Christmas comes but once a year and thank goodness for that. Yes, it’s the time of year again when the rest of the footballing world turns to the English leagues and marvels at their ability to self-implode under the pressures put upon its clubs.
We have unreservedly burdened ourselves ahead of this season’s festive fixtures it has to be said. With no real run of form to cling on to and a shattering turnaround against Spurs, the club gently turns its head to look beneath it in the Premier League table and lets out a small whimper.
‘Please don’t let us be bottom at Christmas’, we all whisper in hope not to jinx anything to see us further slide down the league. Enough looking back (and down) for now, how about a realistic look ahead to three key fixtures in this ever so uncomfortable season. How could home ties with Burnley and Hull, followed by an away trip to Swansea define our season?
Without meaning disrespect to Burnley, playing them at home this season shouldn’t have been one of our greatest challenges, but the fact is now that every home game has become a test. Mid-December is a key indicator as to how to the rest of the month could pan out and it’s absolutely vital to get a win in order to build some momentum going into January.
So why do I get a sinking feeling that this game won’t give us the kick-start we need into the festive weeks? Is it because Burnley have had a decent season so far? Or is it purely a lack of trust in our ability to be confident at the London Stadium? Probably both. Th is fixture is more important than it should be for us at this time of year and as the attempts to make our new stadium a place we can call home fall a little fl at, it’s trickier than ever.
The northerners will be relishing the opportunity of becoming the latest side to upset the apple cart and we have to deal with that, which is only adding to the pressure already mounting on weighed-down shoulders. So what about the visit of Hull City just three days later? Well, that really depends on the Burnley result, doesn’t it?
The two key elements of that week are confi – dence and momentum. We, as a side, are more than capable of beating Hull, but having two home fixtures within a few days in a somewhat volatile atmosphere is unnerving. With the boost that could be picked up from a Burnley win, and maybe even a buoyant performance, we’re far more likely to pick up three points against the Tigers.
Maybe it’s time for this article to take a less ‘doom and gloom’ overview of December. After all, there’s just as much potential for these two home fixtures to effectively rescue our season and see us looking up the table. Six points in two games is doable here and with the Premier League as unpredictable as it has been in recent seasons that could make for a huge swing in our favour. That’s incredibly optimistic, though.
Boxing Day sees us travel to Wales for another difficult fixture on paper, Swansea away. But with the Swans’ season taking a nosedive, It’s the one I’d be the least worried about. Being away from home takes away the strain that has been so evident in nervy performances in London this year. Even though traditionally the Welsh side gets the better of us at the Liberty Stadium, it’s hard to not see us picking up a few points and putting in a decent performance.
Those two weeks can really define our season, as December can do so often to struggling Premier League clubs’ campaigns. Five points out of the three games against Burnley, Hull and Swansea would be a good and realistic target. There’s no point in expecting nine points, even seven is probably pushing it in terms of expectations.
As fans, we have to accept that this is a demanding season for us and with a little patience, the second half of the season could transform what has been a bit of a damp squib so far. Gain points in these fixtures and the season suddenly starts to look brighter. Drop points and the reality of being in the bottom three at Christmas time hits home.