Blues and Villa save themselves at the death
It’s certainly been a season to forget for Football in the West Midlands. The only shred of light within the region was Wolverhampton Wanderers cruising to the League one title in record style, amassing a colossal 103 points meaning they bounced back to the Championship at the first attempt in style.
Also in League One, Walsall had been making moves towards the play-offs and were sat in sixth place at the start of February. But a small squad and limited resources saw the Saddlers finish in mid table safety. For Dean Smith’s men, a 13th placed finish whilst frustrating, should be seen as a positive for them and gives them another year of stability.
Across the other side of the Black Country, at the time of writing, West Bromwich Albion are still sweating on their Premier League status, needing another four points from their last three games to be certain of another season in the top flight. Their safety could be assured so long as Norwich City fail to gather enough points to catch them. In any case, the Baggies superior goal difference is effectively worth another unofficial point.
It’s been a real season of turmoil at The Hawthorns. The Baggies were sitting in the top ten at the start of November under the stewardship of Steve Clarke. But a series of poor results led to Clarke getting the heave-ho and ex-La Liga Manager Pepe Mel swapping Betis for the Birmingham Road to guide West Brom to safety.
The quest wasn’t helped after Nicolas Anelka was sacked following his Quenelle gesture in the winter. A big signing on big wages – but also a big disappointment and the lack of firepower for Albion has been noticeable. The chances are stacked positively in their favour, due to the difficult run-in that Norwich City have (Chelsea and Arsenal) added to the superior goal difference the Baggies have. It would take an unfortunate series of events to see them go down.
Aston Villa managed to all but secure their top flight status with a pulsating 3-1 victory over Hull City on the penultimate weekend of the season. It’s been another season of frustration at Villa Park under the management of former Celtic player Paul Lambert for a second campaign.
Again, firepower in front of goal has been a massive issue for Villa this year. Last season’s top goal scorer Christian Benteke failed to match his swashbuckling first season in the claret and blue shirt by only scoring ten Premier League goals this season before he ruptured his Achilles tendon, ending his season with Villa, as well as his dreams of playing for Belgium in the World Cup in the summer.
Having been in 10th in mid March, Villa descended down the league at a rapid pace and seemed to be freefalling towards a relegation spot. Injuries, poor performances and the suspension of members of the backroom staff all seemed to be accumulating towards Lambert’s men dropping into the second tier of English Football for the first time since 1988.
But, against Hull City, they pulled out a much-needed performance in their last home game of the season which – barring some freak winning results and goals scored by Norwich – will keep them in the top flight.
Should results go against them, it’s possible that Villa may well finish in one place above the drop zone – something could well mean that Lambert is shown the revolving door at Villa Park, and the much-berated owner Randy Learner decides to put the ‘For Sale’ sign up at Villa Park, cut his losses and sell-up. It’s safe to say that most Villa fans want both at the moment.
Across the Aston Expressway, Birmingham City secured their status in the Championship with a dramatic injury time goal in the final minutes of the last game of the season.
Much like Villa, this has been an embarrassment of a campaign for the Blues. The perilous financial position of the club has been well documented. No money in the pot, having to beg, steal and borrow players from other clubs had a detrimental effect on the side, without a shadow of a doubt.
Lee Clark and his players have struggled this campaign. Having to try and cobble together a team without a proverbial pot to… well, you know the rest I’m sure, foster a team ethos and belief has been a real challenge. Not helped a lot of the time with somewhat baffling and erratic team selections and formations by Lee Clark.
The club has basically been a rudderless ship and its course was firmly set on League One. A woeful campaign at home only garnered two victories from 23 games – the worst in all of Europe – and a team of players of sometimes questionable talent and belief, alongside losing over half of their games this season should have seen Blues in League One.
But for a dramatic last-gasp goal by Paul Caddis, it would have been. Going into the final game at Bolton Wanderers, Blues were in the bottom three and needed to better Doncaster Rover’s result.
With ten minutes to go, Blues were losing two nil and seemingly dead and buried. But goals from their enigmatic talisman Nikola Zigic and then a last gasp goal by Caddis, saw Blues stay in the Championship by way of goal difference… 15 goals to be precise. Evidently all those consolation goals worked in their favour.
To say that goal has potentially saved the club is an understatement. With prospective buyers making pitches to buy the club, relegation would have meant a number would have withdrawn their interest, a dramatic drop in revenue and potential administration. Don’t get me wrong, this could well happen, but they’ve got a better chance now to write off this season as a bad mistake and hope that next year can be one to build on and bring some stability to the club.
What a season. What a game.