Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Whisper It Softly

Oh merde. First, the positive slant: if six games ago we had been offered three wins and three draws and to be outside the bottom three we would have grabbed it. Perhaps this is the most important consideration. But six games ago our chances of staying up were perhaps 30%. They have increased, but whereas before the Man City and Reading games I would have said they were better than even I would now say 40% - in other words I think we are back fighting against the odds.

A win over either Man City or Reading (of course both would have done nicely) was in my view near essential. After the 0-0 at the Council Tax stadium the need for a win last night was obvious. The mitigating factor was two enforced substitutions and a third near enforced which, as Pardew acknowledged, disrupted the game plan. They meant that we were not able to change the formation in a calculated way. And in the end a draw nobody would say that we deserved to win (which is not to say that the last-minute scrambled winner would not have been gratefully accepted).

I've done my calculations and, whisper it softly, we're coming up short. I have us getting draws away at Everton and Blackburn and beating Sheff Utd at home, to get to 37 points going into the final two games, with us then above Wigan (36), Sheff Utd (35), West Ham (34) and Watford (26). But by my reckoning it could well go pear-shaped over the 5/7 May weekend, with Wigan to beat Middlesboro at home and Sheff Utd to beat Aston Villa at home. If we lose to Tottenham at home we would be back in the bottom three ahead of the trip to Liverpool.

By my (revised) reckoning 39 points might be enough depending on goal difference, 40 would almost certainly be enough. That means 7/8 points from the last five games: three wins or two wins and 1 or 2 draws. Beating Sheff Utd is now a prerequisite to have a chance, but where does the other win come from? Barring something wonderful away at Everton or Blackburn - and in both games we will probably set out our stall not to lose - it looks to me like we will have to either beat Spurs at home (and we will at least know what we have to do now the game has been put back) or hope for a Liverpool reserve team at Anfield.

Last night felt like a defeat and in the cold light of day, even though Pardew is sensibly upbeat, it still does.

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