The strange thing is that, the poor showing last Tuesday apart, City’s performances in their last five matches haven’t been that bad – in fact, I’d say we’ve been playing better lately than we were in January when we gave a series of dour performances, but kept on stretching our lead. Our last five matches have seen us win two, draw one and lose two and, certainly after the Derby match, people have been queuing up to say we are starting to bottle it – not, to put too fine a point on it, we are “doing a Cardiff”. Maybe we are – certainly, if we keep on playing as poorly as we did against Derby, the three sides just below us especially are going to start thinking they can overhaul us. In fact, Ian Holloway and Kevin Phillips in the Palace camp talked about it in the days after we got out of jail against Derby (they were also joined by Kasper Schmeichel who, in more unlikely style, proclaimed that his stuttering Leicester side could still overhaul us).
So, with us seemingly wobbling, what a chance there was for those who think they can go up automatically to pile the pressure on us by taking advantage of a series of winnable looking home matches yesterday. Things looked to be going to plan for Watford and Palace when they both took the lead against Blackpool and Leeds respectively within minutes of each other, but neither of them could see the job through.In fact, two unanswered Blackpool goals after the break sent Watford to defeat and Palace needed an equaliser from the prolific Glenn Murray inside the last ten minutes to escape with a 2-2 draw – all the while, Leicester’s recent slump continued with a 1-0 home loss to Sheffield Wednesday.
So, even if Hull were to win their televised match at Burnley tomorrow night, it has to be said that Cardiff’s chances of going up definitely look better now than they did at 3 pm yesterday because, although Palace cut the gap by a point, they and Watford have now played two more games than us – this table shows that those matches in hand are both to played at Cardiff City Stadium.
Every match not won by the teams around us seriously hurts their chances of catching us – Watford and Palace only have nine matches left now and Hull ten, but we are now at the stage where we can see the finishing line in sight and you can start making a few calculations that show how strong our position is. For example, we have three matches left against sides currently in the top five and we could definitely finish in the top two (and only be possibly pipped on goal difference for the title by Hull) even if we lost all of them as long as we won the eight others – Palace, Watford and Hull could win all of their remaining games (not going to happen in the case of one of the latter two because they have to play each other) and not be able to catch us if we got eight wins.
That’s not likely to happen of course, but it does show that the room for manoeuvre for these sides is quickly diminishing. Even if Hull cut the gap to three points tomorrow, we are in a position where victory over Leicester on Tuesday isn’t essential, but if we could get the three points we will be in a superb position – an eight point gap over third (with a game in hand) in mid March is worth more in my book than an eleven point one in January or early February.