After conceding late and appearing to throw away two valuable points, it’s easy to come away from last night’s game devastated – but there’s actually a lot to be happy about.
Here’s a few real positives to take to begin with:
Longstaff outstanding – He really does look the part, doesn’t he? It’s one thing seeing a youngster come in and do a decent job, but Longstaff looked like the classiest midfielder on the pitch last night – and he and Isaac Hayden were up against two former Champions League operators in Moutinho and Neves. He’s elegant on the ball and has an incredible engine off it, covering more ground and making more tackles than any other player on the pitch.
Almiron showed real promise – The Paraguayan was only one for the final 20 minutes, but he showed several signs of promise. He has electric pace – that was clear within minutes – he was a bundle of energy, got his head up and showed solid decision making, drew fouls and gave 110% when working back defensively. They didn’t know how to handle him – and his cameo suggests he’s ready to start against Huddersfield in just under 2 weeks.
Players fighting for their place – Following the arrival of Almiron and Barreca, and the return of Diame and Ki after injuries, the likes of Perez, Hayden and Ritchie need to perform to keep their place – and all three were impressive last night. It’s rare we’ve been able to have solid competition for places all over the pitch so it’s good to see some ‘regulars’ performing well under pressure.
Perspective is key; we’ve got 7 points from our last 4 – If someone told us we’d beat Cardiff 3-0, beat Man City at St James’, lose narrowly at Spurs and get a point at Wolves a few weeks ago we’d have ALL bitten their hand off. We are in good shape, look hard to beat, have more attacking options following Almiron’s arrival and great fixtures to come. We have several reasons to be hopeful right now.
We just don’t look like a side about to go down – If we were spectators watching a Southampton or Burnley play as we did last night we’d have been saying ‘they look too strong to go down’. Don’t get me wrong, we didn’t exactly play them off the park, but we controlled the game well at times, defended well and looked a real tough nut to crack all over the pitch. Huddersfield look set to go down because they can’t score and Fulham look likely to go down because they can’t defend – but, with an attacking trio of Almiron, Rondon and Perez in mind and a supremely organised midfield and defence, I can’t see us struggling at either end over the next 12 games.
Dubravka’s second big mistake in as many games – First things first, I still have total faith in Dubravka and am astonished by anyone suggesting Darlow or Woodman should start instead next weekend, however it’s fair to say he does need to cut these errors out. He’s barely put a foot wrong over the past year and would’ve been set for an 7 or 8/10 in our player ratings piece if he hadn’t dropped that late clanger, however we’ll have to now get behind him and hope these mistakes don’t continue. He’s a top goalkeeper in my eyes, but he has played a big part in us dropping 3 points in the last two games now – even if he’s someone who’s saved us on several occasions before that this season.
Yedlin is being targeted; our obvious weak link at the back – It’s been clear for a while now that opposition teams get the most joy down Yedlin’s side – and that was the case once again last night. He’s an impressive athlete and as quick as they come physically, but he doesn’t think quickly enough. His approach to stopping crosses is casual at times and he’s sometimes beaten a little too easily given how fast he is across the ground. He’s been better since operating in a more advanced right wing-back role, offering a real outlet on the counter, but he needs to stick to his task defensively.
Lejeune looked nervy; his worst display since returning from injury – I’m a big fan of the Frenchman and have generally been so so impressed by how he’s slotted back in following a serious ACL injury over the summer, however he did look quite shaky and indecisive at times last night.