Blog 9 – Sewera Mpira Afrika 04/11/2013
What a result!! Superb performance, and is a start in terms of making up for the awful result just a week earlier. How we can go from such an insipid and uninspiring display against the unwashed down the road to the committed and deserved win against title chasing Chelsea is something that Pardew needs to work out, and soon. The Sunderland performance was lacklustre, I’d personally have started Anita for Sissoko, but I would have persevered (wrongly in hindsight) with HBA. I can’t really blame Dummet, but his performance their will have hopefully tempered some of the over the top praise he was getting. The lad needs the space to develop, rather than having the ‘hero’ label bestowed on him after a couple of average performances. Quick mention of City, Shola put in a cracking display there, and I had a chat with a mate about how he is now a starter for me. Shame we tired towards the end, although Pardew stating the players were struggling with fatigue this week is a joke, the most tired thing about the playing side is his endless list of excuses. He could drive into a lamppost and he would still come out with, “We was tired then, and to be honest, the lamppost didn’t really let us go round it.”
Anyway, back to the positive. I was pleased to see Shola start, and I thought he did very well when on the pitch. He gave us a presence up top, an ability to hold the ball up and bring the midfield into the game. This allows us to play our game much higher up the park – something we visibly lost the ability to do when he went off against City in midweek. Sissoko put in an improved performance, is it something about Chelsea that lifts his game? He needs to up his level consistently, because I am struggling to see how Pardew can continue to justify having Anita on the bench. Once again he looked superb when he came on, and his interplay with Obertan, and the touch to make him space to pull back for the second goal was outstanding. For that alone he merits a start against Spurs. In terms of our play, we improved vastly with his introduction because he moves into space and likes to keep the team ticking.
We started slowly, and were hitting a lot of long balls in the opening stages, but we grew into the game, and other than from 2 corners, I never really felt Chelsea threatened to open us up that much. We got lucky a couple of times with either a poor cross from them, or a decision going our way, but all in all we were solid in the first half, and had gained a foothold long before half time arrived.
I saw the fuss caused on twitter when HBA wasn’t named in the starting 11, particularly as it appeared he was dropped for Shola. However, I’d say 2 of our 3 best performances as a team so far this season are Cardiff and Chelsea – HBA started neither. The third, Liverpool, he was anonymous for large parts of the game, although that is down partly to the red card and our subsequent rear guard action. He just doesn’t do enough to justify including in the team for me, and is a player I would happily offload if Liverpool or Spurs follow up alleged interest in him. We would have to re- invest the money in one or 2 additions though, which has to be a worry given our track record of recruiting the appropriate player at the appropriate time.
I touched on it earlier, but our biggest consistency this season is our inconsistency. How can we go from performing very well to so poorly and then very well again? It has happened all season, but these last 3 league games highlight it perfectly. One question is could it be that the players only really lift their game for the big matches? As much as Sunderland is a big game to fans, I highly doubt Cabaye, HBA, Sissoko, Remy et al anticipate a trip to the Stadium of Light as much as a game against Chelsea, or Liverpool. They pay lip service to the game, but I highly doubt any of them mean it, just well versed in platitudes by the PR department (if one exists).
I don’t think any piece on NUFC would be complete at the minute without a quick look at the absurd goings on in the corridors of power. Banning the 3 local papers, and then booting the only elected fans body of the forum is an incredibly ill thought out move. It has been aid in the past that the press hunt in packs, and this sort of slight has brought national coverage to what was mainly a regional story. I worry it may not be the last in this style of banning, as if they were upset at the local papers coverage of the march, I wonder what they make of the national press response to the banning? It is a step too far by Mike Ashley and his minions, and further alienates him from the public who are the heartbeat of the club. A good result against Chelsea does not excuse the other farcical and ludicrous goings on at the club. Whether this is a sign he is rattled by the march, I don’t know. I am certain that it won’t bring him closer to selling the club though. I think he would gladly sell immediately, just like he would any of our players, but only at his price. Is there someone willing to spend £300 million on a club, plus, if they really want to compete at the top level, invest another £4/500million in facilities, staff and players? I get the feeling that for most fans a sale is the only option, too much has happened now to heal the relationship by Ashley making an astonishing (and unlikely) change of attitude. It is a shame, because his original plan for the club and developing a top class academy was a really promising and exciting strategy. I’d still love to see any new owner, or even the current one, make good on that, the academy could offer so much to the club.
One academy star making big waves at the minute is young Arma. Adam Armstrong has been in sensational form in the U17 Euro’s, hitting 6 goals in 3 games so far, despite being taken off at half time in 2 of them. While he has been doing that, over in the Under 17 World Cup an incredibly promising Nigerian team has been blowing away all comers, as they soared into the Semi Finals. The star man, one of many with huge potential in this young side, has been young striker Kelechi Icheanacho. The boy has been in great form so far, scoring 5 goals for his country so far and creating the same number. There are rumours that a number of Premier league scouts have been attending the tournament, with Arsenal one of the clubs said to be watching this young boy. I’d like to think we are also out there watching him, and other talented players but who knows. Maybe Shola could have a word in his ear when he is in Nigeria for the second leg of the World Cup Play-off next week.
The big game of the weekend over here was the CAF Champions League Final first leg. The game was a highly entertaining 1-1 draw between Egyptian giants Al Ahly, and South African underdogs Orlando Pirates. Despite the Pirates being at home, and beating Al Ahly 3-0 in a group match earlier in the tournament, they were under pressure from the off in this one, and went behind after 14 minutes thanks to a wonderfully executed free kick by talented veteran Aboutreika. The man who was part of the woeful Pharaohs side against Ghana recently rolled back the years with an excellent display, and would have added an assist to his performance but for an offside flag early in the second half. The Pirates in contrast struggled to breakdown Al Ahly and were restricted to few chances, but just as it looked like Al Ahly would take a 1-0 lead back to Cairo, up popped their defender, Thablo Matlaba to equalise in stoppage time. Al Ahly will now be big favourites to lift their 8th CAF title back home in Cairo, and as a betting man, I wouldn’t back against them doing just that.