Six games into the league season we met Peterborough. Mid-September had us at different ends of the league, but hey; early days. At any rate, three goals were scored, two by the in-form big money signing up top. The away team left happy – nice to win again after two winless matches, it put them back on track – and even the events around Lee Tomlin’s penalty were forgotten. A meaningless incident in the grand scheme of things.
That was a year ago, by the way, when Sam Baldock scored two at London Road to give us our third league win of the season. Game six, that was. A few days later we went to Watford and got a really impressive 2-2 draw. We were set fair for a very decent season indeed.
Remember last season? You probably still can; you might try to forget it, but I bet you can. Like me, last season probably makes you think of defensive errors, dreadful capitulations and a horrible, cold, empty feeling at 4.45 every Saturday.
But six games in it wasn’t feeling like that at all. A month or so earlier, we’d scored eight goals in four days to win two matches against teams who are now playing Premier League football. Our new
striker had hit four in as many games. OK, we were doing as badly as we always had done in the Cups (knocked out by Gillingham in the League Cup’s first round) but otherwise there was a hell of a lot to be positive about. Ross stayed with me in London after the Watford game; I distinctly remember him saying, later that evening “we’d have to go on a terrible run now to be in trouble again”.
I assume you know the rest.
The point is – a year ago we had what felt like a strong start, which was all the more encouraging on the back of the escape we’d pulled off the previous spring in order to stay in the division. It turned out to be deceptive and we got relegated dead last after a season which contrived to throw low point after low point at us. (For me the lowest point was angrily eating Baklava at a souk-themed wedding the day we lost 2-1 at Wolves – I mixed up port and red wine and things got a bit unpleasant. No doubt you have your own mildly embarrassing memory. I hope it demonstrates that you, too, can lose perspective entirely.)
This season’s start hasn’t been very good (in the league anyway – in another odd little reversal of last season, we’re doing well in the Cups, having started with a positive result against Gillingham). It’s made more difficult because the fanbase is so disaffected due to relegation. And it’s been crystallised by receiving our first sound beating of the season, our early defeats having been a freak 5-4 and a 2-1 against a side still receiving parachute payments. 3-0 against is always nasty, even if the performance wasn’t so much awful as flat, against a team well equipped to punish us for not being on our game.
I wonder whether anybody is, or should be, surprised by this happening. We were expecting this young team to get the odd bad result, particularly early on. We were expecting Peterborough to be a strong side (weren’t we? I certainly was). Yet here we are, with the fanbase up in arms about a defeat. It was unpleasant to be at, but come on. Back to the lack of perspective. Two months ago we all said that, as a club, we’d need to be patient. An odd sort of patience, this; “yes, I’ll be patient, as long as I get what I want within no more than six weeks”. I do sometimes wonder what my fellow fans were like on Christmas Eve.
And of course we’re only six league games in (with our form over the nine games we have in fact played rather more encouraging – you can’t pick and choose whether your better results come in league or Cup). It’s dangerous to extrapolate anything from six games. The sample size, in a season where most sides will play 50 at least, is pretty unscientific. Waiting for 46 league games to be played would be a good start; if that’s genuinely not possible, 15 games is a third of the season and that starts to make sense as a benchmark. But 6? That’s what we call patience now?
I suppose it’s better than 1. There’ve been a lot of debuts this weekend, and a lot of rushes to judgement based upon 90 minutes of playing time. Christian Eriksen “can have a team built around him”. Gareth Bale “can play alongside Ronaldo”. Mesut Özil “has made a difference”. Perhaps all of these things will be true. But it’s ludicrously early to claim that they already are. Football culture appears to be about immediate rushes to judgement based upon a tiny sample size. That’s why Aaron Ramsey is now, for a reasonable swathe of Arsenal fans, definitely better than Jack Wilshere. That’s why Roy Hodgson (whose England team have more goals per game than any England side since Walter Winterbottom) is under heavy criticism for being dull after producing a single flawed performance against Ukraine. Getting a better result there than Capello did seems unimportant; a selective memory is a corollary of this cherry-picking.
It’s at the level of the national team that this sort of thing stands out most, I think. Performance over time will always be a better indicator of future performance than performance in individual games. Over time, England have reached a single major final – the same number as Sweden, Denmark, Greece or Hungary, and fewer than Uruguay, the Czechs and Russia. Yet because we managed to win the single one-off final game we played, it’s a rare fan who will acknowledge that these teams are our international peers, rather than multiple finalists like France, Italy and the Netherlands.
City fans and England fans are both disappointed at the moment. Failure to meet expectations feels like a common thread. But you do wonder how often fans test their expectations with any rigour. I know football is a passionate thing – this is what I wrote about last time. I know losing is horrible, losing a couple of times worse. But let’s wait until we’ve got something worth being upset about. We know from recent experience what that’s like. A bit of patience, a bit of perspective, and maybe a bit of sangfroid wouldn’t hurt anybody, right now.