I missed the Gillingham game, spending the time on what proved a fraught trip across France for an enforced return to the UK (I wasn’t thrown by a text from Eurostar advising me to get to the Gare du Nord terminal 180 minutes before departure despite booking with them a train from Lyon that was due to arrive on the other side of Paris only 120 minutes before the Eurostar left, but a train diversion and prospective 90 minute delay did throw a spanner in the works, pointing to an overnight stop in Paris, but in the end we were only an hour late and made it with a dash across town on the RER and some sympathetic treatment). So half-way through my self-isolation it’s time to get back to the things that matter.
Nobody comes away from losing at home to Gillingham thinking things are going well. Perhaps disrespectful to them, just a fact of life. While the defeat at the hands of Portsmouth might have been explained away by tough opposition we weren’t yet ready for, the win at Rochdale and the nature of it had raised hopes that we were getting our act together such that confidence in a storming final third of the season might bring a play-off spot with positive momentum behind us. Irrespective of the nature of Gillingham’s goals the fact that we lost, and let in three more, was a kick in the teeth. So be it, we go again on Saturday. But what do the numbers say about our chances of ending up in the top six?
With 43 points from 28 games we’ve averaged 1.536 points per game so far. (For the purposes here we have to gloss over the fact that our record includes that exceptional month of October - five wins and a draw out of six - without which we would be averaging 1.227 points per game.) Extend that over 46 games and you get just short of 71 points. The stats show that the average number of points for making sixth place and the play-offs in this division is 74.5; the lowest total ever was apparently 69. Currently Accrington Stanley are in sixth place and they seem a decent yardstick, with 45 points from 26 games, or an average of 1.731 points per game. That means they are currently on course to finish on 79.6 points, which if they were still in sixth would mean an unusually high points total required to make the play-offs.
So it’s reasonable I think to view the parameters as: get 70 points and if everything goes your way you just might squeeze in (but the chances of doing so this season look even lower than normal); get 75 points and you are unlucky if you miss out (but may well do this season); get 80 points and you are almost certainly in one of the places. (I’ll try and keep these numbers in mind as the season progresses.)
Everyone is aware we need to ‘go on a run’ and put current form – which since end-November has been horrible (played 15, won 4, drawn 5, lost 6) – behind us if we are to have a shout. To get to the bare minimum of 70 points we would need 27 points from 18 games (an average of 1.5 points per game), perhaps at least seven wins required. To get to 80 would require 37 points from 18 (2.1 per game), which would probably mean winning more than 10 of them.
Of course these figures and calculations will change/sharpen up with each round of games, but perhaps the bottom line is from now on we have to win at least every other game we play, starting Saturday.
Nobody’s suggesting that’s going to be easy, with seemingly two names chalked off: Aneke (suspended) and Forster-Caskey (injured). Aneke’s absence and the indication today that Washington will be available means Stockley and either Schwartz or Washington to start. No point in putting pressure on, but it is surely time for Schwartz to step up to the plate. I was pleased to see that on Saturday when Forster-Caskey was withdrawn Bowyer kept the same system and shape, with Shinnie moving inside. But there is a decision for Saturday, whether to keep to that (and have Morgan operating on the right side – unless Gilbey is to come back into the frame – and Jaiyesimi ready to come on) or to make deeper changes. You might even make a case for pairing Watson and Pratley in central midfield in a 4-4-2 with a ‘they shall not pass’ approach, or look at Smith featuring, perhaps him or Millar in the hole behind the front two.
Those are decisions for Bowyer to make. At least it is clear that Forster-Caskey won’t be playing and the team will have had the opportunity to prepare. It’s too soon to talk about games being ‘must win’ but this one comes close, to repair the damage from last Saturday. I’ll settle for a clean sheet and one off somebody’s backside.