OK – the controversial stuff first; while it’s perhaps understandable that folk are annoyed that we’ve let a winning position slip, some of the criticism of Waghorn and Lowe is unwarranted IMO. Starting with Wagger’s missed pen, it wasn’t good but it wasn’t awful either. Chris Martin missed a few I seem to recall as do most at this level, so perhaps it’s not the foregone conclusion that many seem to think. Consider if you will the England team’s penalty shoot-out record for further confirmation of this point and these being the top players in the country. If we have to play the blame game then it's Phil's fault for insisting a striker take them when really it should be whoever takes them best. I think he’s been brilliant thus far though so he gets a pass from me. I loved Lampard but Cocu is in a different league IMO.
As for Lowe, some comments are embarrassing. Sorry, they just are! He's been our standout player, Bogle aside, but remains a young and relatively inexperienced one at this level. Maybe he should have stayed on his feet, ok, but if you have to lambaste someone then the cheaty. diving **** and the ref seem much fairer targets. The fact is Lowe didn’t give away a penalty, the ref got conned. Why the vitriol? He’s a kid and has struggled with his confidence before now so let’s cut him some slack, shall we?
Moving on to the game, overall, yes, it’s disappointing that we've let a winning position slip but to my mind, West Brom are the best team we've played this season and I'd be pretty sure they'll be in the play-offs again at very least yet we were worth a point at least. A draw then, is no disgrace, surely, and was probably a fair reflection of the game anyway. I actually thought we looked pretty polished at times, even in midfield so there are plenty of positives to take forward and our luck, or lack of it, will most likely balance out across the season.
Looking forwards, Bielik is approaching full match fitness / sharpness as is Jack. We have Jayden and Duwayne to return and a certain Wayne Rooney waiting in the wings. These guys along with Keogh are the most important in our squad and we’ve yet to see them all play together, even once. Cocu and his team will also be getting to grips with what is required in this league so unlike many teams in the div, it can be sensibly argued that we have huge scope for improvement. With even an ounce of luck we could be sitting pretty on 10 points right now chaps, above the likes of Fulham at time of writing, who added £100 million of talent to their squad last season. This after the massively disruptive Lampard debacle, a truncated pre-season, some significant players being out injured and the loss of Wilson, Mount and Tomori. Perhaps then, we overestimate the quality of other teams in the div while judging our own performances rather too harshly?
While my detractors will doubtless write my reasoning off as rose-tinted, happy-clapperesque, or my personal favourite, utterly deluded, I genuinely feel much more confident about this season than any since 2015. We'll challenge this season, mark my words. The 'marathon not a sprint' maxim is something of a cliché but it's very true of this league nonetheless and there's a danger of overemphasising the importance of early season form anyway. With most of our players beginning the year a tad undercooked, some significantly so, they'll be a deal fresher than many at the business end. I'd rather this than the Bielsa method of having your squad trained to the minute for game one, but flagging in the last half dozen. I’m pretty certain we will improve steadily through to mid-season and then finish strongly, injuries notwithstanding, so I’ll not be panicking any time soon.
So..... My advice to all Rams fans and especially those focusing on the negatives right now is grab a beer, head to the garden to catch some of this beautiful weather, be happy or at least content and dare to dream. All that stress will kill you!