We’re a quarter of the way in now and reaching a stage where the table should begin to take shape, there are signs already that the remarkable tightness that has fogged early impressions of this season for everyone has started to relax. Unfortunately that has coincided with Latics losing two games that we might have hoped to get something from. That’s left us in the bottom three, for the first time under the current manager, and with games against Liverpool and Man United as two of the next three the real possibility of the situation getting worse before we can seriously think about it getting better.
So, if points aren’t a realistic option then what can we really hope for from these games? Well, I suppose the first thing would be that none of the teams around us get too far ahead. Stoke’s win last night is a bit of a downer from that perspective but the rest of the fixtures look promising. The good news is that we’re still only five points away from a top half place and the chances of that being fourteen after the next three games is very slim.
What we really want is to see a level of performance that reflects a will to get out of the relegation places. The lack of any apparent desire or intensity was the saddest thing about the Fulham game, thankfully that changed somewhat against Blackburn where (although it’s too late to have a whinge about the referee) we got a lot closer to the more familiar pattern of putting more into the game that we got out.
Most pleasingly, we coped with the more physical aspects of Blackburn’s play which, and it seems strange to be typing this, might give us comfort in handy as the scousers come to visit. I’m not saying that they’ve descended to Allardyce like stylings, but they’ll be bringing a more simple, robust approach to the game to the DW this time than they’ve ever done before. It’s probably wrong to think that they’ll give us the same “us eight keep it tight and let the two good lads get on with it” respect that they gave Chelsea but I’m not sure that they’re ready to get much more tricky than that.
The win last season relied a great deal on the way that McCarthy and Diame handled Gina’s cousin Stevie. I’ll hold my hands up here and say that I can’t see us doing the same job twice. But maybe that’s not the key this time, I’m not going to type “caution to the wind” (doh!) but maybe the key will be not to show Liverpool too much respect, to look to give as much as we get rather than frustrate them.
Roberto reckons that his team have rid Latics of their top four hoodoo and that they’re now in a position where they can go out and play with freedom against big clubs. Of course, a fortnight ago you’d have asked what that had to do with a game against Liverpool. Maybe you still are, but I don’t buy the theory that Hodgson’s squad has significantly less ability than Rafa’s. They’re a side with limitations for sure, but they’ll still be chasing a place in Europe come May time.
Now that they have a couple of wins under their belts, the Reds are sitting somewhere between ‘heading in the right direction’ and full on ‘resurgent’ and they’ll be looking at continuing that progress against a Latics side who have stuttered their way from a reasonable to a worrying start to the season over the last couple of weeks.
That is just the story on points though and we’ve seen just how fine the dividing line can be between victory and defeat (or at least victory and a draw). If Latics can manage a performance like the one against Bolton, like the one against Blackburn, get some luck and keep their cool, then who knows. Liverpool still look emotionally unstable and an early blow could knock them off their stride and then who knows.
If Bobby is right and we can go out without fear, play our game rather than chasing ours, then we could be looking at a massive morale boost.
Yes, of course, I’m kidding myself, but that’s the nature of the football fan. We kid ourselves easily and we cling on to hope. The bottom line tonight is that I’d want to come away with something to hang that hope on, that’s the boost we need, a good performance, maybe a bit of controversy, an ‘us against the world’ moment . Liverpool winning 1-0 with a crabby penalty.
Something, just anything to distract from the inevitable whining that a fairly standard defeat might bring. Because that would be the worst thing to happen tonight. Liverpool turn up, look the best team for ninety minutes (which they undoubtedly are) and walk away with a two/three goal victory. It’s what we should expect, but it would open no end of flood gates. Floodgates that have forgotten the 2-0 win over Chelsea and the second half dismantling of Napoli.
If there’s a fear for me tonight then it’s not about what Liverpool can do to us, it’s about we can do to ourselves. As much as I want to see a good performance on the pitch, I’d love to see one off it. Let them know we’re there and let them know that you’re behind them. Do it even if they take a moment to drop their shorts and show us their backsides at half time. And when we lose, look for the gallows humor rather than just the gallows.
Not because it’ll make you a better fan, just because you’ll enjoy it more if you do.
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