Real worries as player fallout hits home

ROY Keane’s nose is getting shorter and shorter each week, as he gradually cuts it off to spite his face. For some obscene reason he dropped Daryl Murphy, Michael Chopra and Kieran Richardson for our match against high-flying Chelsea last weekend.

Rumours are abound that they were left out after late-night boozing, although the gaffer is adamant that it was for “footballing reasons”, adding that “it seems to be something about this area that rumours go around about different players”.

To be honest, Roy, there’s something about people in the North East that means we know the team that took to the field on Saturday wasn’t our best available, so it’s no surprise questions are being asked.

Although the lads were applauded off the pitch, we lost and it’s grating to think that over €15 million worth of attacking players weren’t even on the bench. Had Murphy, Chopra or Richardson, far better players than Roy O’Donovan and Ian Harte, featured against Avram the toad’s men, who knows what might have happened?

In his playing days, Keane admitted he stayed out drinking late the night before games. Despite this, he was one of the best midfielders in Premiership history so got away with it. Who’s to say despite Liam Miller’s timekeeping, Dickson Etuhu’s rumoured disciplinary issues and other creative sparks not being good enough for selection, we could have got something out of Chelsea had we played our strongest side?

Peter Reid’s time at Sunderland came to an end as he gradually fell out with more and more players. Roy has frozen out Graham Kavanagh, our best midfielder from last season, and David Connolly, last year’s top scorer. How come between the pair of them, they’ve made only one Premiership start this term? Connolly has also only managed one game for the reserves in 2008, despite the second strings’ forwards mainly being from our youth team and there’s no mention of him being injured.

If Keane wants us to believe that he simply picked the best players, then we need to seriously look at his transfer dealings. He has spent more than €18m on five strikers this season but continues to play Kenwyne Jones up front on his own. After Saturday’s game, John Terry described Jones as “the best in the air in the entire Premier League. He really is that good”.

So if England’s captain rates his aerial ability, why don’t we play someone up front off him to run onto his headers instead of losing possession through them? If Jones is rated so highly that he can be an attacking force stuck on his own in a 4-5-1 formation, how come he’s scored only five times so far this season? Looking around our rivals at the bottom, it’s not a particularly impressive total. Simon Davies, a winger at Fulham has scored the same amount, Kenny Miller is only a couple behind in a hapless Derby side and Kevin Nolan has also scored five for Bolton from midfield. Birmingham have four players on either five strikes or higher, with new signing James McFadden scoring three times in seven games.

Kenwyne is yet to find the net in 2008 and by the time we travel to Aston Villa on Saturday the team will have gone 42 days without scoring. Is the current squad good enough to leave out Kieran Richardson and Daryl Murphy against Chelsea? Of the six goals we’ve scored this year, four of those have come from the pair left out of Saturday’s squad.

Mick McCarthy managed a paltry total of 15 points in 2002 after spending only €6.5m on improving a Championship team. Roy Keane has spent over 10 times that amount doing the same and as of yet we’ve not even won double his old foe’s points total. There’s an argument that falling through the Premiership trapdoor after our big spending this season would be a bigger failure than any of our previous relegations, especially since we’ve spent far more dosh than any of our rivals.

We’ve gone from the euphoria of winning the Championship and big summer spending to the lows before Christmas of the bottom three. Great home form at the beginning of 2008 took us to a safe league position, but now playing our strongest team has seen us topple down the table and I’m really starting to worry now.

* Martyn McFadden

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