Well, let’s get the bad news out of the way first. On Saturday, while the England rugby team were royally plucking, stuffing and parboiling the Gallic coq (it’s OK, she’ll never read this – and if she does I’ll say something is being lost in translation), Lyon-Ducherre failed to see off AS Beaune, having to settle for a 0-0 draw at home. I haven’t been able to source a full match report, but have no doubt that some of the decisions by the ref were diabolical.
At least the rugby ensured bragging rights remain in London for the foreseeable future. I just always feel more comfortable inhabiting the moral high ground, especially when your partner arrives in London from Lyon with the full backing of an extended family and work colleagues in anticipation of a French rout of Les Rosbif. A rousing rendition of Les Marseilles was the closest she came to enjoying Saturday evening. Well, except for one moment. One that serves as a reminder that just when you think everything’s going fine …
I’m not noted for my culinary skills. Never have been. So the recent excursion into cooking various dishes when my partner Suzanne visits London is a new departure. Suffice to say that this time around the lamb shank was, after about eight hours in the oven, near perfect. And things were going so well (OK, the wine was flowing into my system at the required rate) that I decided to check out whether I could make a crème brulee. Normally that would equate to buying the things ready-made and shoving them under a grill. But with the honour of England at stake I checked out a recipe and decided to give it a go. It ain’t that difficult, just eggs, cream, sugar and vanilla pods.
What they failed to add in the recipe I saw was that during the final stage of preparation you need to avoid acting like an idiot. So when two crème brulees were under the grill at maximum heat to caramelise the sugar topping what you don’t do in order to check whether the topping is ready is to stick your finger into it. And when howling in pain you extract said finger coated in highly adhesive burning sugar to stop the pain you don’t bite off the sugar – as that will leave you with a burnt mouth to go along with your burnt finger. It all happened so fast.
There is of course still an element of being shell-shocked. Blackpool did look lively going forward at The Valley. It just doesn’t need to be said again that at this stage of the season tripping up away against the likes of Scunthorpe and Blackpool, also Sheff Wed, is not compatible with getting promoted. Neither are the public criticisms of players delivered by Pardew welcomed. He seemed to suggest that because he had said the same to their faces it’s OK. It isn’t. What did these comments actually achieve? This isn’t to jump on any bandwagon of criticism of Pardew. It’s just to say that everyone makes mistakes and airing these comments was in my view an error of judgement.
I feel a little silly now that it was only a few weeks ago that we were discussing how many points might be required to get an automatic promotion spot. Clearly it’s still not impossible for us to still get a top-two place. It’s just that we now need to go on the sort of run that only settled and confident teams are capable of. If the players can do this it would be a remarkable testimony to their character and ability. For the time being it’s a case of looking no further than each game ahead and doing our best to win it.
As far as getting in the play-offs is concerned, the history lesson I embarked on previously concluded that: in the past 10 years the lowest points total for getting sixth place is 73 and the highest 76 – ie a very tight range. The downside of a tight division in which a relatively low points total can get you promoted has to be a risk that a bunch of teams competing for a top-six finish will produce a relatively high sixth-place points total. To reach 73 points we would need to get 21 points from our remaining 12 games, which implies winning perhaps six and getting three draws. That has to be considered bare minimum.
I can’t yet get excited thinking about the play-offs. For now it’s still the possibility of automatic promotion that is the focus. I may be living in cloud cuckoo land, but it’s served me well over the years. And I don’t want to dwell yet on whether we are good enough to go up, who we might meet in the play-offs, how the squad would need to be rationalised if we stay down etc. If it comes to it I’m confident we’ll be up for the fight. But I still feel emotionally drained every time I think about a trip to Wembley.
Work commitments mean that not only will I miss the trip to Sheffield on Saturday but I’ll also be absent for the Bristol City game. So it’s a case of off to see the kids tonight to hopefully cheer them into the semis before taking leave of absence. Just behave yourselves while I’ve gone and look after the place. Two games. Six points. Easy peasy. Back on track. Ship stabilised. Onwards and upwards. Dispatched from 32 Moral High Ground, Cloud Cuckoo Land.