Staggering how time and time again, a single result shapes (then re-shapes) opinion, which is then presented as definitive. Then forgotten about the following week, replaced with contradiction. Equally staggering is how distorted perception and expectation becomes off the back of ninety minutes of football. One game doesn't make a season, yet in some cases it can consume the ten games it proceeded along with logic and pragmatism.
In the space of a few days we’re deemed title contenders off the back of a win that placed us shared second on points (still 3rd on GD) and then out of the race after a draw at home to Wolves. Even though we remain a handful of points off the top. Regardless of up and coming difficult fixtures, our form (in comparison to any prior season) has been astonishing. Was it disappointing, to draw at home? Yes, of course. But then our performance lacked the edge to win us all three points - so hardly much we can complain about other than wondering/worrying why certain players didn't perform.
In fact you might even argue this was the first disappointment of the season, what with the opening two defeats practically banished and the Stoke loss one marked down to inept interference. Is this a modern-day Tottenham crisis? Dropping two points at home? Still third. Still with a hefty cushion of points between us and 5th spot.
Does any of the pre and post match punditry and opinion actually matter, what with the nature of everyone in football (managers especially) using kidology when changing their weekly perception of being in/out of the race?
Had we somehow managed to break down Wolves and their resolute army of eleven men behind the ball by not being restricted to long shots, had we found a spark and scored a second we’d be talking about grit and determination even though the overall performance would have pound for pound been the same thing as the one we got with the 1-1. Sometimes, it doesn’t happen. It doesn't quite work out. Tempo wasn't quite there. Bale wasn't out on the left enough (scrap free-roam mode for the minute, get him back to basics). Regardless, there is still no need for a dissection, a post-mortem or an autopsy.
No need for verbal dramatics.
Put it down to tiredness (two games in the space of a couple of days) or luck (offside Adebayor goal, arguably not) or perhaps unnecessary tinkering (Livermore). Best to dress it up as a reminder to the evil that is complacency. A gentle nod to the necessity of removing benched players and signing ones that will improve our squad. A calm composed voice explaining to the players that hype is a false God you need not be worshipping.
Start panicking if these results stop happening in isolation and start to trend.
These are not excuses. It’s just football.
We can still aim to finish high. Nothing has changed since Wednesday evening. We needed to strengthen then, we still need to strengthen now. Both with mentality and with perhaps one or two new players. The manager also has to consider the art of rotation and not forget that back to basics element that got this journey started way back when he replaced Ramos. Players in their best positions. Just to recalibrate the side whilst we work through this tricky period (Parker not quite back with us, issues with width, the wrong type of consistency with set-pieces).
Whether the media/pundits/blogs/whomever want to label us with dark horse or contender tags, that’s up to them and its mostly to incite debate and discussion. But mostly because we've got the points on the table. Did everyone write off Utd after they lost to Rovers? No. But then Utd have been contenders and winners for an age. They know how this process works. We're working it all out as we go along.
Which is why retaining feet on ground whilst embracing our challenge is the best way forward. The players will be hurt for dropping the points. P*ssed off. Good. They need to hate the fact they didn’t win the game. Let them hate, let us support and everyone can then focus on the fight ahead. Where we finish up will be no accident, it will be where we deserve to be.
Pre-match, I thought we’d spank Wolves. Just had a feeling everything would come together. It didn’t. With all the possession and shots, it’s doubly annoying we didn’t turn it around. But we didn’t lose. And there is no lack of ambition if I choose not to be overly critical of ninety minutes of football. Although I understand that one game or two can equate to loss of momentum and can change form. That's not something on my train of thought. Left it behind on the platform after the City defeat at the Lane.
It’s so easy with hindsight to suggest tactical reshuffles and selection decisions. It’s also easy to assume we are throwing away a genuine chance to win the league by not being ruthless in these games. I know I’ve blogged about aiming high and looking to compete. That ethos, that remains the same. It’s the only way a team can continue to progress and strengthen that mentality further. But the reality is, we’re probably fall short. Why? Apart from City being who they are? That’s easy. Because we’ve not been in this situation for decades. Because we’ve not got the experience and the learning curve might yet teach us another valuable lesson or two. It's hardly an easy task is it? It's fantastic that we're even involved, that footballing folk are not patronising but honest when they talk about our style and entertainment and challenge.
In some ways, what I’ve written so far in this article can also be conceived as a knee-jerk to all the knee-jerking. I guess I’m just trying to work through it and find a balanced outlook in amongst all the contradictions and (believe it or not) complaints and negatives.
When all is said and done and argued to the point of agreement to simply disagree...Champions League qualification was the goal at the start of the season even though some believed it would be difficult to achieve (one or two continuing their opinion from the end of last season when Harry was meant to have lost his way). Look at what we've managed to do thus far.
Just be positive. I know there's an adrenalin rush, a fear...even a form of pressure because we want to progress to places we've not been before on an emotive level. It's still a positive.
We are third. Three defeats in the league all season. Ten points clear of 5th spot. We are still on course for accomplishing what we set out to do. As for the dream, it still remains mathematically possible even if its something we've gate crashed and remain outsiders for. We're not the ones under pressure to win the title. But rather than be disappointed or fearful about something that might perhaps prove to be out of our reach - if we retain its possibility for as long as we can, by doing so, we will guarantee a challenge and a top four finish. That will give us the opportunity to truly consolidate for next season and build on the belief the dream can happen.
The glory will be gained by not letting go of the desire to fulfil it.
Love the shirt.