Quite frankly, our performances have not warranted the defeats that we have suffered. Our possession of the ball and our passing have been as good as they’ve been all season but the difference now is that we have not been clinical enough in converting the chances that we have created.
At the same time we’ve given sloppy goals away. For example, the two at Ipswich were dreadful. We’ve spoken about it, watched the video and now we’ve got to learn from it. And if we go through the rest of the season without conceding in that way then it’s worth taking on the chin — if we don’t then there is a problem that lies deeper and we’ll have to nullify that in another way.
Funnily enough, we scored from a set piece in our last game here against Blackburn, which made the difference on the day. Dean Richards is always dangerous in these situations and we’ve got real power ourselves there so we should be making more demands in that area and using our attacking qualities to better effect.
When the ball is in free flow we are at our best as anyone that was at Ipswich, and saw how we passed the ball and controlled the game, can testify. What we didn’t do was to create the goal attempts our approach play merited and on the scale that we have been achieving up until now.
But then every club this season has endured a little bit of a poor spell, whether it’s been Manchester United, Leeds or Liverpool, and we’re no different. We’ve had this spell over the Christmas period and it’s up to us to get our heads down, work extremely hard, turn it round and get ourselves going again.
What we have got is a mixture of Cup and Premiership football at the moment and that is exciting. The players have been asked to play back-to-back games in a short period of time for many weeks now and we have suffered with the inevitable injuries and suspensions.
As a result we are depleted in terms of squad numbers but this is the real test, the big challenge of the season is coming up over the next five or six games. Until we get a little bit of a respite when we go Saturday to Saturday, we’ve just got to face up to this examination with what we’ve got.
We’ve got good foundations and there is a lot of solid building work being put in here at the moment which is obvious for all to see. But in the shorter term, and on the bigger picture, we want to get into Europe and we remain on course for that and are still capable of getting there.
It’s going to become more difficult with the injuries but these setbacks are a fact of footballing life. And what this unavailability does do is give other people opportunities to come in, stake their claim and do well for themselves, for the rest of the team and for the club. So there’s a challenge for some of the younger players.
We’ve got to realise that, for what we are trying to achieve, we are not even 50% there. The top five clubs are probably 95% in their building over the past 4-5 years and it’s impossible for us to just jump up that ladder so quickly. It just doesn’t happen over such a short space of time.
But we are constructing well and I have been pleased with many aspects of our game. I firmly believe that the real acid test is just starting and it’s important that we cope with injuries and go on churning out results because that’s the mark of a good side. For example, can we learn to play in a less effective way on the ball and yet still win? In short, we have to be able to adapt and maybe sacrifice some aspects of our play to cope with missing players yet retain our potency and collect points.
For example, the Chelsea game in the Worthington Cup was a good performance by us. It could have gone either way and at 1-1 I felt that we were in control of the game. Their front two are very special, they have a good understanding and they can manufacture something out of nothing.
In saying that I felt that we had better possession with long spells of domination in the match. As at Ipswich, we got ourselves back in the game and once we equalised we looked the stronger side. But set plays have done us in both games.
Yet if we keep our belief and maintain our ability then that will change round. I am convinced of that.
Wednesday’s return with Chelsea is obviously a big game and it is one that I know our supporters will be up for. And I want them to be up for it like never before because we’ve got to end this duck against Chelsea. Our fans can play a massive part in that and will be critical on the night. You can lift us and take us to heights where anything can be achieved.
In closing, a big welcome to Walter Smith and Archie Knox. It’s been an indifferent time of late for Walter and Everton but I’ve got great respect for him and he’s held his head up, proving that he’s an experienced coach and capable manager. I’m 100% sure that he will weather any storm.
It will also be nice to see Gazza back at White Hart Lane. I enjoyed working with him with England and it’s good that he’s fit and looking like his old self. If he can stay fit he’s still got a lot to offer the Premiership.
I’ve got to say that it’s been a frustrating couple of weeks! In fact the most frustrating since I’ve been here.