General consensus is that this is a must win game for us. There is, however, an increasing belief among the Addickted that we are already too far behind the top four teams to seriously expect to take one of the top two positions. If that is the case then this is just another three points, and if we can secure a draw it keeps Watford in the shake up, which helps us in any games that they have against the teams we want to keep below sixth place to ensure that we make the play offs. So it's a massive game either way.
However, I'd like to point out the following facts:
Tuesday, 11th March: Bristol City vs Watford;
Saturday, 15th March: Watford vs Stoke;
Saturday, 12th April: West Brom vs Watford; and
Saturday, 19th April: Stoke vs Bristol City;
Let's also not forget:
Tuesday, 4th March: Charlton vs Bristol City; and
Friday, 21st March: Charlton vs West Brom.
So of the top four, Watford (58 pts) have three games, Bristol City (57 pts) have two games, Stoke (56 pts) have two games and West Brom (55 pts) have one. West Brom could also have a further distraction should they beat Coventry tomorrow in the FA Cup which I think is likely.
This is before Watford, Bristol City and West Brom have to come to the Valley (51 pts). Assuming we win those three games we will have 60 points before the other teams have to share the points between each other in those four 'Top Four' games. I know the other teams will be playing when we play those games at The Valley, and of course we haven't won them yet, but I refuse to give up on a top two place yet. And, all this before Stoke or Bristol City have a wobble, and we don't know yet when West Brom's wobble will finish.
So tomorrow is, for me, a massive game. Not just because of where Watford are, remember that before tomorrow they have to play all of the other four of the top five, and there are no easy games in this division. The main reason for needing to win tomorrow is that there are three points available, we have won our last three home games and this is a habit I don't want to break and I still believe that we can catch all of the four teams above us. I'm not saying we will catch all of them, or that we will catch three of them, but we need to catch three to win that coveted prize.
As I said after we failed to lose at Sheffield Wednesday (a team that I predict will take points from either Stoke or West Brom, or both) a win tomorrow with Stoke failing to beat Scunthorpe at home tonight (unlikely I admit) would leave us just three points off second place and four points behind Watford who will still have to play the three teams directly below them as of today.
We have three wins and two draws in the last six. That sounds to me like we are starting to find our feet. As one of those draws was away to the current leaders and we were the better team, I am confident that we can produce the run that's needed to take second place (or even become Champions). I'm not saying we will, but at this moment in time it is possible, and if two of those teams above us have a bit of a wobble in the last ten games (West Brom were top last season with ten games to go) we could well be there to take advantage.
As far as team news is concerned; Either Pardew doesn't read my blog or doesn't agree with me as I have been calling for Lloyd Sam to have a rest for a few weeks now and he keeps playing him. I read on the Official Site that Ambrose is "Struggling with illness" so Lee Cook may come in. I am not sure if that means a place for Thomas (who I would like to see if fit) or not. Having not seen Cook I am not sure if he is strong enough defending for us to play with him and Thomas. Upfront I have been impressed with Gray (I've only seen him play at home) but appreciate that Big Chris may be preferred for his height at set pieces. Bougherra's foot injury is likely to see Fortune play again.
To be honest, from here on in, I'm not sure the playing staff are all that critical. It is the attitude, confidence and determination that we need now. We have a very strong squad, and I have no doubt that we have the players to beat every team we have to play between now and the end of May. I just hope that we don't need those extra three games. I suggest that, despite my continued optimism, tomorrow's result will go a long way towards determining if we do or not.