Sunday 22 April 2007


There is only one saving grace from yesterday: Fulham's failure to beat Blackburn at home. To my mind that keeps us alive, by keeping the points total needed at least within the bounds of what is possible.

Should Fulham lose their next two games (Liverpool and Arsenal), they'll be on 36 going into the final day (away at Middlesbro for them). On that basis 39 points for us would be enough to end above them even if they beat Boro - this implies two wins out of three for us and a better goal difference than Fulham (after two defeats from three for them). If we win two of our remaining three that would be enough also to end above West Ham, assuming they lose their last match away at Man Utd.

So now its a case of us probably needing to win two from the remaining three. A win and a couple of draws could be enough, depending on other results. I think we have to hope Wigan beat West Ham and let them go, along with Sheff Utd, who will surely beat Watford at home. If Wigan do beat West Ham the best the Hammers can do (assuming defeat to Man Utd) is 35 points, so they would be down. So as long as Fulham lose to Arsenal and Liverpool it is possible that 37 (or even 36) points would be enough to survive, if Boro don't go on their holidays early.

Of course, we still have to eek out a win: and Blackburn ain't going to be easy for a team that has not won its past four (winnable) games. So what lessons from yesterday for the final fixtures?

The line-up for yesterday's game was adventurous to the point of being foolhardy. Selecting two wingers really means (I believe) that you opt for ball-winners in central midfield. Instead we had Song and ZZ, with Ambrose operating as a virtual second forward. If Ambrose's header had gone in it would have been a master-stroke. But it didn't and it wasn't. ZZ looked rather lost and Song not really effective, the result being that we didn't get enough of the ball to feed the wingers, especially after Sheffield altered their set-up after Rommadahl roasted their full-back for the first 20 minutes. The formation asked too much of Song and ZZ.

Where I think Pardew erred was in not bringing on Holland as soon as we scored (whether or not he should have started). We would have lost little removing Ambrose then, leaving ZZ to operate a little further forward and with the pace to catch Sheffield on the break. Instead we panicked. The match then turned on a minute when we should have had a two-on-one breakaway, only to concede the equaliser seconds later, with substitutions about to be made. There was still enough time, but bringing on HH and playing him up front seemed like panic and just did not work.

Nobody likes the way Sheff Utd play, not even their fans. But they have won their two 'cup finals' (beating West Ham and not losing to us) and we cannot begrudge them staying up. They had more character and leaders on the pitch than we did.

So it's not all lost, but of course the odds are getting daunting. I'll be taking the trip to Blackburn more in hope than expectation. Can we remind them that we gave them the three points they needed at the end of last season?

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