That we’re all slightly chirpier this morning having witnessed an improved City performance says a lot about the level of the current bar.
But we are. And it was.
It’s hellishly thin gruel though if our spirits are lifted by what was ultimately another error-strewn defeat against some very mediocre relegation rivals.
But, there’s no denying it was a showing that produced the spirit and appetite that’s been missing since the restart, and in his ‘Paddy’s Pointers’ piece in the EDP, Paddy Davitt tells of a Lloris/Son type exchange between Timm Klose and Onel Hernandez that the Sky cameras missed; the first obvious example of the hackles rising since March.
Too little too late of course but, even though our fate is all-but sealed, there is at the very least professional pride at stake and, more pertinently, a need to ensure the season doesn’t peter out without even the merest hint of resistance.
And, to be fair, using the July 2020 barometer, last night’s performance passes as resistance. So fair play.
Whether it was because of the quality of the opposition or due to the back-to-basics line-up, there was a more familiar ebb and flow to City’s attacking play last night, albeit there was also familiarity in the way the defending was more kamikaze than cohesive.
The debate around why we’ve been unable to find a combination of back four and defensive midfielders fit for Premier League purpose will continue and, as ever, we’ll conclude it’s as much to do with how the team defends as a unit as it is the individuals in that unit.
But, and it’s a biggie, three of last night’s back four are our bright young things – all three in the sights of the rich and powerful – and yet have all played major roles in a defensive unit that’s been at the fore of our Premier League nightmare.
Make no mistake, each one is a gem, and ultimately will raise sums of money for this football club that will keep it afloat, but there’s plenty of learning left to be done.
All outstanding. All unpolished.
That Timm Klose was last night’s standout figure in a back-four that creaked tells its own little story.
Another season, however unlikely that appears, under the auspices of Farke and the joys of Colney would harm none of them.
But, whatever occurs in the world of football agents over the next couple of months, surgery is needed to make our defending better. A refresh, somewhere along, the line is required because – as ever – both goals last night were avoidable. Both soft, of an ilk not normally seen in the Premier League.
And in both instances, it was the inability to physically match a Watford side that was collectively bigger, stronger, and more athletic that cost us.
Watching Jamal Lewis being swatted aside by Craig Dawson to give the centre-back the run on a helpless Alex Tettey was soul-destroying enough but to then see Kenny McLean being so easily brushed off the ball by Ismaïla Sarr was enough to make the stomach churn.
Neither were glaring, obvious errors but equally, both showed an all-too-familiar lack of Premier League nous in those split-seconds. Small details that if ignored collectively come at a massive cost.
Much of the post-match hubbub has been around the contributions of Mario Vrancic and Marco Stiepermann, both of whom have enjoyed enhanced reputations of late as a result of not playing.
On the night, both showed understandable signs of rustiness while also doing enough to remind us of those heady days of the spring of 2019. Both offer something a little different and more fluidity than the more recent incumbents of their respective positions, but I’m not of the school that believes this season would have turned out differently if they’d both been given more game time.
Both have had their fair share of horror shows – Stiepi in the first couple of months of the season as the bright start dissipated and Vrancic, most notably, in the nightmare of Old Trafford – and were guilty of not grasping opportunities afforded to them, but their recalls were not before time.
I’m glad both delivered last night, at least enough to hopefully earn a start against West Ham.
But, ultimately, it was another defeat and still the records of the wrong kind keep on tumbling. We proved last night that we still have the ability to be pleasing on the eye, while also being unable to defend to the standard required to pick up Premier League points.
I’ll leave the final line to my dad, who, after telling me how much he enjoyed last night’s improved offering concluded with “… but let’s be honest, not one player in that squad (maybe other than Tim Krul) would get in the starting XI of any other Premier League team“.
He’s right, isn’t he?