the existence of which is always a delight to those of us who live in the Avram Grant Olympic Rest Home For The Bewildered.
Us? Disappointing last week. We didn’t play well for the middle third of the game which is when all the damage was done. However, one rather got the impression that the officials were determined to make our part in proceedings an irrelevance. Back in the day when the offside law was first formulated (ah yes I remember it well) the idea was to put paid to the art of goal hanging, that is simply leaving a player to stand for 90 minutes in the box. Kane’s first goal was precisely the sort of thing that the law was set up to counter and in the good old days he would have been pulled up for being offside in the build up. Having been allowed to continue there wasn’t a hope of a defender getting back to cover – and if scoring a dubious goal isn’t obtaining an advantage Lord knows what is.
Then there’s this new initiative about diving. The idea is that players get punished retrospectively for the scourge of the modern game that proper supporters hate. However, so restrictive are the requirements for sanction a player has to get another sent off or gain a penalty before anyone can do anything. So Alli’s embarrassing effort that gave them the free-kick from which they got their third will remain unpunished because he had the foresight to do it outside the box.
Spurs had adopted much of the traditional Liverpool (the Tottenham of the North) tactics including the committing of foul after cynical foul in order to break up and disrupt play. Possession of anything resembling a vertebra has never been one of Oliver’s strong points and his constant tolerance of persistent foul play was just what the doctor ordered for the visitors. Aurier should have received four yellows and a straight red before the first of the two yellows that actually sealed his fate, the red would have been for the shirt pull on Arnautovic in the first half when clean through. That was one of three penalties that should have been awarded, Aurier’s flicking the ball away with his arm in the first half and the shove on Carroll at the end being the other two.
I see that the clubs have now been fined £20k each failing to control their players, the melee at the end arising when a frustrated Carroll gave away a foul having just dodged an elbow – which, unsurprisingly, Oliver chose to ignore. I wonder what his reaction would have been had Carroll been the perpetrator rather than the victim? Actually, scrub that I know full well. I have seen elbows thrown four times this season and the only one punished at the time was the one thrown by Arnautovic. In the meantime no punishment will be handed out to Oliver whose gutless efforts were the sole and cause of the melee at the end. In the meantime the good Baroness ought to send the bill to Oliver. The threat of bankruptcy might just get the sods to think about refereeing match properly and if they end up flogging the Big Issue it's no more than PGMOL deserves.
Injury news is that there is talk of roles for Lanzini and even, amazingly, Antonio, though Ginge and Pedro are looking at "after the break" for their return. Other than that everyone else is available.
Prediction? Well there was enough in the second half last weekend to show what could be done if you play with confidence. That confidence had disappeared either side of the interval which was why we were three down. This week will be a different kettle of fish and I am feeling bullish – never a good sign admittedly.
Their lack of goalscoring prowess is something that will concern them and, for that reason, I will this week go for a home win hey let’s go the whole hog and go for a clean sheet too as I pop down to Winstone The Turf Accountant and place the £2.50 I was going to contribute to Hugh Hefner’s farewell party on a scoreline of 2-0 to us.
Enjoy the game!
When last we met at the Olympic: Won 1-0 (Premier League 8 April 2017)
A five game losing run that had us looking over our shoulders at the form of the principal relegation candidates finally came to an end with a win that was a lot more comfortable than it sounds. An excellent Kouyate goal that deserved a better match than this one was enough to give us all three points.
Referee: Roger East
Well at least he’s not a showboater like Oliver, Dean, Jones etc I suppose. Competence is probably a bit much to hope for though on his past form.
Danger Man: Jordan Ayew
Like his brother he has been chipping in with the odd goal here and there and sibling rivalry might just add to his game.
Percy’s Poser: Last week, in honour of so-called “Big club” Spurs and their 23,000 “crowd”, we recalled a similar-sized crowd at Stamford Bridge by asking: On 26 August 2003 Chelsea were in so-called Champions League action in front of 23,408 “supporters”.
Our question was in two parts: 1) What were West Ham doing that evening?, and 2) In front of how many people were they doing it? Congrats to Mrs Constance Lake who was first out of the hat with the responses 1) Beating Bradford City 1-0 and 2) 30,370. So to summarise, we got about 7,000 more for a Championship match than Chelsea got for the so-called Champions League. Those big clubs eh?
For this week’s poser we go back a few years to February 1996 when Kevin Cullis took over as manager at Swansea. We ask you : How long was Cullis’s reign at what was then the Vetch Field? (and, in true Question Of Sport tradition there will be bonus points for knowing “what happened next?”). First prize will be all the lavabread you can eat.
Good luck everyone!