Sod’s law again. Catching up after my usual monthly trip to Amsterdam, I decided that I just couldn’t spare the time to get to Sheffield yesterday. In the event I probably could have gone there and back twice in the total time that I spent in a state of suspended animation while the game was on – I had to resort to doing the washing up to avoid just watching the clock tick down - and subsequently staring at the league table with a silly, smug grin on my face. Haven’t stopped yet.
I can’t comment on the game, but looking at the reports of others the abiding feeling is that, as for the Huddersfield game, the focus was spot on. The home match against Sheffield Wednesday was the only one I’ve seen this season when the opposition were clearly on top in the final third of the game and the final whistle was something of a relief (you could I suppose add Scunthorpe at home, but we were then defending a two-goal lead late on). MK Dons outplayed us in the first half of that one, but we responded in the second. Sheff Wed will have remembered how the previous contest went, as after we wiped the floor with them in the first 20 minutes they gradually ground us down through sheer strength and lumping it up in the air (to be fair, ie playing to that strength). Just how the game would have gone had they equalised as at The Valley is a moot point; they didn’t. The evident frustration in Megson’s post-match comments only add to the delight. And yes, Sir Chris, you’re absolutely right about us being proud of the team.
The victory only serves to cement certain statistics. Everyone’s well aware that the top five in the division are there on merit; two of them are going up and three will be in the play-offs (sod’s law suggests that the team that sneaks the final spot will win through). Against the other four we’ve played five times, won three and drawn the other two. Tellingly, in the five games we’ve conceded just two goals while scoring seven (and not failing to score in any). Of course Sheff Utd could make a mess of these stats on Saturday; but as things stand the perhaps curious one is that our current average for the season is just 0.76 goals per game conceded and the average against the other top teams is even better (just 0.40). Focus and determination when it really matters.
It’s not tempting fate to start a ‘countdown clock’ for promotion; of course we take each game as it comes but we can hardly pretend that the end-goal isn’t automatic promotion. As things stand, 113 points would guarantee a top-two finish. That number will decline pretty much with each passing week (it’s already lower but I’m not sad enough to work out the actual number taking account of teams playing each other) but as of now it’s 56 points from 21 games to remain completely indifferent to the results of others.
Of the games left, only nine will be away from The Valley. It doesn’t mean much, but the other curious stat for me is that at present we have a marginally higher average points return from away games than those at home (2.29 against 2.27). We are going to face a number of games at The Valley where the opposition will just try to shut up shop. We will need to be patient sometimes and it doesn’t need underlining that the crowd has to play its part over the next few months. Let’s make the place rock.
I’ve no idea if there will be further transfer moves in January (or indeed through to March apparently), but with Cort and Russell staying with us and effectively Benson and Euell exchanged for Clarke and Haynes we’re looking strong enough. It’s tough on Hayes (and the younger forwards) to slip down the pecking order, but with the changes we’ve addressed the ‘fourth forward’ issue and perhaps also, with Haynes, the poser of what would happen if Wright-Phillips became unavailable. With Pritchard, Russell, Hughes and the returning Stephens competing for the central midfield spot alongside Hollands (I heard talk of Alonso being released but don’t know if that’s happened/happening), the only positions I can see us possibly wanting back-up are right-back (Solly is playing so well that it seems almost heracy, but as things stand if he’s out we have to rejig the back four) or conceivably the wings. I imagine we’re waiting to see how things pan out at QPR regarding Ephraim, but with Green, Wagstaff, Jackson and Evina we’re not exactly stretched.
A final tribute is that someone asked me who I’d vote for player of the season right now. That Hamer wouldn’t top the list is more down to the effectiveness of the defence in front of him than anything wrong on his part, the ever-present Morrison would have a strong case, Wiggins could edge it for pure consistency of excellence (with Solly close behind), Hollands has been immense (especially considering the number of partners he has had), and BWP might be having a temporary drought but remains the cutting-edge. People talk about successful teams having a strong spine; we have one (and the ones around it ain’t doing bad either).