When we did our house up a few years ago, the plumber who came to sort something out opened a door in the loft and was confronted by a myriad of pipes the like of which he’d never seen before. It was like a pit of vipers that had been turned to copper.
It turned out that the previous owner had been a builder, and had built the heating system himself using bits and pieces of pipes and valves from various jobs he’d done all across Europe. It worked, but as soon something went wrong, only he was be able to figure out where the problem was.
It felt a bit like that on Saturday. Despite the furore over Gavin Whyte during the week, the starting eleven was perhaps the best available in terms of both personnel and formation. John Mousinho sitting in midfield like the world’s first free-ranging centre-back was able to protect the back four from it’s own disorganisation. It also protected him from his predilection for getting caught in possession whilst being the last man.
Up front, Jamie Mackie defied age, injury and his ability to play exactly how you’d want him to play – work hard, batter everyone, complain constantly. Get to the edge of exhaustion or a red card, whichever comes sooner, before getting substituted for someone more mobile. He was brilliant throughout, even in his interview afterwards. If you listened quietly, you could almost hear the words ‘Danny Hylton’ wafting over the airwaves. For a moment, it felt like he was back.
Marcus Browne simplified everything by running in straight lines at ferocious speed, frightening their back-four. He’s a curious specimen; his pace is extraordinary and fabulously damaging, but after each burst he’d have his hands on his knees or be visibly trying to catch his breath. Like a Golden Eagle, hugely powerful and dominant, but every exertion seems to weaken him.
Still, with Browne’s ability to make everyone run in straight lines; Ricky Holmes’ talent to disrupt becomes an asset rather than a confusion to his own players.
It worked, and worked well; it was three points we desperately needed. But it still doesn’t feel like the sustainable solution that is going to give us the 18 more wins we’d need to trouble the play-offs. Like the plumbing system; when everything works its fine, but what happens when it doesn’t? There isn’t another John Mousinho, Marcus Browne or Jamie Mackie in the squad. Each new mix of players produces a different system; some that work fine, some terribly. It is, at best, another holding solution.
Karl Robinson was more subdued, which appeared to be deliberate. For him, it was a no-win situation – a loss would have been catastrophic, a win, against Plymouth, at home was no more than a minimum requirement. For many, it was never going to be more impressive than turning up on time for kick-off. The result, whatever it turned out to be, was never likely to turn public opinion in his favour.
Part of Robinson’s problem was illustrated by the Gavin Whyte affair. He showed all the frustration of a fan in seeing Whyte miss a crucial game to sit on the bench for Northern Ireland, but his bargaining position was limited. As Michael O’Neill said, it’s not his fault League 1 games don’t get postponed during an international break, and the rules are clear about who decides who plays. Plus O’Neill probably had 10 times the media opportunities to get his view across than Robinson.
But, Robinson’s lack of strategic thinking meant his outburst about the disrespect being shown to the club and the disgrace made him look petulant and childish; particularly when it got amplified via various national media outlets to fill time between international games. From a PR perspective, he walked right onto a sucker punch.
With fans already against him, he was always going to look stupid picking a fight he couldn’t win. Fans were always going to spin it to prove their point about his inappropriateness for the role. Had he said, calmly, that he had made attempts to contact O’Neill to see what Whyte’s situation was and whether he could play, omitting all the stuff about it being disrespectful and a disgrace, it wouldn’t have made the national headlines and local fans may have seen Robinson as the hard working, always thinking manager he appears to be. With Sean Derry on interviewing duties, and Robinson spending long periods on the bench, the aim seemed to be to calm the whole situation down and avoid saying something stupid.
Derry said that Southend and then Plymouth were building blocks. Nothing is solved yet. There is no magic – black or otherwise – as Robinson frequently tries to claim, deciding our fate. It is what it is, a win, and that’s all that’s important right now.