The S J Chandos Column
In retrospect, the crucial thing on Monday evening was not to lose!
Like most of you, I am frustrated that we failed to secure a crucial win over Stoke City. To have done so would have put us 10 points ahead of Stoke and 9 points ahead of Southampton. As it is, we are now 7 points ahead of both clubs, with 4/5 matches to play. Whereas, if Stoke City had secured a travesty of a victory, the gap would have been reduced to a far less comfortable 4 points and given them great momentum going in to their next fixture at home to Burnley. So, in retrospect, it could be the case that the crucial thing was that we did not lose on Monday evening. Tough as some of our remaining fixtures are, I still reckon that we will accumulate the necessary points to preserve our PL status. I am also comforted by the thought that it is very unlikely (based on prior/current form) that either Stoke City or Southampton will secure the three victories out of their final four games that they probably need to stand any chance of surviving at our expense.
I am greatly encouraged by the timely return to fitness of Lanzini and Carroll, plus the apparent determination of Hernandez to stick to his striking task, regardless of the fact that he cannot be happy that he is not starting games. Other notable sources of encouragement are the brilliant form of Rice and Ogbonna, the strong leadership of Noble and the continuing effectiveness of Arnautovic in his central striking role. On the down side, Hart remains prone to silly errors, but we still need to get behind him as I have a suspicion that he will probably remain our first choice custodian for the remainder of this season. Personally, I am also spurred on by the knowledge that the players have previously responded well, under Moyes, when faced with some very tough fixtures against the top sides. For instance, we beat Chelsea (home} and then went on to grind out creditable draws against Arsenal (home), Spurs (away) and Chelsea (away). Those results hopefully bode well for the forthcoming challenges against Arsenal (away), Man City (home) and Man Utd (home). The objective must surely be to maximise the points return in those three matches, so there is less riding on the final two matches vs Leicester City (away) and Everton (home). That final home match against Everton might be our ultimate assurance policy, but lets hope (as events turn out) that we do not actually need it!
As for the match itself on Monday, I thought that we dominated for the majority of the game and should have won easily. The fact that we had three goals disallowed (rightfully as it turns out) speaks volumes. I know that Moyes has a tough job, but I must say that I anticipated that he would have started with Arnautovic-Hernandez up front in this fixture. Hernandez caused Stoke all sorts of problems when he came on and one can only speculate on the impact he could have had if he had started the match. In the end a vital point was rescued by a very unlikely hero, the hitherto incapacitated, Andy Carroll. And what a class strike it was! You know something, on occasions like that, Carroll shows flashes of inspiration/technique that we often think beyond him. Yet, he is obviously capable of it and one wonders exactly what he could really do if could only stay fit for a prolonged period of time. Hopefully, Carroll will now stay fit and play a key role coming on, to positively impact on matches in the latter stages.
Thanks to Carroll’s late equaliser, we stay in a reasonably strong position in our hunt for survival. You would certainly not trade positions with either Stoke City or Southampton, would you? It would be wonderful to secure a great win at the Emirates, but it is more probable that we will set up to clinch another key draw on the road to our PL safety. Indeed, it is all likely to be a bit nerve wracking, but lets hope the issue is settled (to our ultimate satisfaction) come that final home fixture vs Everton. Because Mr Allardyce, and his Toffee Men, are unlikely to do us any favours if they can help it!