So NUFC exit the League Cup at an early stage once again. The fact we have never won this competition in our history but have 6 FA Cups in the bag is remarkable. Given that this trophy is the easier one to win. But anyway, onto Wednesday night's game and two major decisions, or should that be mistakes, cost us dearly on the night. 1) The team that started the game and 2) the lack of change at half time.
Basically, the team that finished last night's game should have started it and to not change it right on half time was criminal. It cost us in the end as Man Utd settled the tie seconds before Pardew made his changes on the hour. It was too little too late.
The one thing I was looking forward to above anything else before last night's game, was the prospect of seeing Bigirimana line-up alongside his mentor and inspiration Cheik Tiote. I was genuinely excited to see the apprentice and the master take on Man Utd at Old Trafford to see how they got on. Instead what Alan Pardew decided to do was not play our most exciting prospect and play the distinctly average Dan Gosling. Seriously, what in God's name was Pardew thinking of? What possible reason could he have to rob us of seeing Bigi get another game under his belt as his rapid improvement continues? I was in shock. Then my shock turned into disappointment. To eventual anger. I swear, Pardew must do this just to wind me and others up. He must do. What other explanation is there? That Gosling is a better player? No. That Gosling has played better in the Europa League than Bigi? No. He is younger and has a lot more potential? No. Once again another ridiculous, illogical decision from Pardew that beggars belief.
Just to compound the ridiculous decision. Gosling turned in his predictable 'wasted chances, give away possession, unable to tackle' midfield performance most of us are sick of seeing. He then brings on Bigirimana for a token 20 mins at the end when we were losing and chasing the game...for Cheik Tiote. Sweet Lord.
The only explanation I can think of is that Pardew doesn't think Tiote and Bigi are suited to play together and he wanted somebody making runs into the box from midfield. Well seeing as he had Vuckic in the hole, we didn't need a 'marauding' midfielder. We needed a player great in the tackle, comfortable on ball and can pick out a pass with ease. Gael Bigirimana in other words. Shocking.
There was another decision from Pards that was also a bit head scratching. He started James Perch, again, at right back when he has already shown this to be his weakest position. It's so weak in fact that during the Norwich game at the weekend he swapped Anita into right back instead of Perch after 20 mins. Not only did he pick Perch to start right back but he chose the natural right back James Tavernier in at left back. All of which we had the naturally left sided Shane Ferguson on the bench. WTF?! So lets some that up. We have a central player on the right, a right sided player on the left and a left sided player on the bench. Madness.
As soon as Shane Ferguson stepped onto the pitch the first thing he did was get the ball, attack down the line, took on the defender and delivered a perfect cross into the box for Cisse to head in. Simplicity itself. The kind of simplicity that seems totally lost on our manager. I don't know if he is aware of this but when we play a right footed player down the left whether it be Jonas, Santon or the awkward looking Tavernier, we do not get the ball into the box. There is no service whatsoever. The reason for this is quite simple. None of the mentioned has any kind of a left foot to deliver the much needed cross. They use it only to stand on, run with and swing a token gesture at the ball with. It's embarrassing at times and just plain ridiculous.
Finally, speaking of Papiss Cisse. What was he doing on the bench for 60 mins when Man Utd had put out a defensive line of youth players? If Haris Vuckic had shown any kind of form in the European games he has started then I could understand it. But he hasn't. The goal he got v Atromitos was a lucky deflection and apart from that moment, he has been awful this year its got to be said. Cisse was crying out for a goal before last night's game. He was hungry. You could tell when he came on. He managed to do in 5 mins what Haris Vuckic never looked like doing and that's stick it in the net. The one bit of play Vuckic had was when he turned in the box, but then placed his shot wide. It was never going in and it wasn't surprising. I've liked this kid ever since he came to our club but he hasn't developed as I thought he would.
If Papiss Cisse had started last night's game alongside Shola, with Bigi smalls in midfield alongside Tiote and Ferguson had gave us a threat and balance from left full back....then I would go as far to say we would be in the next round of the League Cup. It was clearly the team to start that game and what annoys me is that I reckon Pardew knew it. It wasn't a coincidence that he turned to these players when we were losing. He was confident they would get us back in the game. Well maybe if you had started them we wouldn't have needed to chase anything and you could have brought on players to make sure of the victory. Epic fail. Again.
So another cup exit for us to stomach. Another game ticks by this season with an uninspiring performance all round. Also, genuinely worrying to me, another game goes by when Alan Pardew has made blatant errors of judgement and head scratching decisions with his starting line up. If it isn't the players he picks, the positions he plays them in, then its the system he sets the team up in. He has yet to get it right ONCE this season. Not once. It's unbelievable. Literally in every game this season we have found ourselves needing to make changes to try and a) rescue the game, b) look for inspiration or c) try and look like a team that is supposed to be challenging for the top 4.
The Champions League looks a long, long way off. There is no way in hell we are going to finish above Arsenal or Chelsea. Not in this form. Not with these decision's being made by our LMA manager of the year holding us back. No chance. I've asked the question whether Pardew is out of his depth. As far as a top team is concerned I think he is. If we were still a mid-table club then what we have done this season so far would be acceptable. But we aren't. We have moved on from that. Thanks to Alan Pardew himself and the players we have. He fully deserved his manager of the year award last season, but does anyone tip him to win it this season? No chance. Maybe he needs to snap out of a small team mentality. Or maybe he just needs to start making basic, logical decisions with his starting line up. That would be a good starting point. I like Pardew. I like his passion. I want him to take us forward. At the moment he isn't doing it. So like any player, the manager needs to shape up too. Otherwise it will be an average season this year and a missed opportunity to establish ourselves as a top club again.
What's for certain right now is we are not going to end our trophy drought with the League Cup. Thats gone. (I have to say it was a ridiculous draw to get Man Utd away, but they were there for taking last night.) If we continue to treat the Europa League as a training exercise for the likes of Dan Gosling and Haris Vuckic to 'get games' then will we challenge for that trophy? Will we get out of the group? I am all for players on the fringe of the first team having a chance but it has to be within reason. They have to be good enough to play in the first team. Bigirimana, Marveaux, Amalfitano, even Obertan, play these players. I've no problem with that. They have quality. However the Gosling's of this world need to be back up to the back up team at best.
The season is still early and we have injured players coming back which is encouraging. Also the one positive from Wednesday night's game is Papiss Cisse looks to be back! Rejoice! I don't think it was a concidence that it was when Demba Ba was no where to be seen and the lad could breathe and lead the line alongside Shola. This suits him. As it does Demba. Playing them together doesn't work. Shola is the key. Unless we go back to 4-3-3...but I am not gonna start on that one again.
So let's hope we can gain some momentum built up with a nice tidy win at Reading on Saturday. Tottenham made them look average, so should we in theory. Then after that, who knows. What Pardew decides to do is a mystery to all of us from one game to the next.
Howay the lads!
(Comments welcome. Follow me on Twitter @ToonBano)