I’ll get the negative stuff over and done with pretty quickly by saying that our seventh away 1-1 draw in the league this season means that, with our couple of 0-0’s on our travels thrown in as well, we have drawn 60% of our away fixtures this season and this tendency is completely undermining what is, possibly, the most outstanding part of our campaign – that is, that we have only lost two (or 13.3%) of fifteen away league matches. The next best record in the Championship in terms of games lost away is held jointly by West Ham, Middlesbrough and Leicester who have all been beaten twice as many times as us on their travels (the latter two have also played less away games than us), but, unfortunately, we are not getting the benefits we should from this outstanding effort by the team.
If things keep on going the way they are, we will, in all likelihood, end the campaign with just three losses, but, incredibly, our away record will not be as good as in the previous two seasons, because our current average of 1.4 points per game compares unfavourably with the 1.48 we managed in 2009/10 and the 1.61 last season – we are heading for thirty two away points as opposed to thirty four two seasons ago and thirty seven last year. Last night was the fifth time in those seven away 1-1’s in which we had scored first and it’s a sobering thought to realise that we would now be a point clear at the top of the league if we had held on to our lead in just two of those matches.
I’ve spent the last few months banging on about how draws at places like Coventry, Millwall, Watford and Doncaster could end up costing us at the end of the season, but shame on me if I ever end up adding Southampton to that list, because I’ll be wrong to do so. Last night’s 1-1 draw at St Mary’s Stadium was very much a point gained against the highest scoring team in our league – Southampton also boast the Championship’s best home record. Given that the Saints had lost two and drawn one of their last four home matches before last night’s, it would be tempting to look at the outcome as another one of those missed opportunities, but, for me, that is to avoid the wider context which takes in the season as a whole.
Until Blackpool got a 2-2 draw at their ground in December, Southampton were faultless at home with West Ham, Birmingham, Hull and Middlesbrough all having been beaten there. I’ve talked about how our draws at the grounds of lowly sides have seen us, effectively, lose points to our promotion rivals, but last night we got one of those lost points back – none of those four teams I’ve just mentioned are going to be able to match the four we’ve taken off the Saints this season even if they end up winning the return fixture on their own ground and, with Southampton due to visit St. Andrews and Upton Park in their next two away games, the opportunity is there for us to take advantage of managing to do what so many of those around us were unable to.
If City compare favourably with their rivals at the top of the table in terms of how well they did at Southampton, then it’s very interesting, as well as encouraging, to see how the current top eight in the Championship have done against each other up to and including last night – here’s a league table made up from the results of matches played between the current top eight;-
Cardiff 9 5 2 2 14 10 19
Southampton 8 4 3 1 15 8 15
Blackpool 9 3 4 2 12 14 13
Hull 8 4 0 4 7 8 12
Middlesbrough 8 3 2 3 9 13 11
West Ham 7 3 1 3 9 6 10
Reading 9 2 2 5 7 9 8
Birmingham 8 1 2 5 9 14 5
There’s a few observations I’d make about this table;-
1. This is a league where you don’t want to have games in hand!
2. Five of Southampton’s six remaining matches in this mini league are away from home.
3. All bar one of Birmingham’s remaining six matches against the current top eight are at St Andrews.
4. We’ve played five out of the top eight away and have only lost once.
I suppose what I’m doing here is showing that you can prove anything with stats! However, although I think the points being made about our away record are valid ones, I would argue that how we are doing against those teams around us trumps that in terms of significance.
After the Reading defeat last May, City fans talked about the “feel” of the season just ended – although results were, largely, good, there were plenty of around who had more than an inkling that the season was heading for the sort of climax it eventually saw. Now, although there is still a lot of time left for the standings in that mini league to change, I’d say it offers conclusive proof, for the moment anyway, as to why there are those who would say this season has a different “feel” to it compared to previous seasons when we have been challenging near the top of the league – I can’t remember a time when our record in the really important matches has been as good as it is now (even the two defeats we’ve suffered against top eight teams have hinged on controversial refereeing decisions that have seen us denied penalties).
Last night, City showed more of the resilience that has become their byword this season. A good first half, which saw us lead through a deflected Craig Conway shot after keeper Kelvin Davies had problems dealing with yet another excellent dead ball delivery by Peter Whittingham (who played rubbish according to one of the messageboard sages!). The second half saw a pretty predictable Southampton comeback which culminated in them being given a penalty following the turning down of two strong earlier appeals for a spot kick. Kevin McNaughton, in for the unlucky Darcy Blake, gave away a second rather unfortunate penalty for handball of the season after the ball struck his arm, but, whereas the one at Peterborough looked very harsh, this one came as he was in the process of being turned inside out by the impressive Adam Lallana and the defender’s arm seemed to be out a bit as he tried to regain lost balance.
Ricky Lambert beat the restored David Marshall (would the shoot out hero of the Palace match have saved it? I doubt it) to level things up, but our keeper made an important stop to foil Lallana late on to preserve a point that, by general consent, we deserved over the ninety minutes – they may be the punter’s friend when they go on their travels, but this City team resolutely fail to go away!
picture courtesy of