16 April 2014

Tony Pulis, you cheeky, cheeky so-and-so...

Would you believe it? Can you believe it? Here we were, hoping, fretting, despairing of Everton dropping points, worrying that we might have to wait until they face Man U on Sunday, or Southampton next weekend, or Man City the week after that, all the while fearing that it would never come to pass. All along, we had overlooked the Eagles, the Tony Pulis-led Eagles of Crystal Palace, the home of one Marouane Chamakh. We plumb-forgot 'em, yes we did—and so did Everton. For the first time since 22 February, Everton went out and lost a Prem match. For the first time since 26 December, Everton lost a Prem match at home. And to think, we have Tony Pulis, of all people, to thank. The irony is just dee-lish.
Of course, all this does is rejigger the race a bit. We're back on the inside track, is all, and there's still work to do. Everton's loss is our gain, of course, as it strands them a point behind us with four matches left to play. No games in hand. No goal-differentials to tabulate. Not now. If we win out, we claim fourth. We may not have to, but why play with fire? It might be nice to anticipate the luxury of assuming that Everton will go on to drop points in some of their other matches, but as the saying goes, what's good for the goose is good for the gander. In other words, for all of the glee we're feeling, we shouldn't overlook the warning as well: who are we to assume that we won't drop points as well? If we so much as draw a match, our goose is cooked, as those two dropped points would send us right back below Everton all over again. No, instead of taking our foot off the gas, we have to turn up the heat (it's a stove with a gas-pedal, for those of you thinking I had shifted to a metaphor involving cars). If we can continue winning ways, we can not only maintain our current advantage but bring more pressure on Everton to keep up.  It's all in our hands now—no playing hot potato with it.

While we're at it, dare we dream of reeling in Man City? Sunderland came oh-so-close to winning it at the Etihad on Wednesday as well, but it was the wrong former Gunner who came through when it mattered most. Samir Nasri squeezed a shot right through Vito Mannone's hands, and it dribbled...slowly...eventually...over...the...line. It was agonizing to watch Mannone inch and squirm after it. An 88th minute equalizer salvaged a desperate point for City, who look a bit shaky of late. Now, before anyone gets too excited, they do have a game in hand, a four-point lead on us, and, of course, a goal-differential that exceeds the goals-scored of fourteen other clubs. That said, we would need them to drop five points from their remaining five matches. That's the thing about a game in hand—it's not quite the same as points in hand, and City can ill-afford to count chickens before they hatch. Well, literally, they probably can buy and count as many chickens as they want. I was going for the figurative meaning back there. Look, though: they host West Brom, stubborn as all get-out and mired just a point above the drop-zone. After that, a trip to Crystal Palace and their scant 18 goals conceded in 17 matches. Then, a trip to Goodison Park. Is it really all that far-fetched to think that they might struggle just a bit, maybe even enough to lose once and draw once? Dare to dream, I say.

It's almost enough to make the notion of pining away for  a St. Totteringham's Day feel positively quaint. On that account, our magic number—the combination of points we could earn and Spurs could drop—now stands at six. If it all goes swimmingly, we'll have a St. Totteringham's Day on Sunday. Spurs play Fulham on Saturday, and it's unlikely that they'd lose, but, then again...Spurs. We could possibly go into Sunday's clash with Hull knowing that a St. Totteringham's Day is in the offing. We'll see.

Dare I mention that a few lads will be returning from injury over the next few days? Hm? Let's see if these names ring any bells or quicken any pulses: Monreal (mmm...maybe). Gnabry (hot dog!). Um, uh, Özil (Oh, god, YES!).

All in all, it's fun to feel like things are going our way again. It's not quite mid-January, with our top-of-the-table talk, but it's a tidy improvement on where things stood just two weeks ago. Fourth place is ours for the taking. Third place may lie out of reach but close enough to taste. Heck, we could very well increase our points-total to 79, which would have been good enough for second place last year. And, of course, there's the little issue of an FA Cup to be won as well. Not too shabby...