The weekend’s defeat by a resurgent Wigan brought us down to Earth with a thump after a 6-game unbeaten run. It got worse too because Spurs beat Blackburn 2-0 to leap over us into 4th on goal difference and Chelsea hammered QPR 6-1 to pressure us up the rear, just one point adrift in 6th place.
We didn’t play particularly well on Saturday but Wigan were outstanding and they played as well as any team we’ve faced this season. You have to wonder why it took them so long to find their form. Things didn’t go our way in the short spells when we did get the upper hand but, then again, some weeks we’ve had things go precisely our way when perhaps we’ve been lagging behind the opposition on pure footballing merit. We were beaten by the better side on the day – it’s as simple as that.
We’re going to Europe come what may now and that’s a great achievement after so many years without European football. Credit goes to the players, Alan Pardew and the club’s upper echelons for orchestrating that – it’s more than most people expected of us.
I think the big test, though, is how the players respond to this resounding defeat, particularly at this stage of the season with European football already assured for us. We have three very tricky games now and I’d expect us to be battling in all of them, beginning at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday where I hope we play out of our skins to hang onto 5th place from Chelsea. There must be no capitulation or ‘winding down’ and, if truth be told, I don’t think there will be.
I would hope the players are angry and upset about the way Wigan walked all over us, particularly in the first half, and that they’ll pass the test of character it will take to bounce back from a defeat that’s all the harder to take on the back of an unbeaten run.
I’m not sure what was going on with us tactically at the DW Stadium, particularly with Santon who looked as if he’d been given some sort of ‘free role’ on Saturday. The regularity of his appearance in the middle of the pitch – and even sometimes on the right – indicates to me that this was some sort of premeditated tactic rather than Santon just deciding to wander as he pleased. It didn’t work, anyway! I’m sure Pardew will address that. Our manager still comes in for a fair bit of stick but he’s clearly not a complete mug or we wouldn’t be where we are. Whether he can keep getting us top 6 finishes and how far he can eventually take us remains to be seen but, as it stands, he’s done a far better job than I expected.
Still, he’s going to have his work cut out to out-think Roberto Di Matteo at their place and notch up any points. In recent weeks Chelsea have taken the scalps of Barcelona in the Champions League, Spurs in the FA Cup (5-1) and QPR in the League (6-1), so they’re not likely to make things easy.
To be honest I don’t expect us to come away with much in the way of points on Wednesday evening but what I want to see is us fighting all the way.
Howay The Lads!