Starting eleven, check. Tomas Rosicky to score, check. Result like last season can be written off, check. If you read the preview, you knew what was going to happen.
However predictable that result looked last night it only arrived as a result of two huge swings in fortune. Firstly, at half-time the player who had contributed most as we secured a deserved first-half advantage was substituted. Tomas Rosicky did more than just score the goal, courtesy of an outstanding assist from the utterly unpredictable Gervinho. He injected speed of thought and touch to negate some seriously close man-to-man marking by the hosts.
Tomas departed at the break, which hopefully was a move designed to keep him fit for Saturday. I would not have been sorry to see Andrey Arshavin replace him directly in the advanced midfield role. However the Russian was pushed out on the left wing and saw little of the ball as the Greeks dominated second-half possession. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain instead switched to centre-midfield. He is likely to develop into some player, I’m sure, but at the moment things aren’t quite working for him.
The second significant moment came when Machado’s header appeared to bounce behind off the post and the referee awarded a corner from which, eventually, we contrived to set up Maniatis for the equaliser. So incensed was Wojciech Szczesny he picked up a yellow card for berating the touchline assistant, just yards from the incident, and once again about as much use as an ashtray on a motorbike.
There was an air of inevitability about the fact that Olympiacos (not Panathinaikos Chiles, you halfwit) would go on to secure victory. It arrived with a superb strike from the substitute Mitroglou. On ITV Lee Dixon took the central defenders to task, and obviously he had a point. In fairness though I am inclined to not go overboard with any criticism tonight, particularly as one of those central defenders plays less often than I run the hundred metres.
There were positives, apart from the performance of Rosicky. Generally the degree of effort the side put in showed a vast improvement on what we have seen from one or two of those left behind of late. Obviously this being largely a squad eleven there was some inconsistency in distribution, but on reflection that is more acceptable if you see players working up a sweat for the badge.
Then there was the performance of Jernade Meade. The danger of being fulsome in praise of a young player starting his first match is that expectation levels are raised. In what has been a difficult position for us this season I thought he did all that could have been expected of him. Well played, son. Let’s leave it at that for now.
At the end of the night we are through to the knockout phase of the Champions League for the thirteenth consecutive season. As runners-up in group B we will avoid Real Madrid and AC Milan in the last sixteen. We are also as likely to draw Malaga as we are Barcelona, but the pessimistic will have us at the Camp Nou before the draw is made. If we do get Barca, great. Another chance to see Messi and company in the flesh. Nobody, but nobody will fancy us. If we are going to go out, I want to go out to them, not a team we would have beaten in most other seasons.
Upset tonight? No, not tonight. Lose again on Saturday with a fully rested first team and yes, I will understand the vitriol. Tonight I will sleep easy, and would recommend the same to others.
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