Reading at home on Saturday week (I’d forgotten about the internationals, since they mean so little to me – sorry). Then Boro away a week later and Blackburn at the SoL on Sept 29.
What is the least number of points we need from these games? I remember going through the same mental arithmetic during our two most recent relegation seasons, and of course we know how badly they went.
But let us be positive. A one-nil defeat at Old Trafford depresses us only because it was preceeded by those utterly dreadful performances at Wigan and Luton, and the honourable men-against-boys encounter with Liverpool.
The Scousers are looking very much like a proper Premiership force for the first time in ages. Man Utd were that already. We could even stomach Wigan or Luton, if there hadn’t been both.
But we have to eliminate thoughts of record busting relegations seasons. Roy Keane’s squad has been assembled with a lot more care and ambition, and must do better.
You don’t get easy teams to beat in the Premiership, unless you think of Derby at Anfield or us at far too many places when last in the top flight and the time before that.
But Reading, Boro and Blackburn are precisely the clubs from which we have to take points, given that our immediate priority is to survive (aiming for Europe etc comes after that). In my own view, we need an absolute minimum of five from those three games, but could actually do with one or two more.
The crowd will be with the Lads after a decent, hard-working showing at Man Utd. Gary Bennett, on whom I had to rely for a serious evaluation as the game went on, was broadly complimentary, bemoaning the unclever defending that led to their goal “after all our good work”. In the same BBC Radio Newcastle commentary, Nick Barnes had even been talking a minute or two earlier about us enjoying a “purple patch” (being fatalistic about anything concerning SAFC, I’d winced as he said it).
But Gary had said at Luton days earlier that we looked like a bunch of lads who’d met for the first time in the tunnel. So the improvement was clearly enormous. That, however, is not enough. So often, in calamitous seasons of the past, we’ve put in – often unexpectedly – a solid performance away and gained, or more likely nearly gained, a point, only to crash against lowlier opponents in the next home game.
Pete Sixsmith’s warning, in last weekend’s Sixer’s Sevens, remains the key to our present malaise. We never threatened to score against Man Utd.
The defence has been strengthened, the attack beefed up. In theory, then, more goals should come than we concede, if only Chopra and Jones can start receiving high quality service.
But since we failed to attract a natural playmaker for the midfield, and have injury problems in that department in any case, we must somehow find a way of turning all the commendable endeavour of Old Trafford into incisive creativity at home.
Let a convincing win at home to Reading be the turning point to this season. Just as that atrocious 4-0 trouncing at their old ground in 1997 (I was there and remember a friend saying at half time, two down, that losing by four would be better in the long term than scrambling an undeserved draw) was the catalyst for all that became good under Peter Reid, setting us up for the next season’s championship romp.