Columnist

Giles Smith's Thursday Thoughts

Having watched the almightiest of goalmouth scrambles down below him from his seat in the Matthew Harding upper tier, supporter Giles Smith assesses the league season climax in this week’s column…

Correct me if I’m wrong, but that wasn’t quite the idea, was it? The idea, if I’m right, was to continue our sensational home-straight run of form and, without allowing sentiment to cloud the equation, to beat struggling and relegation-threatened Huddersfield last night, and thereby move level on points with Liverpool.

Which would in turn ensure that both they and Tottenham went into the last day of the season on Sunday with a little bit to think about regarding the Champions League qualification that the pair of them have probably been taking for granted for quite a little while now.

Fun times.

Instead, though, following a sequence of events on the Stamford Bridge pitch that we’ll probably be quite some time getting our heads around, and may never fully understand, we’ve ended up merely drawing against Huddersfield, meaning that it’s only Liverpool who will be feeling the presence of any additional wind this weekend – which is exactly half the fun times we’d been anticipating.

Now, on the plus side, half the fun times we’d been anticipating is still undeniably some fun times. What’s more, as recently as a month ago, the notion that, come the season’s closing round of fixtures, we would be causing discomfort to even one team in the top four would have seemed a remote one. And yet, even allowing for last night’s slip, it has come to pass. So let’s be thankful at least for that.

And, of course, if we beat Newcastle at St James’ Park and Brighton beat Liverpool at Anfield… well, then the 2017/18 season suddenly becomes, not just fun times, but top class, 24-carat fun times for all the family, in a completely unexpected way.

However, I would suggest the abiding mood right now (not least as one plays back in one’s mind that second-half goal-mouth scramble at the Matthew Harding end, very heavily involving Antonio Rudiger, though not only him, in which the ball simply had to go in at some point, and yet, somehow, in defiance of all known physical laws, didn’t) is frustration. And that frustration only increases if you take the view (a tempting one) that we had done ‘the difficult bit’ (beating Liverpool on Sunday), only to come bafflingly unstuck while trying to do ‘the easy bit’ (seeing off Huddersfield last night).

Maybe that’s the not the best, or even the most logical way to look at it, though. In fact, maybe last night was actually the hard bit, relatively speaking. Certainly if it’s three points you’re after, and no fewer than that, then heaven forbid that, in the final week of the season, you should come up against a side who need one point to ensure their survival in the Premier League.

In that sense, the whole set-up last night was stacked against us from the start – the playing field unhelpfully tilted. It was our desperate need for three points against their desperate need for one. And it stands to reason that, if it’s only one point you’re after, you can dig yourself into trenches across the front of your goal, smack the ball upfield or into the stands whenever the opportunity arises, spend hours over goal-kicks, enjoy leisurely walks to the touchline after treatment, and generally indulge in all sorts of approaches to the task at hand that simply aren’t open to the team in pursuit of three points, who can’t merely settle for being the disrupter and instead have to put their mind, at all moments, to creating something.

This is by no means to criticise or devalue what Huddersfield did last night, by the way. Anyone in that position would want to see their team do exactly the same – and would be praying that their team had the quality to manage it, because it’s not as if performances like last night’s don’t, in their own way, involve discipline, organisation and the very deepest levels of commitment.

All credit to the visitors, too, for the fact that, at the sharp end of the season, they needed two points to save themselves and they got those points away at Manchester City and last night at our place. When those are the hurdles that survival puts in front of you, then it can’t be said that you don’t deserve to stay up.

Dead frustrating for us, though. That said, one probably has to admit that our team’s campaign to finish in the top four wasn’t dealt its most grievous blow last night; the real damage was done in other places – in drawing at home to West Ham, say, and in failing to score at home to Leicester, and in losing at home to Spurs having been 1-0 up, and in losing at home to Bournemouth, and in the virtually unthinkable misery of going down 4-1 at Watford. This season, unfortunately, if you wanted to mess up our chances of competing in the Champions League in 2018/19, you had to join the queue.

Even then, though, and even throwing in another two dropped points at home to Huddersfield, those chances are somehow still alive. They say it’s the hope that kills you, and they may be right. But while there’s hope…

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