Club-by-Club Review of the Season – Bottom Half
West Brom: A season of Ifs, Buts, Maybes and Not Quites for The Baggies this season, but it was nevertheless extremely entertaining. Tony Mowbray will not leave, nor should he, and he has created a side who played some of the most exciting football this season. Sure, they lack a quality centre half – Meite has been a disappointment – and there are unattractive hobos who have scored more times than their strikers, but there are differening types of success, and, both penalty boxes aside, they have been a roaring success: 7/10.
Middlesbrough: Middlesbrough’s side is definitely Premier League Class. Stewart Downing has played for England this season, David Wheater has been solid more often than not and they have conceded only 2 more goals than 12th placed Stoke. Afonso Alves simply hasn’t done it. There are mitigating circumstances, Boro’s style of play perhaps chief amongst them, but 4 goals in 31 league games this season is simply not enough for a striker signed to score goals. They played nice football, but if the goals don’t come, the defence is under more pressure, and ultimately they couldn’t quite keep it tight enough. An underachieving season, and Southgate has plenty to ponder: 4/10
Newcastle United: A joke. From the moment of the season, to the final day defeat at the hands of Aston Villa, The Toon have stumbled from crisis to crisis, leaving a trail of Bad Boys, Bad Signings and even worse performances in their wake. Rare bright spots on the spotty, ugly face of Newcastle season include the emotional victory against Middlesbrough at St James’ and Shay Given’s last dance against Liverpool (they lost 5-1, and Given was sold not long later), but they are of no comfort now. They may not have the Messiah, but they have a very naughty boy: 2/10.
Hull City: After a stunning start, where they gained 20 points from the first nine games and sat third, Hull collapsed horrifically. From that point they gained just 15 points in 29 games – Derby County form – and all the momentum that they gained from dramatic victories at the Emirates and White Hart Line, and from a draw at Anfield eroded desperately. Manucho’s incredibly important goal at Fulham aside, all of Hull’s best moments came in the first part of the season, and while their collapse could be seen as a natural parabola of a promoted side, it does not bode well for next season. See, you don’t have to mention that team talk: 8/10.
Sunderland: Roy Keane left after a 4-1 home defeat against Mighty Bolton, and with the club in the bottom three, Ricky Sbragia stepped into the breach and kept them up. Just about. There were a few good performances, and overall Sunderland have played easy-on-the-eye football, but, like all of the clubs facing relegation, their results tumbled alarmingly towards the end of the season: They avoided relegation to the Championship, only because of the failings of others: 4/10.
Blackburn: Following the sacking of Paul Ince, Rovers were in a dire position in the relegation zone. Enter Big Sam. Like a rescue act combination of The A-Team and Dave Bassett, he has swirled into town, taking 28 points from 21 games and turning a side lying 19th when he took over into comfortable survivors. Benni McCarthy has stepped up to the plate, Keith Andrews has become a solid regular and Stephen Warnock is standing on the edge of England squad, among others. Allardyce has proved what we always knew about him pre-Newcastle, and has made a beefburger out of a cow’s ****. Again. Ince – 3/10, Allardyce – 8/10. Overall: 5/10.
Portsmouth: After a bright start under Harry Redknapp, and a moderate start under Tony Adams, Portsmouth’s season turned at one moment in time: It wasn’t even in the league. AC Milan, 2-0 down at Fratton Park, are given a free kick, 30 yards out. Up steps Ronaldinho… and this happened. Then things like this. Then this final straw. Eyebrows were raised when Adams was replaced by Paul Hart, but he has done a sterling job in keeping Pompey afloat. Peter Crouch and Glen Johnson are undoubtedly their stars, and both will probably go in the summer. Not a bad season, given the financial circumstances, but perhaps tougher times lie ahead: 6/10.
Bolton: The Ginger Mourinho has done it again. It’s not been flashy, barring the odd suprise thrashing, but it has been very effective. Megson has made the Reebok Stadium into a bit of a fortress again, with wins against Spurs, Man City etc, but they have been the 14th best team at home this season, and the 13th best away: i.e. comfortably lower mid-table: 6/10
Stoke: The first half of Stoke’s season could be summed up in one word: Delapidator – Rory Delap’s long throw, along with the inclusion of players like Sidibe, Salif Diao and Olofinjana typified Stoke’s agricultural style. It was effective every so often – most notably against Arsenal at home – but it was football reminiscent of Watford’s two years ago. And they got relegated. In January, Pulis provided his greatest masterstroke: his versatility – the signings of James Beattie and Matthew Etherington, and the recall of Liam Lawrence made Stoke a more rounded side – able to mix it too, of course – but a front six of Lawrence, Whelan, Delap, Etherington, Beattie and Fuller started to play some very good football, and the results swung dramatically upwards: Since January 1st Stoke have been the 10th best team in the division, and have reached mid-table safety with much to spare. Well done, Mr Pulis: 9/10.
Wigan: For 30 games, Wigan were having a fabulous season: Sat in 7th position with just 8 games to go, Steve Bruce could dream of Europe. Unfortunately they have tailed off a little, but it’s still the second best season in Wigan’s history: Players like Charles N’Zogbia, Hugo Rodallega and (to a lesser extent) Mido have all replaced important players (Palacios, Heskey and Ryan Taylor) adequately and in Maynor Figueroa and Chris Kirkland Bruce possesses some of the best players in the league this season. An excellent season: 8/10.
What do you reckon? What are the marks out of 10 for your club’s season? Tomorrow, the top half.