THIS week’s results have helped to clarify our season’s revised objectives with the FA Cup rather than a fourth placed finish now our key focus as we head into the final quarter of the season.
Gareth Bale’s wonder goal for Spurs at Upton Park on Monday night may have put the final nail in any lingering Toffees hopes of fourth spot, however in truth the damage was done 48 hours earlier at Carrow Road in a game that provided a microcosm of the themes which have held us back this season.
Going forward, our abundance of possession was again not translated into goals, or in truth the creation of any real chances with Leon Osman’s goal our only strike on the road in five hours of football.
At the other end we continue to be extremely brittle at the back with a particular Achilles heel in defending high balls into our box; unsurprisingly we have shipped more headed goals than any side in the top flight.
This has been the chief contributor in us conceding 19 points from winning positions.
In comparison to our closest rivals we have generally struggled to beat the division’s limited teams with Reading, Norwich (twice) QPR and Wigan all taking points off us this season.
The FA Cup however is very much ‘in scope’ after our quarter-final spot was convincingly booked on Tuesday night.
Our weakness in defending set plays was again on show against Oldham, but thankfully more penetrative forward play was enough to secure a home clash with a Wigan side we are unbeaten against in our last nine games.
The focus will now shift back to the league and a home clash against the not so easy on the eye Reading. For a purist, McDermott’s men are a truly heinous side to watch; they have the lowest average possession figure and worst pass completion in the league.
Their long ball, percentage style approach is worse than even benchmark route one merchants Stoke and like Pulis’ putrid Potters there is little to applaud in their play.
Reading’s away form is shocking having lost more games on the road (10) than anyone in the division.
We have struggled to score of late but should find Reading more forthcoming; the relegation haunted Royals have conceded the most shots (287) and most headers (79) from within their 18 yard box which in both cases is the most in top flight.
This had led to them conceding 52 goals and only the calamitous defence of Aston Villa (53) has a statistically worse back line.
With a Wembley semi-final now in touching distance, hopefully the dangling carrot of a starting berth at the home of football can be a motivating force for the players in the league programme moving forward.