View from the Home End: end-of-season reflections
So, first things first: how will 2010-11 be remembered?
Generally, I think we'd all say we were pretty satisfied with how we fared, and truthfully if someone had offered us twelfth back last August, I think we'd all have jumped at that.
The problems which condemned us to relegation two years ago (egos, infighting, complacency) were all conspicuously absent and the team of players who appeared week in week out worked hard enough for each other to ensure that we ended up safe with a couple of weeks to spare (and to think it all started with a dodgy moustache).
Tellingly, whilst we recruited the much-needed full-back (James Perch), centre-back (Sol Campbell), two attackers (Dan Gosling and Hatem Ben Arfa) and defensive midfielder (Mr T) last summer, only Mr T enjoyed any meaningful pitch time, with the rest either out of their depth, overweight or injured.
Essentially, the team which kept us up was the same one that got us promoted last time out, with one stellar exception. Whilst others may have drawn more headlines this season, the reality is that time and time again Mr T stood out as the rock around which our entire team was built and his acquisition for a paltry £3.5m last summer is rightly hailed as one of the transfers of the season.
Elsewhere, our Spanish-speaking trio have all enjoyed far better seasons in the top flight than the last time they were here, with Enrique and Sideshow Bob forming part of a solid looking defence and Spidermag producing a greater end product which allowed our strikers to score plenty of goals.
Up front, Rocky was head and shoulders above the rest until that fateful January day and his early season goals went a long way to ensuring we remained reasonably clear of the relegation dogfight for much of the season. The gamble taken in selling him looks to have paid off, and with £35m in the bank, plus prize money from finishing twelfth, a bucket load of Sky cash and the income derived from season ticket and shirt sales, it's to be hoped that Alan Pardew is well supported in the transfer market this summer.
The sacking of Chris Hughton was disappointing, as he'd done nothing wrong, and Jabba's undermining of him and refusal to countenance a longer-term contract or appoint an assistant manager was the worst example of the owner meddling in team affairs. The decision to appoint Pardew on a five-and-a-half year deal was also slightly baffling, but so far so good for the new man (albeit I'm not convinced that we have performed notably better under his stewardship than that of his predecessor).
On the field, only Wayne Routledge and Perch looked to be Championship performers desperately out of their depth at this level, although our youngsters look as if they would all benefit from more game time, possibly on loan next year (something Pardew has indicated he's more than happy to countenance).
Perhaps tellingly, when I predicted how I thought the final league table would look, with a couple of minor tweaks, I accurately picked the top nine. This doesn't suggest you should take my suggestions for lottery numbers for this Saturday seriously, but simply that as a division the cream of the Premier League does rise to the top. Equally, the fact that the accuracy of my predictions tails off as you get down the division - and a look at the actual points totals accrued by teams over last season backs this up - is that there are a lot of teams with very little to choose between them (as one point between tenth and fourteenth demonstrates). Through a combination of skill and application, and despite the twin setbacks of sacking the manager and selling our top striker, we managed to establish a foothold in the league and mix it with all the other mediocre top-flight teams.
Overall then, a good season which at times threatened to be even better and included a number of stand-out results (the 5-1 humiliation of Ol' Cauliflower Face, Arsenal home and away, Villa at home). However, the sale of Rocky inevitably demonstrated a limit to our ambitions this time out.
Looking ahead, if we are to progress and push on to challenge for a top-half finish and possibly enjoy a decent cup run or two, we need to show more ambition to keep our stars and attract some new ones, something we'll be expanding on later this week.
Labels: view from the home end