The answer to this question is not an easy one, with several mistakes at every level of the club contributing to our current ineptitude - however, taking the game in isolation, the inactivity of David Moyes left me with much cause for concern.
Obviously, the manager cannot legislate for Vitto Mannone’s weak attempt at beating Peter Crouch in an aerial duel or the individual mistakes which cost us goals. He cannot be held responsible for Jack Rodwell failing to put us right back in the game just after the hour mark. I also hold a level of sympathy with him due to our injury crisis and a lack of depth in the squad. But as a manager it is your responsibility to utilise your squad the best you can and impact the game with substitutions and tactical decisions. Today Moyes didn’t do that and his resignation to our fate was indicative of our overall display.
After the game, he told James Hunter of the Chronicle; “I didn’t have anything on the bench that offered more than was out there.” Again, this comment is perhaps fair enough without context. In an ideal world, none of the youngsters on the bench would be required. But Saturday was far from an ideal world. The eleven players we had on the pitch huffed and puffed and tried to force a way back into the game. We looked devoid of ideas, inspiration or urgency. Despite the crowd doing their best at the start of the second half to rally the team there was very little to get behind and the atmosphere died along with the game. Some would argue that throwing a youngster into such an environment would be detrimental to his confidence and development and I’m usually against “throwing the kids in” but I feel that Saturday was the perfect time to experiment with some of his under 23s.
With around 20 minutes to go, the game was crying out for a change - Januzaj and Borini had been ineffective to say the least.
The introduction of Joel Asoro could have given us something different - he may be far from the finished article but at least he may have provided us with an additional outlet. From what I’ve seen of him in the under 23’s he plays with little fear, is direct and his pace makes him a good, attacking threat. With his fresh legs, he could have stretched the game and helped us take it to Stoke. Even the introduction of Josh Maja would have been a welcome alternative to the pedestrian football we witnessed. Although just 18, Maja is a good physical presence and could have provided Defoe with welcome support up-front.
I’m not suggesting for one moment that any of the under 23’s on the bench would have inspired a dramatic comeback but at least it may have given the place a boost. When James McClean made his debut many years ago against Blackburn he lifted the crowd and caused the opposition all sorts of problems. Is McClean a world beater? Absolutely not, but on that day his direct, positive play gave the fans something to get behind. In his early days, Duncan Watmore was incredibly raw and far from suited to top flight football, but again he was a shining light towards the end of Dick Advocaat’s tenure. Even if a young lad had come off the bench and not impacted the game he still would have enjoyed good will from the crowd and would have been much preferable to seeing Borini or Deneyar misplace yet another pass.
Some claim that Moyes is refusing to play the youngsters to try and force Short’s hand in the transfer market. But our situation is beyond that of making grand statements to the owner. What matters in the here and now is David Moyes getting as much out of his players as possible and his reluctance to change a system which clearly wasn’t working sent out a very worrying message to supporters.