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Timing and the Psychology of a 2-1 Loss

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Last night's 2-1 loss to Manchester City was, by all accounts, including mine, a disappointment. Why should that be so, though? I know we're used to simply being better than nearly every other team in world football, and better than every team in England, but that's hardly the case this season, is it?

In short, City and their ever-more-expensive collection of superstars are better than us. It's hard for me to admit, but they are. In that case, why are we so bothered by losing a close game against a better team? The answer: Timing. For some reason, even though many would have accepted a 2-1 result against as a decent one before the match[Hey, at least it wasn't 5-0!], the manner in which it was achieved left us all with a feeling of despair. It's silly, when you think about it, but who among us wasn't bitterly disappointed?

As I said, what right do we have to be so disappointed with a loss in a reasonably close game with a better team? Part of it is a lingering sense of entitlement from our period of dominance, but, in my opinion, anyway, it's more about the way the match transpired. After all, Chelsea had a lead and "threw it away," didn't they? I'm going to look at the match from a few hypothetical angles to show how my reaction, and likely that of most fans as well, would have been different had the order of goals merely changed.

Scenario No. 1: Chelsea Score First

This is the scenario we actually got, where Eden Hazard's brother Gary scored the opener, and City scored two goals to win the match. I'm not sure why, but when a team scores first, there's the expectation that they're going to win the match, irrespective of the quality of the teams. For this reason, every subsequent goal against them in the match feels like they're letting the match slip away. Last night followed this pattern well. Most of us were disappointed because we felt we had the game in hand after the first goal, despite the obvious superiority of a Manchester City team who had put plenty of pressure on our defence beforehand. This is the same game, remember, where we satisfied with 0-0 at the half.

Scenario No. 2: Chelsea Score Second

This is a scenario where City score first, perhaps through Samir Nasri's effort off the crossbar, Chelsea equalise through Gary, and City score again to win it, through either of their actual goals. For me, this result would have a less disastrous character to it. After all, we fought hard and couldn't quite get it done in the end. It would still be somewhat disappointing, though, as we got ourselves back in the game, only to let it slip away again. With this result, accepting that City deserved to win would have been a bit easier, since they scored first.

Scenario No. 3: Chelsea Score Third

This is a scenario where City score the opening two goals, say the Nasri effort, and Frank's gift which Balotelli shanked wide, followed by Gary's deflection. Had the game played out this way, how many of you would have been disappointed? Well, yes, there's a always some disappointment in a loss, but the performance wouldn't be looked on as so much of a disaster, after all, we let City get 2-0 up, before clawing one back and preventing them scoring again. This result has to be the most positive of the three. After all, we didn't let them put the sword to us, and made it interesting late on. This is probably the easiest scenario in which we could accept City were the better team.

Scenario No. 4: The Situation Is Reversed

For perspective, how would we view the situation if we were in City's position, as the better team, and 2-1 winners on the night? This is our more usual recent perspective, so it should be easy for us to imagine. As it happens, we've had three such scenarios this season, of our four 2-1 Premier League wins. [The other was against City.]

In the first, our second match of the year, against West Bromwich Albion, we came from 1-0 down to win. This match had an air of the inevitable about it. Despite them taking the lead, we fought back to earn our "deserved" win. Oddly, there is very little to be happy about, since we "deserved" to win this one, yet we had to claw it back.

In the second, our twentieth match, against Albion's Black Country rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers, we scored first, allowed an equaliser, but ultimately won it. We scored first, then almost let the win slip away before snatching it back again. As with the reverse scenario, this has a neutral flavour to it. There's some of the feeling of deserving to win, but some of the joy of not letting it slip away.

In the third, our fourth match, against Sunderland, we scored the first two, only to let in a late consolation. This is a match where, despite the late goal, the result was never in doubt, so there is little to be disappointed about.


All in all, though I've ignored the important aspect of when the goals were scored to isolate the order of the goals, I think we can say there's a definite pattern to how both teams feel based on the order in which goals are scored in a 2-1 match where the stronger team wins. Oddly, the best for both teams is the scenario where the script is followed, and the stronger team scores the first two goals, and the worst is when the weaker team scores first. This is what happened last night. We feel as though our team threw away a win, whereas City fans will have felt somewhat disappointed by how hard they had to work to claim the win they deserved.

I'm going to ask you guys a question. If you had knew beforehand that Chelsea were going to lose, but only 2-1, would you have been just as disappointed then as you were after the actual match? I wouldn't have, because City are a better team that could have easily put six past us.

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