West Brom: West Brom were a poor man’s Chelsea this year. A wonderful start saw them rack up a lot of valuable points in the opening weeks and Peter Odemwinge in particular was highly impressive in front of goal. Yet it was deeply unfortunate that Roberto Di Matteo’s golden touch deserted him over the Christmas period and the Baggies looked set for another Boing Boing season until Roy Hodgson came in fresh from his magic spell at Liverpool. It’s hard to think of anyone in the game whose more of a gentleman than Uncle Woy and the rehabilitation of his reputation was great to see as West Brom finished comfortably mid-table.
Newcastle: After the car-crash season which saw the Toon relegated followed by a dominance of the Championship which bordered on the savage at times a season of relative stability was welcome at St. James’. On the pitch there were some great results and some extremely worrying ones but overall it will be regarded as a successful season. However the Andy Carroll money needs to be wisely invested to bring in some bona fide talent up front and the sacking of Chris Hughton looks as inexplicable now as it did then.
Stoke: They may not always be the most entertaining side to watch in the league but Stoke are now very firmly established as a top flight fixture thanks to the work of Tony Pulis. Contrasting their fortunes with that of say Hull City shows just how much of an achievement that is for a promoted club. They no longer need to worry about relegation and this season was brightened by a great, albeit ultimately disappointing, FA Cup run. Stoke are here to stay and look like one of the most stable clubs in the league.
Bolton: Zonal Marking recently contested the theory that Owen Coyle has turned Bolton into Barcelona but there is no doubt that at times this year they played some very pleasing stuff. The loss of Johan Elmander to Galatasaray is a bitter blow given that he had finally started to play for the club. The horrific injury to Stuart Holden is another. It may not all be roses yet but the Trotters look like a club on the up with Coyle at the helm. A disappointing end to the season shouldn’t obscure the fact that they looked rather tasty for most of the campaign.
Blackburn: Sam Allardyce may not be everyone’s cup of tea but sacking him mid-season was disastrous for Newcastle and it nearly proved to be so again for Blackburn. If they play an entire season in the manner that they played under Steve Kean’s management they’re a nailed on certainty for the drop next year. Deadwood infests the squad and Venky’s appear fairly clueless about running a football club. Next year could be a very bad one for Rovers fans unless a new manager and some investment comes along post haste.
Wigan: If there was an award for the most schizophrenic club in the league it would have to be a straight shoot-out between Arsenal and Wigan. On their day both clubs are capable of playing wonderful football and crushing anyone. Yet when they’re not on song it makes for very grim viewing. However there is still reason for Wigan fans to be hopeful. It may just be that Roberto Martinez has clicked with his squad and that he has them playing the way he wants. If so then next season could well be a much more enjoyable affair than the relegation tension of recent campaigns.
Wolves: On the one hand Wolves have suffered a series of bad injuries to key men and have managed to record some amazing results, not least ending Manchester United’s 29 game unbeaten run. On the other hand they’ve been very poor against the sides around them, epitomised by the final day defeat to Blackburn, a match Wolves were firm favourites to win. Yes they have been unlucky and have played well for much of the season. But relying on results against the big sides is not the best way to stay up long-term. Next year they need to make more of their six-pointers.
Birmingham: The debate over whether it is better win a trophy and go down or not has raged for weeks on Birmingham forums but ultimately it shouldn’t have been a question. Birmingham’s squad was good enough to stay up but the fighting spirit which Alex McLeish tries to install seems to have evaporated. The Carling Cup victory over Arsenal was a fantastic day for the club and ended a massive trophy drought but afterwards they limped to the finish rather than take heart from it. They were negative and disappointing and they’ve paid the price for this attitude.
Blackpool: It seems incredibly harsh to criticise a team who brought so much to the top flight but if their season was summed up by one game it would be the home match against Manchester United. The Seasiders took a fully deserved two-goal lead and were well on their way to a famous victory but with twenty minutes to go the full-backs were still bombing forward searching for another rather than hold what they had. Within nineteen minutes United had bagged three and held on to their lead. There is a line between playing attack football and playing suicide football and Blackpool crossed it. They were great to watch but a little more brains would have kept them up.
West Ham: A season summed up by the loss of two separate two goal leads. Firstly the one against Manchester United, just when the Hammers seemed to be building up some momentum rocked the club back and ended their hopes at a crucial time. The second was the loss against Wigan after scoring twice. With so little time to go left in the season and relegation at stake giving away a lead like that is unforgivable. Aside from the excellent Scott Parker West Ham were limp and insipid. A major squad overhaul is needed for next season.