Image: Isaac Lister
There has been no season in recent years as exciting and unpredictable as this. At both ends of the table, teams are fighting it out for Premier League glory and an all-important Champions League place, or for survival in the greatest football league in the world. Whilst much focus is placed on the teams chasing the top spot, and rightly so, an even more interesting situation is being played out at the foot of the table. As it stands at the moment, only seven points separate the bottom nine teams, and with eleven games to go, this means that many clubs are facing possible relegation. Along with this, the current bottom six teams have all faced managerial changes since the beginning of the season, a point which Sir Alex Ferguson has lambasted within the last few weeks as part of the “sacking culture” within the modern English game.
The three promoted sides from last years Championships have all fared different fortunes so far, reflective perhaps of decisions made in the boardroom and the manager’s office. Cardiff’s problems can certainly be traced back to the poor transfer dealings in the summer, the apparent cause of Malky Mackay’s sacking, but the dealings of new boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer are also a worry too. Solskjaer, legendary in English Premier League history as Manchester United’s prolific baby faced assassin, has hardly proved himself as a manager, only having managed at a junior level at the United academy and then at the financially endowed Molde in Norway, is undoubtedly a managerial gamble from Vincent Tan. The signing of Kenwyne Jones is potentially disastrous, as any Stoke fan will tell you, as he isn’t a grafter and he isn’t motivated sometimes at all.
For a team like Cardiff who have done well defensively, but struggled for goals upfront, Jones seems a strange choice from Ole, having failed to really find the back of the net at Stoke, a club strikingly similar to Cardiff. Hull, a club promoted at the same time as Cardiff, recently thumped Cardiff away from home, scoring four goals, having had a very different season so far. Doing well and effectively safe from the drop, all be it without any catastrophes, Hull proved themselves with astute signings in the summer and in January. The signing of Tom Huddlestone, a master passer and seasoned professional has shored up any midfield frailties, to the extent that a call up for the World Cup is a distinct possibility. The one area not really sorted in the summer, the strikeforce, was covered in January, with the signings of Nikica Jelavic and Shane Long, both proven goal scorers capable of helping raise Hull’s game.
Crystal Palace, another recently promoted side, have shown that managerial changes mid season can certainly work for the better. Tony Pulis has taken a side that had struggled under Ian Holloway, languishing in last place, and raised them out of the relegation zone, in part aided from a few wise acquisitions in the summer. The signing of Tom Ince on loan, a surprise to many, has clearly sent a message to other relegation teams that the club means business, with other signings such as Wayne Hennessey from Wolverhampton and Scott Dann also big signings. One club with an outside chance for the drop is Chris Hughton’s Norwich City. Goal-shy with a meagre 20 strikes this season, the Canaries have struggled to correctly utilise purchased firepower in the form of Gary Hooper and Ricky van Wolfswinkel for a combined princely sum of £13.5m. For the money the Canaries have spent on their attack, they should be scoring far more goals. The fact that they aren’t could well do for them come May, and they would be one of the best teams ever to go down.