I was once at a works leaving do in a pub. IT Bloke, a quietly spoken efficient type, was running a bit late; he was meeting up with his girlfriend before joining us. Nobody had met IT Bloke’s girlfriend; in fact, most people were surprised that he had one.
Now, some girls can be described as being curvy, or stick thin, or big boned. This girl was oblong. Her head was a wide as her body, and she was only about twice the height of her width. What’s more, she looked like a male red indian. The girl who was sat next to me described IT Bloke “brave” for coming out with her.
Such is the magnifying and warping impact of publicity. Although doubt IT Bloke considered himself ‘brave’, there is a part of him that will have been concerned about how other people percieve him. Not because he had a girlfriend shaped like an oblong red indian, but because we all have our insecurities.
Our ineptitude was exposed on Monday and magnified inextricably by the fact we were on TV. It started during the day; for what is one of the more anonymous fixtures in our calendar people were buzzing with excitement for no other reason that we were on telly. During, and then after, the game there was indignation. Some of it justified, much of it a reaction to the fact all our weaknesses were exposed to the nation. As if anyone beyond the Vale and United diasporas would be mental enough to spend two hours watching that game.
As I kept reminding people, we were actually unbeaten away from home in the football league on the TV for 12 years. Which was not a source of blatant optimism, it was just an interesting fact. It was going to end at some point. Away to the 2nd place team in the division with an injury ravaged team in poor to average form had ‘record-gone’ written all over it.
The end of that dubiously defined record crashed around our ears in spectacular fashion. We opened neatly enough, but that’s us at the moment; full of neat players who knock the ball around nicely, but can’t be relied on in a shit fight.
We’re missing two key components. After we conceded we there was nobody bullying the team back into action. Billy Turley, who has recently debuted on Twitter, tweeted that he would have been bawling at his back-four back into life. As easy as it is for former players to criticise the current crop, Turley’s right, Ryan Clarke can’t be relied on to shake things up. Jake Wright is a good leader, but he seems more effective in a stable environment. When we went a goal down we needed someone to shake us up a bit. In fact, we’re demonstrating a naivety that was evident in our first season back in the league. We leaked points through defensive lapses; a problem that was initially plugged by Paul McLaren and then last season by Michael Duberry. We need that kind of experience now.
The other problem, which was exposed on countless occasions, was a lack of pace. Myrie-Williams poured down the wing over and over again. And much as pace is a rare and valuable commodity, we have nothing that compares to that raw speed. Liam Davis is as close as we have, and he’s still in the treatment room.
The Sky analysis seemed surprisingly informed at first, until you locked into the fact it was basically commentary by Opta stats. One fact that was repeated over and over was the number of goals we’ve conceded from outside the box. An unfortunate sequence of conceding world class goals? Or a lack of defensive grit in midfield; who is closing the attacker down? This certainly seems to be the view of Chris Wilder. It’s not a bad call. Which means that the return of Andy Whing to shore things up cannot come soon enough.