Well, it wasn’t another defeat, I guess. Maybe we should just be thankful for that.
But it was grim. Wholly devoid of any joy, excitement, purpose and skill.
That we’ve reached the point where all we have left to celebrate is a point from a goalless draw against a terrible team who are still several levels better than us, speaks volumes of where this football club finds itself right now.
In response to that, there will be folk reminding me how lucky we are to have a club that is stable, is owned by people who care (as opposed to someone with lots of money) and that we have no divine right to expect to survive in the Premier League.
All of which is true I suppose, but anyone who can happy-clap through this is a far better person than I. If you’re one of those, I applaud you.
Our opponents yesterday, let’s not forget, came into the game off the back of a run of six straight defeats – a truly woeful run of Norwich City proportions, which unbelievably put our own fun of five back-to-back defeats in the shade.
But they dominated us. Totally. From start to finish.
Brighton had 63 percent of the ball and had no less than 31 shots on Tim Krul’s goal. In addition to Neal Maupay’s missed penalty that was last spotted whizzing past the ISS, they literally missed chances by the dozen.
City, by contrast, mustered only six shots during the entirety of the afternoon, none of which were on target. My partially-sighted, 87-year-old dad could have played in goal instead of Robert Sánchez and it’d have made not a scrap of difference to the outcome.
We offered nothing apart from effort. Only the back-four plus Tim Krul could depart the Amex with their heads held high, although it’s hard to criticise Teemu Pukki given the paucity of his supply line. In fairness, Jon Rowe’s late cameo was again worthy of note.
But that was it.
Our midfield quartet was devoid of all the qualities needed to be a functional Premier League midfield except one. There was no shortage of commitment but they lacked in every other aspect, including the ability to perform a joined-up, cohesive press.
Poor passing, no energy, no control of the game, no ability to break up and spoil, and not even the slightest hint of flair or invention. Rarely, since the creation of the Premier League can there have been a more ineffective midfield, certainly in terms of going forward.
The clappers could, perhaps fairly, argue that the midfield played its part in the low block that somehow conjured up a clean sheet, but it was no more than a fire-fighting exercise. I’d prefer much more from my midfield including that forgotten art, in these parts, of stringing two consecutive passes together.
I’m sorry, Kenny, but pointing a lot doesn’t count as a quality.
Among many other questions that desperately need to be answered, all of which will come far too late to make any difference this season, is what type of football are we trying to play?
The answer, at the moment, is no one knows – other than, presumably, the management and players.
So poor are we, and so paralysed by fear and uncertainty are the players, the shape of the team and what they are trying to achieve is hidden behind a shield of stray passes, elementary errors, and hopelessness.
There is really no way of identifying what Dean Smith wants from this team.
Let’s not forget though, this unnerving lack of identity started to reveal itself in the final throes of the Daniel Farke era and is not something that began with Dean Smith and Craig Shakespeare.
While I can’t pretend to know the style of football that Smith implemented in his time at Walsall, at both Brentford and Aston Villa he developed teams that were predominantly possession-based and who were easy-on-the-eye – the very antithesis of what we’re seeing right at the moment.
So, for now, I’m giving Smith the benefit of the doubt and putting this current shambles down to him having to work with a squad that isn’t good enough to play what we once described as Farkeball. Daniel F discovered this himself, hence the change in style in the early weeks of this season that led to the unraveling of what we (and others) recognised as our footballing identity.
The notion that Dean Smith comes in and unpicks the style of play completely flies in the face of our ‘model’, which is built around any new coach coming in and picking up the reins with the minimum of changes and minus the need to implement a new ethos.
If change is going to be driven by the new head coach, it feels a little like the unraveling of all the work that Stuart Webber’s undertaken since his arrival in March 2017.
Maybe the apparent lack of focus of the sporting director will lead to a change of the original plan.
But, either way, it’s the implementation (or non-implementation) of Farkeball in the top division that has been at the heart of the current malaise.
It’s a system and philosophy that requires good technicians throughout the team but once in the Premier League, the level of technician required is of a far higher calibre than one who can operate successfully in the second tier.
But, the more competent the technician, the more he costs.
It’s also a system that requires centre-backs and full-backs to be comfortable in possession and able to receive the ball in tight areas. For all of their other qualities, neither Grant Hanley and Ben Gibson are, in the Premier League, able to do either consistently.
That, for me, is where and why the identity started to fade.
Farke tried to stick with it in 2019-20 but we were routinely outplayed, out-muscled and beaten and so tried, unsuccessfully, to tweak it this season. Smith, in my view, was merely left to pick up the pieces and try somehow to get a tune, in any way possible, out of a squad that is not technical, powerful, or athletic enough.
I know some are already questioning Smith’s appointment but I believe he should be judged when managing a squad that is his own. Right now it feels like he’s managing a rag-tag bunch of non-swimmers who are trying unsuccessfully to negotiate the deep end.
Quite frankly, the sooner this season ends the better.
Then I hope everyone at the football club, including the owners, can take stock and decide what the hell they want it to be.