December 8 2013 Latest news:
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
This is what it must be like to be a Stoke supporter then, I guess.
After three years of seemingly never-ending excitement, this is the season when we really have to start grinding out results and being grateful for the smallest of mercies to come our way.
Anything, in fact, that takes us closer to the 40-point mark and/or continues to keep the bottom three at bay. Whatever, just so long as we are members of the 2013/14 Premier League.
And so it proved at the Madejski Stadium. On another day we might have dug out a victory to have moved a massive eight points clear of the bottom three, but at the same time we could have slipped up, leaving Reading just two points in arrears.
As it is, we continue to be five points ahead of the drop zone, and on a weekend when Wigan slipped up, both Aston Villa and Sunderland surrendered leads, and as for QPR, surely Tony Fernandes must be looking set to give Mark Hughes yet another vote of confidence.
And then there’s Southampton, who are so starting to resemble us in 2004/5 that’s it’s quite uncanny. Everyone at St Mary’s currently looks incredibly keen and well meaning, but they just can’t beat anyone when it really matters. In their next five fixtures they play QPR, us and Reading. Fail to win any of them, and that’s that frankly.
And talking about that’s that…
We’re going to hear a lot now about Saturday being our first away Premier League clean sheet since West Brom in October 2004, and oh how the memories of that particular afternoon at The Hawthorns came flooding back.
Not the actual game, of course – that was as forgettable as the 90 minutes endured at Reading – but more the sheer lack of quality on display.
That match eight years ago turned out to be a meeting of sides who finished second bottom and fourth bottom that season, and at the moment some might not bet against a repeat this time around.
Just like Stoke did we have to go about quietly establishing ourselves in the top flight.
Tony Pulis had his particular method, but ours is based around a team which is set up to defend, although that does mean that we’re not really creating very much up front as a result.
However, if we are going to get results at places like Reading in the future we’re going to have to see a lot more accurate and effective play from midfield.
How much pressure was Adam Federici put under on Saturday? About as much as West Ham’s Jussi Jaaskelainen.
You can’t compare Chris Hughton’s Norwich with the Paul Lambert era, but the one thing I’m sure that the former manager would have done differently on Saturday would have been to have made his substitutions earlier.
In that respect the draw at Reading was very similar to the one at West Brom in that there we had appeared to have settled for a point long before the end rather than throwing any caution to the wind.
Dropping points at the Madejski Stadium didn’t matter so much because we’ve at least got two wins to our name. In October 2004 we hadn’t beaten anyone – and had to wait a further five weeks to beat Southampton and claim our first victory. And that’s probably the Stoke role model – consistently racking up points.
In entertainment terms the last two games have been absolutely dire, but we’re taken four points from them.
We won’t earn many banner headlines or rise very high up the Match of the Day running order, but as long as we continue to stay in our present position that will be a fourth successive season of success.
• ‘AWKWARD’ WILL DO FOR THE MOMENT
I expected us to sneak a narrow win at Reading, but wasn’t that surprised that we didn’t.
If Brian McDermott’s side remain in the bottom three, Saturday’s result is as much a blip as only drawing at Wolves last season, or the 0-2 no-show at Blackburn in April.
And frankly Saturday was just poor, whereas the match at Ewood Park smacked of an element of ’couldn’tcareless-itis’.
As things stand we have to go to either Southampton on November 28 or QPR on February 2 and win, and perhaps draw the other to maintain the standard set last year.
And while it would be a major achievement to beat Manchester United on Saturday, or upset Everton the following week, our visit to St Mary’s two weeks on Wednesday is now probably our most important fixture this side of Christmas.
We don’t want to go back to recent times when anyone in desperate need of a victory would just have to wait for the Norwich fixture to come along because that would be three points in the bag. And that’s perhaps the one consolation we can take from the Madejski Stadium.
Clean sheets might be nice, but ultimately they really only matter to goalkeeper and coaches, as last season at Carrow Road showed.
The fact that Reading must have thought that the Canaries’ arrival would be the day they finally got off the mark – but didn’t – just shows how we have become more awkward visitors to face since the opening day of the season.
• HOPEFULLY, WE’RE ALREADY PREPARING OUR MOVES
I guess we’re probably going to have to wait a couple of months for things to have happened in the transfer window, but I’d like to think that Chris Hughton is already casting his eyes around for an addition to his strikeforce.
I remain unconvinced that Harry Kane will prove the answer to our problems, but you’d like to think that by the time of the visit to Liverpool on January 19 something else might be in place. Maybe not a transaction on the relative scale of an Ashton or an Earnshaw, but just a fresh option.
However much you might point to a lack of support, or believe that things will come good sooner or later, eight goals in 11 fixtures is hardly survival form.
It’s not quite on a par with Derby’s total of just 20 in their record-breakingly bad 2007/8 campaign, true, but I wouldn’t like to risk – on our current form – getting to the end of the season with just 28 goals to our name.
We might get away with it – like the season in the old Division One when we managed to survive with only seven wins thanks to an awful lot of draws – but I wouldn’t want to risk it.
Besides, if we get past Aston Villa in the Capital One Cup and then get a winnable third-round tie in the FA Cup – both of which aren‘t exactly impossible – January will see an incredibly testing programme of eight fixtures. We’ll need all the squad members we can muster.
• DON’T MAKE THEM ANGRY
So while we’ve only scored more than once in one league game this season, five of Manchester United’s 11 matches have ended 3-2 one way or another and a sixth finished 4-2.
Somehow I don’t think we’re about to see a second successive goal-less draw this Saturday evening.
Five come-from-behind wins now in the Premier League for Sir Alex Ferguson’s side and another three in the Champions League also suggest that the worst possible thing we can do this weekend is to score first.