Tonight’s visit to Bournemouth offers a different kind of pressure and one that manager Roberto Martinez bloods his younger players to.
The season started with so much promise but we find ourselves in the familiar position of perennial relegation scrappers, hovering perilously close to the dreaded bottom three.
There’s no denying that even though we are in a better position to last season, our present campaign somehow feels like a failure to this point so far.
Unceremoniously dumped out of the Capital One Cup by Bradford, who are now on the verge of the final, and lucky to be facing a replay in third round of the FA Cup this evening, again against lower league opposition.
So the pragmatists amongst us will highlight that our focus must, and always will, remain on the league where the picture is also bleak. Our league situation isn’t much to shout about as early season promise failed to develop into anything substantial.
As ever there is a combination of reasons to point the finger at our poor league display. Injuries, suspensions, and confusing refereeing decisions have all played their part, but over the course of a season the three worst teams will be relegated.
Over 38 games luck will largely even itself out and the teams who deserve to, will go down. What concerns more than most years is the quality at the bottom of the table is less than it has been in the past.
Reading, Southampton, Aston Villa, Q.P.R. Norwich, and Sunderland are all bad enough to have gone down in prior years, even our displays have suggested we won’t escape the drop.
What better time to prove that we can climb the table to a position of relative safety than two home fixtures against sides in and around us. Sunderland and Southampton at home must represent a targeted six points, and nothing less will do.
Unlike last season we are not in a position of needing to pick up points against the best in the league; our 4-0 home defeat against Manchester United does not affect our league standing so much as a home defeat to either Sunderland or Southampton would.
During our recent history in the top flight we have forged a reputation as being able to earn results that matter when we really need them. Our two upcoming game with Sunderland and Southampton are two such occasions that the players should offer 100% focus on getting six points for.
Forget the FA Cup game against Bournemouth; a cup run would indeed represent a welcome respite. But that is all it would be; a respite, and that is why it is in the hands of the youngsters. Those players looking to gain experience, catch the eye of the manager, and show what they can do in the first team.
Defeat is an option.
The headlines will give short term embarrassment to the club, but it is our Premier League status that matters more. With Ivan Ramis seemingly set for a significant spell on the sidelines and Arouna Kone representing his nation in the African Cup of Nations, we need to adapt and focus entirely on our next two top flight games that will go a long way to shaping our season run in.