But every game at this level is a tough one and tonight’s meeting with Charlton will certainly provide another test of our character.
So in welcoming Alan Curbishley, Keith Peacock, Mervyn Day and everyone from The Valley we do so in the knowledge that we face a side that will ask questions of our commitment and endurance in the face of a tough schedule. It is up to us to produce the right answers.
John Gorman’s association with Keith goes back a long way while Alan is my old team mate from the Essex Under-15s side many, many moons ago!
We’ve encountered major knockbacks in what has been a very short space of time since the Cup Final with the two Chelsea games following on from our defeat at Manchester United.
It’s a testing time for everyone here at the Club and a challenge to the whole squad because the bottom line is that, as I write these notes, we’re now down to 16 fit first team players.
So we’re again struggling on the injury front because none of our long-termers are coming back yet and we picked up another four injuries at Stamford Bridge.
It’s doubly frustrating for me because this was something that I was determined to crack from day one and it’s the last thing that we need because, as I say, we want to finish our league programme on a high.
We were desperately disappointed with the four goals that we conceded in our last game here. All were presented to Chelsea on a plate and could have been prevented. To surrender our FA Cup hopes in such a way added to our pain because it simply was a case of poor defending — but if you defend like that at this level then you will get punished.
Our other two ‘four nils to forget’ saw Tano sent off and that left us with an uphill battle in both games. I still feel that his dismissal at Old Trafford was the wrong decision but the one at Chelsea was a rash and reckless challenge that probably warranted, in different circumstances, a yellow card but in this case you always knew that it would be a red.
On each occasion we were 1-0 down at the time and still very much in contention so it’s been tough to go on and lose so heavily in both games. It’s a big concern and no amount of excuses can overcome the facts.
Now we are aware of what character has got to be shown because we must bounce back from it all. And we’ve got to do that from this evening because we must make an immediate return to the winning track. I’m insisting on that.
Starting tonight, we’ve got nine games left and although it’s a tough run in, we won’t be easing off now.
There is some good news on players coming back with Gary Doherty and Stephen Clemence continuing their comebacks in the Reserves while reports that Stephen Carr has suffered a setback in his rehabilitation are exaggerated. He did hit a small ‘blimp’ but we’re hoping that he’ll be back on course in the near future.
Our youngsters also deserve every credit for their FA Youth Cup win here over Blackburn in midweek. It was a smashing result for Pat Holland and the boys and we now face Everton in the semis.
It’s a great experience for our young players and that’s what it’s about at that age. To see them tested and under pressure is always a good exercise in their assessment and once our lads settled they went for everything. They didn’t have many chances in a tight game but they put away the two that did come along and that’s very healthy.
It would be great if we could go on to the final because I’ve always had a philosophy about the FA Youth Cup. This is the competition that is all about winning and teaching young players how to win games while the league is about coaching and learning the principles of what you want to achieve. The emphasis there is not just about winning, it’s about trying out new things so judgement is not solely based on league position. But the FA Youth Cup is different, it’s where you learn how to play a certain type of game to win and it was good to see our boys do exactly that on the night.
Despite setbacks in our last three games, you have not let us down with your support and we are grateful for that. Your encouraging chants were noted and appreciated even when we went four down here and that’s the kind of support that will help us get it right. That’s you showing your character and proving that when the chips are down we stay united.
We are determined to give you something to cheer about this evening so get behind the lads again and let’s do this together.
Despite disappointments in recent games it remains our aim to finish the season strongly.