Monday, 13 October 2008

Regression to the mean

Doctors do not generally give great credence to mooted ‘miracle cures’ or non medical interventions. Often they explain supposed success for such methods by pointing out that people simply do not stay sick indefinitely, they get better, or regress to the mean. The reverse is also true. If someone is feeling unusually buoyant, healthy, full of beans, they will return to a more stable plane. Normal service will resume. Such appears to be the case with the Northern Ireland football team.

After three years of extraordinary results, optimism and confidence, the international side has regressed to its mean of mediocrity. What is more, the manager, Nigel Worthington, appears quite happy to allow this regression to continue unabated. He believes Northern Ireland played well on Saturday night, as the team slumped to an abject 2-0 defeat against indifferent opposition.

Admittedly Maribor was not an easy place to secure three points. The Slovenes kicked, hacked, shoved and elbowed Northern Ireland players for the duration of the match. In particular, Healy and Lafferty were subject to brutal treatment from the opening moments. Purportedly the unfriendly atmosphere was exacerbated as missiles reined down from the stands on the men in green. And then there was the referee, as inept a figure as I have seen officiate at international level for quite some time.

Despite the unpleasantness, there was simply no excuse for the Ulstermen to return empty handed. Slovenia, like Slovakia before them, are a poor side. It took Northern Ireland only five minutes to establish parity of possession. Although the imbecile referee declined to award Slovenia a fairly obvious penalty in the first half, they otherwise rarely threatened Northern Ireland, until 84 minutes and their opening goal.

But what did Worthington’s team create with their possession? Next to nothing. Once again the wide players were ineffective. Healy was kicked into submission early on and it was left to Lafferty, carrying a back injury, to offer any threat up front. He tried his best, but had little support from his team-mates.

Northern Ireland’s World Cup campaign is over. Make no mistake about it. The most galling aspect of this failure is that Lawrie Sanchez, the man who instilled confidence, belief and positivity into the team is watching each match from the Setanta Sports’ studio as an analyst, when he should be managing the team instead of Nigel.


Aidan said...

Yes, it looks like the out-performance days are behind NI.
Just as a matter of interested do you think that NI should have its own team or do you think that the United Kingdom as a whole should have a team?
Personally I would like there to be a UK team because I am sure that it would lead to an all-Ireland soccer team. I think that NI residents should be allowed to play for either the UK team or Ireland. In practice though a George Best does not come along too often so I imagine that most players would opt for Ireland.

Chekov said...

The Irish Football Association is one of the oldest in the world and ought to be represented by its own team. Similarly the Scots, English and Welsh. History and tradition have dictated different football identities and I think they make sense and should be ratained,

CW said...

Time for Worthington to go perhaps. But I don't think it's too late to qualify though. Maybe the IFA should approach Mickey Harte.

Aidan said...

I would argue that there should be one Football Association per country though. The football associations in the UK date from a time when soccer was not organized worldwide.
I am suprised that you are against separatism on a political level but you support it on a sporting level. If I were a British unionist I think that I would be quite happy to have a team that represented my country and not my province. I don't want Munster in the Rugby World Cup, I want to see an Irish team.

Chekov said...

Time for Worthington to go perhaps. But I don't think it's too late to qualify though. Maybe the IFA should approach Mickey Harte.

I don't see where the points are going to come from cw. In my view we needed to get 7 points away from home and in order to do that we now need to beat either Poland or the Czechs over there. We'll be lucky to beat San Marino under Worthington.

Aidan, as you know, I take a slightly different view to you on the absolutes of national identity, so I see no conflict between being British and having a separate football team. Anyway, I really can't be annoyed with a big existential debate about NI as I'm still in foul form after Saturday's performance.

Aidan said...

"Anyway, I really can't be annoyed with a big existential debate about NI as I'm still in foul form after Saturday's performance."

Sorry, I thought that your blog was one long, existential debate,

Chekov said...

Perhaps it is Aidan, but this is still a sore one this morning.;-)

O'Neill said...

A bit of good news though today, Wells has gone, I suspect a positive announcement on mothballing the Maze project is going to follow shortly.

I tend to be a little more optimistic than yourself on NI; both away matches were there for the taking, or at least a draw was possible. What let us down (obviously) were sterile tactics and, I've got to say, the lack of competitive match fitness on key players part on Saturday. But, but...there are still more bright signs there than even 5 years ago- Evans, Lafferty for a start have a long good career ahead of them and with a bit of luck the latter could easily have been a hero on Saturday (and the former not a villain). We need a manager with more confidence in his players as a unit, but we're not really that far off reaching the standards of previous couple of years, I think (hope). Worthington must go for that potential to be achieved.

It's interesting what you said about the missiles raining down; I'll be honest, all I saw was lafferty picking up what looked like a stone at one point and handing it to the ref. The atmosphere in and out of the ground was superb and we were made to feel very welcome by all the Slovenians we met, so it would be a pity if a few dickheads let the rest of them down.

Anonymous said...

Not a bad performance but an awful result which has killed off any hope of qualifying. On a positive note, I made the correct decision to decline an opportunity to go to Maribor and watched the wee Sky Blues trounce Linfield instead, hurrah!


morris said...

Anybody who suggests that Saturday's performance was acceptable needs to be frowned upon. Northern Ireland's pattern of play is non existent. Kick the ball into wide areas and hope for the best! NW = no strategy.