What’s gone on so far in 2019 has been largely familiar, although there have been a couple of surprises in the New Year.
A combined tally of 11,000 red and whites made trips to the north-west and south-east, where we picked up four points from the six available.
Most of us won’t have us down as a lucky side, or even admit to it if they think we are. So, getting a couple of big breaks has been welcome. Less than a week after getting away with Jon McLaughlin producing two rare moments of randomness in quick succession, we got lucky again at Bloomfield Road when Jack Baldwin cleared from his own line, into the arms of our keeper, via a post. Again, there were claims the ball had crossed the line, again they were ignored. So, Josh Maja’s goal gave us the three points we so needed from the soulless, unhappy, fractious husk of a club that was once-proud Blackpool.
And so to Charlton. Although I’ve drunken recollections of Alex Rae giving us a win there a good few years ago, the trip to south London has rarely been a victorious one for us. So, the start we made there this time was welcome. The positive intent we showed in the first 45 minutes brought a very early goal and the threat of more before the turnaround. OK, so none followed, but it gave us something to show for our efforts, meant they needed two to win (always my thinking when we go one up) and maintained an impressive run of scoring in every game – a decent feat, no matter what level. Although we couldn’t hold on for the three points, we didn’t capitulate and were pressing at the end. Taking a point from a promotion rival is no bad thing and a definite improvement on what happened the last time we played one.
Whatever happens with Maja, and I really hope the kid stays, we’ve got goals in us. So instead of worrying about who will be around to finish the chances when the transfer window’s closed or moaning about what agents and our chairman are or aren’t saying, I reckon the focus should be on shoring up the defence. Making sure whatever cash is available is spent making us harder to score against has to be the priority.
Things aren’t desperate, after all we’ve only conceded the same number of goals as the top two. But we do look vulnerable far too often, no matter who the opponent. We’ve shipped some soft goals against weak teams, and these don’t do much for the nerves. It’s great having so many fans at a home game but it’s not much of an advantage if most of them are clucking whenever a team 20-odd places below us slings a ball into our box. The nerves are understandable, not just because of what we’ve seen the last couple of years either. We’ve only kept two clean sheets in the league since the start of November – and one of those was the Bradford game, when our very capable goalkeeper turned the clock back to 2018 and went all Camp, so to speak. He can certainly be forgiven. In front of him, Loovens stock has fallen, neither Baldwin nor Flanagan truly inspire confidence, while Ozturk has faced an uphill struggle since his ‘moment’ against Sheffield Wednesday.
If we miss out on decent targets, or don’t even pitch for them, Jack and the boys will certainly need to spend more time in training working on the basics.
The general thinking is we’ll be all right ticking along at two points a game. But we seem to have made third place our own for a while now and we can’t rely on a party when that’s where we finish (1998 and 2004). It’s a decent return, sure, but anyone who thinks it will guarantee a happy ending would do well to remember that 95 points wouldn’t have been enough to guarantee automatic promotion last season.
One thing that could be to our advantage is that our two main rivals are still in the FA Cup, while we're out. Luton have a replay to think about just a few days after their game at our place, a match which kicks off a kind run of five home matches in seven for us.
Having dropped some silly points at home perhaps I should be concentrating on the more immediate concern, the visit of the young Mags. It’s not that straightforward though, because getting excited about the Checkatrade just feels wrong, never mind admitting it...