Mike takes a closer look at the events of Saturday night.
We were on the wrong end of a referee’s decision against Newcastle. The cost for such a poor decision? A penalty and two vital points. Salt was firmly applied to the wounds as the nasally Steve Bruce said with as straight a face as his crooked nose would allow: “We got the penalty and when you look at it and analyse it I think the referee has made the right call.”
The only other person who agreed with Bruce’s assessment was referee, Graham Scott. The ref had the opportunity to overturn his initial decision and reward a free-kick instead of a penalty. After brief contemplation with the VAR system, where he had the opportunity to rectify his mistake, Scott was instead steadfast in his decision to award Callum Wilson a penalty.
To add to the frustration, the attack that led to Newcastle’s penalty was because of an Ola Aina misdeed. Around 30 yards from goal, and in the centre of the pitch, Aina got caught in a moment of indecision. The easy option was to slip the ball to Bobby Decordorva-Reid or to launch it in the box. Aina, instead, dithered and tried to take the ball around an incoming Newcastle player. He managed to successfully evade the first Newcastle player, but his technique failed him, and he only managed to prod the ball to the next before falling flat on his face.
With Aina and others out of position, it took Newcastle only two passes to reach our box. The speedy Callum Wilson played on the shoulder of the slower Joachim Andersen, and received a through ball, before hurling himself into the box after light contact from our Danish centre-back. It was the biggest of punishments for a simple mistake. Both Aina, who has been solid in previous weeks, and Fulham did not deserve so harsh a sanction, but it was a perfectly executed counter-attack from Newcastle.
Wilson, having recovered from the foul that saw him leap through the air before crashing to the ground, passed the ball low and into the centre of the net. Despite the helping hand from the referee, Newcastle and Wilson were unable to find other opportunities to eke out an advantage and capitalise on playing against the 10 men of Fulham. Both teams ended settling for a point. Depending on your perspective, if you are a glass half full or empty type, the result left us unbeaten in three games or, for the pessimists, without a win in four.
Early capitulations no more!
Most people are familiar with the fable, ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’. The moral teaching is that the slow and steady pace of the tortoise can win the race compared to the frenetic approach of the bounding hare. The race, of course, being whatever outcome or goal is being worked toward.
This fable resonates truer in the realities of life than in the game of football. For in football, there is a constraint of 90 minutes to achieve the ultimate objective – victory – rather than the span of a lifetime. Too often this season we have been the tortoise instead of the hare, but with no redemptive outcome. In six of the opening 11 league games this season, our opponent had scored first within the opening 10 minutes and gone onto win the game.
In the last three games, conceding early has not been an issue. This has given the team the platform to fight for three points instead of chasing the game for nearly 80 minutes. Credit must go to Parker and the players for stabilising the once porous defence.
However, a tip of the hat for being competitive is all that’s due. Solidifying the defence is only one step towards the main objective of Premier League survival and could yet prove to be a pyrrhic victory. Winning games is the biggest springboard for survival, but the last three games have yielded three draws and only three points. This is an improvement after the disastrous start to the season, but it’s victories that will see us survive.
Dead cat bounce
Have you ever wondered what would happen if you push a cat off a great height? Well, if you are a well-adjusted person, I hope that scenario has not crossed your mind. For the unacquainted, the cat plummets from a great height and rebounds slightly off the floor on impact, before finally falling back and finding its eternal resting place back on the ground. It is a crude phrase in finance known as the ‘dead cat bounce’.
The phrase is used in any case where there is a brief resurgence following a severe decline. We endured a severe decline at the start of the season and now find ourselves in a mini resurgence. Is our recent form equivalent to the dead cat bounce, or is there something more substantial at play? A win against Southampton would have even the most vociferous of naysayers starting to believe that we will continue to threaten to survive and not capitulate to the fate that everyone assumed was due to us.