And it all started so well! As it also did in Amsterdam and at home against Fenerbache but somehow we knew we’d lose the obligatory two goals in Europe!
To be honest McGregor’s name in the starting line-up didn’t excite me at all but that changed after three minutes when he scored an excellent goal coming in from the left.
By that time, I was still working out what formation we were playing but it was soon evident that Ronny had gone for a 4-1-4-1 with Rogic as the holding midfielder. Sitting high in the North Stand, the shape was very clear and the re-arranged team were playing with a good degree of discipline. Simunovic was marshalling the defence well and it was clear that the full backs had been told to be more cautious. As the half went on though Ajax became dominant and were impressive going forward. Their number 11 had the beating of Lustig and their passing was clearly better than ours. My heart sunk when I saw Lustig and McGregor dithering in possession just outside the penalty box whilst being closed down by several Ajax players…….1-1!
At this point, Griffiths seemed isolated up front and Ronny swapped Rogic to move the shape to a 4-4-1-1 which immediately seemed more compact and our passing flowed more naturally from defence to attack. As a result, we finished the half the stronger team.
This continued into the second half with Forrest and GMS coming on to their games. Armstrong too seemed to relish playing in a more central role and played his best game for some time. Whilst Ajax were still dangerous in possession we were looking most likely to score. Griffiths didn’t have one of his better nights though (impressive apology on Twitter from him btw) and so the second goal wasn’t coming. Mulgrew and Allan came on to good effect with Allen’s first touch being a sublime through pass to Griffiths for a 1 on 1 with the goalie.
And then, as we were pushing for the winner, came the sucker punch. This isn’t the first time in Europe that we have lost a goal directly from our corner and the timing gave us no way back.
This wasn’t like the Molde games, though. Tonight’s team did play with passion and they all were brave on the ball. We deserved nothing from the two games against Molde but we deserved all three points tonight. Much of the Internet is full of ‘Ronny must go’ comments and, on the basis of his record, it’s understandable. But the bottom line is that he won’t be going anywhere this season nor do I think he should. There have been two main problems this season in Europe….a shambolic defence and a lack of creativity going forward. We have only just got a settled back four and the difference is beginning to show already. As for the creativity, he has at least three players with the potential to solve this. Scott Allen, Ryan Christie and Tom Rogic with Aidan Nesbitt not far behind. Not Kris Commons. He’s been a great servant but we need to invest in the future.
Tonight’s team were untried and playing in a new formation yet should have won the game. It was also a very young team…..
Gordon (33), Lustig (28), Boyata (25), Simunovic (21), Tierney (18), Rogic (22), GMS(25),
Armstrong (23), McGregor (22), Forrest (24) and Griffiths (25).
Take Gordon and Lustig out of the equation and the average age of the rest of the team is under 23. Is this the youngest team we’ve put out in a European game?
As for Ronny, the bottom line is that the results haven’t been good enough but it’s nonsense to say he never changes his plans (see above) and he clearly is developing our youth players. We will not, for the foreseeable future, be in a position to buy the finished article (Chris Sutton please factor this into your demolition of the club’s hierarchy). So we must go down the route of developing our own players and, indeed, our manager and that means there won’t be short term gain but, as we’ve been experiencing, plenty of short term pain. However, patience is never a quality that football fans possess. Defeats hurt, particularly when it’s to teams like Molde and is more of an abject surrender. All the froth about Ronny must go though is just that. He’s going nowhere so we need to stop wasting our energy on that issue and do what we do best. Get behind the team and the manager and see where the ride ends up.