Part two of the Premier League dissection as I look at the bottom half of the table…
If the top-of-the-table is defined by a mixture of disappointment and regret, then the bottom-half can be viewed simply in terms of unequivocal misery.
All teams below 10th finished with under 44 points, which is an extraordinarily low figure. It doesn’t signify a feisty, competitive mini-league, but rather a large pool of potential relegation fodder.
It remains a great shame that only three of them could go down.
11. Norwich City
Norwich City are the best team in the bottom half of the table, which truly is a depressing thought for fans of the bottom nine teams.
It’s hard to see what the point of Norwich is. Aside from being the only Premier League team to play in yellow there is little that they offer the league as a whole. They won just 10 games, and yet finished 11th. Just outside of the top half of the table.
The Canaries finished with a total of 44 points, which on average would see you placed between 14th-16th.
The club pretty much owes its survival this year to a 10-game unbeaten run between October and December, from which they gained half of their total points total and beat Manchester United and Arsenal.
Chris Hughton has hardly proved spectacular, and the side certainly doesn’t look as solid as it was under Paul Lambert. It makes you wonder what more can be achieved with a central midfield pairing of Bradley Johnson and Jonny Howson.
Fulham have been on the beach since March. They could afford to lose six of their last eight games without any fear of being sucked into a relegation vortex.
It begs the question; what are they doing? What is their point? They never seemed likely to break into the top 7 this season either.
If it wasn’t for Dimitar Berbatov there’d be precious little to cheer about at Craven Cottage. Martin Jol appears perfectly happy for Fulham to stagnate in perpetual mid-table purgatory.
But they ended this season nine points worse off than 12 months ago, and, with their squad’s average age pushing 28, serious decisions will have to be made sooner than later.
13. Stoke City
The Potters continue to be the most-maligned club in the Premier League, but as the news of Tony Pulis’ demise spreads joy like wildfire, perhaps a fresh dawn awaits?
Change has come not a moment too soon for Stoke, who had become stuck in a vicious cycle this season as they encountered a gentle skirmish with impending doom before typically grinding their way out.
Finishing with 42 points this season was Pulis’ lowest Premier League return with Stoke, which being five points fewer than their highest in 2010, suggests that half a decade in the top flight has yielded little in the way of progress, despite a net spend of close to £80m.
Stoke fans had become increasingly alienated from Pulis and his particular brand of football; will his departure galvanize a top-half ascent, or a Charlton-like spiral towards relegation?
After losing eight of their first ten games, a comfortable mid-table finish is probably the best Southampton could have hoped for.
Rickie Lambert has continued his mesmeric rise through English football, and Mauricio Pochetinno looks capable of turning the Saints back into the stable top-flight club they used to be.
Yet it’s never quite that straight forward, is it? Rumblings of discontent in the boardroom have surfaced. With chairman Nicola Cortese seeking clarification over his future, Pochetinno has declared that “it would not make sense” for him to stay at the club without him.
If the long-term project is jeopardised, further misery may await Saints fans.
15. Aston Villa
Aston Villa fans have been miserable for some time. Since approximately August 2010 when Martin O’Neil was sacked and the club began its steady decline down the Premier League table.
It was more depressing 12 months ago when Alex McLeish was manager, but at least Paul Lambert inspires hope for the club’s future, despite a traumatic first season.
There have been some pretty dark days, particularly around Christmas and New Year, when they conceded 15 goals in three league games before a harrowing two-legged League Cup semi-final defeat to League Two Bradford City.
But they turned it around, led by the heroics of Christian Benteke. Lambert has stressed there will be no major signings this summer, and Villa fans must again put their faith in a talented, yet brittle, squad of youngsters.
16. Newcastle United
It really has been miserable up in the north east. So desperate, that a Geordie punched a horse.
No Premier League team has fallen quite as far as Newcastle have in the space of 12 months. Having finished 5th with 65 points, on the cusp of Champions League qualification, there followed no major investment.
Alan Pardew signed a staggering eight-year contract in September, became the butt of jokes, and promptly led the Magpies to fifth from bottom; a point swing of -24. It really has been a quite spectacular fall from grace.
All momentum that had been harnessed from an encouraging 2011-12 has evaporated, even the brief joie de vivre that the Frechification of the playing squad brought in January, has been quickly erased by a shattering 3-0 reversal at home to Sunderland.
What can cheer the Geordies from the gloom that surrounds them? Only seven more years of Pardew? Unlikely.
To cap off the north east misery, it’s Sunderland – everyone’s favourite meandering fallen giant.
Thankfully Paolo di Canio has livened the place up after Martin O’Neil extracted all remnants of fun and eccentricity with a cluster of middle-of-the-road signings last summer to guide the club within a point of the relegation zone.
His sacking was fully deserved.
After securing their survival with a momentous 3-0 drubbing of Newcastle, the wheels have fallen off the Di Canio revival.
A 6-1 collapse at Villa Park was just the tip of the iceberg. Di Canio has since fined seven ‘pathetic’ players for breaches of discipline and promised wholesale changes during the summer. Whatever happens, Mackems won’t enjoy it.
18. Wigan Athletic
Alas, the dream is over. After eight seasons of drama, goals and woeful defending, Wigan have finally fallen on their sword and been relegated.
No one will miss the DW Stadium, or Dave Whelan, but everyone will miss the fun that Wigan brought to the league.
The annual burst of form when spring arrives failed to materialise this time, but they can take significant solace in their FA Cup triumph – the first major trophy of the club’s history.
With Roberto Martinez’s likely departure sure to signal a splintering of a talented core of youngsters, the Latics may struggle to regain their Premier League status. But Wigan fans may enjoy the Championship more.
Nigel Adkins can see the positives in Reading relinquishing their Premier League status with little more than a whimper, but no one else can.
Sacking Brian McDermott only to replace him with Adkins was the desperate sign of a chairman determined to look to be doing something, without doing very much at all as relegation beckoned.
Given the club spent little money last summer, this instant drop back to the Championship comes as little surprise, and may stand them in good stead for a swift return.
But after losing 10 of their final 13 games there isn’t really much to be cheerful about for Royals fans.
20. Queens Park Rangers
Where do you start with this sorry bunch? Mark Hughes? Harry Redknapp? Jose Bosingwa? Tony Fernandes?
When you sign Jermaine Jenas to displace Esteban Granero, you get what you deserve. QPR have been utterly atrocious, but in an entertaining way – far unlike Reading, who just relegated themselves in an efficient manner.
Surprisingly, given how dreadful they have been, QPR only twice lost games by three-goal margins, and their heaviest defeat came at the start of the season – 5-0 at home to Swansea.
With a manager in charge who’s already intent on compiling excuses for next season, there’s barely a crumb of comfort ahead for QPR fans.
“The squad here now wouldn’t get you out of the Championship next season.”
Twelve months ago Redknapp was preparing for the Champions League, now he’s looking forward to a trip to Yeovil. Quite a CV.