After Huddersfield left St James Park with three points, it seemed like it might be a long season. The script written before the start of the season wasn’t being followed. Instead of blowing the Championship away, we were 21st.
Six weeks later, two games without a win is now seen by some as a disaster; we’ve been that good in-between times.
The defeat to Wolves was a shock to the system and not taking three points at Villa Park was definitely a hangover in response to that. But both results were necessary for us if we’re going to win promotion.
We were confident, perhaps a little cock-sure, when we stepped onto the pitch against Wolves. They’d shipped four in the previous game, we’d just recorded our biggest away win since Noah started building the ark. What could possibly go wrong?
We had an off-day – we couldn’t hit a cow’s arse with a banjo that afternoon. But it taught us an important lesson: how to handle defeat. You’d think we’d be quite good at it with all last years’ experience but it’s not about being gracious in the media afterwards, it’s about not letting the result get into your head.
We almost carried it off against Villa on Saturday. Almost but not quite. Stunned by a sucker-punch, we held on to take a point which is a start. It should have been three – lord knows we had enough chances – but avoiding defeat was a step forward.
This season is all about finding consistency; the good kind. The one where defeats become draws, draws become wins. If we’re going to get promotion, we will need to win ugly but more importantly, learn how not to lose games.
The top clubs get a hearty mix of wins and draws, more of the former as Brighton found to their cost. They only five times, almost half ‘Boro’s nine but they drew too many. We’ve already lost three games but thanks to five straight wins are flying higher than we maybe ought to be.
If we’re going to get an automatic promotion place, let alone win the division, we need to embark on a long unbeaten run. The way that the fixtures are falling, we could do that. It’s going to need consistency in our performances and a stable line-up.
Modern football lends itself to the devil that is rotation but when we’re winning, the only time to rotate at this stage of the season is injury or suspension. If we are to hit our stride, will Rafa need to temper his instincts and leave well alone?
Consistency is the key but it’s elusive. Every team knows, every team looks for it but only the ‘lucky’ few find it. We need to if we’re going to get out of this living hell.