This is going to sound familiar. I apologise for that in advance.
It felt like a play we’d all watched many times before.
The problem with watching something multiple times is that you know the ending… especially when Connor Wickham comes on for your opponents as a second-half substitute.
It may have taken until the 85th minute for Palace to get level but I’m not sure there was a City supporter watching or listening who had total faith in them keeping the clean sheet that we so needed.
And the longer City went without scoring a second goal that would have won the game, the more evident it became, such has been our inability to kill teams off from game-winning positions, I’m not convinced even the players believed they could see it through last night.
The margins remain fine, as you would expect in the Premier League, and had Kenny McLean’s thumping drive been an inch lower then I’d be sitting here drooling over a vital three points, but it’s the fine margins we fall foul of time and time again. Almost every time.
The 50/50 calls from officialdom, the 50/50 challenges, the hitting of the woodwork, the slightly over-hit/under-hit passes, the loose balls, the ricochets – more go against us than go for us. Some of these can be attributed to the fickle finger of fate, but some boil down to our shortcomings.
We still, as a team (no finger-pointing), lose out on too many 50/50s and too many second balls, and while it’s improved as the season has progressed, we’re still bottom-of-the-table in terms of overall athleticism and power. I guess part of that is the trade-off for having technicians in the team who can play the Farkeball we’ve become so accustomed to.
Because that’s the thing… we have succeeded, to a point, in bringing our passing philosophy to the Premier League. Last night wasn’t the best example, but we have over the last couple of months found ways of imposing ourselves on opponents who are on paper better than us. We have entertained in spells and we have created chances.
But those good spells don’t quite sustain for long enough, and we don’t create quite enough chances. So much of what we do is good, with purpose, and has our embedded style stamped right through it, but it all happens against a backdrop of defensive vulnerability.
We always have a mistake in us; a stray pass at a vital moment, a mistimed tackle, a clearance that gets blocked and squirts out into the danger area or the ball will be dwelt upon for a millisecond too long. All minor, split-second errors that occur in every game to almost every team, but which happen to us too off often and in crucial moments.
The frustration comes from us being so close to being a good side. So close to being able to compete successfully at the highest level. So close.
Yet we come up just short too often to give ourselves a realistic crack at survival.
Before the game, it felt as if it was to be pivotal. If we were to start the great escape it felt like it had to start with a win against Palace. And then Villa won at Burnley, followed by news filtering through of Watford beating Wolves and all of a sudden it went from must-win to must-win.
And we didn’t.
While it’s never over until it’s over, even a cursory glance at the league table is not recommended right now. Not unless you’re braced for that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach.
One thing we must all do though over the next few months (hopefully months anyway) is to squeeze every last ounce of joy out of watching Emi Buendia. Our five foot seven of football heaven won’t be here for too much longer so we should really try and savour every flick, stepover, dribble, dropped shoulder, and slide-rule pass while we still can.
He was outstanding again last night and, as in the Championship, after taking a few months to acclimatise to his surroundings and find his bearings, he’s unleashed hell on his opponents. I’m running short of superlatives, but there aren’t many better players to have pulled on the yellow and green. He’s that good.
I’ll not dwell on our latest brush with VAR for too long other than to say I’ve been told that by the letter of the law they got this one right. Whether it’s in the spirit of the law is another question for another day, but what is unforgivable is the way our friends from Stockley Park have sucked the joy and spontaneity out of what was once a beautiful game.
I neither clapped, cheered or even stood when the excellent Todd Canwell scored his goal. From my River End perspective, it felt and looked almost certain that VAR would find a reason to disallow it. When it became clear the goal would stand, the moment had gone.
The atmosphere was oddly flat last night – Tim Krul certainly noticed and spent much of the first-half trying to ignite the River End – and that may have been partly due to the news from Turf Moor and Vicarage Road, but much of the apathy was borne of the spectre of VAR.
And the worst thing? The Premier League and the PGMOL think they’ve got it right.
What an unholy mess. And all as we sit in 20th… seven points adrift.
Happy New Year!