The MK Dons result was fantastic. I know they had a player sent off, and we scored both out goals from penalties, but they all count and three points left us eight points clear at the top of the table.
I had a bad feeling about Tranmere before I started reading about late fitness tests for the Skipper, but when it was announced that he wouldn't play I concluded that a draw wouldn't be a bad result. If you are going to draw a game it is much better to come from behind, and that's what we did. I wasn't thrilled that our lead had been reduced to six points, especially as our goal difference over Sheffield United is five goals - something that would as good as erode if we lost two while they won two. United are looking like the real deal again. Their current form (last 6 games) included five wins and a defeat to the league leaders (us) where as we have managed just three win and three draws in that six games.
On the plus side we are third in the form table and even though Stevenage are second (and face us in a football for a fiver game on Saturday) it does mean that our lead over the third placed team (irrespective as to who that is) is getting bigger, which is all part of the plan, after all.
However our eight point lead from a week ago is now seven with Sheffield United having a game in hand (potentially just four points).
I'm not going to complain about our results or how we've come by them, but winning games 1-0 from wonder free kicks does not inspire confidence for me. The two goals that JJ scored against the two Sheffield teams wouldn't have looked out of place in the Premier League. Frankly they would have benefited from much coverage on Sky TV had they been scored by Barcelona in the Champions League. What I'm getting at here is that they could easily have not been scored. Take those four points away from us and give the two Sheffield clubs another point each and the table would look very different now.
As New York Addick has said a few times, however, the results are now just relative to those that we are hoping to finish above. In the last six games we have lost three points to Sheffield United but we have gained 1,4 and 5 on Huddersfield, MK Dons and Sheffield United respectively to be 14, 14 and 12 points above them, all be it that Huddersfield have a game in hand on us while Sheffield Wednesday have played one more.
That was a long winded paragraph buy the gist is that we are well in front of them and the gap got bigger in the last six games when we've been poor by our own high standards this season.
I had a feeling that we were going to struggle a bit last night. I have a private competition going with a friend of mine on the results of our games and that of Spurs (his team) and he went for a 3-1 win (for us) last night, I went for a 1-1 draw. We just don't have the cutting edge right now.
Despite still suffering with neck pain and all the associated muscular discomfort I made the trip last night hoping to be pleasantly surprised by both the result and the performance. I was neither.
There were reasons for last nights failure to win - in no particular order:
1> Evina looked a little off the pace - but has hardly played for most of the season.
2> Wiggins was, literally, wasted on the right.
3> We missed Solly (and subsequently missed Wiggins on the left).
4> We missed the Skipper - who I believe is a massive part of our side. In fact I would go as far as to say that his absence in the second half of last season was part of the reason we fell to pieces.
5> Green is, in my opinion, a limited player. This is not to say he is not a good player, but unlike John Robinson he can't play on the opposite wing and cut inside with devastating effect.
6> Pritchard is just not a winger - I, sadly, also think he is a bit of a weak link.
With all of that in mind we then have to consider the specific factors of last night. We were a little unlucky with a few chances that on another night would have gone in. A mad pass gave the ball away when we were attaching that left us open at the back. I believe that the Rochdale goal was a miss-kick (I've not seen it again so I could be wrong) that would not not normally have beaten Hamer. The midfield being so disjointed meant that the forwards were coming deeper and deeper to retrieve the ball. This is something that has been evident in many recent games to be honest.
On the whole we played nowhere near as well as I believe we can and we still came away with a draw and for a period in the second half we bombarded their goal with such ferociousness that I thought we would get the winner. There is, therefore, no real need to panic, but we really do need to be putting away these teams at home if we are going to maintain our lead at the top. I also don't want the nerves of having a team catch us. After what we have done this season I think we should all (players and fans alike) settle for nothing less than winning the division. For this to happen we are going to raise our game a little. Having said that, of course, if you can win half and draw half of your games in a season you should be expected to finish top, and all of the games are going to get harder now as the teams at the bottom are going to be fighting for their lives, so the teams around us will probably drop a few points in the next few weeks too.
I'm not going to comment on the 'strange' line up expect to say that we clearly don't have the strength in depth that that I thought we did. We've signed something like 21 players since May yet we don't seem to have a dedicated reserve left winger or right back. Pure misfortune meant that both those players were missing last night. Still we are unbeaten in the league this year, and we can extend our lead over Sheffield United to ten points on Saturday before they play in a derby that can go either way.
One last question. What has happened to Scott Wagstaff? At the start of the season he looked incredible and now he can't seem to get in the team, and when he does he looks out of place there. Have we really improved so much that we've left him behind, or has he gone backwards? A dilemma, but based on what I've seen in the last three months I'm not convinced he will still be around next season - which is a shame.
It's my birthday on Saturday, and my Dad will be back for the first game since we played Fulham. We can expect a big crowd - not as big, sadly, as if we'd beaten Bury and Rochdale by a couple of goals each, but a decent atmosphere should be assured.
Let's see if we can send the fans home happy from that one.
Up the Addicks!