Monday, 23 May 2011

Dead Pool and Striking a Brum note - Relegation Day - May 22nd 2011

I'm really starting to grow tired of Sky and the unnecessary propaganda surrounding all their 'Super Duper Sunday Football extravaganza' parties. Time and time again the actual event quite simply fails to live to expectation. Just this past weekend, 'Survival Sunday' promised tension, excitement and the most dramatic end to a Premier League season in recent memory but like all other 'Grand Slam' and 'Feast of Football' Sundays, it once again failed to deliver.

Hang about, that's not right at all!

That actually turned out to be quite a lot fun didn't it? For anyone lucky enough to have a subscription to the Sports channels and no girlfriend forcing them into taking walks at Kew Gardens because "it's such a nice day", you were able to witness all the drama promised and more and the relegation battle swung back and forth some 14 times over 90 minutes like some sort of ADHD suffering pendulum. After West Ham were condemned last Sunday, five teams were looking to avoid the final two relegation spots. When all was said and done, it would Blackpool and Birmingham sucked into the Championship vortex while Blackburn, Wolves and Wigan were able to keep their heads above water in a flurry of mixed metaphors and convoluted similes.

The neutrals choice, the breath of fresh air and recipients other such patronising plaudits Blackpool went as they came, attacking until the bitter end. Not many gave them a prayer at Old Trafford but for a brief moment as they went 2-1 up against the new champions, Ian Holloway and his tangerine army were in dreamland. Unfortunately, defender Ian Evatt had what qualified doctors would call 'a mare' as he picked the worst possible day to play like a some kind of limpet washed up on the shore of the town's own Pleasure Beach. Already at fault for his side's first goal conceded that day, things went completely pear-shaped as a moment of madness saw him turn the ball past his own keeper to give United the lead in the second half. The reds then cruised to a 4-2 win and this loveable Blackpool team was down and out. It's easy to sympathise with the hapless defender but I'm not sure how much pity he deserves. Yes, he made a mistake but it was a fairly stupid mistake(s) to make. If that's the standard of Blackpool's defence – the 78 goals they conceded in the league would suggest that it is – then maybe the Championship is the place for them after all.

I'll admit it was refreshing to see a team come up and not adopt what a lot of people would call the 'Stoke City' approach but in fairness, the Staffordshire side's philosophy has established them as a Premier League side. The contrasting fortunes of the two teams harks back to the age-old football debate about whether it is better to play well and lose or win ugly. An interesting footnote to Blackpool's Premier League adventure could see them rewarded with a place in the Europa League qualifiers by virtue of the fair play league [Decision Pending].

If Blackpool are given the place, they will join Carling Cup winners and fellow relegatees Birmingham City who lost 2-1 to Roman Pavlyuchenko at White Hart Lane. In contrast to Ian Holloway's team, Alex McLeish's men paid the price for being too conservative. The Blues were not adventurous enough in what was in effect a must win match. Playing for a draw was a dangerous game and in the end it proved costly. By the time they started to commit, they were already a goal down, a more positive approach did yield a fine equaliser from Craig Gardner but it was too late and they were punished further at the death.

So it's Championship football next year but despite this, surely Brum fans will still view this season as a success having secured their first trophy in some 40 years? The Carling Cup win IS consolation as is the prospect of European football next season. Something that may well prove useful for raising their profile but then again could have a damaging effect on any promotion hopes. Time will tell.

Staying up in dramatic fashion are Wigan Athletic who not only looked dead and buried for most of the afternoon but for a good solid chunk of the season too. Just one week earlier, they were 2-0 down at half time against West Ham and their survival chances looked slimmer than Kate Moss in a Vietnamese POW camp. A fantastic comeback that day and a valuable late 1-0 win at Stoke this week means yet another season of top flight football for the Roberto Martinez and his team.

The latics rode their luck harder than a champion jockey at Kempton for much of the game and despite big Hugo Rodallega getting the decisive goal, their real match winner on the day was Ali Al Habsi. The keeper made a number of vital saves to keep them in the game at 0-0 and will surely be rewarded with some kind of pie or whatever it the people of Wigan give out for such feats of gallantry.

Over at Molineux, Blackburn secured their safety by beating Wolves 3-2. However, the latter also stayed up by the skin of their teeth thanks to results elsewhere. On their awful first half showing alone, Mick McCarthy's men probably deserved go down more than anybody and as it is, ought to be grateful for the ineptitude of others for their continued existence as Premier League side. You'd like to think that Big Mick sent a bouquet of flowers and a huge thank you card to a certain Ian Evatt.

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