OK, so we could take the "Get in there" approach. It was a win. It's another 3 points. It's back to back victories. A few weeks back, consecutive games against Brighton away and Leicester at home looked threatening so 6 points is an excellent return for the last 6 days. We are second. There is a 3 point gap between us and the third team. There is clear Claret and Blue water between West Ham and the teams outside a play off place - until games in hand are played at least. If we maintain our current return of points per game, we will finish on 88 or 89 points, enough to secure promotion. Our goal difference is the second best in the division. And this has all been achieved with a heavily depleted squad. So why aren't we all celebrating?
Well some of us are, of course. Some of us think that this blog is intent on seeing the negatives. Some of us will groan when they see this thread and complain, here we go again. But I'm still going to suggest that yesterday's game, and the Brighton match before it, asked as many questions as they answered.
Look at that second half performance. We were coasting. Two goals up and with Leicester manager-less, it should have been a comfortable victory. But as soon as Leicester got a foot in the game - and that was before they scored - we panicked. Once Leicester scored, the whole team turned into Corporal Jones, yelling "Don't panic! Don't panic!" until Rob Green remembered "They don't like it up 'em" and went long ball. No complaints from me about that goal, Piquionne's flick and Baldock's finish were class, but had that goal not been scored at that exact time, I fancy we would have lost the game. But why? We were still a goal ahead for pity's sake, we were the home team, we were above Leicester in the table, we had the experienced manager - but the team looked clueless and terrified regardless.
The problem still roots back to a lack of balance. Noble got man of the match yesterday because of what he offered offensively - and the quality of his passing was head and shoulders above anything else on show - but he is not a holding midfielder; and that shows when we find ourselves on the back foot. He couldn't play alongside Parker, with both doing exactly the same job, and he can't partner Nolan who wants to sit at the apex of the midfield diamond, requiring his partner to sit deep and hold. Give Noble a partner who holds and I suspect we will see him at his best, but ask him to be that holding man, and we will always be vulnerable at the back.
The solution to accommodating Noble and Nolan? You go 4-5-1. But then you can't play Baldock on the shoulder of the big striker and his performance yesterday showed that, home or away, he should be the first name on the team sheet. Baldock is good, very good. That finish for the third goal was special. True it was long ball, but the finish was sublime - and the shot that hit the bar shows he can make something from very little too. When you have a finisher like that at the club, you have to start him.
So now you are trying to fit together a jigsaw whose parts don't fit again. We want Noble's passing range, we want Nolan's leadership and goal scoring threat in and around the box, and we want Baldock's finishing. But we also want a holding midfielder to protect a back four that looks vulnerable whenever the opposition press, and a big man for Baldock to play off. If we could start with 12 players there wouldn't be an issue, but the bastard FA insist you can only have 11 guys on the pitch at any one time!
What does Allardyce do? Well it will be no change on Tuesday, and we should be able to beat Bristol City even with square pegs in round holes, but what happens against the better teams? I really don't know! Who is the misfit in this conundrum? Noble or Nolan or Baldock? At Brighton, Baldock was sacrificed but the Blackpool and Leicester games highlighted the folly of leaving out a player who has "Tony Cottee" stamped all over him. Yes we kept a clean sheet at Brighton, but only because we offered absolutely nothing going forward.
Noble, Nolan and Baldock. It's a case of two's company but three's a crowd; and I would hate to nominate the player to drop out.