Last Saturday, the side currently marooned at the bottom of the Staffordshire County Senior League recorded their first win of the season, 2-1 at home to Betley FC Reserves.
Actually, it wasn’t merely their first win this term. It was their first win since 2007. For nearly seven years the club had not recorded a single victory, the bar in its clubhouse had not rung to a single celebratory chant.
Indeed, until January last year, they had been engaged in the longest-running losing streak in English league history. But then last January came a draw. And last week, they explored the giddy, rarified heights of a win.
No wonder their manager George Day was feeling a little tender in the head come Sunday. That is some record he had just offloaded.
For all of us the experience of the veterans of Tunstall (their back five in a recent fixture boasted a combined age of nearly 300) is a reminder that, in football, no matter how grim things look at the moment, there is hope. Circumstances will, eventually, turn for the better. Gloom is but a transient condition.
You can only hope David Moyes takes note.
Poor Moyes. Right now, as he makes his way home from a wretched night in Greece, he seems to be utterly mired in gloom. Just as you thought losing at home to Swansea in the Cup, or being trounced at City, or bombing out of the Capital One via the most incompetent penalty shoot out in history marked the nadir of his stewardship of Manchester United, last night came a new low.
In a competition they now have to win in order to qualify for next season, his United performed as if suffering from the after effects of anaesthetic. My were they dismal.
Brave as always, afterwards Moyes took no refuge behind bitter complaints about the referee’s nationality. As he faced up to media duties most of us would run a mile to avoid in the same circumstances, he did not whine about the opposition tactics or moan about the fervent nature of the home supporters in Piraeus. He simply accepted United were rotten and took full responsibility for their failure.
Mind, he had little choice. No longer is there excuse of lack of availability. He had Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie in his starting line up. He had Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand too, so there was no deficit in experience. And yet a side once renowned for their brutal ability to shred an opposition at will played with a complete and total absence of confidence.
Until Shinji Kagawa’s cute through ball in the 80th minute they had not once threatened even to complete an effective pass. As evidence of decline goes, this was telling stuff.
Normally you might think he had a point. The United of old would have relished spinning round a two-goal deficit.
But this is not the United of old. They have lost five times at home already this season, with Liverpool and City still to come. Only once – in a League Cup tie with Norwich – have they scored more than two goals without reply at home this season.
Old Trafford, the former fortress has become a gift shop, open for all to fill their boots with goodies. On the form they showed last night, rather than United turning this tie round, you can see Olympiakos sneaking away with the spoils.
And if they do, with that will disappear Moyes’s chances of short-term uplift. Fanciful as it might seem, winning the competition was his only hope of being involved in it next year. Eleven points adrift of fourth place is surely too big a gap for a team as bereft of threat as this one to make up.
The problem is Moyes needs Champions League football next season in order to attract in the kind of talent he needs to improve his squad. It is hard to make a case for Toni Kroos for instance beating a path to his door after last night. Given the choice of United or Chelsea, which does Luke Shaw now think will better further his development? The best will want to go elsewhere. And only the best will do now for Moyes.
This is the dismal thing about last night: there really was no sign that improvement is imminent. The players looked enfeebled, the tactics were lacklustre, the spirit non existent. There simply was no silver lining, just a pall of thick, dark, brooding gloom.
Of course, it cannot last. Of course a club as substantial as United has the wherewithal to affect an uplift. You only have to look to Tunstall to see that eventually things will come right.
The worry for David Moyes after last night is that when the inevitable recovery arrives he may not still be in the position to enjoy it.
- Sports & Recreation
- David Moyes