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Should we sack Walter because of this defeat?

Alan Doyle provides the case for Walter Smith,
without invoking the Board of Directors or the condition of the Club

I have seen a lot of negative comment on this website (and others) regarding the future of Walter Smith and would like to provide a counterpoint to them.

I sincerely hope that Walter Smith will be our manager for many years to come.  I am both horrified and mystified by the many calls for his head and would like to explain why.

We can all sympathise with the familiar arguments regarding the financial constraints that the man is under.  We all realise the scale of last season's unprecedented injury crisis would have ravaged any squad in the Premiership and severely impacted upon their on-field performances.  For many of us, those facts alone provide sufficient reason to retain faith in Walter (for now at least).  For the less forgiving, I'd like to discuss football where it matters - performances on the pitch and points in the table.

Many of the calls for Walter's head appear to have stemmed from our recent "appalling" run of results.  Four defeats in a row means an on-field crisis, which means the Manager must go, right?  Well I'm sorry, but I can't agree.  I can't help but feel that Walter's long-term critics (and every manager has them - I've even seen morons calling for Alex Ferguson to be sacked) are using these results as a pretext to whip up a bit of fervour amongst some of the more gullible and malleable supporters.

Consider the evidence:

The first in our run of defeats occurred at Old Trafford.  There is no disrespect in losing away to a team who are both the defending champions and one of the finest teams in Europe.  Sure, it's disappointing that we can't genuinely compete with them at the moment, but we won't be the only team to be mauled there this season.  Only days ago, Ipswich - a team that qualified for Europe last season, a team that was strengthened over the summer - fared worse than we did at the hands (or perhaps feet) of a weaker United side than the one that we faced.  Should Smith go because of that defeat?  Of course not.

The second defeat was the Worthington Cup knockout at the hands of Crystal Palace.  Yes, I concede that it was a poor performance against a side that we really should have beaten.  However, in realistic terms, all that happened was that Palace outperformed us at the footballing equivalent of Russian Roulette and knocked us out of a second-rate competition that only the eventual winners pretend to care about.  No other manager will find his job in jeopardy because of a poor Worthington Cup result.  Nobody else gives a toss and nor should we.  Should we sack Walter because of this defeat, then?  I don't think so...

The third, and probably most galling, defeat came at the hands of Liverpool.  Quite simply, we were outclassed by a better side.  We all hate losing, especially derbies, but calls for the Manager's head smack more of wounded pride than footballing realism.  The fact is that passion alone can't help us win these matches any more.  It's hard to admit, but Liverpool have had more quality than us for several years now. 

We cannot expect to be able to compete with Liverpool when Gerard Houllier can throw around tens of millions of pounds whilst Walter Smith has to make every single penny count.  We have to accept that it will also remain the case for many years to come.  It will take years to build our new home, longer still 'til we start to reap the rewards that it should bring, and several seasons more to assemble a squad that has genuine quality in depth.  Who honestly thinks that the Manager should be shown the door because of this defeat?  Not me.

So, how about the most recent defeat, the loss away to Blackburn Rovers, the so called straw that broke the camel's back?  No-one would deny that the result was disappointing, but the quality of the performance was highly encouraging.  We totally dominated a side that almost managed to overwhelm Manchester United a matter of weeks ago.  We dominated possession and created more (and indeed better) chances than the home team.  Only a combination of poor luck, poor finishing, and a world-class performance from Brad Friedel prevented us from taking the three points that we deserved.

We can't blame Walter for our poor luck.  We certainly can't blame him for an absolutely inspired performance by the opposition's keeper.  Should we therefore blame him for the finishing?  I would argue not - at least not yet.  I believe that Walter has acknowledged that we have problems in that department and has taken steps to rectify the situation.  The purchase of Tomasz Radzinski, a proven goalscorer, should have addressed our deficiencies in that area were it not for his unfortunate pre-season injury.  As far as I can see, finishing is a problem that has already been solved, so should we sack the man for a thoroughly undeserved defeat on a day when the fates conspired against us?  Don't be so bloody stupid.

And so we turn to the League table.  Football wisdom tells us that it never lies, but what truths can it tell us?

Well for a start it says: Won 2, Drawn 1, Lost 3.  It says Played 6, Points 7.  It says Position 12.  To many loyal fans, that actually makes good reading.  You see, if we continue to have a bigger number in the Points column than in the Matches Played column, then relegation will not be an issue.  Should we remain in 12th place throughout the season, we will have improved upon last years placing and proved all the pundits' pre-season predictions of relegation hopelessly wrong.  A final position of 12th would represent irrefutable progress.

Reading between the lines, we can safely say that whilst Everton will still be found wanting by the genuinely good sides such as Manchester United and Liverpool (and no doubt in time Arsenal and Leeds) they are more than a match for the majority of sides in the division.  We certainly seem to be distancing ourselves from our relegation-fodder tag.

However, most of all, the League Table tells us that, if we hadn't been so unlucky against Blackburn, and if we hadn't been robbed of a victory against Spurs by some utterly inept refereeing (and let's face it, only the most blinkered Spurs or Rovers fan would deny that we deserved to win those matches), we would have accrued 12 points.  That's right, if we had all the points that we should have earned this season, we would currently be sat in joint 2nd position!

Ask yourself, who would be calling for Walter Smith's head if we were currently sat in 2nd place, the place that our performances so far this season have deserved?  Who on earth would want a change of management at a time when there are genuinely tangible signs of light at the end of the tunnel?  Only rabble-rousing fools and the idiots who follow them.

So, on behalf of the genuinely patient fans with a less blinkered view of the situation, I would like to say to Walter Smith that we understand that he is doing a very demanding job under very difficult circumstances and that we appreciate his efforts.

Thanks, Alan Doyle

(Of course I may start to change my mind if West Ham stuff us at the weekend.....)


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