I sat down thinking I was going to write a cautionary tale about the dangers of playing weakened teams and then I realised that the example I was basing this on was more than a little flawed. Manchester City, despite making eight changes for our league game on Saturday still managed to lose their FA cup tie last night. So now they don’t have the points and they don’t have the bright lights of Cardiff to look forward to. The thing is their opponents last night, West Ham, did exactly the same thing at the weekend.
So instead of having a laugh at City’s expense (ok then, I’ll allow you a wry grin) we’ll do a bit of back slapping and take a moment to think how well both Latics and West Ham have done so far this season.
Now at the start of the season I went out of my way to disprove the theory that most promoted teams go down. I’m not about to go over the research from that, but as much it wasn’t true to assume that us, Sunderland and West Ham would go down as a matter of course, everything pointed to us having a long hard season.
Turn the clock back 10 months ago and we were busy letting Sunderland run away with the league whilst struggling to keep the teams below us off our backs. West Ham had made a fairly late dash to confirm their place in the play offs. With the level of dominance it was certain that the Black Cats were best placed to make the most of a season in the top flight.
So why, as the season comes to a close, are they stranded at the foot of the table whilst the other two teams are still dreaming of a place in Europe (what if scenario – imagine a Liverpool v West Ham FA cup final, the scousers win but the Hammers have finished in 6th anyway, we’re in 7th do we get the EUFA cup place?). The only simple answer is that Sunderland bought poorly but how true is that?
Take John Stead, Henri Camara and Dean Ashton. Despite protestation that he wasn’t worth what West Ham paid for him, Ashton is the stand out choice. Camara and Stead are a different matter, and before the season started I’d have been equally unexcited about either.
You also have to remember that were seriously linked with many of the payers that Sunderland picked up. If we’d have succeeded in picking Stead, Tommy Miller and the like up do you think our places would have been exchanged? I don’t. If Sunderland made a mistake in the summer it was buying too many players.
Dwelling too long on how poorly Sunderland have done can only distract from how well we have. Neither we nor West Ham bought any ‘superstars’ in the summer and credit is due to both Paul Jewell and (begrudgingly) Alan Pardew for how they have moulded their teams to get the best out of them. The last eight games are a race between the two to see who gets “he should have won” the Manager of the Season award. Hopefully Jewell will get a head start when we get our third double of the year on Saturday.
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