Welcome to the players, staff and supporters of Brighton & Hove Albion FC for this evening’s npower Championship fixture at Ashton Gate.
On Saturday, having just watched arguably the most consistent 90-minute performance since I’ve been here, keeping our first away clean sheet of the season, picking up only a second point in nine away games and my first away point at Bristol City – and all of this in extremely tricky conditions – a journalist asked my reaction to being bottom of the league.
I wasn’t sure how I was meant to react. Should I have been filled with despair at the news and let doom and gloom descend? Did it render everything that had happened at Bloomfield Road in the previous 90 minutes a waste of time? Was I meant to have done something different to try to win the game? Was I now meant to have a go at the players for not winning? Should I start blaming the assistant referee for not awarding Steven Davies’ valid goal?
Later that evening, local BBC journalist, Caroline Chapman, tweeted that she disagreed with my stance, stating that ‘in a relegation scrap it is definitely about results rather than performances’.
She’s right of course, it is about results. But how do you get results – consistent results – without first addressing performances? I’d love to know.
To some people, saying you focus on performances not results has the implication that you aren’t actually trying to win every game you play, or you are less bothered about the result.
Of course, that is completely not the case. But results can be in the lap of the gods.
Does anyone think Sir Chris Hoy, Sir Bradley Wiggins, Sir Steven Redgrave or Sir Ben Ainslie have enjoyed all their sustained Olympic and sporting success simply because they have hoped and kept their fingers crossed harder than their rivals? Or they have been luckier?
Talent obviously comes into it, but at that level every athlete is extremely talented. More critical is the fact that every great sportsperson understands completely every component part of what they need to do in training and in competition to give themselves the best chance of performing at their highest possible level. They know if they look after all those component factors then more often than not it then comes down to talent and ability.
Sometimes factors outside of your control will determine the outcome. Sometimes you don’t get the luck, sometimes you do just have to accept that, on the day, you were beaten by the better opponent, sometimes one mistake – whether player or official – can be costly.
But over a sustained period of time, if you maintain a certain standard of performance then you will increasingly get the outcome you desire.
All we’ve focused on since we’ve been here is trying to find a way to maximise the individual and collective ability we have in the squad and get consistent performances that give us the best chance of winning every game we play. So far it’s stood us in good stead.
Consistent performances only come from players understanding every day on the training pitch what they need to do to contribute fully to the team effort, then taking that into a match and having the confidence to apply it in a pressure situation.
If players are confident in not only their understanding but also that of their team-mates, and if they believe what they are trying to do are the right things to give them the best chance of winning the game, you give yourselves an opportunity.
In our situation, the absolute last thing you need is players playing with fear, players hiding on the pitch because they are too scared to make a mistake, players who berate rather than support a team-mate who does make a mistake.
You don’t need players going into a game consumed by nothing but ‘we have to win’ and then losing focus on the immediate task at hand; fulfilling the roles and responsibilities they need to on the pitch to give the team the best chance of securing a positive result. You want pressure to give you an edge, an additional incentive and determination; not kill you.
What does a good performance look like for us at this moment in time?
That we’ve been hard to break down and defended as a team, have shown good game intelligence and an understanding of what has actually been going on in the match, have played to our strengths and been bright and innovative in our attacking play.
To build and maintain confidence you have to give players boxes they can tick in a game. The more boxes that get ticked individually, the more you tick collectively. The more you tick collectively, the more chance you have of winning football matches.
It also means that if you do lose a game, which is one of football’s inevitables, you have things to fall back on, things to build on, things to help you maintain belief. Judging a performance solely in terms of whether you won or lost the game is self-defeating. The lows feel disproportionately low, the highs disproportionately high.
Saying results are more important than performances at this stage of the season is just rhetoric. It’s a given that they are.
It then comes down to all those things you have to nurture; confidence, belief, understanding, character, responsibility, motivation. All of them contribute to whether a team is likely to consistently produce performances at a certain level or not.
I cannot affect what the other teams around us are doing, just as I can’t wave a magic wand and decree we are going to win every game between now and May 4th.
The only things I can influence are the components that contribute to what, for us, constitutes a good performance. That will evolve as the team does and I’ll always be the first to admit when I believe performance levels have dipped. But I’ll also always understand why they may have dipped, because I understand what we are trying to achieve and how.
As we continue to try to win every game we play, please keep supporting your local team.