Though Tuesday's point against Crystal Palace was a welcome one, the team's Jekyll and Hyde performance in that game has me increasingly concerned about whether or not we can once again beat the drop, particularly when looking at our remaining fixtures.
Nine games remain. and we’re sixteen points away from that elusive forty-point mark.
We all know that this season has been the most unpredictable in years, so it makes it increasingly difficult to predict where we’ll be standing come May the 15th at 5pm. The home game against West Brom is a must win in my view - now this is a term thrown around all too often, but looking at our other home fixtures this is certainly the most winnable on paper. This is even more prevalent as Leicester and Arsenal are battling for the title, and Chelsea are now looking something like the team that won the league at a canter last year.
This Saturday we travel to St Mary’s, and back to the scene of our 8-0 hammering last season. Southampton have won four of their last six at home. With John O’Shea a major doubt, Younes Kaboul will have to be on top of his game to nullify the threat of Shane Long, Charlie Austin and Sadio Mane. We’ll need Jan Kirchoff to recover quickly, as the big German looked absolutely knackered during the second half against Crystal Palace, as did the equally impressive Wahbi Khazri.
We follow this up with away trips to Newcastle, Norwich, Stoke and finally Watford. Considering we’ve won just twice on the road all season, and lost ten, I’m not filled with too much optimism. The Tyne-Wear derby in a few weeks’ time is massive - both sides are desperate for a win, and Newcastle will be even more desperate to end a run of six straight derby defeats. The trip to Norwich is another six-pointer - the Canaries have not won at home in five, so we really have to take advantage of their poor home form.
It’s likely to be two of Swansea, Newcastle, Norwich and us joining Aston Villa in the championship next season.
Bournemouth’s recent revival now has them eight points clear of the drop zone, and considering they have Villa, Swansea and West Brom to play you’d fancy them to stay out of trouble. We have to hope that Newcastle’s defensive frailties continue and Swansea don’t rediscover that they can actually play football any time soon.
There is no doubt that the January signings have made a difference to us on the pitch. Lamine Kone, Jan Kirchoff and Wahbi Khazri have all slotted into Sam Allardyce's side nicely, but if we are to get out of this predicament we’ll need a few of the old guard to step up and rediscover some form.
Lee Cattermole is a prime example - he's not looked convincing since the turn of the year, nor has the showed the type of fight that has previously helped us to safety in recent years. Seb Larsson’s return from a lengthy lay-off is a big boost during this busy period. Jermain Defoe hasn’t set the world alight in in recent weeks, scoring just twice in his last eight games, despite having decent chances in the past few games. We really need him to start finishing them off.
Let’s be honest, we’ve been in much, much worse situations and our fate is still very much in our own hands. I just hope that Big Sam can instill enough confidence and belief into the players to get us overt the line.
I’m certainly not confident that we’ll stay up, but that’s been the same in the past three seasons. It’s going to be a nerve shedding few months.