It has been 48 hours since our valiant efforts earned a well deserved point at Old Trafford, bringing to an end a run of four games against some of the league's top sides. It was a run of games in which expectations were low, the worst was feared, and anything positive gained was seen as a plus.
If we are all honest, those four games have gone better than expected, and in fact, could, and possibly should, have gone better. It started with Arsenal at home, as we saw arguably the best Eagles performance at Selhurst Park so far this season. It brought about our first goals at home, albeit not from open play, as well as some life in the stands once more. We ended with a point, feeling like we deserved all three, and generated some hope for the forthcoming fixtures. That hope, it is safe to say, faded away at Stamford Bridge. The opening few minutes we were lively, but then realistically were dominated for the rest of the half. Even so, when Andros Townsend slotted home to make it 1-1 in the second half, a point seemed very much possible. Two poor moments at the back within a few minutes of each other put an end to that though, giving us the expected loss. Many fans took to social media to criticise, seemingly forgetting we had just lost away, to the only team in Europe still unbeaten in all competitions.
The game against Tottenham was a much closer affair, and while we weren't as strong as we had been against Arsenal, we played well. We didn't create loads, but in fairness, neither did Tottenham. We were worthy of something, but managed to be the architects of our own failure. First Tomkins missed a glorious header at the back post when it was 0-0. Then Ayew couldn't be bothered to head clear the ball, giving Spurs the lead. Finally, Sorloth had the chance he would have been praying for recently, only to thump it straight at Lloris when he should have been bursting the net to grab a point. The saviour of the day, was that late equalisers around the grounds had kept us above the bottom three. Finally, at Old Trafford, after weathering an early storm, we were excellent. In fact, not only did we deserve a point, but it has been questioned as to whether we should have taken all three. Missed chances and a late offside call prevented that, but let's be honest, getting a point was a delight given our abysmal run against United since returning to the big leagues in 2013. So, with the four games over, while we actually could have had more, we managed to get two points from 12, and only gain -3 on goal difference, which is better than we would have anticipated. You could even argue that it was an improvement on last season, because when we had a similar run towards the end of the season, we lost all the games. So, it should be two points well celebrated and all is right with the world. Sadly however, that isn't quite the case.
The problem lies in our points return prior to that run of games. Seven points from our nine games just simply hasn't been good enough. In fact, it looks even worse when you consider who those games have been against. Watford should have been dead and buried by half time, yet we managed to lose to them. Southampton have been awful all season, but we gave them a 2-0 win. Newcastle, at a time when they had no wins, came for a draw and got it. Wolves managed to snatch all three points, despite the fact that their early season form is dropping away now. We have been the gift that keeps on giving, sadly at our own expense. So, while the two points have been fantastic, they have merely clawed us to nine points. I write this before tonight's Burnley game, but should the clarets pick up a point, that would see us drop to just one place above the relegation zone, just one point clear. The simple fact is, we need to starting getting wins and we need them now.
I have seen a few times recently, people posting on social media that these next four games will define our season. I would like to be able to sit here now and say that is rubbish, but in reality, there is substance to that claim. We are 13 games in to a 38 game season. By the end of this next block of four, that will be 17 games into a 38 game season, with Man City next to play. Almost half way, and if we are stranded on nine points still, or have moved into double figures but without a win in those four, then things will be looking dire. However, it won't be easy, far from it. As our opening nine results have shown, even the 'easier' run of games has proven difficult for us, and these next four will be no different.
First up will be Burnley, a game that is never easy. Sean Dyche will have them well organised, they will be strong and likely play for the point. Whenever a team plays for the point, we find it difficult, because we have to break them down and ever since we got promoted, we have always seemed devoid of ideas on how to do that. Burnley have been tough at Selhurst every year. Their first season up, it was a 0-0 draw in which they outplayed us, and it took a wonderful penalty save from Speroni to grab us a point. Then, two seasons ago when we had found new life under Allardyce, Burnley came to town and we expected all three points. Only, they outplayed us again and left with a 2-0 win. Then last season, we finally got the three points, but it took a bit of Sako spirit to grab the only goal in an otherwise very tight game. This year, our need for three precious points against them is high, and they will make life very difficult to obtain them.
After Burnley, there is a small matter of a trip to our bitter rivals Brighton. Now, I don't think I need to explain just why the Tesco Bag men will be well and truly fired up for this game, given our storied history. You can add to that though, the fact that we took four points off them last season, and in the end finished above them. They have been gagging for some actual bragging rights, and will see this match as a perfect opportunity to get them. There are, strangely enough, a lot of similarities to this game last season. We went there with only eight points, making it nine by the end with a clean sheet, languishing in the bottom three. We could be going there this time with nine points, while in the bottom three, were it to all go wrong against Burnley. Brighton are already six points above us, seem to carry a much more potent threat and in Glenn Murray of all people, they have something we would all currently sell a family member for, a striker who scores goals. Glenn Murray serves as a constant reminder as to how much of an egotistical idiot Alan Pardew is, and it would be another slap in the face if he was to score in this game.
From Brighton, we move on to the London Stadium and West Ham. This is another tricky game, although, unlike Brighton and Burnley, you never quite know what West Ham is going to turn up. They are such a mixed bag, that we could as much win 3-0 as lose 3-0, depending on what mood they are in on the day. West Ham have a team that is loaded with talent, and many attacking options despite the absence of Yarmolenko. In Pellegrini they also have a very competent manager, and so this game will not be easy. The same can be said for the last of the four games, at home to Leicester. On their day, Leicester can be a very good team, a team who can beat us comfortably. I do feel though, that under Puel they have become something of just an average team who at times do well, and others don't, but will finish mid table. We managed to take six points off them last season, scoring 8 and conceding 0. That will not happen again this year, not the way we are in the opposition box currently. However, they, like West Ham, will try to play. They will come at us, they will play attacking football and that will give us opportunities, it will give us not only the chance to counter, but space in which to use the ball. On paper, these last two are the tougher two of the four fixtures, but in terms of style, they could be our best opportunities to play to our strengths.
So, like I say, four tough games, even if on a different level to our previous four. Yet, they must wield results for us, they must provide points, especially wins. Tough or not, we need to deliver in these games. There are twelve points up for grabs, and while I would love all twelve, realistically, that isn't going to happen. For me, if we could go to Man City having reached between 15 and 18 points in the league, then I would be reasonably happy. Naturally, we need more than that, but I am trying to be realistic. The frustrating thing is, we have the players capable of performing. On our day, there are players in this team who should not fear these kinds of games, and we have at times seen glimpses of that. Now though, they need to deliver. I still stand by my belief that Roy is not the issue, it is our struggles in front of goal that has caused our downfall. The game at Old Trafford echoed that, because once again we could, and arguably should have had more, but we wasted golden opportunities to score. This is where it needs to change. If we are to get wins from these four games, if we are to climb the table, players need to start stepping up in front of goal. The likes of Meyer, Townsend, Wilf, Ayew, Sorloth, need to start putting the ball in the back of the net. We need to rekindle the set piece threat we once had, we need to find that ruthless streak. We are still a tough team to break down, but if we don't score goals, we leave ourselves so vulnerable, and it has cost us too many times. My belief though, is that if we can score in open play at home, we will break through our wall of struggle. It will lift everyone, both on and off the pitch. Get it early against Burnley on Saturday, and the shackles will come off, I do believe that. So let us keep our fingers crossed for goals, wins and points, starting with the clarets at the home of football. We tamed the Red Devils, now, our revival must begin.