Where do I start?
I am neither surprised nor disappointed by this result. I genuinely feel for the American bloggers that were present for a rare game, but other than that my biggest emotion is that of sadness. Sad that we have sunk so low that the result wasn't a surprise.
I suggested before the game that Preston might well take all three points, and unlike New York Addick it wasn't tongue in cheek. I really think we have a problem against the 'battlers'. Partly because they present a different challenge, but mainly because I no longer believe that the players take these teams seriously, despite what Pardew says before and afterwards.
I suggested a few weeks ago that Pardew has the ability to say exactly what I want to hear from him in each situation. Again, he said all the right things, but I'm just a bit fed up with having to listen to 'all the right things' when we fail to perform.
The team has been changed too much. Irrespective as to the various players performances on Saturday they looked like they didn't know each other and had never played together.
This was only the forth time Sodge and McCarthy had played together, and the first time Sodge was sent off so they didn't complete 90 minutes.
That was only Halford's seventh game for us, and I'm sorry to say that it was probably four too many. I can see why Sunderland only played him eight times and Reading three. I hate to critise players, but he (perhaps due to circumstances beyond his control) adds nothing to the team other than long throws, and I don't wish to see him in a Charlton shirt again.
Youga had only played nine games (before Saturday) and even though he is young of those nine games at least two were poor. In Pardew's defence we have had a problem at left back all season due to injuries.
Lloyd Sam has been poor in recent weeks, but he might well have been ready to put that behind him. His injury, however, left us with Sinclair, who clearly has no understanding of any of the other players.
Ambrose. Where do you start. I like him. I think he has loads of ability and he scores goals in a team that doesn't score enough. He just doesn't have that rare ability to be effective in several positions. The wing is not where he is best utilised. If there is not a place for him in the centre, or behind the front player(s) then maybe he shouldn't play?
The midfield pair looked tired, but I have no complaints about them, particularly as what I think we really need is stability in the starting eleven.
Varney has been a revalation in the last few weeks, and maybe his withdrawl at half time was for tactical reasons, but I thought he was one of the better players on the day.
Leroy Lita is probably a good player, but he clearly had no idea how we were going to play. Let's remember that the last time he played in this division it was for a Reading side that was literally walking all over every team they played. That is not going to happen here.
So the stats are as follows. Before Preston the number of starts the players had made this season were:
Weaver 36 - Ever present
Sam 23- Sinclair 0 (2 as sub)
Ambrose 22 - Gray 6
If you ignore Sam (13 minutes) and include Sinclair that brings the average down to 16 games (or 14.5 if you swap Gray for Varney). With only three of the first eleven (two of the outfield ten) having started more than half our games this season.
I know I've gone a long way 'round the houses' but suddenly there is no surprise that they didn't play as a team. Something that Bristol City are doing with players that are clearly not as good as ours on paper.
At the start of the season my Dad (who is clearly much more experianced in the watching of football than I am) said that he would be happy to be mid table after ten games as with so many new players it would take a long time for the team to gel. After eleven games (sorry I don't have the table after ten games) we were third, one point behind second place. That was when we should have kicked on and cemented our place in the top two.
Now we have a team that doesn't know each other, and will probably not have gelled by the time the play offs start. Adding a player or two is one thing, but bringing in four players and expecting the team to play as a unit is unrealistic.
So as I see it we have two problems.
1> Pardew is clearly never going to have a settled side or formation.
2> For what ever reason the players cannot apply themselves enough to beat the teams fighting for their lives.
Thus we have been unable to win back to back games since the 8th of December, and I cannot see that changing any time soon. We were poor in the second half against Watford, and the second half against Bristol City. We were poor in the whole game against Preston.
That is the worst I have seen us play for so long I cannot remember a specific game where we were so bad.
However, as I am always upbeat I am going to write this one off and make the assumption that we can still win five of our last nine. This doesn't even require back to back wins. Throw in a couple of draws and we will see ourselves safely to 73 points. This should be enough for a play off spot, at which point the new boys, and the three loan signings Pardew hasn't completed yet, will have a few games under their belts, and we might just luck our way to the play off final. The final is just one game and Pardew does have a bit of a reputation of coming good in the 'Big' games, so who knows, it could still be ok.
And next season we could become the first team in Premier League history to play 100 players in the same season.