Christmas tidings ... of great joy?
Hi, as temporary guest site administrator, I thought I would review the fixtures which will feature on my watch.
The Christmas period, with its flurry of matches, is always a crucial one but never more so than this year. We face three games within a week, having gained three points from a couple of tricky away fixtures, from which we could have emerged pointless. Ironically, we lost to high-flying Middlesbrough, a match we surely should have drawn (if not won), then defeated Blackpool in spite of being overrun for long stretches of the game.
Both matches turned on controversial penalties. For a referee to award one in the last few minutes of a closely fought game, heading for a draw, he has to be certain and he couldn`t have been. It was a ridiculous decision and it merely strengthens the argument for the introduction of instant video evidence, as in cricket, tennis and rugby.
Against Blackpool, we were somehow holding on to a one goal lead when Osborne grabbed hold of Sako`s shirt as he drove into the box. SEB converted from the spot. If it weren`t for the fact that we field the most inveterate shirt-tugger in the four divisions, I would applaud the tightening up of such an annoying aspect of the game.
So, what of our fortunes over the course of the next week? Having won three out of the last four games (plus a moral draw in the fourth), we should be in good spirits. And, as we have all been pointing out for some time, we have two winnable games coming up. Six points there and we will have zoomed up the table ... and will face Crystal Palace on New Year`s Day with greater confidence.
But, the Peterborough and Ipswich matches cannot be taken lightly, even though we defeated both teams away earlier in the season. After a very shaky start, Peterborough have improved and have become competitive in this league. They became the first team to beat Cardiff at home the other day, something that we never looked like doing, and on Saturday they defeated Bolton in a nine goal thriller.
While there's no chance of being allowed to abandon the family on Boxing Day to watch the match, I will be at Molineux on the 29th. to see a resurgent Ipswich. As it will our first opportunity to renew our acquaintance with Mick McCarthy, it's a match I am particularly keen to attend. We all know his track record in this division and he has certainly turned Ipswich`s fortunes round. How will our players respond and how many will end up at Portman Road?
If we do not improve on our Blackpool performance in either game, we could lose them. We have the ability to win both of them handsomely but to do so our players must don their Dr. Jekyll persona rather than the Mr. Hyde one. In most games this season we have alternated between the two, as the prospect of the return match against Crystal Palace reminds us.
As Selhurst Park is a 'home' fixture for me, I shall be there cheering on the lads ... and they will need all the support they can get. Palace occupy a position that we should be aspiring to and are doing well in spite of the disruption of a change of managers ... much better than we have managed to do but I suppose their players have not had to adapt to a completely different style. In Zaha, they have match winner, as he showed at Molineux. However, if only we had converted our first half domination into goals, we would have won. Let's remember that.
Sure, we desperately need to improve the personnel in key areas of the field but we do possess enough class to be performing far better (and more consistently) than we are at the moment. While we tend to berate our back four for leaking goals, they receive poor support from an often porous midfield. The introduction of Davis on Friday did at least help in this respect. At the same time, we need a skilful playmaker in the middle of the pitch, a role which O`Hara could shortly occupy. Then, our misfiring forwards might receive better service through the middle. Perhaps that`s what they want because they rarely get on the end of the stream of crosses that Sako puts over.
If only we could maintain the momentum that we displayed in the opening couple of minutes against Blackpool we will pose a real threat to any team in the league. We should also maintain a higher line after getting a one goal advantage rather than panicking and dropping back. At the moment all we are doing is inviting the opposition to advance to our penalty area and take pot-shots on goal. And, we should not blunt our offensive capability by swapping our front runners for defenders, as we did on Saturday.
Moreover, if our results over the course of the next week are good, we will be a more attractive prospect for potential targets. Of course, this is a different issue but how management view it will materially affect our prospects over the second half of the season.