For many, the decision to look back is nothing more than wasted energy but following another weekend in which Crystal Palace threw away two points, it’s difficult to peer at the Premier League table and not wonder where we might have been had we been able to hold our nerve in the closing stages.
Perhaps it’s nothing more than a coincidence but after losing pivotal last-gasp goals to both Tottenham and Manchester United in the weeks immediately before Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Bournemouth, not to mention the two stoppage time penalties we missed against Manchester City and the Cherries to win two games over the festive period, our struggles late in games are starting to grate somewhat.
Of course, should we be able to overcome that mental hurdle and secure six points or more in the five remaining games of the 2017/18 season, few Eagles fans will care but right now, with Hodgson and his players embroiled in the eye of a relegation storm, analysis of how we ended up here feels necessary.
Whilst we have had a ridiculously high number of injures since Roy and Ray first stepped foot in south east London, the general quality of the players they’ve been able to select from the start of games has remained high, suggesting that the run of matches in which we’ve dropped points of late is down to something other than pure technical proficiency.
Sadly, at the elite level in any sport, the smallest of margins can make huge differences and this season, our defensive unit have been forced to learn that lesson the hard way. A corner in the final moments of an away game you’re leading should be a time when all eleven men on the field are at their most alert but on Saturday, just as against Spurs a short while ago, we switched off for the merest of periods and paid the biggest price.
Is the work we’re doing on the training ground not sufficient when it comes to set pieces? Are the players not fit enough to maintain high standards in the closing stages? Is it merely a mental obstacle that is getting the better of us now that it appears to have formed a pattern? These are all questions that we as fans are powerless to answer with any real certainty; one thing I do know, is that we’ll need to iron it out of our game immediately if we are serious about survival.
Given the praise that has been given to Hodgson throughout his managerial career for the organisation and discipline he brings to the sides he coaches, it’s difficult to lay the blame for our many lapses in concentration solely at his door. It’s something of a cliché but largely, it is up to the players to execute what they’ve been taught, particularly at set-pieces, once they cross the line on a Saturday.
The likes of Bobby Zamora and our very own Andy Johnson have always been quick to praise Hodgson for his attention to detail on the training pitch and now, with even more experience under his belt after managing England, it’s hard to see how he can possibly have got worse on that front. Perhaps it’s time for the players to take their share of the blame for our flimsiness in the final moments of games?
Slowly but surely, we’re running out of second chances.