The long and winding road…

The next two weeks are now massive for the football club. We may have gone ‘above and beyond’ to get the team back to the same strength of last season, but in case anyone wasn’t watching last season, for large parts of it we weren’t very good. In fact for a 21 game chunk in the middle we were awful.

I was delighted with the pace of the attack and the way balls over the top clearly bothered West Ham, but those passes were almost non-existent second half. Wilson looked so deflated upon being substituted and if anyone needed a sign that the manager had given up on the game, then bringing Joelinton on was definitely it. Dwight Gayle’s shop window was obviously the friendly against Norwich, rather baffling as we don’t have a single other striker to play there. Wilson and ASM worked the goal really well, the second came after a build up of pressure and it was nice to think we might be able to attack some teams.

Second half was … abysmal. West Ham took half time to tell Declan Rice to just get on the ball and control midfield, he did. Shelvey had a strop, made a stupid tackle and then threw the armband away in a huff as he got hooked. Hayden didn’t seem to have a position at all. Maxi was playing as the defensive midfielder at one point he was so deep, but then he tries to beat seven players by himself.

However, Woodman made two good saves, one in particular from Bowen and then the penalty. The rest of the defence offered him very little protection. Almiron cleared off the line once but did little else effective, and if that back three/five is Bruce’s answer we have a long hard season ahead. 17th and 40 points feels like a long way away, almost as long as this team was freshened up, and that was 2016.

Stephen Ord @smord84

Like a dirty, frayed tea towel…

Apparently, Sunday heralded Steve Bruce’s 43rd consecutive season in English league football as a player or manager. You’d think in that time he might have picked up a little tactical insight into the game. But presumably not, given the sheer, depressing, tedious inevitability of today’s undressing by a sharp and thoroughly competent but hardly exceptional West Ham side.

If you’re going to play with two failed (sorry, converted) wingers as attacking wing-backs in a 352, you’re going to be vulnerable in those wide defensive spaces, especially if you play with “two 8s” and a creative, ahem, “pivot” in midfield. Let’s face it, Kante would have struggled to cover single-handed the spaces we left today, never mind Shelvey. True he played with admirable energy in the first half and his press led to the first goal, but he was utterly overrun in the second. That wasn’t his fault. Meanwhile, time and time again Ritchie and Murphy were exposed, not least for the goals. That wasn’t their fault. The fault lies in unforgivable managerial ignorance.

While Willock’s goals were bailing us out at the end of last season, the sheer number of chances we were conceding seemed to be overlooked. Spurs, Liverpool, West Ham, Arsenal, Leicester, and Man City could all have comfortably scored four goals against us, so open were we in those games. This was long overdue. And entirely predictable. Not so much a short blanket as a dirty, frayed tea towel that can’t begin to cover up our embarrassment.

In response, our sole tactic was to give the ball to Saint-Maximin. This was a return to Barrack Road U10s. Get the ball to Maxi and hope he runs through the entire opposition. Quite what this says about Mr Jones, England’s erstwhile brightest (not so young) coach, I’m not sure.

Still, enough of that. All this was waffle pales in comparison to that moment when Wor Cal nipped in front of his marker to head home. In that moment everything seemed possible. And your miserable cynical correspondent had a discernible lump in his throat. Enjoy those isolated moments. Because they’re as good as it’s going to get.

Matthew Philpotts @mjp19731

 The defence rests

So here we are, another new season, new squad numbers, new strips, but sadly the same old problems. No investment (Willock aside) same tired old dinosaur manager in charge, but we are where we are, so here we go. I actually fancied us today, and for a time, my optimism seemed correctly judged.

ASM & Wilson were bang up for this, with fans back in the ground, they both thrived on the “Ooos&Ahhs” the toon army faithful offered, but those cheers soon turned to more of the more similar feelings of frustration and sadness, that this current guise of Nufc brings. After some dazzling footwork by ASM, who sent England’s golden boy Declan Rice to the shops, and an opening day goal by our new number 9, we were rocking, the hammers got back in it, before some more tidy football led to a Jacob Murphy header nodding us into the lead.

We should’ve pushed on, should have added a third, but we didn’t, in fact we went from a shaky defence to the back 4 for the dog & duck in a pub league. Poor positional sense, lazy tackles, and overall poor defending led us to concede 4 goals, against a pretty average West Ham side it must be said. I said before the game that leaving your best two defenders on the bench could blow up in the manager’s face, and I was right.

The two star men aside, there was nothing for me to get excited about. I thought Woodman did ok, saved well from the penalty, but the fact his defence were off having their Sunday Dinner, he couldn’t do anything about conceding the third goal. Joe Willock alone won’t solve this side’s many problems, a lack of pace outside the front two & Miggy, a lack of creativity in midfield, and a weakness at full back areas, can only be addressed by signings, something this club simply won’t do. It’s going to be a long season ahead I’m afraid, and we’re in for a fight for our Premier League survival, are we up for it? We’ll have to wait and see.

Chris Currie@wig82

Times like these

 The first game of the season is a bit of a free hit with no form to look at other than pre-season games used only as opportunities to get minutes in the legs. However, under Bruce we write off the games against anyone from 1st-9th in the league as defeats so we need to target the West Hams’ of this world as must wins.

For 50 minutes we looked good. ASMs first touches led to a goal. We have a goal scoring number 9 leading the line and we showed great attacking intent. It’s always the hope and potential that ruins it though and we are brought back down to earth in the rain with some sports direct bargain bucket defending.

As with last season, even when we are ahead we always give the opposition chances to get back into the game. At full time I found myself slipping back into the mindset of abject despair from lastwinter, wanting us to lose games so that the manager would be replaced, which is a horrible event horizon as that will never happen under the current ownership.

One positive though- people enjoying pre and post-match pints in the pub with mates and singing their lungs out for 90 plus minutes. 

Adam Morrison @AdamMor41788032