The Season Takes Shape – By Tired & Weary
Posted on February 17, 2007
Filed Under Articles By Tired & Weary
An expression you here a lot in football post Christmas. I think that it is only now we are really seeing what teams are about. We are discovering the likely candidates for promotion, as week by week teams are starting to drop away.
I can say with some self satisfaction that my early and mid season predictions have been pretty accurate. I admit I never thought Derby County would appear our biggest challenger, although I still don’t think they are. I’ve said all along the two teams in this division who are going to stand in our way of an automatic return to the Premiership would be West Bromwich Albion and Southampton. I really think this will be more evident in a couple of weeks’ time.
The two teams at the start of the day who were occupying the first two league positions, were engaged in the FA Cup. This was the perfect opportunity for us to make one of those games in hand count, and we did. To be perfectly frank, I’m not too worried about us away from home, as our excellent record away from St Andrews shows. Going to Selhurst Park is a tough fixture, and Bruce and the players managed to show in a week of complete unrest, that they can get on with the job in hand. Another 3 points in the bag, and another 2 finger gesture to those dishing out abuse.
So what of the other teams? West Brom got a great result against Middlesbrough, and although they’ll take confidence from it, they’ll also have to take another 90 minutes at least from it. Let’s hope they progress to the next round. Derby losing is also a great result, and it will be interesting to see how they respond. FA Cup or not, their players will be disappointed not to be in the draw for the quarter finals.
Southampton are showing the sort of consistency that is needed to mount a real challenge. They also showed excellent spirit to come down from being behind once, and hauled back level, before running out comfortable 5-2 victors. They’ll be top 6 no worries. I found it laughable how everyone thought Cardiff City were favourites back in October. This was the fickleness of football and bookmakers at its most sublime. Although they have picked themselves up again, they won’t get anywhere near automatic promotion. A winless run will soon hit them again, and they’ll drop away tamely.
I have always thought Preston North End would disappear. They’ve done very well to stay amongst the pack for so long, but it’s really starting to hurt now. They look like they’re about to be pulled up before approaching the home straight. David Nugent will be playing his final few months of football for them, maybe we could get him in the summer?
Our local rivals, West Bromwich Albion look like the real deal. I always say that the best team will be the team that finishes top, but for me, they are the team who most deserve to finish top. They had the balls to get rid of Bryan Robson, who would have been detrimental to the teams promotion push, they survived a mid season crisis, and with a new boss have not only shot back up into contention, they have done it by scoring plenty of goals, retaining quality players from the previous season, and played good attractive football. If there’s one game remaining where I would take a point right now, it would be the Hawthorns fixture.
Talking of local teams, Wolverhampton Wanderers, and I hate giving that lot any credit, have done phenomenally well. The squad they started the season with should have been scrapping it out with the QPR’s and Southend’s of this league. To be in with a shout of a playOff place is more than most Dingles could have hoped for at the start of the season. I am prepared to rule out Cardiff, Preston and Colchester United for playoff Places, but I couldn’t quite say it with too much conviction for the old Gold and Black. What odds a 1-2-3 for the West Midlands sides?
I touched on Colchester there, what a superb story. It’s teams like that, that make football crash back down to reality, away from the fantasies of the Chelsea’s, Arsenal’s and Manchester United’s. They lose their manager at the start of their first season up, they lose their first four on the trot, but they still come back, close to a play off position, and are making plans for a new stadium. All credit to them, but they won’t make the playoff’s, and that’s a good thing for them. They are the only club that for which promotion would be disastrous.
Sunderland also lost their first four games of the season. Thank God we had to go to the Stadium of Light back then, and not now. They are the team on fire, a 4-0 win today. You can’t rule them out of the race for automatic, but every year someone flies at the death. Despite their poor start, new ownership and management are paying dividends. They are also very familiar with promotion campaigns. I think playoff’s are assured, and they’ll just miss out on the automatic places. The only team who have realistic points haul at the moment to be considered are Stoke City, but there only so many 1-0’s they can achieve, and they won’t achieve enough.
So summing up, and putting my likely finishing order, I am going to go for the following.
Champions – West Bromwich Albion (winners by the smallest of margins on the final day of the season)
Automatic – Birmingham City (again very close, last day finger nail biting, and a very unwelcome fixture against Preston, who can forget the Trevor Frances strop, the penalty shoot out, the offside goal in the last minute, the Lazaridis effort that hit the post?)
Playoff’s – Sunderland (missing out on automatic place by a whisker), Derby (end of season fatigue getting the better of them), Southampton (play off winners), and Wolves (surprise package, losing the play off final).