My mid-season report is coming two games late this year. Christmas has gotten the better of me, obviously. The good news is that while the first half of our season was an inconsistent one, we are already one point up from the second round of matches based on the matches we have played so far. While our 3-3 draw with Luton on Boxing Day was a disappointing result overall, we can be happy at least with the fight the team showed to come from behind on three occasions while the win over Stoke certainly beats our embarrassing defeat away from home in the reverse fixture.
Going into 2020 we find ourselves in the healthy position of third in the Sky Bet Championship, but a full nine points behind both Leeds and West Brom in first and second. With Leeds travelling to West Brom on New Years Day we have a chance to pull at least two points closer to one of them, depending on the result, if we pick up a win at home to Reading. We’ve had some super results throughout the first half of the season, with the victories over Millwall, Leeds and Reading all showing what we can do, but too many defeats against clubs around the lower end of the table has kept us away from a real automatic promotion battle.
We should have enough to stay within the play-off picture, but we certainly can’t take our position for granted. There’s only six points between us and Blackburn in 13th, so we need to keep picking up wins. If I was Scott Parker, I’d be telling the team to make sure that they better their points total from the first half of the season. When you think of the amount of silly points that we have dropped, I’d be fully expecting that we have it in our capabilities to put things right. The form of Leeds and West Brom over the first half of the season was superb, but can they sustain this? We have already seen Leeds drop a few points recently, while it was Middlesbrough who ended West Brom’s 100% home record on Saturday. Points will be dropped in the coming months, that’s certain, but it’s by who and how many that matters. If we manage to close the gap to six on Wednesday with a win over Reading and either a Leeds or West Brom loss, then this automatic promotion race is far from over.
In my first season covering football outside Fulham, I was at a match between Crusaders and Dungannon Swifts in the Irish Premiership. Crusaders won giving them a 12 point lead at the top of the league, and afterwards I asked manager Stephen Baxter if the title was won. He gave me the usual, very diplomatic answer of “It’s not over until we have our hands on the trophy….” but to be honest nobody really believed him. If they blew it at that stage, it would take a combination of a serious fight from another team and a huge dip in form from themselves. I was also there on the final day of the season when arch rivals Linfield lifted the trophy after an extraordinary run-in saw them somehow pip Crusaders to the title. Crazy things can happen in football. All we can do is control our own results, and if we do that then you never know what might happen.