by Andrew Crawshaw
This weekend I watched a football team who rely on playing football on the ground, with skillful players who know each other well and are normally free scoring be beaten by three goals to one by a team who in general were nowhere near so skillful.
How did this happen?
The less skillful side defended deep in regulation banks of four sucking the heart of the skillful team. No room here for your namby-pamby continental style of football they seemed to say as they set out their stall.
They packed players behind the ball and relied on one or two front players running their socks off.
They also ate up the clock wasting time at every opportunity, the keeper took a drink before collecting the ball and slowly and carefully placed the ball at the opposite side of the six yard box before retreating, looking at it again and deciding that it wasn’t quite in the right place.
When they had a throw in they again took as long as possible and advanced as far up the pitch as was possible before they were instructed to go back wasting more time. Needless to say the referee and his assistants failed to intervene in any meaningful manner leaving the manager fuming on the edge of his technical area at the fourth official.
Every time the skillful team had the ball they were subject to little nudges, pulls and pushes and their forwards were wrapped up by the defenders from the less skillful team. The leaders from the skillful team were subjected to increasingly forceful tackles on a rotational basis culminating in a particularly violent two footed lunge with studs showing and which met every criteria for a red card but which the man in black could only find worthy of a yellow card.
The injured player managed to finish the game but was unable to move freely again. Job done by the less skillful team, key player taken out of the game at the cost of a single yellow card. Value for money they thought.
Needless to say when the skillful team made even the slightest foul it was immediately penalised. As the game progressed the skillful team’s passing became more and more erratic as the constant minor fouling took its toll on their confidence and ability to think clearly.
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They were expecting to be jostled or worse and so hurried their passing to the detriment of accuracy or time to allow their intended passes to get to the right place to receive the ball. Eventually it became easy for the less skillful team to pick off and intercept these passes and that enabled them to get the ball to their hard running forwards who could run directly at the skillful team’s goal without fear of being fouled.
The more skillful team were playing at home and had good support and started brightly but failed to make an early breakthrough. As the game progressed the crowd became more and more disheartened in tune with the players. Supporters near me were groaning at every backwards or sideways pass even when that pass was the only option available to the player.
They were also urging the Skillful players to shoot every time they were within 20 or 30 yards of the goal despite the number of defenders between the player and the ball and the fact that a shot from that kind of distance has only a 3% chance of ending up in the net.
In extra time at the end of the game one of the skillful teams forwards was running on to a through ball about 30 yards from goal when he was blatantly pulled back by the last defender. The clearest red card anyone will see this season except the referee who was unable to keep up with play or the linesman and a red card thus avoided.
Mark, my Fulham supporting friend with whom I went to the game – it was Fulham v Wolverhampton Wanderers in the Championship, said it was the worst he had seen Fulham play all season. That may have been so but their ability to play was inexorably sucked out of them by the tactics adopted by Wolves.
The referee was terrible, allowed all of the minor and rotational fouling, eventually gave one card for delaying the restart from a throw in, issued a yellow card for the two footed studs up challenge on Cairney instead of the straight red it deserved and totally missed the last man red card at the end of the game.
Wolves were delirious at their win which was a triumph of their tactics. I just felt cheated that yet again this season a game of football had all of the enjoyment sucked out of it by a team who used all of the black arts to achieve a win at any cost victory.