The bandwagon rolls on with Ipswich Town arriving at St James Park. Whilst no-one wants their team to lose, the Tractor Boys will take comfort from Newcastle keeping Norwich off the top of the table with a victory. Not quite a ‘win-win’ situation but as close as football gets to it.
The last two wins have answered the question of whether momentum would be lost by the international break. And now with Newcastle’s Championship title odds crashing to 4/6 or lower, the answer is emphatically not; Brentford was a good performance, expansive football against a team which wanted to play.
Barnsley saw how Brentford were beaten and decided to play compactly. They hassled, harried, niggled and narked but the lads were patient, kept their heads and when the moments came, took their chances. In all honesty, it was probably a better win for the squad than Saturday’s; one which gives them belief that they can overcome all obstacles and obduracy.
Ipswich, especially with Mick McCarthy at the helm, will follow Barnsley’s lead and set their stall out to defend. Their 2 – 0 win over Burton in midweek was the first win in seven. They hadn’t scored for 5½ games before Luke Chambers got their first whilst Freddie Sears got his first in 38 games. McCarthy said afterwards, “I said I’ve watched three seasons of ‘Scandal’ since he last scored. It was probably four actually!”
Rafa has a busy few weeks before the next international break and Matt Ritchie’s return from illness was welcome at Oakwell. The Scot has been in scintillating form this season with his absence emphasising his importance to the team.
The key word there is ‘team’ and I think that’s been the most impressive feature on the current run of good form: teamwork. Some players are important and drive the form forward – Lascelles, Shelvey, Ritchie, Gayle – but the rest of the squad is responding to that, improving their performance levels as well.
Darlow, for example, has come in and performed consistently and it’s that kind of response which will please Rafa more than having a specific player being more responsible for the points than others.
A win against Ipswich puts real pressure on not just Norwich but also Brighton; they have to win to stop a little gap opening but crucially with the pair meeting next weekend, a little gap could become a big one quite quickly if they take less than three points from the two games.
We can take a grip on this division if things go our way, the most important of which is for us to win our games. Do that and the rest will take care of itself.