Aside from the loss of two points that were within our grasp, perhaps the most frustrating thing about Saturday was that we are left in limbo. We all crave certainty – and I’m starting to get the impression that this division just doesn’t offer any.
Did Cardiff mark a real turning point? Would it come to mark the end of our poor home form? And would three straight wins herald a more settled side? All Saturday ended up offering was more questions. Fresh injuries meant enforced changes to the side, the sending off changed the pattern of the game, and a draw meant the verdict on home form has to be on hold. Instead of four in a row, possibly twelfth in the league, three points off a play-off spot with another home game coming up, we have to look down as well as up (and on that front I’m as confused as Sir Chris indicated in his recent comments). A bloody penalty with a couple of minutes left. (For the record, having seen the BBC highlights Hamer would have been docked another point for his role in the build-up to the penalty, while I can’t believe that I attributed Fuller’s part in our goal to Solly; I really must start taking notes.)
We are getting used to the fact that in this league, this season, and at this stage of the game any team can beat any other, home or away. One indication of how competitive it is comes from the spread of points per game from top to bottom. In the Championship, with no outright duffers and no clearly superior sides (if Palace can go top anyone can), the spread of points is 24 from 18 games, ie 1.33 per game. The figure for the Premiership is 2.0, making it by a distance the least competitive of the four divisions (that for League One is 1.50 while for League Two it is only 1.30). Perhaps that’s a reflection of the teams relegated from the Premiership last season not exactly setting the division on fire, but when Bristol City can turn over Middlesbrough on their own patch all things are possible, including losing at home to the bottom side.
Maybe the Championship can be looked at from two different angles. It’s a bit like purgatory (were such a thing to exist) as you are just one good season away from the promised land – or a bad one away from the hell that is League One. Just about all the teams have either had a recent taste of the Premiership, or feel that they really should be there (the possible exceptions being Peterborough, Bristol City, Millwall and Palace). The alternative view – which doesn’t come naturally to a born pessimist – is that the Championship is the best fun to be had, if you can embrace uncertainty. I don’t think we can yet as the idea of returning quickly to where we just came from is too horrible to contemplate; but perhaps we will learn to love it.
I suspect that at this stage of the season the division will start to really shape up as the better teams benefit more often from the narrow margins that determine most games and as the mental side of things – winning mentalities and expectations – become more important. A team that thinks of itself as mid-table perhaps won’t stretch itself quite so far; one with a top-six finish being the expectation (or at least the clear measure of success and failure) may end up winning games they have no right to. With the loan window shut and another seven games before the end of the year (and the January window opening), this is perhaps the period which defines each team’s season.
That for me exacerbates the annoyance at the loss of two points on Saturday – and makes the Peterborough game crucial (well, at least until the one after). Lose it and Cardiff becomes the exception rather than the rule; win it and we’re at least still heading in the right direction. I don’t believe in either, but given a choice between heaven and hell it isn’t saying much to vote for the former.
As we have turned up in the league, Lyon Duchere are I’m afraid to say stuttering. Seven wins and three draws from the first 10 games and a six-point lead at the top has become seven wins, three draws and two defeats as a 2-1 defeat at the weekend away at what were lowly Montceau has followed the home reverse against Villefranche. And with Villefranche thumping Belfort 4-1 at home, the lead for Duchere has been cut to two points (possibly one if Moulins win their game in hand). Time - as Michael Cain famously said in The Man Who Would Be King – to polish up your buttons and leathers, shove ramrods up your jacksie, and act bold. Same for us as for them.