Giles Smith's Thursday Thoughts
column Thu 19 Apr 2018
As he writes his column with the dust still settling on the Southampton drama but with another Premier League challenge today, supporter Giles Smith warms to a big performance and a certain type of name…
Hands up who among us, at 2-0, saw 2-3 coming? Not me. Personally, when Southampton’s second goal went in during last Saturday’s lunchtime match, I had adopted a position towards the pessimistic end of the ‘resigned’ spectrum. By which I mean, with only 30 minutes remaining, I could still see it ending 2-2 quite easily. After all, look at the talent we had on the pitch. But not 2-3. You’ve got to be reasonable.
And bear in mind the context. Yes, it was a warm and sunny spring day, of the kind that tends to persuade you that, after a period of cold and discomfort, life is about to start looking up again. But we weren’t playing especially well, and it’s possible that I still had in mind a moment in the first half when, trailing 1-0 against a team positioned in the bottom three, we took a crack from about 30 yards and missed by a similar sort of distance. For a while there, if you had wanted to represent our 2018 in a nutshell, it seemed to me that a little looping GIF of that passage of play would have served pretty well.
But then, of course, on came Olivier Giroud, up went the tempo and the temperature and, in what ranks as, if not my favourite eight minutes of the entire season, then at least as my favourite eight minutes of this month, we romped all over the pitch, scored three times and flipped the situation over.
We were always likely to warm to Giroud, weren’t we? For one thing, he has - like David Luiz before him, and like Antonio ‘Rudy’ Rudiger - an extremely honkable name. Oo-sounds simply deliver, crowd-wise. I’m not saying that’s all you need, by any means. But it helps.
As of Saturday, though, you would have to say his good-standing among us is cemented. A two-goal performance at some more or less early stage in a player’s time with the club is a tried and tested recipe for winning hearts and minds. (See also, ‘Two-Goal’ Marcos Alonso and ‘Two-Goal’ Branislav Ivanovic). Furthermore, it’s pretty unusual to come off the bench that late and clean up the Man of the Match award, as Giroud did. It takes a certain kind of energy, some manifest commitment, and a willingness to grab a game by its shoulders and twist it the other way on your team’s behalf. A memorable performance.
Since that afternoon, Marcos Alonso has a) found himself embroiled in a little retroactive difficulty and b) been nominated as our only player in the PFA Team of the Year. Congratulations to him on the second of those. Of course, it will be a slightly lonely virtual dressing room for him, over there at the PFA’s virtual stadium. And I don’t suppose he’ll get anything like the expert support and intuitive understanding from a virtual Jan Vertonghen and a virtual Nicolas Otamendi in the centre at the back that he tends to enjoy around these parts, and I can’t see a virtual Sergio Aguero, on his first call-up at this level, stepping across to cover in behind when Alonso gets down to the virtual by-line. And, anyway, hasn’t he just had surgery, ruling him out for a while? Not our problems, though. It’s for the virtual manager to sort out.
Of course, the chief point of the PFA Team of the Year is to acknowledge exemplary contributions and achievements through the season. But the second point of it is to inspire resentment and to force people bitterly to fling up their arms and say, ‘I can’t believe they’ve left out… [Fill in the name of your cruelly neglected club stalwart here].’
Accordingly, we wouldn’t be playing the game if we didn’t all now hold our hands to our heads and ask, in tones of aggrieved disbelief, ‘But where is Andreas Christensen in this side?’ Or irately tweet the BBC to ask, where is Cesar Azpilicueta? Indeed, where, after Saturday, is Olivier Giroud? Deeply flawed, the whole business.
We move on, though – specifically to tonight’s rare Thursday-evening match against Burnley, who these days are an uncomfortably tough team to play - a widely admired, over-achieving side who badly want the Europa League place that we currently occupy, and which we would happily surrender to them, as long as we were headed north into the Champions League and therefore in no further need of it.
And, on that topic, it probably hasn’t escaped your notice that Tottenham have dropped five points in their last two games and only need to drop a couple more to bring us right back into eye-contact again. Some have already insisted that the battle for fourth place is already over. But some didn’t think we’d come back from 2-0 down at Southampton, either. There was a message there, surely. Tonight I guess we’ll find out.
Giles Smith is on Twitter: @PsychicPsmith