The Matt Holland Column: Points won, points dropped, it has been a rollercoaster of a season

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The Independent Football

Yesterday was without doubt the most embarrassing defeat of my career. We were supposed to be fighting for survival, but by half-time they had had four shots and scored four goals. Quite frankly, it was appalling, and from a personal point of view made worse by the unbelievably robust support our travelling fans gave us throughout. They certainly don't deserve performancesas abject as this.

Yesterday was without doubt the most embarrassing defeat of my career. We were supposed to be fighting for survival, but by half-time they had had four shots and scored four goals. Quite frankly, it was appalling, and from a personal point of view made worse by the unbelievably robust support our travelling fans gave us throughout. They certainly don't deserve performancesas abject as this.

It is possible to stay up but it would mean beating at least one, if not two, from Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool. Can we do it? We have to believe so and try to, but if we are to remain in the Premiership it will be an escape of Houdini proportions.

Each defeat seems to wound more now, but a match won back in October is worth the same as a match now, so I have let my mind drift back over the whole season and jotted down the events that stand out. Considering our precarious position most are of opportunities and points lost, but that was not deliberate.

Chelsea (h) 1 April

Freshest in my mind is last Monday's draw at home. We desperately needed a win and despite the obvious star names in the Chelsea side, they can produce tepid performances. Our workrate and effort were excellent, but two saves by Carlo Cudicini stopped us winning the game. The first was from a first-half penalty. Marcus Bent volunteered for the kick because the usual taker, Marcus Stewart, was on the bench. Without Bent's goals we could never have clawed ourselves away from the bottom spot but his penalty, although struck well, was saved. Cudicini then produced an extraordinary reflex save in the second half from my free-kick. Just outside the box, I hit it really well and Cudicini was unsighted, but somehow he reacted in a split second and got his hands in position, and the ball rebounded to safety. It finished 0-0; but for two fantastic saves it would have been a vital three points.

Chelsea (a) 4 November

We had equalised in the 82nd minute and continued to press forward. It was injury time when an innocuous foul inside the Chelsea half gave them a free-kick, and in their desperation to take it quickly they took it 10 to 15 yards further up the field. Twenty seconds later Sam Dalla Bona had scored and they had robbed us of a well-deserved point. The free-kick was not the issue, nor them taking it quickly, but by stealing so many yards they immediately were beyond our first line of defence, and left our second scrabbling back to defend.

Tottenham (a) 22 December

Only our second League win – the first was back in August – and it started our fantastic midwinter run of seven victories in eight games. It was undoubtedly our lucky day. We competed well without ever really looking like winning, but Teddy Sheringham was sent off, which gave us a crucial numerical advantage, and they also hit the bar twice in the second half.

A draw would have been fair but we stole the game in the last 10 minutes and then sat in the dressing room relieved at the outcome. Through a mixture of effort and good fortune we had picked their pockets and given ourselves some belief that we could actually win. Remember that the media were reminding us that no team bottom at the year's end had ever avoided the drop.

Charlton (a) New Year's Day

We were fully embroiled in a relegation battle even at this stage of the season, so to lose a two-goal lead was criminal. When you are fighting for Premiership survival and are gifted a two-goal lead within the first five minutes, you have to shut out the game. We didn't and, even worse, we did not even get a point. This was the one defeat in the middle of our good run, and if we do go down by a point or two it will be the match I look back on as the reason. If someone gave you a two-goal start in the dressing room, you would win the game. Well, the reason we are where we are now is because we failed to.

Injuries

Fifth last season and hardly a sprain or break to speak of. Bottom or thereabouts this time around and a series of niggles, cracked bones and pulls to keep the physio on overtime.

Two crucial injuries were the cracked jaw of Marcus Stewart and the broken cheekbone of Finidi George. Both goalscorers were out for more than a month when we needed them.

Europe/Uefa Cup

In hindsight, the adventure of playing in Europe was a major distraction. It is only natural that it would dominate the minds of the players because for most of us it was the highlight of our careers, but it did leave us flat in the League. Our relatively small squad struggled with the extra demands as well. Flying out Tuesday, playing the tie on Thursday, returning on Friday and playing again on Sunday is exhausting, particularly for a small squad.

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