So, imagine this for a minute. One day you get a call from Kim Jong Un’s office, informing you that the Chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea is to honour you with his presence at dinner chez vous. Aware that nothing is too good for the great socialist leaders of our time even though they prefer a more proletarian lifestyle for their subjects, you opt to rustle up a Beef Wellington. As you are about to set off for the shops, you are then informed that the Supreme Leader’s Head of Procurement will source the ingredients for you, so you sit and wait and finally, at quarter to six in the evening, a hamper is deposited on your doorstep containing a dented tin of chicken supreme, a torn packet of mung beans, a couple of fermenting peaches, two eggs, some manky-looking celeriac, a tub of dried parmesan ( the sort that smells like sick) a small carton of whipping cream past its “use by” date and a slab of margarine.
Not having the faintest idea how to conjure up a Beef Wellington from this list of goodies that you were not allowed to source, you whisk the whole lot together and roast it in beef dripping. The results aren’t too sound, so you stick it all in the steamer. That doesn’t help, so you dump the whole mess into the food processor and give it a good beating before deep frying it. That tastes even worse than the first attempt, so you put the mix into a bowl, microwave it and hope for the best. Needless to say, even the dog whimpers, more in sorrow than anger, when confronted with this final offering.
Still with me? Good, because the above is pretty much a fair representation of the challenges with which our manager has been faced and the manner in which he has attempted to meet them as at the present moment.
A cursory perusal of social media after this most recent debacle suggests an increasing feeling, if not yet a groundswell of opinion, that the manager should fall on his sword. There really isn’t any reason to suppose that The Idiot Son is going to sack him (despite the clear hints from the manager that such a move would not surprise him), but there is clearly a growing view among the City support that, given the appalling hand that has been dealt to him in terms of the timing of our recruitment and the fact that he seems to have had little if any influence over it ( a fact that that our owners would no doubt deny, but they have long since forfeited the right to be trusted or believed), Slutsky falling on his sword would not be a bad thing. If nothing else, it would create untold turmoil at Allam Towers, to say nothing of dropping The Idiot Son in the plop and landing this unholy mess well and truly back at his door where it deserves to be, with no cause for anyone to believe that an effective solution would be within his capability.
This is not to say that Slutsky is blameless, but one would feel more comfortable about sitting in judgement on him had he at least been given the opportunity to choose the tools with which to work. Anyway, The Idiot Son won’t sack him because it would cost the club more money than he mistakenly thinks that he has saved by delaying recruitment as late as he did.
Whether Slutsky stays or goes, he is not the main part of the problem. But he is part of it.
Let us just for a moment though go back to the players. OK, so they might not have been the ones that Slutsky would have chosen had Ehab simply handed him the cheque book on his appointment and told him to get on with his own recruitment. OK, so there are possibly a couple of crocks in there. OK, so we are perennially unlucky with injuries (or incompetent at protecting players from them and rehabilitating them when they do get them). But man for man we can and do still field an XI which is capable of doing decidedly better than the 20th spot in the table in which we currently find ourselves, and the attitude of the players has surely been a bit of an elephant in the room here as we debate over whether Ehab or Slutsky is the more guilty party. It was clear at the final whistle yesterday that the City support, often infuriatingly complacent and naive (if I see anyone on Twitter today gravely intoning that “perhaps it’s time for the Allams to consider their position” or some such guff I swear I’ll go and wire my fillings up to the mains), are finally getting this, as they really let the players know what they thought of them, gesturing to them just to get off the field and not to bother approaching the City end.
And whilst jeering your own team is seldom the thing to do, it wasn’t hard to see why the mood of the supporters yesterday was so especially vituperative. The first 45 minutes yesterday was as creditable a stint as the team has put in for quite a while away from home. Yes, we were under the cosh for periods and McGregor made a couple of important saves, but we gave as good as we got and more, taking the lead with a fine goal, having a near nailed-on penalty appeal turned down, the Blunts looking uncomfortable every time City crossed the halfway line, the midfield in fully functioning mode, Tomori and Dawson looking composed at the back and all of that underpinned by 45 minutes of tireless graft. Right from the start of the second period, though, it was clear that everything had evaporated, and when it took our hosts a mere seven minutes to get back on terms it all just collapsed completely, and we could neither do anything right nor apparently summon up the will to do so. The half was a bad as the first had been good, and more.
Now you could argue that maintaining the correct mental attitudes is the manager’s job, and no reasonable observer would argue with that. However, these players have a responsibility too. It’s inconceivable that the farrago of slackness and half-arsed commitment that we saw in the second half was served up on the manager’s instructions, so why did it happen? And no, not because the players are distracted because the fans are at the throats of the owners, even though you might argue that Slutsky has not perhaps been as successful at shielding his players from the strife as some of his predecessors were. The City players need to examine their own role in our poor start to the season a little more searchingly.
With Slutsky’s hand forced to an extent, selection-wise, by injuries and suspensions, City lined up as expected:-
Aina Dawson Tomori Clark
Larsson Meyler Grosicki
Subs: Stewart (for Larsson, 63 min), Dicko (for Campbell, 69 min), Henriksen (for Irvine, 82 min).
In classically-autumnal conditions, the game kicks off with City, in all white, defending a Bramall Lane end whose lower tier was very well filled with Tigerfolk. McGregor makes his first save on 4 minutes, while at this very early stage in the proceedings City seem content to go sideways or backwards at a leisurely pace, even when a break looks on. When the Blunts are allowed two or three unopposed touches in our box it’s beginning to look as though the ghastly predictions of the outcome of the game that peppered the conversation in the pre-match pub would be bang on the money.
Then on 9 minutes we apply a bit of pressure, culminating in a Grosicki cross-cum-shot flashing across the face of the goal. Suddenly we don’t look as uncomfortable, and up for a fight. And on 12 we attack again. It looks as though Campbell is fouled but referee Bond waves play on. Larsson’s shot is blocked and when he gets a further go home keeper Moore saves.
Suddenly this looks more like a contest, even more so on 18 when Clarke is allowed a free header at point-blank range from Duffy’s cross but McGregor saves magnificently.
A little later I write, “We seem to be competing. You wouldn’t back us, but…”. “But” indeed. For just before the half-hour we take a not-undeserved lead. Our fully-functioning midfield work the leather out to Grosicki on the left, who cuts inside and hits a curling effort from just over 20 yards. Sadly it’s straight at Moore…..except that suddenly it’s in the back of the net. My initial reaction was that the keeper had blundered. My companions insisted that the swerve on the ball foxed him, and looking at the goal on Channel 5 last night I think they were right: it was a very fine strike. Oh, and one of theirs nobbled Irvine in the confusion.
Seven minutes on and we should have had a penalty. it looked at though Campbell’s flick past the last defender was stopped by a flailing arm and once again Channel 5 settled the issue: the arm in question had no need to be where it was. So that’s another entry for the book I’m writing, to be entitled, “The Lost Penalties of Bramall Lane”.
McGregor tips over from O’Connell, but we’re soon roaring back up to the other end, where Aina is felled and promptly booked for simulation. He didn’t seem too cross about it, so fair enough, and we aren’t subdued for long. Grosicki feeds Tomori, whose cross is fubled by Moore and the leather rebounds out to Grosicki who only has time to snatch at it. It nevertheless looks goalbound from 120 yards away, but soars just wide of the far post.
The rest of the half is spent under sustained Sheffield pressure, which begins when Tomori concedes a silly foul and only ends after four corners in succession which we defend heroically, bodies being thrown in the way of the leather with gay abandon, players clearly pumped up but with the situation always looking under control. And so we see out what was really a most commendable half, which showed exactly what these players are capable of.
As I made my way to the somewhat-congested (and highly riotous) concourse at half-time I caught up with TigChatter Julian Daniel, whose first observation was, “We need that second goal”. Yeah, and, unbeknown to us at the time, the third, fourth and fifth. It’s still well nigh impossible to work out what the hell happened in the second half, and in particular how we managed to deteriorate so alarmingly after having the measure of the Blunts in the first period.
Straight from the the start you could tell that something was wrong. Aided by a referee who seemed to be giving them everything (not that I’m pinning the blame for yesterday’s loss on it, but why do we never seem to get a fair crack of the whip at Bramall Lane?) the home side take the ascendancy from the off. Two minutes in and McGregor is called into action, saving a header from a dodgy free kick. It’s a short-lived respite, though, for five minutes later and our hosts are on level terms. Carter-Vickers drills in a cross, Tomori fails to get tight enough on Clarke and the Sheffield number 9 curls the leather into the far corner. A similar goal – except that it was from the other side – to Proschwitz’s in the famous Cardiff promotion game.
A rare City break sees Aina put his cross too close to Moore, and this heralds a brief spell during which we actually steady the ship. We don’t actually create any proper chances, but neither do they and indeed, to coin a random expression, one might have said that the game had entered a bit of a formless phase. Normal service is resumed on 68, though, when the City defence is completely asleep as Sheffield attempt a short corner and Clarke misses an open goal from Fleck’s unchallenged cross, shooting straight at McGregor.
It gets worse. On 73 Clark prevents a certain goal by diverting a Sharp effort for a corner, from which O’Connell plants his free header wastefully wide.
It then gets even worse still. After Irvine fires over, Clarke is sent haring into the box in the insider right channel and dinks the leather over McGregor.
It then gets even worse than that, Clark getting his hat-trick after waiting virutally unopposed by the far post to nod home a Sharp cross. We really have gone to pieces now.
The fourth Sheffield goal rally does put the tin lid on it: it’s a veritable microcosm of the second half. Dawson falls over on his bottom as if someone has laced both his boots together and the ball runs loose to, inevitably, Clarke, who nonchalantly passes the leather into the unguarded net. Pure slapstick. Proof, if it were needed, that City really have given up all pretence of defending now. The gloating tone of the PA announcer, and the triumphalist brayings of a home support who had sweet FA to say for themselves during the first half, don’t do a great deal to lift the mood among the City faithful, if truth be told.
The last goal came with two minutes of normal time on the clock, and you really wouldn’t bet against our hosts adding to their tally. In the event, we spend it and the three minutes (bit of pity taken on us by the ref there) of added time passing the ball backwards and sideways, and committing the occasional foul.
And that’s it. The away section reverberates to a thunderous chorus of “What the fucking hell was that?” and it’s made clear to Meyler (now, incidentally, shorn of his facial fungus) that the fans are in no mood to show any kind of appreciation to the players. Mercifully, we are then free to leave.
So, where do we go from here? Safely back in the warmth and comfort of the pub, I overheard another prominent Tiger Chatter observe to a home supporter, “Well, at the moment we have our problems, of course…”. A delightfully understated remark. For is not the truth of the matter that we are teetering on the edge of the abyss with the sound of the ground crumbling beneath our feet? The other complacent utterings at the top of the City fan soundbite charts and that make we want to dance with exasperation every time they are sounded are “We are too good to go down” and “This is a season of consolidation”. OK, so it’s still very early doors, but we’ve still passed that point in the season where the table has become a fair reflection of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the teams in it.
Maybe Ehab’s chickens are now properly coming home to roost, and if they are there’s no sign of any respite at all, Slutsky’s insistence that he will “find the answers” notwithstanding. All that a resurgence in form will do is increase the likelihood of more cashing in by the owners come the next transfer window. This looks a proper downward spiral now, and not one that will be reversed unless and until not just the supporters, but the community as a whole, turn their back on the Allams and make it clear that they and their money are not wanted around here. However, enough people and organisations are already beholden to Allams, by virtue of having already taken their shilling, to ensure that that is a most fanciful outcome.
For all (IMHO) his lack of tactical prowess and fondness for communicating with the media in tiresome cliches, you have to commend Steve Bruce for his prescience and wisdom in getting out when he did.
La Nuvola Nera