A Confidence Trick
Looking at the Championship table this morning, I was pleased - if a little bemused - to see that we were nestling snugly in 4th equal place. Who`d have thought it after the disappointment of the Leeds and Cardiff games?
WW were a team in turmoil, lacking in confidence, coming to terms with the loss of key players and struggling to assimilate new recruits. These issues alone would have caused problems but on top of them members of the squad had to deal with a new manager and adapt to a completely different style of play. As I took my seat before the Leicester game, we lay in 23rd. place, that is, second from bottom.
Some might argue that the fixture list did us no favours, forcing us to play away games against two of the promotion candidates at a time when the team was in complete disarray. What a morale-sapping experience. Wouldn't it have been nice had we played Peterborough and Ipswich instead?
I disagree. We were in such a mess at the beginning of the season that we could not guarantee beating any team. Remember, Ipswich drew their opening match against Blackburn and, fortuitously, we took on Barnsley at their most clueless. So, as it turned out, we got two of our toughest matches out of the way at a time when we were bound to struggle. And, we gained a hardly deserved point against a far superior Derby side.
The defeats (and the fluky draw) concentrated minds and made management and players alike realise the magnitude of the task facing the club. Indeed, I would argue that they accelerated the process of adaptation to SS`s methods as they seemed to offer the only way forward after the failure of MM`s outmoded tactics. In this respect, the sacking of TC helped enormously.
The match against Leicester, a team tipped for promotion, was therefore a crucial one. With two interrupted weeks of training to improve the players` familiarity with the new tactics and to assimilate the new recruits - aided by a huge dollop of luck (I saw the siege on our goal at close hand) and the input of a sports psychologist- we pulled off what might prove to be a season-defining victory.
Now, we could face most Championship teams with greater assurance, more certain in our own ability to make quality count. We could expect not only to hold our own but also to win. And so it proved. Three wins on the trot, two of them away and two clean sheets to boot, have rocketed us up the table. All reports of the Peterborough match emphasized WW`s domination of all aspects of play, the only wonder being that we did not score more goals.
If sport is as much a mind-game as a physical one, what a boost to our confidence! It sets us up nicely for the eminently winnable match on Saturday against a stumbling Sheffield Wednesday. If we succeed, we can contemplate the run of three tricky away matches against Blackburn, Huddersfield and Bolton with equanimity. I wouldn`t have thought that two weeks ago.
So, the fixture list has been kind to us. That is not to say that it is going to be easy. Results to date have shown that any team can beat any other one in the division, regardless of their respective positions in the table. Our defenders are going to be tested by less generous strikers than those from Leicester, Ipswich, Peterborough and Barnsley. Similarly, our forwards are going to have to sharpen up.
I was therefore particularly pleased with Sigurdarson`s well-taken goal last Saturday because it showed that he is adapting to the faster pace and rough-and-tumble of the English game. SEB is scoring goals, too, and Doyle is superb. In the middle, Doumbia and Sako look classy and Henry is back to his best as an enforcer. I am also delighted to see Johnson and Berra return to form and to witness the greater stability which the returning Foley brings to the side.
We are on an upward curve and I am quietly confident, more so than I expected to be at the start of the season. Perhaps, the empty seats I wrote about in my Leicester report will soon be filled, as more fans get behind our team. It`s going to be an exciting season and far more enjoyable than the ones I have suffered over the past three years.