COLUMNIST KEN BUCKLEY
Time and money ensured I watched this one in the company of Channel 5 and what a miserable night's viewing it was.
The day started well as some friends who had gone over sent me pictures of the scenes in the square that were full of Blues with their flags and banners, then a phone call to let me hear Z Cars played on plastic hooters everyone seemed in great mood and full of optimism and why not. After the displays against Chelsea and Utd surely we could see off Sporting. I think if we had taken that form with us we could have done but instead this season’s cup form was on view and basically we just didn’t turn up.
Within minutes of the opening we were chasing shadows as Izmailov cut in and hammered a shot goalwards but Howard made an excellent parry to palm it away and Baines completed the clearance. It was a warning that was going unheeded as no-one was getting a foot on the ball and any attempt at a pass was just giving them the ball back. Moutinho was causing problems in a roaming role and no-one seemed capable of picking him up we were getting a chasing. Liedson who was making our central defensive partnership look slow and cumbersome fired just wide.
Senderos was clumsy in giving away a free kick on the edge of the area and Moutinho rattled the bar but luckily the rebound was fired wide. Still we just could not get anything going forward, Saha was isolated and his body language suggested he was not liking it and was time after time caught offside by not getting back quick enough.
We tried swopping wingers over but both Bilyaletdinov and Donovan were for some reason just not at the races in this game and continually lost the ball for the home team to pour forward again. Veloso broke from such an indiscretion and fired powerfully but straight at Howard. We had to wait until just before the break to get anywhere near excited as from a foul Baines whipped in a cross that Senderos converted, started to celebrate only for all to realise that the Sporting defence had pushed out and he was off side.
0-0 at the break and I was grateful for that. After the performance of the first half I realized we were out of sorts and was half hoping that the manager would take off Bilyaletdinov, Donovan and Senderos and put on three defenders and park the bus as that was the only way I could see us going through such was our form and attitude.
The manager disagreed and it was more of the same. Just a few minutes in and Senderos seemed to catch his foot in the turf and needed treatment, he did limp back on but only to give Jags the time to get ready and replace him. As it would turn our Jags appearance would be the only plus from the game. It was great to see him back and his play suggested he has recovered well but will take a little time to get up to speed.
Sporting were going for it as though they knew we had little to offer as an attacking force and their full backs became more and more adventurous. Howard got a knee to a close range effort and the ball cannoned to safety then he did even better to turn over a drive from full back Veloso.
We then had a rare attack down the left and Pienaar curled one just wide of the far post with keeper beaten, how we could have done with that going in as from the next Sporting meaningful attack we conceded, again the full back Veloso was raiding and no one closed him down as he cut in and smashed a low shot beyond Howard into the net. My bad feeling at H/T just got worse.
We tried hard to respond and on the hour mark Bilyaletdinov was replaced by Rodwell and it certainly had not been the Russian’s night but nothing changed we just could not put passes together and pose a meaningful threat it was hard to understand considering our league form of late.
The manager introduced Yak for the out of sorts Donovan in an attempt to change something and get us a goal but just minutes after the change the ex Rangers man Pedro Mendes put the tie to bed. We had half cleared the ball from a penalty box melee but it fell to a Sporting player who slid the ball back to Mendes who fired into the corner via a deflection leaving Howard unsighted.
For the last minutes we went all gung ho but without much thought but it did give Saha our one and only shot on target, he hit it well but the keeper was alert and charged out and blocked the effort in the six yard box, that could have taken us to extra time but it was not to be. Deep into added time it was everybody up for one last charge from a free kick. The ball was cleared, they had men up and the Fernandez run on goal saw him round Howard, who was a little unlucky not to thwart him, and slot home. The ref then brought a miserable night to a close.
Overall a poor performance from players who had been at the top of their form just days ago. Did the change at centre back affect the rest? Was it just a game to far this month? I don’t know but the manager will have some picking up to do before Spurs on Sunday.
On the night Heitinga, Distin, Fellaini and Cahill were big-big misses but we will never know if they would have had the same malaise as the rest. Our last chance of silverware this season gone and many a Blue gutted but that’s football, some things you just can’t plan or account for but it don't half hurt.
Now the task is to push on in the league’ finish as high as we can with the aim of having another go at this European thing next season.
UP THE BLUES
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1 Posted 26/02/2010 at 13:51:57
We hardly won a 50/50 ball all night and constantly backed away from them when they attacked..Neville could not cope with their winger for either speed or ability on the ball...the midfield did not cover well enough and Saha looked really disinterested for much of the game, being slow to come back from off side positions.
The Yak has blown it as far as I am concerned and Anichebe would have been a better alternative even if only for endeavour and muscle...its time we blooded some younger players and I think that Coleman, Rodwell and perhaps Gosling should start a game, sooner rather than later.
The EFC showing in Portugal is as bad as we were good against Man Utd.
Sporting realized we posed no attacking problems after about ten minutes and deservedly beat us out of sight !!
2 Posted 26/02/2010 at 14:52:35
3 Posted 27/02/2010 at 20:55:32
It was clear from the start that the aim was to thwart the opposition rather than to seek the goal that would have nullified their away goal & really put the pressure on them. We sat back & handed the initiative to a team low in confidence at a club in something of a crisis. Our fullbacks & midfield rarely got up in support of the attack whenever we did hold the ball long enough to mount any kind of counter-attack. We were quite lucky to still be at 0-0 come half time & there should have been a change in approach for the second half as it was clear we were unlikely to hold out too much longer.
The expectation in Lisbon was that Sporting would most likely be roundly beaten & this triumph is seen as quite a scalp for them to have taken, especially so convincingly.
I think Moyes got it wrong tactically & the players put in a below par performance — we got what we deserved : bugger all!
I spent the rest of the night drifting through bars filled with the beautifully melancholic Fado music so appropriate for the aftermath of our Lisbon-ese experiences.
4 Posted 27/02/2010 at 21:35:55
Only positive was the return of Jags who looked far more game ready than I had expected. I met a BBC analyst (ex-Everton) in the bar afterwards who was extremely critical of the workrate and performance of the team overall, particularly Saha and Billy. He did not believe the team were sent out and set up for a 0-0 .
Take that for whats its worth. Personally, I thought the team should have come over to the suppt at full time to face the inevitable stick they would have got and Moysie might have aknowledged the fans then or later. I also read your reports Ken because I cannot get to most of the games..thanks.
PS...Feyenord, Dukla Prague....back in the day these were crushing defeats. This one was worse.
5 Posted 01/03/2010 at 10:36:42
The day of the match was great - the atmosphere was tremendous - the washing up liquid in the fountain, the old drunks trying to play football with us etc.etc.
Then it was all let down by a bunch of miserable, no shows.
IF it were a product purchased from remmington, we could have asked for our money back.
Oh well - had a great time anyway...just a pity the game was an embarrasment.
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