Before our final home game in January, I fancied us to beat Manchester City – just like I fancied us against Liverpool and Chelsea. This feeling of expectation and quiet confidence is new to me but I’m steadily getting used to it.
Yes, we still mainly walk on the underdog side of the street but we can cross over every now and again, and sooner or later you get the feeling we might stay there. To be in such a healthy position when players were dropping like flies over the festive period is testament to the hard work put in by everyone involved at the club.
Ok we didn’t win for a while but we didn’t lose either and that is a big step in our evolution. I interviewed James Collins about this new found resilience and he agreed that there is now an inherent belief that, even when the team go behind, they can react strongly and get a result. They have a dogged determination and come-back spirit that perhaps has been lacking in previous years.
This, Collins says, comes from the strong characters in the dressing room, but is best typified by the man in charge. Slaven Bilic is “a very passionate man, everyone can see, he wears his heart on his sleeve, kicks every ball, goes for every header and to see that on the sideline gives you a bit of oomf to dig in and do well for the team and club”.
The Ginger Pele himself also embodies this battling, robust, neversay-die attitude, and he was outstanding against Liverpool. He’s an old school defender who will never shirk a challenge or turn away in a wall. He’ll always put his body on the line and deserved his new contract.
He’s also a great team player and never once complained when he was told he would be way down the centre-back pecking order. He just got his head down and got on with it. Having Angelo Ogbonna waiting in the wings will keep both Collins and Winston Reid on their toes so I have every faith we can continue to lead a decent defensive line.
It was a shame that Carl Jenkinson’s last kick of the ball for us came Gone: Carl Jenkinson was not having a great season but always gave his best in conceding a penalty. Some said it was ironic but I disagree. I was absolutely disgusted with some of the comments I read online in reply to Jack Sullivan’s announcement that Jenks’ injury was worse than initially thought and he would be out for the rest of the season.
I was so ashamed and embarrassed I had to speak out. He hasn’t had the best of times recently and, in all honesty, he’s had a season to forget. Yet so many of those classless fans who were happily piping up in pleasure at the desperate misfortune of one of our players were keen to resign him in July.
He had a terrific season for us last time round. He worked hard, he was strong, and he played with purpose. Yes he had a stinker in August against Bournemouth, but he got us level against Sunderland and off the mark at Palace. Important goals led to important points.
Regardless of how poor fans think he may have been lately, do we not thank players for their service anymore and wish them on their merry way? Some tweeters have got far too much to say for themselves, and no real intelligence to back it up. Thankfully the majority of our fans are still as classy, down to earth and humble as they ever were. Don’t go changing.