Monday, 23 March 2009
It may only have been our second defeat of the year, but it was the inevitability of it wrankles the most.
We have been struggling, especially away from home, for over a month now. In fact ever since Arteta went down clutching his knee at Newcastle we have struggled to create anything away from Goodison. The players looked jaded and disjointed at Fratton Park as the Portsmouth giants battled and scrapped their way to a priceless win. Only a favourable run of fixtures of late (Stoke and West Brom especially) has saved us from further defeats.
We had a similar situation last season when, unable to get over the agonising defeat to Fiorentina, the players seemed to hit the wall and limped over the finish line. An obvious reason for this is the size of the squad. the same set of players can only go so far and it is of no suprise that another side with a small set of players, Aston Villa, are also dropping in form.
I don't believe the international break will benefit the players fitness - the vast improvement in the playing squad in recent years means that over half of them will be travelling around the world with their country. We will all keep our fingers crossed that they return unscathed.
What the break can do though is given everyone a mental rest from the league campaign. There is no point over-reacting after one defeat and hopefully the gap between now and the next league game will put it in perspective. Don't forget we were without Arteta, Yakubu and Cahill, our three most creative players. Any side would struggle with the injuries we have had. When the players do return next week they should be re-invigorated for the final stages of the season.
I personally think fourth is one step too far, especially as Arsenal are getting going again. But with Villa on the slide, and a sizeable gap down to Wigan (which can be increased if we can beat them at home in our next match), fifth or sixth is a comfortable target.
With that in mind the side can focus on the biggest game, certianly for the fans, of recent years. It may only be a semi-final, but it's the return of the Blues to a big stage that matters most to the supporters. I only hope it's the start of many and not a one-off.