Last Sunday was the first time that I haven’t stayed for the lap of appreciation in my 16 seasons as a season ticket holder, which speaks volumes (I did have to get my eldest back to Uni, but that wouldn’t have stopped me before).
This was no reflection on the players, who I feel have played well individually and within the framework that they are presented. They have been professional throughout, but obviously aren’t enjoying the football.
If I’m being honest, it was an element of lethargy from me (probably derived from the style of play that I’d just witnessed again) and the fact that I had no desire to see and hear Puel being abused. He comes across as a reasonable character, professional, knowledgeable and with a clear style that he has communicated very well to the players.
From other fans perspective on the outside looking in (and no doubt with the benefit of hindsight, from our perspective in due course) his results have matched and exceeded his start of season brief – top half finish, cup final appearance and blooded youngsters. However, it’s passionless football. I’ve left St Marys of late without any emotions whatsoever. It’s effective, functional but not entertaining and that’s in a league (top 6 aside) that has been poor this season.
Yesterday was a missed opportunity to sign off the season with a smile, which makes me think he’s knows his fate already. All too often, the switched ball to an overlapping full back was on, but the full back was shackled / the midfield drove forward into a static wall (Austin(!) or Gabbi aside) of Saints and stoke players / the ball was worked to the goal line and cut back, to where a midfielder should have been, but wasn’t / the ball played into a central midfielder on the edge of the box had to be stopped and then returned to the deeper lying midfielder, as no runs were being made beyond. That wasn’t a case of unwilling, disinterested or lazy footballers, it was obviously the cautious system they were playing to.
As others have mentioned, in the second half of the last game of the season, at home, losing 1-0 to a pretty unadventurous Hughes side and with nothing to lose, why not try Austin and Gabbi together? Why, because it doesn’t fit the system.
Most worrying though is that the players don’t look happy. Bertrand is a classic case. He’s never been found wanting before, nearly always a 8/10 + in my books, but he’s looked frustrated and dare I say bored of late. He’s been professional but can’t wait to get off the pitch at the end of every match. Yesterday, at times he looked like he was wary of getting any knocks etc (protecting a move?).
With the lack of any real passion on the pitch (Oriel aside of course – THAT tackle!!) transferring to the stands, the inevitable happens in that the silence is only broken by moans and jeers (Forster, Targett and Tadic being the most recent recipients).
And so starts a downward cycle…
I don’t want to be negative (8th place, cup final, Europe, League 1) but it’s becoming difficult not to and I’m therefore convinced that something has to change.
One thing won’t change though …I’ll still be there, in my lucky pants, week in, week out ! COYR!