There’s an old adage that in terms of the weather, March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. That’s just a sort of poetic way of saying that the weather at the beginning of March can still be nasty and miserable, but by the end of the month the corner has been turned and it’s suddenly spring-time with milder weather and longer daylight hours. From there it’s only a short time until summer comes along, and all is sunshine and warmth once again in the never-ending seasonal cycle that we are all so used to. That may be true for the weather, but in terms of the seasons that mean much more to us, how does the month of March look like shaping up?
In actual fact, it could easily be said that March came in like a lamb, but may go out like a ‘¦, well who knows? We had a very quiet lead-in from our February 23rd home match against Middlesbrough, where we came away with a 3-2 win by courtesy of a Torres hat-trick. Then it was a restful eight day break, with no mid-week fixtures to worry about, until our first match of the month, away at Bolton on Sunday March-2nd. That was a terrific result, with Rafa’s first win at the Reebok in his fourth attempt, and in fact it’s the first time we’ve even taken the lead against them on their turf.
We only have a couple of days of rest until we’re up against West Ham. At least this is at Anfield, and should be a much better result than the disappointing last minute loss at Upton Park just over a month ago. This is our game-in-hand, and we have to pick up all three points to take fourth place away from Everton, even if it is only on goal difference (for now!). Our next test is against Newcastle next Saturday, where Kevin Keegan would ‘œlove it, just love it’ if he could get a result for his Magpies against us. Nothing is easy when you’re competing at the highest level, but it could be said that those two home fixtures are just the calm before the storm.
March 11th will see us at the San Siro to get our revenge for a wrong that occurred more than forty years ago. We have the comfort and the confidence following our 2-0 result at Anfield in the first leg, but Inter will do everything in their power to show us why they are currently the best in Italy, if not in all of Europe (I know quite a few who would give them a good argument about that, but it’s probably best left at that for now). If we hold on through that match, we’ll be off to the quarter-finals which are just beyond the end of the month. That might as well be next year, since even if we are in a celebratory mood as we return home from Milan, we don’t have much time to relax before we get to the real stormy patch in our Premier League campaign.
Fortunately there’s a period of relative calm before the real storm kicks into high gear, with a home match against Reading on the 15th. That’s another one that should be a foregone conclusion, but let’s not forget that they embarrassed us 3-1 back in December, which was just ahead of our crucial Champions League match at Marseille. Fortunately we shouldn’t have any more mid-week matches before the end of the month, but we do have a trip to Old Trafford on the 23rd to consider. That could be where Man U loses the title race to Arsenal if we can manage to get a good result there.
The one match that could make or break the season for us, as far as finishing in the top four is concerned, is obviously the derby on the 30th. We’ve been in a tight race for fourth spot with the Blues for months, and that makes it even more dramatic for this encounter. We are the hosts for this one, but we won’t be concerned about being gracious to our guests (more likely to be hospitals than hospitality).
That’s not the end of the story either. If we are successful against Inter in a week’s time ‘“ and why shouldn’t we be? ‘“ then we can look forward to starting the quarter-final first-leg in the first week of April. We also have a trip to the Emirates at the end of that first week of next month to see if Arsenal really are Premiership contenders, and then it’s a run-in to the end of the season with a mere five remaining Premier League matches to wrap up the season. Of course we hope to have plenty of Champions League action to consider along the way, but it’s probably best not to think too far ahead. It remains to be seen whether we’ll be roaring like lions at the end of this month, or if we’ll be bleating like lambs who have lost our way.