Go back a year, and losing a goal in the second minute against QPR and losing one in the 85th minute at Fulham would undoubtedly have led to two defeats and no points. Fast forward twelve months and things were completely different with the equaliser at Fulham vitally important for much more than the point it brought.
This is a squad of players that simply doesn’t know the meaning of capitulation and if you had to sum up what Garry Monk has given us in one word it has to be ‘excitement.’
When that rather ludicrous second goal went in against QPR early in the second half there was none of the resigned communal sighs that would have greeted such an incident under Karanka. Because while he would have continued in the same vein with a complete lack of forward movement or any kind of pro-active change in personnel, this set of players simply shrugged the setback aside and went in search of both an equaliser and ultimately a winner.
The same applied at Fulham where the draw almost felt like a victory after coming back so late to equalise. Had Ashley Fletcher managed to get a touch on the ball in the last minute, in fact, it could easily have been another three points.
I said last month that one very positive sign of Garry Monk’s excellent recruitment was the Carabao Cup result and the performance against Scunthorpe in which the team – showing ten changes from the one that had been used over the first four games – comfortably won with some great movement and three excellent goals.
Exactly the same can be said about the ten changes made at Aston Villa and the very comfortable nature of the win demonstrated just as strongly how deep the quality of this squad really is. Once again, Monk showed he has no compunctions about blooding young players and the performances of both Lewis Wing and Marcus Tavernier on that night is an indication that the future is looking good.
Perhaps the only disappointment of the last four weeks was the red card for Adama Traore after a sensational performance against Bolton in which he demonstrated his understanding of Garry Monk’s instructions to get up the wing and look for Britt Assombalonga. The two crosses for his goals suggested that Traore had at last come of age, but the very silly sliding tackle when there was simply no threat to our goal showed he still has much to learn. He’s still wonderfully exciting when he storms forward, though, and having completed his three match ban we are now – at the time of writing – looking forward to two home games in the space of four days. If he’s picked for either or both of them he could well carry on as he did at Bolton. Six points in those two games (Norwich and Brentford) and we could easily be challenging Leeds, Cardiff and Ipswich for an automatic promotion place.
There’s still a long way to go, of course, but it’s quite a while since we were able to arrive at the Riverside with so much anticipation and – I say it again – excitement. And with the unbeaten run stretching to seven games at Fulham there is also a degree of that longed for attribute consistency.
It still has to be said, however, that we have yet to show the really dynamic performances of which this team is definitely capable but picking up points when there is so obviously a lot more to come is a great sign.
Long may it all continue!