In that first half, we showed by way of plenty of joined up football, good workrate and quickness of thought that indeed we were way ahead of a workmanlike Stoke. James Beattie returned to a good ovation and apart from a couple of comic moments that's all we saw of him.
The Blues were at it from the off with Baines and Pienaar showing good understanding down the left and it was this combination that gave us our first chance by supplying Osman with a chance that he should have done better with. The joined-up footy was evident all over the pitch and with Neville and Cahill running the midfield area it was no surprise when the first goal came.
Fellaini, whose visit to the tonsorial artist had transformed him into a 8 foot Pienaar lookalike as well as making him card free, combined well with an improved Jo and we saw the latter shoot under the keeper and open the scoreing.
Then the Brazilian delighted us with a series of 'stepovers' in the box before laying of a pass that came to nought but gave rise to the thought that he may become known as 'RonaldJo'!
More good build-up that Stoke found hard to handle resulted in the second goal when Osman put in a cross that was met by that heading machine Cahill and the keeper could only parry it as far as Lescott who netted with some aplomb. More good work from Jo and he found Osman who once again missed the target from 12yds.
Half-time... looking good and the chat centred on Wembley tickets and the cost of going; most thought the club should extend the 'Early Bird' period for a couple of weeks as the closing date is just a day before Wembley.
Second half and Cahill is replaced by Saha with Fellaini dropping back to partner Neville. Whether this move triggered the second-half non-performance I don't know but, where we had been confident in thought and application, we were now uncertain and a touch panicky.
Passes missed their mark, hoofball started to raise its ugly head and Stoke seemed to sense a fightback was on. Less than ten minutes in and the usually dependable Jags switched off at a throw-in and forced Yobo to make a last ditch challenge that resulted in a corner.
From that corner Shawcross, unmarked(!), got in a powerfull header that beat Howard to the corner of the net... hell, we were defending a corner with no-one on the posts!! Made me wonder ? Was that a planned tactic or player error?
Stoke and their vociferous fans re-awoke and bombed us, balls rained in on us as we defended and broke with little or no conviction. Fuller joined the fray and was only denied by a Lescott timely tackle. Shawcross again got on the end of a header and missed what looked an open goal. Two long range efforts narrowly flashed wide, close enough to bring Oohs and Ahhrs from both sets of fans.
Slowly we did start to reassert ourselves and mainly through good hold-up work and thoughtful layoff's from Jo others started to respond as the clock ticked down. The manager made a change by bringing Rodwell on; I thought it would be for the misfiring Fellaini who had looked anything but comfotable in mid-field but no, it was the excellent Jo who made way and Fellaini once more moved forward to partner the striker, leaving the fledgling Rodwell to help shore up the mid-field.
Sometimes the manager's substitutions baffle me but he was proved spot on as, after Piennaar had missed a sitter when the keeper could only parry the ball into his path, that man Fellaini after the most ungainly piece of control, fired on goal and via a deflection we were home and dry in injury time.
Final whistle, the DJ played 'Grand Old Team' but today didn't bother to switch off at the 'If yer know yer 'istory' bit. Anyone who does player ratings would today have to compile one for each half, such was the discrepancy. Over the whole match I thought only Lescott, Baines, Neville and my 'Man of the match' Jo showed the consistency needed to keep our good run going.
In the games to be played before Wembley, we have an excellent chance of taking maximum points and the players need to take note of that second half performance to ensure we do.
That second half seemed to indicate that, when the chips are down and the going gets tough and we lose the centre mid-field, then Jags makes Hibbert look world class at right back and both Osman and Pienaar are as weak as wet lettuce.
Still much for the manager to work on down Finch Farm way to ensure enforced changes don't cost us to dearly. UP THE BLUES
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1 Posted 14/03/2009 at 22:47:45
"Jags makes Hibbert look world class at right back and both Osman and Pienaar are as weak as wet lettuce."
2 Posted 14/03/2009 at 23:04:47
3 Posted 14/03/2009 at 23:47:10
We lost our shape in the second half, Fellaini isn’t quick enough to play in a four man midfield and is basically a passenger. Far better in a more advanced positition behind the main striker.
Hopefully Cahill’s injury isn’t serious.
4 Posted 15/03/2009 at 00:44:12
5 Posted 15/03/2009 at 03:32:41
The difference in the second half was moving Fellaini back ? you gotta feel for the big guy, as he was having a cracking game until then, and played well for the last 15 when he was pushed forward again. In essence, I suppose I?m saying we?ve found his best position?
6 Posted 15/03/2009 at 04:50:22
Pity about what's happening at right back though. We should have finished the game off instead of making it close. Pienaar and Saha had great chances to kill the game off. But on the bright side, we won again and continued our great form. Onwards and upwards. Congrats to Moyes for what he?s done for us over 7 years.
7 Posted 15/03/2009 at 05:10:55
I don?t know when Hibbert is going to be ready and maybe Jacobsen is a decision too far for Moyes when it comes to his favourites aka Yobo. I think he could justify it to himself and Yobo on a number of levels if it was Hibbo coming back.
Jags and Hibbert have been giving 9s and 8s out of 10, what we have here is Jags and Yobo giving 2 x 7s... Jags has to get back to what he knows or the confidence will ever so slowly be eroded and the form will follow.
PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE don?t let Saha get injured for the Semi, the more game time he can get under his belt the better. I think him and big Mo can give United some problems down the middle.
8 Posted 15/03/2009 at 09:21:01
9 Posted 15/03/2009 at 10:00:44
I heard Cahill came off for tactical reasons, is that true?
10 Posted 15/03/2009 at 10:08:52
Ken, I?d pick you up on two points. Pienaar, as others have noted, had a good, bright game and (for his size) is one of the strongest players I?ve ever seen. Felliani ? an ?ungainly piece of control? for the goal? You?ve got to be joking. Watch it carefully ? incredible the way he brought the ball down.
11 Posted 15/03/2009 at 10:37:33
I agree with Connor and Stewart. The further up the park Fellaini plays, the better he performs. He isn't mobile enough to play center mid, but I believe he?ll develop into the sort of player who can regularly get 12-15 goals a season playing off a front man.
12 Posted 15/03/2009 at 10:55:41
1. Excellent and enjoyable report as usual Ken;
2. I thought some of the interplay between Jo, Pienaar and Fellaini was absolutely superb, particularly in the first half but there were flashes throughout the game (who is Arteta?);
3. That ?ungainly piece of control? was a wonderfully sublime pull down and shot... he meant it... it worked... he will do it again;
4. Saha slotted into his duties nicely but Fellaini looks much better playing in the hole (a headache for the manager);
5. Neville was outstanding again;
6. I thought Jags was solid.
13 Posted 15/03/2009 at 11:37:52
Did anyone else think that Howard should have stopped their goal? I’m beginning to wonder if he’s got a psychological weakness when diving towards a ball near a post. I’m sure it’s not the first time I’ve seen him try to use footwork instead of diving as the ball creeps in at the post, but can’t back it up with any specific examples.
14 Posted 15/03/2009 at 11:44:50
Still, I?d love us to finish ahead of Villa.
15 Posted 15/03/2009 at 12:04:34
16 Posted 15/03/2009 at 13:11:09
17 Posted 15/03/2009 at 13:46:03
18 Posted 15/03/2009 at 13:42:20
I must back up some of the posters above though. It?s not often I disagree with you but....
I hope there was a touch of sarcasm when you said "Shawcross, unmarked(!), got in a powerful header that beat Howard to the corner of the net" ? I guess you haven?t seen the replay then because "powerful" is not a word I would?ve used to describe it. Howard should have done better.
Also, please put the Pienaar comments away. He has been gradually getting better and better since he returned from injury and not every player in the side can be six foot and built like the proverbial. He has linked up beautifully with Baines especially and I actually think he often does well considering his size. Without Arteta, players like Pienaar are vital if you don?t want hoofball.
Fellaini?s "most ungainly piece of control" was actually a sublime piece of skill. Again, watch the replay and I think you?ll agree.
Good report though, I always enjoy reading your summary. 3 points and hopefully a Spurs win today will make it a 6 pointer.
19 Posted 15/03/2009 at 14:03:37
Amazing efforts really... and ? if the season ended today ? we couldn?t complain. One little thing bothers me and that is Tim Howard. Not for the first time, he should have done better yesterday. I don?t think he?s quite good enough and it's an area we need to strengthen.
20 Posted 15/03/2009 at 19:08:02
If we can achieve a win at Pompey
Come on Blues, you can still do this ? it won?t be easy but it is possible!
21 Posted 15/03/2009 at 20:58:11
Neville has been a vital player the past couple of games with solid performances.
22 Posted 15/03/2009 at 21:57:03
The fact that we?ve stayed unbeaten against Newcastle, M?Boro & Stoke does not support Moyes?s tactic therein. We have started to leak goals and look shakey at the back. Sadly there are some idiots who think such questions are boring, irrelevant or heresy. Such is life.
23 Posted 16/03/2009 at 02:52:41
24 Posted 16/03/2009 at 12:32:59
On the 2-3 occasions Moyes has asked Yobo to play right back, he's been desperate, he can't do it. Moyes ? and the rest of us ? know it.
Moyes was delighted with his back four, but he was FORCED to alter it. Some of you are acting like he chose to make the change. Jags is improving each week at right back and is doing a good job there; pretending he?s not in an attempt to substantiate this half-witted argument is simply looking to moan for the sake of it.
We have only conceded two goals ? both thrown in by our keeper ? so we are dealing with this latest adversity admirably. Moyes clearly doesnt see Jacobsen as the answer so what do the whiners propose?
Every manager will move his most trusted player to cover an area of weakness when the need rises, ask Essien or Carragher. Anyone who understands the game knows this. People who offer no solution themselves, but wan't to call the more knowledgeable fans childish names, need to try to look at the bigger picture.
25 Posted 16/03/2009 at 20:59:53
26 Posted 16/03/2009 at 21:49:35
Lescott’s goal will never be a candidate for goal of the season, and the same goes for our Belgian friend, after a trip to the barbers it would seem. Stoke came mighty close on occasion when Shawcross got them back into it, and when it was sealed with the last seconds of the game it was relief all round, but Tony Pulis must have felt that his side could so easily have taken a share of the spoils back to Staffordshire, but in the end it was a home victory, and despite all the injuries and pre-season nonsense, it’s another victory with so many people on the inactive roster, but I have half an eye on the Manchester United game next month, even more so after their "humiliation" against the shite at the weekend.
And Gerrard kissing the camera just did not agree with me. Hopefully you can kiss my backside when you see your team win nothing this season. Hope you and your side enjoyed the pinnacle of your season in Manchester on Saturday.