Friday, 18 September 2009

Next... Norwich away

So, for the third time in nine months we go to Carrow Road. The first of those fixtures may well have been significant on our relegation last season. Who knows what would have happened had we won there on 20th December? From what Phil Parkinson said last night it would probably have made little difference. Interestingly from what Dave says Parkinson told a group of fans that Pardew left us with some bad apples and a poor attitude in the squad, so maybe the result was not all that significant.

Interestingly, while I'm on the subject, Parkinson was (subtly) very critical of the 'mess' that Pardew left us in, but it is encouraging that he feels he is getting things back to how they should be. Of course, it's so much easier to believe him with six wins and a draw under his belt this season. The approach to the type of player is encouraging though. Curbishley (and Lennie Lawrence before him) used to look for players that they described as "Hungry and Angry". I accept that this is much easier in the lower leagues than the Premier League where just about every player is rich enough to have both the 'hunger and anger' subside.

So, Parky is our hero, we are still unbeaten and tomorrow we face a side that we beat twice and drew with once in four games last season. I didn't go to either of the away games but I thought we were worth the win in the home FA Cup game and in the last game of the season I thought Norwich were terrible. How much of that was down to their manager I do not know, but for a team that could have saved themselves against a team that were already doomed Norwich showed a worrying lack of application that day.

One thing I will say about Parkinson's teams last season is that despite the terrible results I never came away from games thinking that the players could have given more effort. Confidence was obviously a major factor, and we had a lack of quality (or even players) in certain areas, but there was never any shortage of effort.

Bearing in mind how easily the team bottom of the league won in May I was not surprised that Norwich started off this season badly. I thought then, and still do now, that they would eventually get it together and make a challenge for promotion. I may well be proved wrong, and the longer they stutter along the more likely that is, but I am not too confident about tomorrow's result.

I thought we were outplayed in the first half against Southampton, and despite a much better showing in the second half we couldn't have complained had we lost the game. We could have been three or even four goals behind by half time. Thus that arrogance that I've felt all season has waned a little. A good win (that means any win) tomorrow and maybe it will start to come back, but despite the fact that I believe we are too good for three quarters of the sides in this division it is the other twelve (eleven and a half if you take the ratio too literally) games that will determine our season. Tomorrow is one of those games.

Until now we have beaten all the sides that we 'need' to beat to finish in the top two. I know you can only beat what's in front of you, but when the games get tougher the results give a better indication of where we will be at the end of the season.

Norwich losing to MK Dons is nothing to be ashamed about. I think they are in the hunt for a top two finish. For the record I think the top two will come from us, Leeds, MK Dons, Huddersfield and Norwich. I know that is easy to predict, but from memory football does have very few surprises over a long period (a season). It is possible that one of the top six will be very surprising, and they could well go on to win the playoffs, but it is likely that the top two will contain no surprises. Besides, I've given myself five to choose from I'd be rubbish if I couldn't get two from five wouldn't I? I'm not saying they will be the top five, but that the top two will come from those five. Norwich, for example, could have a bad run and finish mid table, as could we, of course.

Thus tomorrow is a really big game on our quest for automatic promotion. I don't want to pile on the pressure, but a win tomorrow would push Norwich further behind us, and as I have identified them as one of three teams we need to finish above it would be most welcoming.

Frankly I'd take a draw. Not that I am hoping for one, I still think we can win, but if we come away from Carrow Road with our unbeaten run intact I will be happy.

As I say I think we can win this game. Norwich are still finding their feet in this division, and we must have that rare (and worrying for Norwich) combination of confidence and bitterness at feeling that we have been hard done by. The second of those disallowed goals was onside, and that might just be enough to get the players that little bit more 'up for a win'.

At some point we are going to have to change the starting eleven. I have no idea if our 'sluggish' start last Saturday has anything to do with niggling injuries, but if so I think we should give those players a bit of a rest before too long. Maybe that will be tomorrow, I'm not a football manager but a fully fit Matt Spring will eventually be better that Racon if the latter is carrying a knock that increasingly impedes his game.

No team news is available on the web site yet, so I'm going to assume that it will be the same eleven. I am confident in the abilities of the players waiting in the wings, but I am reluctant to change a winning team as you never really know what will happen. Maybe tomorrow will be an opportunity to being on a couple of substitutes with about half an hour left to give them some game time.

Leeds are at home to to Gillingham tomorrow then away to MK Dons next Saturday. Should we sneak a win tomorrow it is likely that we will be top when we go to Elland Road in October. Either way we both need just two wins from the next three to guarantee that when we play them it will be first verses second. As I am planning (considering, with a decision to be made on Monday) to go to Elland Road with a Leeds fan I am hoping that we can go there needing a draw to stay top. A discussion for another day.

Interestingly the odds for tomorrow are 12/5 for a draw but 8/5 for either a home or away win. I guess that means we need to score first?

Up the Addicks!

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