Phew! The Late, Late Show On Humberside

Far, far too close for comfort on Saturday at the KC Stadium. The most impressive thing was that we kept going and found a way to win.
As it happens it would still have been close but not that close if the assistant referee had managed to spot that the Hull City player was at least a metre offside before Sol Campbell’s clumsy challenge resulted in a penalty. Phil Brown fulminated afterwards that Campbell should have gone, if not for that “last man” challenge, then for a second bookable offence later on. Nonsense. It would have been hard to say that Campbell’s foul (and unlike some Gooners I think it was a foul and a penalty, just that play should have been halted by then for the offside) prevented a clear goal scoring opportunity given the relative positions of the ball, the attacker and the defender.
Sol’s thunderous second half challenge was perfectly legitimate in my book. The referee was spot on. Sol proved those who doubted he could manage two games in a week wrong. His leadership on the park was also welcome, as well as his general play. So we found a way to win when we didn’t play all that well. Good. It’s a trait that any winning team needs. Grinding out a result may not be all that elegant but it’s crucial to any winning season.
With both Chelsea and United winning big too we’ve only managed to mark time in table on points and have slipped back in goal difference and goals scored:
Played Points GD GS
Manchester United 30 66 46 70
Chelsea 29 64 42 69
Arsenal 30 64 38 71
We NEED to keep some clean sheets and tuck in a few goals soon to get us competitive on goal difference. This could be the decider, even goals scored it’s so tight. To be frank I’m not that optimistic. We need both Chelsea and United to drop at least three more points than we do, probably four. As each week goes by this becomes less likely. All we can do though is worry about our own results. The league isn’t in our hands. It’s down to United and Chelsea to lose it.
That’s sad but it’s a fair reflection of where we are relative to them on the park at the moment. Since the FA Cup and Champions League semi-finals last season they’ve had it over us every time. In fact we didn’t play badly either at Stamford Bridge or at Old Trafford in the League this season, but we haven’t got the hard edge both Chelsea and United have in elbowing opposition out of the way. If we don’t develop that edge then we’ll forever be runners-up when they’re handing out the silverware. Whilst I think we do need to add a couple of players, for me it’s as much about tactical awareness and mental preparation and readiness as it is about the players we have. Those issues continue to need addressing. Nobody is more pleased than me with the wins against Porto and Hull City (which has seen Tigers manager Phil Brown out of a job). We need to stop flattering only to deceive though.
There are mitigating factors. The constant stream of long-term injuries hasn’t helped. Imagine where we might have been without them. There is still something lacking though. Belief and an ability to concentrate from kick-off to final whistle. We’re getting better. The win at Stoke City showed we’re finding a way to overcome the physical challenge. When it comes to the very top teams we still seem to fall short though.
The only point in focussing on our weaknesses though is to address them. We need to concentrate on the visit of the ‘Appy ‘Ammers next week, another television-dictated tea-time kick-off. Before that though we’ll know who our opponents in the quarter-finals of the Champions League will be. Although I think we’re outsiders for both trophies, nobody would be happier than me to proved comprehensively wrong on both counts.
Keep the faith!

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