On a wing and a prayer
There's no doubt about it, Monday's 3-1 win over Fulham at St James's was as important as they come. If we're going to stay in the running for the final Champions League spot we have to take our chances and beat our closest rivals. The difference between the teams as suggested by the scoreline is about right, I think - we could have bagged a lot more than three, but then had Fulham been more incisive up front, with our old boy Saha on the pitch rather than en route for Old Trafford, they could have reaped greater rewards than Davis's strike for some sharp passing and slick approach play, much of which was channelled through their Geordie captain Lee Clark, still fondly remembered on Tyneside.
Our defending was, on the whole, sound. Woodgate continues to prove his worth, and even came close to scoring - a feat that his central defensive partner Andy O'Brien managed after just four minutes to set us on our way. However, what really made the difference between the teams was our aerial ability and some superb crosses. Robert put in several great balls, hit a couple of fabulous shots and capped a fine performance with a spectacular overhead goal, his tenth of an increasingly impressive season, while on the other flank Solano also underlined his importance to the side for Bobby's benefit with some neat passing - we really do look better with two wingers, or at least midfielders who like to play out wide (that can't be said of the likes of Dyer, Viana or Bowyer). For once Shearer wasn't on the scoresheet, but the other old-timer in the side Speed notched an important header.
So, still unbeaten in 2004 - this is the sort of form we desperately need to keep up. Ultimately, though, we have to accept even at this stage that that still might not be enough - Charlton, four points ahead of us, are on a great run of form and show no signs of slipping up. They're the ones in pole position - and Liverpool move back above us if they succeed where Man Utd failed and beat Wolves at Molineux tonight. Let's just hope lightning does strike twice, eh?