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Why do we start badly and finish better?

By Jim Hourigan :  25/03/2011 :  Comments (37) :
I?ve pondered the question each time it has happened over the years. You would have to accept / believe that it is highly unlikely that the pre-season is weak. Training will surely be varied, fitness levels will be monitored constantly, physiological data will be abundant and the preparations at this level must be spot on. There may be some questions about the quality of the opposition but, in reality, pre-season friendlies have little real impact. Players are withheld, effort is limited with the intent that players come out of the box fired up and ready to go. Motivation, given what we?re led to believe by the players, apparently is not an issue and Moyes has the players' respect so why does it regularly go wrong?

If we discount the preparation, then what are we left with? I think the last few games have shown us the answer. At the start of the season, all the teams are fired up, motivation and commitment is high and generally teams are at full strength. In these circumstances, teams are hard to beat and the tactics have to be spot on.

No-one wants to be beaten; promoted teams and those sides in the frame for relegation i.e. Wolves, Wigan, West Ham etc set out to defend, to avoid defeat and make themselves hard to play against ? very much the way Moyes did at the start of his regime. So we now have most of the sides outside the top 6/7 adopting a 4-5-1 formation from the start of the season. For me, Moyes is a ?one-trick pony? in terms of tactics, his 4-4-1-1 formation is his default and preferred system, so even though he may now have better players at his disposal, his natural caution and tactics do not stretch and challenge the majority of teams at this stage of the season. We may dominate possession but, without a second natural striker, putting the ball in the net becomes problematic. Teams can sit back and defend; unless we can unpick them with a set piece and defend a small lead, we are always likely to draw far more games than we win or lose. So why is it different towards the end of the season?

Again I think the answer could be fairly straightforward. As we get to Christmas and beyond, traditionally the sides at the bottom start to drift away from the rest, those at the top pull away and the group in the middle start fighting for fringe Euro places or to avoid being drawn into a relegation battle. Discipline with teams at the bottom, as well as a general lack of quality, means the ability to avoid defeat disappears and the managers tend to start looking to win games and become more open. This gives Moyes, with his rigid disciplined system, opportunities to exploit changes in the tactics of the opposition for teams at the bottom. Similarly those in the middle section begin to open up a bit, possibly hoping for Europe or to avoid getting drawn in to the relegation battle, and suspensions and injuries play a part. Moyes does not change his tactics and, after 9 years, the players are so disciplined that neither injuries nor suspensions have a major impact on this approach. Consequently we win more games and our hard-to-beat approach becomes a winning mentality almost by default.

This year is clearly not the case and I would argue that my theory supports that. Teams like Blackpool and WBA have broken the mould and gone for it from the start, but now quality, injuries and suspensions kick in and they begin to falter. Teams like Wolves, Birmingham, Blackburn and Wigan all play 4-5-1 but do not have the consistency, quality and single mindedness of Everton to maintain the same level as they did at the start of the season. Those in the middle ? Sunderland, Stoke, Fulham and Newcastle ? start thinking Europe or worry about relegation and change their approach and are not able to rigidly stick to their system. Stoke is a classic example of a team adopting the Moyes approach; through the consistency of management they began to approach our levels of rigidity and hence move up the table.

Through all of this, Moyes sticks to 4-4-1-1 unless he is forced to change. We pick up more wins and hey presto we are sniffing around the Eurospots!!! So what does it tell us? For me, it's quite simple ? We will always struggle to win games in the first half of the season, come good in the second half and will never win a cup whilst Moyes adopts his one-trick pony tactics ? a half season ticket might be a radical thought!!! Unless Moyes can change the way he approaches matches, I fear we are in for more years of the same roller-coaster rubbish.

Reader Comments

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Dave Wilson
1   Posted 26/03/2011 at 07:07:04

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Now then.

So much of the criticism of Moyes is in my opinion lazy. Not this one, it's the best article I`ve seen about Moyes for some time.

I like that you have taken the time to analyse the patterns, not only ours but the opposition's.
Many people come on here and whine about Moyes`s "negativity" . To me, that's a cop out, a lazy complaint. The guy plays with less defenders and less defensive minded players than anyone. You on the other hand, nail him.

Moyes`s biggest failing ? ironically the reason Kenwright loves him so much ? is his almost certain knowledge that no matter how badly we start, we will at some stage start reeling in clubs managed by people who are not so familiar to Premier League waters, he knows he merely has to stick to "The Plan".

His belief/knowledge that his approach will always bring in Prem placing cash for a top half finish has made him absolutely rigid, he simply won't change.

A Moyes team will always finish above the really negative teams like Birmingham and will also finish above the cavalry charges like Blackpool.

I believe Moyes has to stay ? at least until we get a new owner ? but Jim really has nailed him here, he is without doubt a "best we could do under the circumstances" type of guy.

A sobering article, no childish name calling... Just the facts.
Jamie Connor
2   Posted 26/03/2011 at 08:05:37

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I think you think far too much mate.
Dick Fearon
3   Posted 26/03/2011 at 08:31:28

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Jim, when you see our team gasping for breath and starting to be over run at half-time in the first half dozen or so matches, it is unquestionably down to poor pre-season fitness regime. Add to that Moyes's safety-first approach that has our entire team crowding our own penalty area at the slightest danger.

I disagree with your assertion that he sets out an attack-minded team. His usual tactic of using two defensive midielders in front of a back line four is hardly an attacking set up. But for Cahill's outstanding pre Xmas goal scoring and aggressive non-stop attitude, we would be looking into the abyss and Moyes would be history.

Richard Dodd
4   Posted 26/03/2011 at 09:56:59

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......meanwhile, we settle into a familiar top-half place. Thank you, Davey!
Trevor Lynes
5   Posted 26/03/2011 at 10:16:00

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Dick #3 I agree wholeheartedly. I reckon it's the long haul pre-season that takes away our edge... games played in warmer climes and jet lag etc makes players play at much more leisurely pace and time after time it shows in our first few games. We should try a European pre-season which would mean less travel and better opposition.

I truly do not think it's a coincidenece that after every long haul pre-season we start poorly!!

Ben Jones
6   Posted 26/03/2011 at 10:29:45

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I think it's a great article, Jim, but I think you've out missed one key point, which is the personnel. We have a better squad than any of the teams below us, except arguably Aston Villa. We have the capability to break teams down with these players and I would say they are more to blame for the start of the season than Moyes' tactics are or the opposition approaches. They just did not perform in the beginning, simple as.

But at Goodison especially, teams have approached us differently, they see us as a threat now, so they park the bus now. Osman summed up in a recent interview for me, they didn't expect this approach at Goodison and they could not handle the pressure of trying to break teams down. It is not the normal way we play under Moyes.

So, thinking about, tactics are an important part. But in theory Moyes's 4-4-1-1 would be spot on if we had two wingers who had quality, pace. But I'm only dreaming.

So again, Jim, great article, but I'd blame the players more than the manager and his tactics.
Trevor Lynes
7   Posted 26/03/2011 at 10:48:56

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Of course the players are to blame but I am not as blase as you in thinking we have better players than all the teams below us. I still feel we have the weakest of benches and no cover for certain key positions eg; Baines.

The pre-season long hauls are a proven failure in preparation EVERY year!!

Dave Wilson
8   Posted 26/03/2011 at 10:58:57

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John Heitinga has played as centre-half this season and Neville until recently had spent the entire season at right-back.

I really don't know who people are referring to when they speak about "defensive midfielders". Cahill spent most of his games up top, Pienaar is gone and Arteta, Bily, Coleman, Fellaini, Osman, Rodwell and Vic couldn't defend if their lives depended upon it.
Robert Elliott
9   Posted 26/03/2011 at 11:09:09

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To be fair, Trevor, I think Moyes fell in love with long-haul pre-seasons after we went to America just before the 04-05 seaon and then started the season like a train despite losing Rooney, and with most people expecting us to get relegated. The start was the reason we finished fourth that year as we bloody limped over the line in the end.

We went to America again before the 06-07 season and started with 3 wins and a draw in the first four games (including a 3-0 win over Liverpool) and didn't lose until our seventh or eighth game if memory serves.

I don't profess to have the answer to our poor starts every year since, and clearly Moyes doesn't either or he would've done something about it. One thing that occurs to me though is that he always looks such a miserable bugger (even more than normal I mean!) in the first few months of every season. It's like it takes him ages to get his head around the fact that we've had sod all money to spend again in the summer and is having a sulk. Could be miles off, but it looks to me like we need to be at near crisis point for him to get his head back into it.
Kunal Desai
10   Posted 26/03/2011 at 12:02:48

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Let's not count our chickens as yet as I'm not entirely convinced we'll finish between 8th and 10th from here on in. Fellaini, Rodwell and Saha are all out for the remainder of the season. Unsure when Arteta is back and coupled with tough fixtures away to Wolves, West Brom, Wigan, Man Utd and Chelsea and Man City at home, it's going to be a tough ask finishing in the top half once again.

The midfield is key and right now it's a real worry with the likes of Osman, Heitinga, Bily and Neville filling those positions. A very weak midfield which I'm sure will easily be overpowered by the teams we still have to play.

Trevor Mackie
11   Posted 26/03/2011 at 13:08:25

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"Motivation, given what we?re led to believe by the players, apparently is not an issue and Moyes has the players' respect so why does it regularly go wrong?"

I think motivation is a problem, if they want to play they do; if they don't, they don't ? being a league, they get away with it.

EFC is all about staying out the bottom 3 these days and they're up to that when they pull their finger out.

I don't think we do finish stronger: we are an average set-up and we amass an average set of points.
Stephen Kenny
12   Posted 26/03/2011 at 13:48:20

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A new perspective on a consistent problem, an angle I hadn't considered tbh.

While I believe you have highlighted a part of the problem, I think there are deeper issues this season.

There are many games we could point to where we lacked a man who passes forward and a striker who takes chances. Had we had this, we would have probably won all our early games bar Newcastle (h); momentum builds, confidence is up... and things look different.

As it happened, we had (and to a degree still have) an error-prone goalie, a leaky defence, a bang out of form playmaker (now injured), and strikers who have misfired for most of the season.

The approach of smaller clubs has changed markedly from the one Moyes pioneered in 2005 to an attack-minded one; IMO, this approach has caught us cold on a number of occasions and Moyes's own rigidity has seen us unable to counter this, even with better players.

Combine this with the fact every other manager in the league could write our team sheet and tactics the week before they play us and it means teams are better prepared than ever before against us.

The other thing which I think goes against this theory slightly is our usual poor finish. By the logic of your argument we should come screaming across the finish line, yet we usually limp over with the odd win and a few draws?

For me, lots of small problems have added up to a big one this season and changes need to be made.

Things have gone a bit stale and even a new set of surroundings, faces and approaches would see a immediate improvement next term. I would have started this by changing our annual visit Stateside.

In terms of quality, I would have placed this squad 6th at the start of the season, I can see us finishing 7th, which isn't as shocking as we sometimes feel.
James Stewart
13   Posted 26/03/2011 at 14:37:04

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Great article.

Pretty much bang on the money. However if playing two strikers means playing Vic then count me out!

Saha apart, Moyes probably has the worst set of strikers ? if you can even call them that ? in the league. Yes, he signed them... but we were floundering in January and the club couldn't even finance a loan signing for Moyes, which was pathetic.
Phil Bellis
14   Posted 26/03/2011 at 15:36:46

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...meanwhile we settle for familiar mediocrity and shameful lack of ambition. Thank you, Bill.
Ben Jones
15   Posted 26/03/2011 at 17:16:52

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I'm not trying to be biase Trevor... I genuinely we can do. If all our players are fit, who other than Villa have arguably a better squad?

I do sadly a sense we will finish in mediocrity though. We are relying on the fighters of the team who do not have much quality, like Neville, Hibbert etc.

Just roll on next season, because something is definitely gonna happen. I can't see us having an unproductive transfer window because we will definitely sell someone.
Ben Jones
16   Posted 26/03/2011 at 17:21:40

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"... genuinely believe we can do" even... sorry another typo for you Michael.
Jimmy Sorheim
17   Posted 26/03/2011 at 16:48:33

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I think someone has taken too much positive medicine. We will never finish 9th with this injury crisis, or with all these players out on loan. Get real I say. I will be happy if we even survive this disaster season.
Michael Kenrick
Editorial Team
18   Posted 26/03/2011 at 19:14:36

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Just the one, Ben?

What word is "biase" supposed to be?

Is it "biased"... or "blasé"?

And are you happy with this sentence: "I do sadly a sense we will finish in mediocrity though." Not English, is it?

Two demerits!
Mike Hughes
19   Posted 26/03/2011 at 22:32:33

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To come back to the question: why do we start badly and finish better?

Piss poor preparation in pre-season = piss poor performance. I've said it on TW until I'm blue in the face.

The Psychology of the club is no longer Nil Satis Nisi Optimum but Mediocrity Abounds or Life Begins at 40 (points).

We have a couple of generations of fans who think finishing 7th is magnificent.

No vision, no action, no clue from boardroom to boot room.

Some bad luck (injuries) but "you make your own luck" and, again, it comes down to piss poor planning = piss poor performance.

The football is shite, the tactics are double shite, the running of the club is triple shite squared.

In a Premier League full of millionaires we are working class heroes who live in the shadow of our chavvy, gobshite scum neighbours who drive a second-hand Bimmer, have an ASBO and strut around town like they own the place because shit never sticks to them. When they have a crap season, we have to out-do them in the crap stakes.

EFC season tickets should be half-price because they only deliver half a season.

Still, there's always the hope of tomorrow (British Summer Time starts) and at least I'm not a red shite and surely we'll shit on the Villa?

Sorry folks but I'm in my 45th year and an EFC mid-life crisis.

Rant over.
James Flynn
20   Posted 26/03/2011 at 21:30:14

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I like this thread. Great post Jim.

Let me ask, who do you remember most impacted the team positively without necessarily indicating that impact except in winning?

Having come in with Landon last year, I did notice a first-class effort against everyone as long as there was little pressure as to where we finished until Europe was there to be had and we faded.

What are we missing as far as THAT GUY being on the team? That bastard who was on EFC squads from the past who pushed the team without making an impact scoring-wise (unless he did).

I ask because I'm not seeing him on our current roster. Yes, we don't have predators. We all know that. But when's the last time we had THAT GUY who just pushed the team to victory?
Harvey Miller
21   Posted 26/03/2011 at 23:47:28

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Hey guys, how many outfield senior players we actually have?

Defence: Hibbo, Heitinga, Jags, Distin, Baines.

Centre: Neville, Osman
Forward: Beckford (Anichebe... silly sod)
About fuckin 8. Great, yeah we'll be doing OK...

That's it, well jipii! We really have to let youngsters like Hallam Hope see some action. That said, Moyes has always done best with a limited squad.

Derek Thomas
22   Posted 26/03/2011 at 23:58:03

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James Flynn. Spot on. We are too nice. Bearing in mind that when we are good we are very very good and on those too too few occasions, '63 '66(?) '70 and the mid 80's we had 2 or 3 or more of THESE GUYS and only one of them, Ratcliffe, wore the Capts armband.

It's about Controlled Agression, the will to win, the, just beacause you are dead it doesn't mean you have to lie down.

Tony Kay, Alan Ball, Peter Ried, they had it.

You get too much and you have Joey Barton.

Short version; Nice guys finish 2nd.
James Ryan
23   Posted 27/03/2011 at 09:27:06

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I reckon the biggest problem is these pointless pre-season tours to Australia, America and Asia to play weak opposition, the team spend most of pre-season jet lagged, leading to shite start after shite start in the league.

I doubt it is Moyes's choice to go on these tours, more likely the money men at Goodison who obviously believe these tours are going to make Everton millions of pounds and solve our financial woes.

Clueless shower of twats!

Good post by the way
David Hallwood
24   Posted 27/03/2011 at 13:05:17

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Great post, Jim.

Sometimes your mind plays tricks with you. Cast your mind back to the start of the season; first game Blackburn ? we didn't turn up and didn't have shot on target; or Villa, what was it 75% of the possession away from home, nothing to show for it. The Man Utd game, to my mind we matched them stride for stride, in fact we were the better team for 30 minutes, and ended up drawing 3-3.

To my mind, what we lack in the squad is a game-changer at the business end of the field ? how many times have you seen Nani or Berbatov or Rooney last season get Man Utd over the line, even when they've been piss-poor.

Where I think this season differs from the seasons before is that we were playing some great stuff early on and getting nothing from it and that affected the confidence and the peformance levels dropped. But that brings us back to the point that a failure to invest in a quality striker, Landon Donovan or an LD-type of player has cost us bigtime this season.

Roman Sidey
25   Posted 27/03/2011 at 16:10:05

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Only read the intro before I wrote this.

It's Moyes' fault. All of it.

When you say the best players are witheld in the pre-season though, this is mainly just an Everton thing. Most of the big clubs play big sides and give their whole squad a run. Everton need to enter some sort of trophy or competition in the pre-season to up the motivation a bit.
Jamie Barlow
26   Posted 27/03/2011 at 00:10:35

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I don't even think Hope is with us anymore is he? Didn't he go out on loan to Hull?
Jim Hourigan
27   Posted 27/03/2011 at 17:38:29

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James 20 ? interesting question... but, having thought about it, I'm not sure I buy into the theory about a single player changing us so significantly. I agree Donovan's pace became a real asset and gave us a genuine out ball but he came half way through a season, would he have been as effective had he started the season? Pace is always a real asset and I believe it is one of Moyes's great failures in that he has never seen fit to try a buy / develop anyone with pace.

Beyond Donovan, nobody else springs to mind as having made an impact in the second half of the season and we have had several decent / good second halves.
Michael Kenrick
28   Posted 27/03/2011 at 19:53:50

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Jamie (#26), I hope you read this:

Hallum Hope ? Reserve player not on loan with Hull City

Hope Akpan ? Reserve player now on loan with Hull City

Hope this helps with the confusion!!!

ps: I can still only name nine out on loan, I hope there aren't any more, but some people are saying eleven... I hope they are wrong.

Dennis Stevens
29   Posted 27/03/2011 at 20:46:22

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So, not completely hopeless then, Michael.
James Flynn
30   Posted 27/03/2011 at 22:23:03

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Jim (27) - I was really looking at it from the angle of a solid-good technical player, who's a mean bastard that opponents (and teammates) fear. The current team seems to be missing that guy.

The fellow who does contribute just on skill, but whose real contribution is his genuine hatred of losing. All players say they hate losing, but not so many really do anything about it. "We tried our best". "We had the better of play". "On another day we'd of . . . . ". We hear that week in and out.

Watching us late last season as we found ourselves in the hunt for higher position, we seemed to fade where teams with a few of the types I mentioned would have made the move up. Refused to let the team drift as we did.

Money has its place. We all know it. But the ManUs and Chelseas always have a heartless bastard or 3 to push the team along.

That's why I asked who you all remember that fit that description from EFC's title winning/contending sides.
Michael Kenrick
31   Posted 27/03/2011 at 23:36:00

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Dennis, I hope not. Hopefully there is some hope... in fact there is one Hope still left... while some hope has gone.

Okay, one Hope has gone... but hopefully only for a while...

And I hope we all hope that Hope will return and restore our hope that the Hope we still have is not hoping in vain for a place on the bench where he could hopefully become only the second Hope to play for Everton's first team... some hope!

No... I give up: I was hoping you were right but this is hopeless.

Dennis Stevens
32   Posted 28/03/2011 at 00:03:05

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James Hollister
33   Posted 28/03/2011 at 06:57:36

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Roman Sidey - I have been saying this now for what feel like ever.

They go overseas to the States for what reason eludes me. Or they go to Australia. I just can't see the point at all.

As you have said yourself. What we need is pre season games playing some top teams.

We need to stop playing games with the likes of Macclesfield or Norwich City et al. These games are barely even a stretch for the lads.

By the time the season comes around, hardly anyone is fit enough to actually play Premier League games. It's shocking to be frank.

Think it was Wolfsburg last pre-season that walked all over us. It's these types of matches the lads need to motivate them, to get them to up their tempo and be raring to go at the start of the season.

I just don't see how it's possible with this manager for him to actually pick quality pre-season matches. He won't stop going the States, and he won't stop picking minnows in the lower leagues. And that right there is the number one cause for the lethargic start to the season. It takes them months to get back into gear.

Until the club stop sending them to these locations and picking pointless lower league teams, I feel we could be stuck in this pattern for a while to come unless Moyes sorts it out or he leaves.
James Hollister
34   Posted 28/03/2011 at 07:05:39

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"Motivation, given what we?re led to believe by the players, apparently is not an issue and Moyes has the players' respect so why does it regularly go wrong?"

You know what I think? David Moyes, is his own downfall.

He has ideas on what to do, no doubt how to change things. But the problem is, he clearly has no experience in doing it.

Take tactics and substitutions for example. How many matches has he got his tactics or subs completely wrong?

What he needs to do, is to get rid of that clown who is his number two, Steve Round. He simply isn't good enough. He needs someone with more experience than he has. To be told what subs to make and to discuss tactics.

It seems to me, for sure that Round and Moyes are definitely not suited together.

Bring back Alan Irwin, and I say this because although we played some absolute shite football with him as number two, we actually managed to get better results, moved in the right direction.

For me Round has been a disaster, and wherever he has been as either managed to make a real mess of what he has done or helped to get teams relegated... ie Newcastle. In fact they couldn't wait to get rid of him. And look what happened when he was McClaren's number two for England ? absolutely shocking.

If we can't get Irvine, then we need to find someone else with experience... otherwise, I am afraid it is goodbye Moyes, because I just don't think we can progress, period.
Jim Hourigan
35   Posted 28/03/2011 at 14:27:45

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James, not sure those players exist anymore ? card-happy refs and diving cheats have all but removed them from the game. Players like Peter Reid would be missing half the season because they led by example and the modern game has sadly all but done away with them.
Tommy Coleman
36   Posted 29/03/2011 at 15:26:15

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Because we win when it doesn't matter and lose when it does.
James Martin
37   Posted 30/03/2011 at 23:06:08

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This has only occured over the last few seasons. In the first few, we were used to lightning starts and then the oh so annoying loss of form towards the end of the season when it matters the most.

I think this season there has been a lot of complacency. In the first half, I think some of the players believed they just had to turn up to win; once they lost that underdog tag, they lost their edge.

Our best performances of the season have come against teams that usually finish above us and, when we had to raise our game, we did. I think Moyes has triggered onto it a little with his comments about getting those players who have been with him long enough out on the pitch.

We have definitely lacked some professional desire at times this season and are only now temporarily beginning to pick up, now that he's had to revert to relying on the likes of Osman, Neville, Jagielka and Hibbert. Decry them all you want but these are the players who, in my opinion, win their battles first and foremost and make sure they have the basics nailed.

The team at the beginning of the season looked a bit of a rudderless collection of talented players at times.

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