Burnley 1 West Ham 2

A win in the North-West to finish the season.

So we have ended a so-so season with a victory. And for a change, instead of relinquishing a lead and giving up the points we did it the other way round. When we fell behind midway through the first half I feared the worst, but a spirited comeback against a side with an enviable home record, and other results going our way, meant that we finished the season in eleventh place, just one point behind eighth, albeit with an inferior goal difference. Many have commented that with just one more victory we would have been clear in eighth, and it is easy to look back and see where that additional win might have come from, as we lost 22 points from a winning position.

The difficulties in settling in to a new home have been written about extensively, and whilst there is perhaps some merit in the change of stadium being the reason for our indifferent home form, I do not subscribe to it being such a key factor. Quite frankly we played poorly in so many home games, and we cannot blame the stadium for that. We just didn’t turn up at times, and failed to put in the level of commitment that we showed in our better performances. If the stadium was such a key factor, then where did we play the home game against Chelsea in the EFL Cup? And where did we play against Tottenham in the penultimate home game of the season?

The inability to score goals at the London Stadium is something that we will need to rectify next season, as in this one we only managed to score two goals or more on four occasions. On the other hand we scored at least two goals in nine of our away games. Compare this to the previous (successful) season when we scored at least twice in 23 of our games (12 at home, and 11 away).

The season was a balanced one in that we picked up 22 points in the first 19 games, and 23 in the last 19. Some of our 1-0 wins were fortunate, but all sides have those. The aforementioned 22 dropped points would, had we won the games where we were in front, have seen us finish in sixth place in the table. But it was not to be.

Injuries to key players was perhaps another factor in some of our poor results, but again many sides have those. Quite what is the reason for so many injuries is a debatable point, but we either have to improve our training facilities (the reason given by some), or consider our training methods and performance of the people behind the scenes who are responsible for ensuring the fitness of players. Or is it just bad luck? I’m not so sure.

Transfer target speculation is already well under way, and I hope we can secure some quality signings this time. But most of all I’d like to see us adopt a method of playing where we have a definite plan (and back up plans) where we find a successful formula and stick to it. To me, we appear to pick what the manager considers are his best eleven players available for each game, and because of injuries we bring in alternatives who don’t necessarily fit the same style of play. It is no coincidence that the two best teams in the country, Chelsea and Tottenham, have a style of playing where, in the event of injuries, they bring in players who fit into their pattern. They don’t just pick their best eleven players available and change the style to fit them.

We also need to consider what is one of the most important facets of the game at the top level, and that is pace. Teams can afford to have the odd player here or there who may be lacking in this if they bring other additional qualities to the team. But to me we seem to be lacking in this aspect in too many areas of the pitch. Some of our build up play is predictable and laborious with not enough movement off the ball. Sometimes when I watch our pre-match routine where the players play five against five retaining possession of the ball in a confined area I marvel at their ability to find space with quick movement, but we often cannot seem to replicate this in the game itself.

And one other thing I’d like to see. How many times have we had a free kick (or even a throw in) in the opponents half of the pitch, and several (mainly sideways and backwards) passes later it ends up with our goalkeeper, who then kicks the ball long and possession is lost? So many times we take a quick free kick (and there is nothing wrong with that in itself), but we don’t appear to give it much thought. Sometimes we need to consider what we are going to do. A quickly taken free kick can be a good attacking option, but only when the players are ready for it. It has the most effect when played in a forward direction.

Having said all that, despite some indifferent displays we finished eleventh, and could have even been higher. But I think that our mid table position was just about right. Some people writing on social media suggest that it was the worst season ever. No it wasn’t. Remember Glenn Roeder and Avram Grant? Our average finishing position in the Premier League era is around 12th / 13th. So it was just about right. Typical West Ham you might say.

Looking ahead I cannot foresee any changes to the top seven places in the table, and reckon that at our best we would be challenging with so many others in the mid-table cluster for eighth place. I hope I am wrong. I hope that we see some quality recruits, a definite style of play, and better luck with injuries. Only time will tell, but the new season is less than three months away, and a lot of work needs to be done behind the scenes to give us a chance of improvement. I hope it happens.

West Ham 0 Liverpool 4

“It’s the same old story, it’s as old as the stars above”

After the Tottenham game just over a week before, I was really looking forward to my final visit to the London Stadium for our last game of our inaugural season there. I was full of trepidation when I knew just how many of our first choice players were not available for the match, but nonetheless we had many missing against our old enemy, and everyone stepped up to put in our best performance of the year. And for the first quarter of an hour or so, it looked like we might put in a similar performance again. Byram might have scored, or should at least have hit the target, to finish off an excellent swift passing move early on, and Fernandes hit a shot that had Mignolet scrambling to turn it away.

But then Liverpool scored an excellent goal, so well taken by Sturridge who just about managed to stay onside. The way he took the goal was reminiscent of Jimmy Greaves at his best. I am old enough to remember watching Greaves live, but you can look back on old footage of the way, when faced with a one on one with the keeper, he almost always dribbled around him to put the ball into an empty net. So many strikers in modern times when in this position, shoot as the keeper advances. Sometimes it goes in but frequently it hits the legs or body and a goalscoring chance is wasted. Of course players have to have the necessary skill to go around the keeper, and Sturridge demonstrated the confidence and ability to do it with ease.

At that point the heads appeared to go down, and we surrendered the ball tamely on frequent occasions, and never really looked convincing or up for the fight. When the second went in, after another bout of giving the ball away, the game was really all over. A brief resurgence of effort should have resulted in a penalty when Reid was assaulted in the area, and for good measure they really tried to give us a penalty by handling the ball as well, but the referee (and his assistant who was also well placed to see the incident) was oblivious to what everyone else in the stadium could see, and incredibly allowed the play to continue. Liverpool did not put the ball out of play as we had sportingly done on two occasions before in the game, and the incompetent referee also appeared to forget that head injuries can be a serious matter, and failed to stop the play. In a matter of seconds a third goal had gone in, and it was well and truly over at that point.

I am not trying to suggest that we lost the game because of this one incident, but had the penalty been justly awarded, we might have seen an improvement in effort if we were just one goal down. We have really seen some scandalous decisions go against us in the past couple of seasons, and this was another to add to the list. I find it hard to remember the last time we benefitted from a poor decision given against our opponents.

So many of our players gave up at this point, and where I had seen so many of them fighting to demonstrate that they were worthy of a place in the squad for next season in the Tottenham game, they showed equally why they were not in this match. One player I would excuse was Feghouli, who was a free transfer signing in the summer, but who showed great skill and commitment to try to get us back into it in the half-hour or so available to him. Cynics will say he was putting in the effort for personal reasons, but I am one (and I accept there are not many who agree with me) who really believe he is a good footballer, who given a decent injury-free run in the side, will one day prove all the doubters wrong.

Of course another turning point in the game, when we were just one down, was when Ayew somehow contrived to miss an open goal twice! This was amazing for a Premier League striker (whether he cost £20 million or not), and perhaps he will get the publicity given to Rosenthal, and be forever shown when you see clips of incredible misses. I’m sure he was just a panic buy at the end of the summer transfer window to appease fans after the board had talked about a marquee striker. I’m not sure I understand how the term marquee came to be used in a football sense, but assume the derivation relates to tents? If so, then his performances are more closely related to a wigwam.

So we now sit in twelfth place in the table with just the trip to Burnley left. That won’t be an easy game, but even if we somehow do win, our poor goal difference means that we cannot get into the top half of the table whatever happens elsewhere. With the points we’ve dropped from winning positions we could have even emulated or surpassed last season’s seventh place. But have we really progressed from last season? To the contrary, I think we’ve gone backwards. And it’s nothing to do with an un-named Frenchman either.

And on a final note, I’m not sure when the end of season awards dinner was held at the club last season, but if my memory is correct it was in the week prior to the game against Swansea, when we were unexpectedly hammered 4-1. This time, in the game after that event, we once again conceded four goals in a tame performance. As a club we don’t learn from our mistakes easily, but I would suggest that next season it is held at the end of the season when all the games have been played. I know that the players want to get off to the beach quickly once the season is over. In the Liverpool game some looked as though they were already there! But remember last season we bounced back for a terrific finale against Manchester United. Perhaps we can do the same at Turf Moor? I won’t hold my breath.

West Ham 1 Tottenham 0

“The more difficult the victory, the greater the happiness in winning.” – Pele

Ecstatic, euphoric, thrilled, over the moon, elated, delighted, on cloud nine, walking on air, in seventh heaven jubilant, rapturous, as pleased as Punch, cock-a-hoop, as happy as a sandboy, as happy as Larry (who was Larry?), like a child with a new toy, overjoyed.

In my preview to the Tottenham game last Friday I included a quote from the legendary footballer, perhaps the best player of all time, Pele. The quote is repeated above. I also gave a range of emotions that we would have if we pulled off a most unlikely result, and these too are repeated above. As we walked away on from the stadium on a chilly May evening, all West Ham fans could relate to these. Any victory against our most disliked neighbours is always something to savour, but as we all didn’t realistically expect a victory in this particular game, then the result is even sweeter.

Considering the season we’ve had, and Tottenham’s form coming into the game, then logically there was no way that we should have been able to live with them. But every West Ham player on the pitch, and you have to take into account that we had a number of first choice players unavailable, as well as the management team who constructed a game plan and strategy that hasn’t been seen almost all season, must take huge credit for what we witnessed.

The fans were really up for it, Bubbles was sung with a vigour and volume that reached new heights in the London Stadium, and the atmosphere was electric from the start. And with the players responding to the support from the outset, the noise generated by the supporters never wavered throughout the match. To me it just goes to prove that all the rubbish talked about the pitch size, the stadium, and the plethora of other excuses put forward for our indifferent form this season is absolute garbage. If our players show that level of commitment, and follow the game plan set out for them, then the results will come.

Yes, we do need some additional quality recruits to improve the team and the squad as a whole, but performances like that would have seen us higher in the table, and closer to the top teams, even if we are not yet in a position to make a real impression on them. For me, this game was up there with the final fixture at Upton Park against Manchester United in terms of excitement and tension, and I walked back to Stratford station unable to match the noise of my fellow supporters as I had completely lost my voice, and when I tried to speak nothing came out.

For the third game in a row since his recall Adrian remained unbeaten, and showed a determination not to let the ball enter our goal, especially with some important early saves, and was in the form that forced his international manager bring him into the Spanish squad in the past. But the clean sheet wasn’t entirely down to him, as the whole team defended with a passion that has been missed. Fonte and Collins were magnificent alongside the imperious Reid, and all three had games to remember. Cresswell looked more like his old self and played his best game of the season, and Byram showed all the qualities of a right back in both defence and when overlapping.

Noble, with undoubtedly his best game all season, and Kouyate bossed the midfield against their illustrious opponents in this area of the pitch. Ayew began to live up to his price tag, and the (once again) superb Lanzini, showed why the forgotten Frenchman is consigned to the very depths of our memories. And I finally “got” Calleri, and can understand why the manager rates him so highly. I never in my wildest dreams imagined that I would see 55,000 fans rise to their feet and applaud so enthusiastically when he was brought off exhausted near to the end. He really deserved a goal with his performance, and almost did score, but for a fine save from Lloris, after he had done everything right to create the chance. Even the brief cameos from Snodgrass, Fletcher and Fernandes were important contributions to ensure that we kept the lead.

All fourteen players made a strong case for their retention in the squad next season, and if you add Ogbonna, Obiang, Antonio and the ever improving Masuaku to these, in addition to the alleged (but unseen) quality of some of our youngsters (such as Oxford, Burke, Rice, Quina, Browne, Cullen, Martinez, and others) then that would form the nucleus of a squad that can improve on this season. But, and it’s a big but, they all need to show the same level of commitment and performance that we saw on Friday night. Even the very top teams don’t perform at the highest level week in and week out, but they do show greater consistency than we have managed this season.

In many ways I like Carroll, but his injury record, and the improved way the team play without him in the side, leaves doubts in my mind. And whilst Sakho is a Premier League quality player, there just seem to be too many questions about him.

So what do we need? Randolph is a good shot stopper but cannot command his area, and a high quality goalkeeper to challenge Adrian wouldn’t come amiss. We are short in the right back department, and have been for a long time, and a quality playmaker such as Sigurdsson would be a great addition. But for me, I would love to see two high quality goalscorers added to the squad, although our recruitment in this area fell well short last summer. A lot of people feel that Defoe would be a retrograde step, but personally I feel he could fulfil the role for a couple of seasons as he is still very fit, knows where the goal is, and is a proven goalscorer. It seems churlish to look at any negatives from the Tottenham game, but I would just love it if we could shoot on target, and at least force the opposition keeper into making saves. All season, far too many shots have been wildly off target, and this game was the same.

I purposely waited for a couple of days before writing my review of the game as I was on such a high on Friday evening. But I must confess that the smile hasn’t left my face yet, and although my voice has returned I am still croaky. I want to come away from a game after more performances of this calibre next season.

Stoke 0 West Ham 0

Groundhog Day

We met Stoke at Upton Park in 2015. I looked back on my report of the game at that time. Some of the things I wrote included, “in goal, Jack Butland (at 22) already looks the complete goalkeeping package, and I reckon he is the best England keeper at the moment.” I also added, “despite their attacking prowess it is not difficult to see why they are the lowest scoring team in the Premier League at the moment.” And “their finishing was poor, and when they were on target Adrian was able to keep them out. Our defence held up well, and Adrian was determined not to be beaten”.

Although Butland has been injured for over thirteen months, and this was only his second game back, then on the evidence of this game, my judgement on his goalkeeping prowess remains sound. And, although they are not the lowest scoring team in the Premier League this season, they are one of the lowest, and their “goals for” column does not match their league position. And again, our defence held up well, and Adrian was similarly determined not to be beaten, including some fine saves. It was Groundhog Day in many respects.

It certainly wasn’t the worst 0-0 draw you could see (just like our home game against them last season), but it was a game that both sides could have won. In the end, both were probably happy with the point. Once again, the manager’s decisions baffled me a little. The continuing selection of Calleri is one that I just cannot fathom, and despite the fact that he “moves well”, he is in the team to score goals. It would be useful, and he would stand more chance of doing so, if he could hit the target! And the rabona was quite ridiculous I thought. Save that for Rush Green. The fact that we took off Ayew, who looked the most likely to score, and brought on Noble, handed the late initiative to Stoke. Strange managerial decisions that, to me, were difficult to comprehend.

For the past three seasons Stoke have finished in a very creditable ninth position, and if you read some of the comments on social media criticising our team for not beating a “poor Stoke side” then I think they are misleading. Stoke, like ourselves, are just members of the mid-table cluster of clubs that are nowhere near good enough to be challenging the top six in the table, but at the same time are just a little too good to go down. This group stretches from Southampton in ninth place on 41 points, down to Palace in sixteenth on 38. Of course some of these sides are not yet mathematically safe from the drop, but it would be a surprise if any of them didn’t already have enough points.

The Swansea draw at Manchester United takes them up to 32 points with three games left, and if they win all three then they could reach 41. As top flight games go, all are winnable (home v Everton, away v Sunderland, and home v West Brom), but with their goal difference as it is then all would need to be won to overtake us. Hull are two points better off on 34, so they could conceivably get to 43, and their three remaining fixtures are at home to Sunderland, away to Palace (this could be a really significant game, especially if Swansea are still in touch), and finally at home to Tottenham. Palace have 38, and apart from the Hull game, they have two potentially very difficult games in Manchester, although they have a healthy goal difference compared to others in the bottom half.

Taking all of this into account then 39 points is likely to be enough, but it is still disappointing to be facing three potentially difficult games to finish our season, and still have an outside chance of relegation. It was therefore important for us to pick up six points from our last four unbeaten games, and the draw at Stoke could turn out to be the one that took us to safety. It is amusing to look at the contrasting ways our recent form has been described. Unbeaten in four games sounds quite good, but one win in the last eleven games does not.

I thought that Swansea were very unlucky to only get a draw at Old Trafford, where yet another dubious penalty decision (I say dubious, but I really think diabolical) was awarded to the home side. The referee took his time before giving the decision and then got it wrong. They really shouldn’t guess in these circumstances, and if they are not sure then they shouldn’t give it. Sigurdsson’s free kick to equalise was sublime. Now that is one player I’d like to see in our team next season, as opposed to so many that we are allegedly linked with, but I guess he will have a number of suitors if Swansea go down, and I’m not sure that we are an attractive enough proposition for such a talented player.

So we move on to face an in-form Tottenham side on Friday night. Whoever decided that this was a suitable game to be moved to a Friday night for television purposes just doesn’t have any real idea about the animosity of the fans towards each other. I’m amazed that the police were in agreement to the switch, and I anticipate a large contingent there to try to ensure it goes off without any real issues. However, I am looking forward to my penultimate visit to the London Stadium this season as I had another engagement on Saturday afternoon; so for purely personal reasons I am pleased with the change of day. This is our twenty-first season in the Premier League, and after the point we picked up at Stoke we have now collected 998 points in the 803 games we have played to date. It would be nice to reach 1000 in the game against our North London neighbours. What are the chances?

West Ham 0 v 0 Everton

A collectors item; a rare goalless draw at home to Everton, Lukaku fails to muster an effort on target let alone score, and it continues to be impossible to predict West Ham’s finishing position at the end of the season.

If, like me, you are a West Ham fan, and have been a regular visitor to Upton Park (and now the London Stadium) for years, you will know that when you go along to a game, you never quite know what to expect. But one of the things that you do not expect to see very often, and history bears this out, is a goalless draw. If we look at the Premier League games that we have played in the twenty-first century (season 2000-2001 onwards), then out of 264 home games, just 17 have ended as 0-0 draws which is less than the top flight average. This means that you would expect to see a goalless draw approximately once in every 16 visits to see us at home.

This game was not only our first 0-0 draw at the London Stadium, but also our first scoreless draw (either home or away) all season. After 34 games that is an unusual statistic. Last season both teams failed to score only once at Upton Park (v Stoke), a percentage of 5.3%, as opposed to the Premier League average of 8.4%.

It is perhaps even more surprising that it happened against Everton. For, not only do we normally expect Lukaku to score against us, but we haven’t drawn 0-0 at home to Everton since 1988, almost 30 years ago, although a game at Goodison Park ended goalless in 2003. Going down memory lane, our team for that 1988 encounter was McAllister, Stewart, Strodder, Gale, Dicks, Parris, Robson (Stewart), Dickens, Ward, Rosenior, Cottee (sub. Ince).

A lot of reports post-game this weekend concluded that Everton just didn’t turn up on the day. And despite having the lion’s share of possession, they failed to muster a single shot on target. Certainly not the performance of a team trying to break into the top six, playing against a side still not yet mathematically certain of avoiding the drop. However, I believe that it was a case of us not letting them play, and we were certainly more organised defensively than has been the case for a while. Apart from one scary ball-juggling moment Adrian looked solid enough, and perhaps the defence had more confidence with him between the sticks, although in truth he was not really called upon to display his talents. The return of Reid, playing in the middle of Fonts and Collins certainly improved our cause.

We were the only team that looked like we might break the deadlock, although Everton looked at their strongest in the final few minutes. I do worry about our fitness sometimes, as some of the players began to look a little leg-weary towards the end, which is highlighted by the number of late goals that we have conceded. Nordtveit gave the defence some protection in a manner similar to Obiang, and once again I was impressed by our two wing backs, Fernandes and Masuaku. The latter gets a bad press on some social media outlets which I fail to understand. I’ve only seen him play one bad game when in the team (and everyone is entitled to that), and to me looks more sound defensively, and a better attacking option than Cresswell, who we must remember earned an England cap earlier this season, although since then he has been a shadow of his former self.

As far as Fernandes is concerned, he is only just 21, and I am convinced that he will be an important player for us in the future. He adds pace in the midfield areas, such an important component of the modern game. I’ve written before that I just don’t get Calleri, but he must have something that others can see. I’m afraid I just can’t see it myself.

We really just need to get this season over and have a real sort-out in the summer. But wins for Swansea and Hull, as well as Palace at Liverpool, means that we can’t put our feet up just yet, and nor should we take it easy until the final whistle has blown this season. Seven points clear of Swansea and five ahead of Hull, and a superior goal difference, with just four games of the season to go, should normally be routine enough, but with most of the relegation candidates hitting form, it is not over yet.

We never usually do well at Stoke, Tottenham and Liverpool are tough home games, and I really wouldn’t fancy our last-day trip to Burnley if we still weren’t mathematically safe. I’m pretty sure it won’t come to that, and looking in the other direction we are just two points shy of ninth place. In fact this middle of the table, which has been closely packed all season, continues to be so, with just four points separating ninth and sixteenth. We could end up anywhere between those two positions (hopefully no lower!), although I couldn’t predict with any certainty where we will finish. But that’s the beauty of following this team!

Sunderland 2 West Ham 2

Same Old Same Old

Sunderland ReportAfter the weekend results I have to conclude that the 37 points that we have on the board will be enough to ensure Premier League football at the London Stadium next season. Looking at the remaining fixtures Sunderland would need to win their six remaining games to reach that figure, and that is an impossibility. Middlesbrough have a tough run-in and would need to win at least four and draw a couple, and that is not on either. The only teams with a chance of overhauling us are Burnley (possible), Bournemouth (yes, possible), Palace (again, possible), Hull would need two wins and two draws from their last five (very unlikely), and Swansea would need three wins and a draw from their last five (almost impossible). All of the teams who might possibly overtake us would have to do so, and that will not happen.

We sit in thirteenth place, nine points clear of a relegation place (ten, if you include the likely goal difference factor), yet it could, and should, have been eleven points, except that we find it amazingly difficult to retain a winning position in a game of football. Twice we led, and twice we were pegged back, including the almost obligatory concession of a goal in the ninetieth minute. OK, I realise that the referee had to add on ten minutes to that time, but surely we must learn to see out a game when we are ahead.

That is now 22 points that we have lost from a winning position in a Premier League game this season. If we had retained the lead in all of those games (yes, I know that would be unlikely, but some teams can do it) then we would now be sitting on 59 points, and in fifth place in the table. Considering how we have failed to perform in so many fixtures, I think we would have settled for fifth, or even a place in top seven or so, as last season. But no, we contrive to throw away lead after lead.

In this game we scored two goals taking our total for the season to date 26 goals away from home. Only Man City with 36, Arsenal with 30, and Liverpool with 28 can better our tally in this respect. Even the top two teams in the table, who are likely to finish the season in those places, cannot better our goals scored away from home. So, although some will believe we don’t have a strategy to break down opposition defences, or the pace to hit them on the counter, as we frequently did last season, nobody can argue with the figures that show our ability to score away goals.

The real problem is with our defence, where the 32 goals conceded is only exceeded by Hull (41), Bournemouth (37), Leicester (35), Swansea (35), and Burnley (33). Defending at home is perhaps, even worse, and 27 goals against is only beaten by Swansea (33) and Sunderland (31). You cannot solely blame a goalkeeper for this, but it is generally recognised that Randolph has had a poor run lately. Both goals were down to him, although the first was arguably a foul against him. However, he allows himself to be dominated by the opposition and does not command his six-yard box like a top goalkeeper in English football needs to. Adrian was left out of the team after a few errors, and perhaps it is time for Randolph to suffer the same fate. Both are not bad goalkeepers, but if the talk is about “moving up to the next level” then I’m not sure that either of one of them is the right custodian to enable us to do this.

We have height and experience in central defence, but lack pace, which is such an important ingredient in the modern game. We have two left backs who are OK, but right back has been a problem area for some time. And we will be without Byram now, after his two yellows led to him being sent off. The partnership of Kouyate and Fernandes gave our defensive midfield pace, but neither has tackling as their forte, and we badly miss Obiang, who is, of course, out for the rest of the season.

We are now three points away from the top half of the table, with an inferior goal difference in comparison to the other teams in contention for a ninth-placed finish, so it will take a good run of results to achieve that (looking increasingly unlikely) position. But three home games against top-six opposition and potentially tricky away fixtures at Stoke and Burnley give the players quite a challenge in the run-in, and many will need to do so to prove their value for a position in the squad next season.

I believe we will need a much better recruitment campaign this close season to enable us to move upwards from our current “fighting for a mid-table place”. But whoever is in the team there are some basics that need to be mastered, especially defending set pieces, and retaining a winning position. Even with our current squad, we would have been in a much healthier position in the league table if we had performed better in these two areas.

West Ham 1 Swansea 0

They think it’s all over …… not yet it’s not!

KouyateAs the final seconds of extra time in the 1966 World Cup Final ticked away, and Geoff Hurst ran towards the West German goal, Kenneth Wolstenholme uttered the immortal line, “Some people are on the pitch …. They think it’s all over …. It is now”. The final three words came as Geoff’s left footed blast hit the back of the net, and England were the world champions, defeating the Germans 4-2, and sparking wild celebrations on the pitch, at the ground, and throughout England.

As the final whistle blew last Saturday, you could have been excused for thinking that West Ham had just won a major trophy. The relief on the faces of the players, the manager, and the fans was palpable. It was a very important victory, and potentially a season-defining one, achieved in front of a magnificent atmosphere in the stadium. It opened up a gap of 8 points above the relegation zone third team, who are Swansea themselves. Defeat would have reduced this to being just three points ahead of Hull, who would have been in the final relegation slot with a Swansea win. Eight points is a lot to make up with just six games of the season to go, but not an impossible one.

A quick look at the fixture list reveals that the teams below us all have winnable games left, and at the time it seemed that Palace, like ourselves, had potentially the toughest fixtures on paper in the games still to be played. But that was blown out of the water to an extent with the comprehensive Eagles 3-0 win over a stuttering Arsenal team. Stuttering that is, except for when they played us!

On the other hand, our optimistic fans are looking upwards, and our tally of 36 points in 14th position is just one point shy of Watford, who are in 9th place just one point above us. So a top-half finish is very much within our grasp with a good run before the end of the campaign, hopefully beginning with a victory at Sunderland this weekend, who themselves look pretty much doomed, and trail a safety position by 10 points.

I believe a win in this game, whilst not making us mathematically safe yet, would just about ensure that next season we are again in the Premier League. But these are the types of games where we can come unstuck. And if that is the case, and if the results of the teams below us are positive ones, then there will still be plenty to play for.

There is a mythical figure of 40 points that all teams strive to achieve as soon as possible every season, believing that they will be safe, but this is not always the case, as we found out to our cost in 2002-2003 under Glenn Roeder. This season it will probably be OK though, as it is doubtful that both Swansea will achieve 12 points, and Hull 10 points, in their six remaining games. But both have at least four “winnable” fixtures left, and the fat lady is not singing yet, although she is probably going through her vocal exercises in preparation. A win over the Mackems will leave us just one shy of the mythical 40, and with a significantly superior goal difference (at the moment!) over Hull and Swansea, 39 could turn out to be the important figure.

Of course, we may have enough points in the bag already. Many fans around me were saying that, after the win over the Swans, that is it, we are now safe. I read today (I don’t know how true it is) that Messrs. Sullivan and Gold are now looking for potential wealthy investors to buy into the club, to take us to the next level, believing that Premier League football is secure now.

It probably is, but with West Ham you can never be sure. Our current “safe” position is not irreversible, and there are still balls to be kicked before the season’s end. So to those of you who think that it is all over, I urge a note of caution, not yet it’s not! But hopefully, it soon will be, and with a few wins in the remaining games we can end up in the top half of the table, a position that didn’t look likely earlier in the season.