It has only been seven days since I wrote a piece attempting to digest what had gone wrong in our 4-1 defeat at Ashton Gate, sadly, that score line has chosen to rear its ugly head once more.
Having got past Exeter in the 1st round of the Capital One Cup, we travelled to Preston with something bordering on optimism, the new signings were settling in and Dougie had spoken of his desire for us to try to emulate what we did last year in the competition, even Joniesta was given an unexpected starting role, but within 90 seconds it all began to unravel.
It started with Nicky Wroe and got worse after 18 minutes when Akpo Sodje fired home, we were given a brief glimmer of hope thanks to Aaron Wilbraham making it 2-1 on 37 minutes until Monakana restored a two goal cushion on 41 minutes and Wroe rounded off the night by scoring the home sides fourth after 63 minutes. All in all a relative horror show for our defence.
Unfortunately, we appear incapable of defending any crosses or set pieces, regardless of the standard of the opposition we are facing, a source for genuine concern on my part. Whilst I accept that Paddy McCarthy is a big part of our defensive set-up, I refuse to believe that his absence is the sole reason behind us leaking as many goals as we have so far this term. We still have, by our own reckoning, one of the best goalkeepers in the division and an international standard back-up choice, two extremely good left-backs, a centre-back we all know is good enough following his performances against us for Cardiff last season and a right-back everyone was desperate to see join in the summer, it’s not as if we’re being forced to use whoever we can find to fill in.
Instead, I have a feeling that the primary reason for our defensive weakness since the start of the campaign could well be down to coaching the players are getting. I have seen numerous people say that the link made between Tony Popovic’s departure and our defensive issues is being blown out of proportion but I for one am fully behind the theory for what I feel, are very good reasons. If you take last season, when Popovic was with the club from the first game to the last as an example, we conceded a grand total of 56 goals in 54 competitive fixtures, an average of 1.037 goals a game. So far this season, we have let 14 goals past us in just five games, an average of 2.8 per game, a striking difference I’m sure you’ll agree.
It’s not that I expect Dougie to excel in the organisation of the back four without the help of Popovic’s defensive awareness, it was no doubt one of the main reasons why he was so quick to offer Tony the role of assistant when he was first given the job full-time but it does seem that his expertise haven’t been replaced since he left for Australia in May. Moving away from our own issues, you only have to look at the difference the addition of Steve Bould to the Arsenal coaching staff this summer has made, transforming one of the Premier League’s most notoriously fragile defences into one that has comfortably kept two clean sheets in their opening league fixtures, even the best managers need help.
I fully expect another defender to come into the club in time to face Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday and hopefully we can work out whatever it is that’s going wrong in defence in time to produce a solid display in a game that already feels huge. I’m sure that the fans will give their full support to Dougie and players at the weekend, it’s only the odd isolated idiot who is suggesting we do anything other than get behind the team when they need our backing the most, but getting points on the board is also of vital importance. As is the way in football, a win, no matter how scrappy, would lift the spirits around the club hugely and take us into the televised game against Charlton with a completely different perspective, although it’s going to be a very tough ask against a Wednesday side that are unbeaten in their last 19 matches.
One thing worth remembering is that we have only played one of our five fixtures so far at Selhurst Park, a game which saw us come within three minutes of taking all the points and as I’m sure you’re all aware, we really can make a difference. I’m almost certain that every Palace fan was and still is desperate to see Dougie build something successful with us in the long-term, he bleeds Red and Blue, so much so that he cut short his playing career to help us out in our most desperate hour of need. So, for the time being, give him and the team all the support you possibly can, he’s earned that from us over the last 17 years.
IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
‘ Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son.