The Exile

Thursday 24 October 2002

Corporal Jones comes to mind. The Dad's Army veteran was famous for his catchphrase 'don't panic!', and after a bit of reflection, that's how I feel now.

It's just as well I didn't write this piece straight after the match on Wednesday evening. I got severely depressed as the game wore on and from Paul and Jim's commentary, it was clear that we were struggling to find any sort of rhythm; nor were we creating much in the way of real chances, and David James' 500th game passed pretty quietly for him.

It felt as if we had passed up a glorious opportunity to get to 4th in the Premiership table (a Champions' Laegue place, let me remind you). Instead we dropped a place to 8th below Blackburn. But reflection allows you to take all the factors into account.

Taking in positional as well as personnel changes, there were no fewer than 7 alterations from the line-up that started against Man United four days earlier. Little wonder that we found it hard to gel as a unit. Steve Marlet, for example, is getting used to playing with 'Zorro' Sava, and expects to find his partner in the box waiting for crosses. Barry is not Zorro, and quite often wasn't where Bob thought he might be.

I haven't heard anyone point out how much we might have missed Sean Davis. Sean has become the fulcrum of the midfield, the vital link between defence and attack and a first line of both. Nobody seemed to be fulfilling that role against the Hammers, though Leggy did his best, and as a result nothing flowed the way it has done for much of this season - especially as Ina was off his game as well.

Add to that a less than rock-steady back line, and I think we did quite well to hold out for 88 minutes! It's always a bitter blow to lose a game at that stage, but I wouldn't myself criticise Zat too harshly. He is still learning, and in other recent games has looked very much the real thing. He was due a bad one; unfortunate that this time others around him were also performing below par. He'll certainly learn from that experience.

In our last 5 league games we have only scored twice, which is worryingly reminiscent of last season. I believe part of the reason for this was mentioned more than once in the match commentary. We are simply not a threat at set-pieces, whether free-kicks or corners, and that puts us at a disadvantage when we are also not creating scoring chances through open play.

It's a big responsibility for Steed to take almost all the set-piece deliveries, and he may be getting over-anxious. Surely this job could and indeed should be shared, not only to give Steed a break but also to create some variety? Other teams regularly score from set-piece plays; we used to, but now we just don't seem likely to, and I hope this can be worked on as a matter of some urgency.

The other thing I would very much like to see is one or two of the youngsters given a chance, at least on the bench. With both Louis and Zorro out, we had no back-up striker on Wednesday. Callum Willock and Elvis Hammond score regularly for the reserves; should they not get an opportunity? An eager new starter coming on for 15 minutes could just make a mark.

One positive was Martin Djetou's Premiership debut. I'd put him on from the start at Southampton; he sounds like a reassuring and strong presence, which we will need at St Mary's. We need to get something from this game, to stop ourselves slipping into the mid-table ruck of clubs we have been aiming to rise above.

That, of course, means scoring at least once. Whaever line-up we have on Sunday, I hope we go at the game fast and hard from the off, forcing Southampton onto the back foot. That worked well against Man United and it's our best play, I think.

It would not be good to travel to Zagreb having got only one point from 3 games. So Sunday is an important one for us. If I can work the technology, I should be able to watch it on pay-per-view. This is something I rather resent, as I am already paying a handsome premium to get the Sky Sports channels, but better that than not getting the game at all.

Corporal Jones' other famous line was 'they don't like it up 'em!'. There was a touch of that about West Ham on Wednesday, by all accounts. Their players have come together in adversity and are fighting their way out of it. Not pretty, maybe, but effective. Time for Fulham to do the same, I think. Let's grab Sunday's game by the scruff of the neck and shake it until it concedes us 3 points.