Well. That was an interesting seven days without Kane, Son, and, for the most part, Dele: Three poor first-half performances, one last-gasp winner, one brave rally to take Chelsea to penalties, and a clumsy capitulation to a Palace side we rarely threatened and yet probably should have had at least a draw against.
Which would not have been deserved.
And, anyway, can you imagine the angst a replay would have caused with the state of our squad at the moment? Especially for the thirty-thousand or so poor souls who would have felt compelled to drag themselves to Wembley to watch it: In fact, other than a really promising performance from Foyth, a battling performance from Skipp, and the fact we don’t seem to have picked up any new injuries, probably the best thing about the Palace game was that it wasn’t played out in front of a quarter-full Wembley. That would have been depressing beyond belief.
Personally, I hate going out of cup competitions, especially domestics where it’s almost always to bitter rivals, so I thought I’d take a look at Poch’s record for domestic cup capitulations while he’s been in charge of us:
Carabo Cup wise, we lost to Chelsea in the final in his first season, then Arsenal in the third round, Liverpool away in the fourth round, West Ham at Wembley in the fourth round – after being 2-0 up – and now Chelsea in the semis on penalties.
FA Cup wise, we lost to Leicester in the fourth round, Palace in the fourth round (both at The Lane), Chelsea and United in consecutive semi-finals, and now Palace away in the fourth round once again.
So, all in all, one final defeat and three semi-final defeats in five seasons, no exits to lower league teams, and four exits to three teams outside the big six. It’s not stellar. But nor is it ridiculously shabby. Especially for a club with our stupidly low net-spend, which, for whatever reason, over Poch’s time here, stands at less than all of the clubs to have ended our cup runs.
There’s also the fact that, during these seasons, the only teams to have won any of the eight domestic cup finals played so far are Chelsea, City, United and Arsenal. Maybe this year will be different, but not in the Carabo, and, with three of these teams still in the FA Cup, chances are oil money or Ole will be lifting that one as well. Money talks. Levy… probably wishes our injury crisis had happened just after the transfer window had closed but is also probably relieved a little of Poch’s sheen has been revealed to be sweat: Since those dizzy heights of Everton 2 – Tottenham 6, we’ve bombed out of two cups, been beaten by Wolves and United at ‘home’, and needed that very timely Harry Winks winner to secure all three points against Fulham: Not that I thought it was a foregone conclusion Poch would go there, but Ole is starting to look the favourite for the United job to me, and the noise about Mourinho going back to Madrid is increasing.
That last-minute win over Fulham does mean we’re still seven points better off than we were after the same number of games last season, where we’d just beaten Everton 4-0 at Wembley to put ourselves on forty-four points and fifth in the league, three points behind Liverpool in third and Chelsea in fourth. Arsenal, on a middling run of three draws and one loss in their last five matches, were busy acquainting themselves with their final league standing of sixth. They would temporarily close the gap between us to three points in the next round of games, though, as we headed down to Saints without Eriksen and huffed and puffed to a one-all draw.
In terms of comparative games, as I said in my last bloeug, we’d just done a Spursy away to West Brom, so the game I’m swapping in against Fulham puts us ten points better off once again: None too shabby. And, considering the circumstances, pretty stellar, in fact.
As for how we did at Wembley against Watford, we beat them 2-0 in our fourth from last game as they gently flip-flopped their way from 9th in the table after 29 matches to 14th in the final standings, only winning one of their last nine games. Right now, they’re 7th. Depending on how you want to spin it, they’ve either only won one of their last five games, or they’ve only lost one of their last five games. Either way, they beat Palace away in their last but one game (but followed that up with a nil-niller against Burnley), have just knocked Newcastle out of the FA Cup up at St James’, and have already beaten us in the reverse fixture earlier this season, which, up until recent developments, was galloping away in a two-horse race for our most disappointing result and performance of the season.
Oh, and last season, when we beat them, our goal scorers were Dele and Kane: Do we have the Troy Deeneys to take Watford without them? I’m not overly confident we do, but desperately hope so, because, Premier League wise, this game is followed by Newcastle and Leicester at ‘home’ then Burnley away. Win these, and we could be the only team in the top six to have taken all twelve points from our next four games, because Chelsea and Arsenal have away dates with City, and Liverpool are off to Old Trafford. So, as disappointing as the two cup exits have been, whether this season turns into a mad tumble from the top four or a very interesting run-in – potentially at our new home with Kane and Dele back to full speed – is still very much in our own hands.