The last time we played Swansea was when they visited us in the final Saturday home game last season at Upton Park in May when they inflicted on us our heaviest home defeat of the season, beating us 4-1. It was fitting to return the compliment and beat them by the identical score on Boxing Day.
When Andy Carroll blasted the fourth goal into the Swansea net in injury time it got me thinking. When was the last time we scored four goals away from home in a Premier League match? The last time I can actually remember was once again on Boxing Day in 2008 when we visited the south coast and put four goals without reply past Portsmouth. And where are they now? Craig Bellamy scored twice with a goal apiece from Carlton Cole and Jack Collison. We may have scored four goals on our travels since then; it certainly happened three or four times in the Championship, and also at least once in the FA Cup, but not in the top flight unless there is a game that has slipped my mind. And it would be very unusual to forget scoring four goals away from home as it doesn’t happen very often.
Of course along with all our fans I was delighted that we picked up the three points. It is always good to win games without being totally convincing. That’s ten points now from four games, a haul that I don’t think we bettered in four consecutive league games in the last memorable season at Upton Park. We now have the opportunity to go one better and make it four wins on the bounce with the forthcoming trip to Leicester.
The manager thought that it was our best performance of the season and he may be right. But we shouldn’t be kidding ourselves into thinking that everything is now OK. We are not yet playing at the level we achieved last season and, of course, many theories have been put forward as to why that is. I believe that injuries and confidence are two important factors, as is fear when you are involved in a relegation tussle. As we distance ourselves further from the bottom three, I hope that the fear factor will diminish, and hopefully disappear altogether.
We are not yet out of the woods, but I can see us pushing on now into the top half of the table. These days many people appear to believe that most things in life are either black or white. This is exacerbated within the media and social media. When we are not winning then the team is (fill in the missing word or words), and a range of expletives are directed towards the players, the team, the manager, and the board. When we turn it around and start to win games the expletives disappear, and all of a sudden the world is a wonderful place and we’ll soon be challenging for a top four spot. The reality of life is that most things are not black or white, but one of 50 shades of grey in between. We weren’t the worst team in the Premier League earlier in the season, and now we are not the best.
We fall somewhere in the middle of the pack, and we need to improve if we really want to be challenging at the top. Of course, to coin a popular phrase, there are lots of positives to come from our recent revival in terms of results, but still a way to go to be totally convincing in performance. But we are all a lot happier than we were early in December when we sat in the bottom three. So well done to all involved for where we are now, but it’s not “job done” yet by a long way.
One way we have improved over last season is in our ability to beat teams in the bottom half of the league. Of course we finished in the top half last season, but one of the (justified) criticisms levelled was our inability to pick up as many points as perhaps we should have done against the lesser teams. In 2015-16 we managed an average of 3.33 points in our two games against each of the teams who finished in the top ten, but could only get an average of 3.2 points against the bottom ten teams. This season at the moment we sit in a relatively comfortable eleventh place, and our six victories have all come against teams who are below us. Only two of our twenty-two points have come against teams above us, the away draws at Old Trafford and Anfield.
Because of the way that the fixture list has worked out, seven of the ten teams above us will be visiting the London Stadium in the second half of the season. Hopefully we can balance out our results and pick up more points against the top teams, just as we did last season. The loss of players to the African Nations Cup will hit us harder than many others, and it remains to be seen if any significant transfer activity will be able to strengthen the team. Nonetheless, the results are looking good at the moment. Long may it continue.