Firstly, let’s state the bleeding obvious. We should never have arrived at this position. The team, the players, the management; they deserve to be relegated for the way that they reacted post-Carling Cup victory, but the truth is that we should never have lost our Premier League status. Don’t blame injuries, and don’t blame luck. You make your own luck, and through sheer hard work and perseverance, you will see results. Last season, our determination and fight meant that we survived and did well. We finished 9th and looked good.
However, there were issues. The same issues that Bluenoses have bemoaned for years; we needed creativity and a goal scoring touch. In came Alex Hleb and Nikola Zigic, and Blues fans thought ‘Yeah, we’ve done it’. We thought that we’d cracked it and that we had the team. We’d thought this before. Remember when? Heskey. Muzzy Izzet. Jesper Gronkjaer. What happened? The big names failed us, big-time, and we went down. What happened this time? Hleb failed. Bentley failed. Zigic failed for too long and only came to form just before his injury. Martins got injured and didn’t play again. Davies failed on all but one of his performances. Beausejour took too long to settle and Jiranek went the other way, getting worse as time went by. And, to top it all off, we signed Matt Derbyshire. He’s the only striker who makes Jerome look like the reincarnation of Ferenc Puskas. Add those up, and it equals a run of bad results, and a lack of goals which has cost us dear.
When McLeish saw that it wasn’t working, he didn’t act quickly enough to change things. There was no innovation, no direct changes, and team line-ups which, at times, defied belief. Starting Phillips and Derbyshire together, towards the end, was a mistake, to say the very least. No height, no strength, and no power. Phillips may be the master finisher, but he does his best when alongside someone who can feed the ball into him, not someone who runs around like a headless chicken. In midfield, the debate about formations really came to the fore, as whenever Blues went with five in midfield, our intentions were clear. We were going for draws, and nothing more. True, in some circumstances, such as on the last day, we had no other option, and 4-5-1 was the best formation, but too often, when we played with that five, we left the striker too isolated, and too alone, and we left ourselves as sitting ducks, waiting to be punished…often, we were.
At the start of the season, Bluenoses would have looked at the fixture list and decided that the games against our local rivals would prove to be crucial in the course of our season. We knew that we had to be at the very top of the derby-chart if we wanted to gain enough points to survive for another season, because, to adapt an old adage, your home form keeps you in the league, your away form will win you titles, and the derby form can make all the difference. However, our record this term was simply laughable. The derbies against the Villa should have resulted in a couple of victories, but the crucial lack of a cutting edge once again cost Blues dear as a possible six points went begging, while games against the Baggies were simply exhibitions of how poor Blues can play. Twice, we were taken apart by West Brom. We didn’t learn and stood like statues stolen from the museum, as West Brom’s players passed their way around us and notched goals left, right and centre. The two games against Wolves could both have been very different, but it was moments such as the ludicrous sending off for Craig Gardner which contrived to derail our season. Not only was his moment of madness ridiculous, it happened at a terrible time for the club and also meant that we were without our most influential player during the most important spell of our season. Ridiculous.
For every Hleb and Derbyshire, there has been a Foster and Ferguson, but the problem for Blues was that they were too often left to rely on the same few individuals. Ben Foster, Stephen Carr, Roger Johnson, Barry Ferguson and Gardner have often performed to the high levels which we have come to expect from them. They have resided as the nucleus of the team, battling and fighting their way through numerous challenges to lead the club on two fronts. However, unlike last term, uncharacteristic mistakes started to rise to the fore and individual errors meant that Blues lost too many games and gave away leading positions. If just one error had been cut out, Blues would’ve been able to do enough to stay within the Premier League for another season. For a team like Blues, you cannot survive if there are individual errors, such are the demands of every single one of the 11 men on the pitch. Subsequently, Blues often suffered when the likes of Zigic and Beausejour were on the pitch, especially in the early months of the season, as they still weren’t quite ready for the hustle and bustle of the Premier League. Add mistakes to unprepared players and, well, we were always likely to struggle.
But…we did okay. We survived for the most-part, and did a decent enough job to survive and fight alongside other players. However, as it has been well publicised and talked about, after the Carling Cup final, performances dipped and Blues didn’t pick up enough points to survive. The alarming slide down the table was as shocking as the words stemming from every interview. They were always the right words, about how we would ‘come-back’ and ‘regain the Wembley spirit’, but therein lay the point of both celebration and desolation. Of course, after such a fantastic day, it was only natural that it was the first question in any interviews which took place. However, whatever people may say, it changed the players’ mentalities and drained them mentally and physically. Now, let’s be clear – it shouldn’t have done so. These guys are professional footballers and should have done enough to get the job done and ensure survival in preparations for one hell of an after-party. But, no. Concentration lapses set-in. Players didn’t give it their all. They gave up. Whatever you want to say, they didn’t show up and these players should not have been relegated, yet they were.
Trust Blues’ luck – we win a trophy, and get relegated at the same time. It’s a joke, because this isn’t a case of luck. It should never have come down to luck. We should have gotten out of this through skill, hard-work and determination. The fact that we went into weekends saying “it’ll be okay if X,Y, and Z all lose” was ridiculous. It isn’t about anyone else, and Blues should always have gained the requisite points to survive. This team had written their name into our history, and the record books had been lined with celebratory stories of Ferguson’s heroics, Zigic’s aggressiveness, and Martins’ touch. But then, they tarnished it temporarily by being another side who have taken us down. Sure, in the long-run, we’ll just remember that magical day in February 2011, but these players have let us and themselves down by marking their CVs with a relegation.
These guys have taken us down, and they should take the responsibility to try and bring us back. But, of course, this won’t be the case. Already, there’s talk of a financial black-hole, and a fire-sale. Peter Pannu immediately came out and said that no one would be sold unless offered at least £15m. However, numerous financial ‘experts’ have come out and said that Blues are in desperate need of lots of money to tide the club over the period of the Championship. Newspapers have also reported that pretty much every one of our key players are on their way out and that our squad will be decimated by the vultures which circle our playing squad.
So, good times. We’re going on a European Tour, as well as a tour of the Championship. That is, of course, as long as we are still running, because some experts say that we’re next-in-line to do a ‘Pompey’. They say that we don’t have money, that players haven’t been paid their Cup Final bonus, and that there are serious doubts regarding whether the club can maintain its status with the reduced level of income that is received by Championship clubs. Will we survive? Not a clue. Are these all lies? I don’t know. And I’m not going to pretend that I have the faintest clue on the club’s finances. No rumours, no ‘new angles’ on the story from my inside source, my friend’s dad’s brother-in-law’s sister’s boyfriend. Just a plain belief that the men in charge of our club have to do better and will make sure that everything balances and the club is kept on an even keel; if it isn’t, then there’ll be hell to pay.
There will also be hell to pay from this writer should the current owners of our club let the manager depart. Alex McLeish has endured an up-and-down time since he joined the club, but he has overseen the greatest hours in our clubs recent history. Yes, he has his faults, and team selection isn’t the very best, but he is a good leader for the club. He has overseen us finishing in the top 10 in the most competitive division in the world, and was at the helm for our greatest victory in living memory. True, he did get us relegated twice, and more poignantly, relegated with his side this season. However, when you look at the calibre of player he was able to bring in, and the big names who he has looked to bring to the club in recent years, you have to believe that with him in charge, we are getting closer and closer to where we want to be. This may have been a minor setback, but losing McLeish will be just like starting all over again from square one.
We may be about to see a few big names leaving the club, but there’s always tomorrow and next season should definitely see the emergence of Jordon Mutch as a prominent force in our midfield alongside the extremely talented Nathan Redmond, a young winger who excited and delighted fans who were lucky enough to watch him during the Carling Cup run.
There has to be light at the end of the tunnel, and something that Bluenoses can invest their hope into. In truth, I don’t have much to be cheerful about at the moment, and referencing the young players is about as good as I can muster to be perfectly honest. This was a disaster. We should never have gone down and it is disgraceful that we did. As fans, we deserved better in the run-in from a team who should have done so much more when it was necessary. Being relegated in such a fashion should never have happened. Even the anti-Midlands media were sure of our survival, but as Bluenoses we all had a nagging fear in the back of our heads. Complacency. Idiocy. A belief in superiority which would be exposed.
And, in truth, it was. They weren’t good enough. They hoped that things would fall into place and everything would be fine. Of course, there is always the downside, with injuries that did affect our team, but that shouldn’t have made a difference. We should have already been safe and thus we have only one person to blame. Ourselves.
It’s the time to go away, reflect and try to rebuild over summer. What will happen to our club? Can McLeish keep our best players here? Can the open wounds heal in time for an assault on one of the toughest leagues in the world? I hope so. I really do. But just like a lot of ‘Noses, I’m very worried about what happens next. We need stability and we cannot afford to implode.
This summer I shall look on with fear, anticipation, and hope. It’s time to say a prayer and hope that tomorrow IS a better day. Keep Right On and enjoy the summer.