What happened last season?
Simply put: Bad Luck + Bad Management = Bad Season.
There can't be another club at which the Manager polarises opinion in quite the way Neil Warnock/Colin Wan*er (depending on which side you belong) does at ours. On the face of it, a seventh place finish isn't a disaster, but after all the bluster which came out of Bramall Lane last summer it has to go down as a major disappointment. I've checked all my caveats from last year and I have to say, most of my "ifs" didn't happen. Michael Brown was there in body but not in spirit, niggling injuries and just plain niggling meant his last hurrah just wasn't working, but we did actually manage a fee for a change. McCall's legs finally gave out. Tonge and Jagielka suffered second season syndrome - even though it's 4 since their debuts. Peter Ndlovu knocked off earlier than normal this year, October, and Paddy Kenny was assaulted at Palace in August. Despite all this, we topped the table regularly until November as average crowds of 23000 settled back to enjoy the ride.
As ever, Watford came along to spoil it all. Not strictly true, but you always give your readers what they want. The big turning point was the week before at Burnley. Paul Gerrard's loan spell had expired and Paddy was still unavailable. A deal for Ian Bennett was scuppered at the last minute, leaving Warnock to scour the globe for a keeper. Think FA Cup Semi-Final. Think Tottenham. Think wine-bar. You get the picture. Step forward a guy called Baxter, sped in from Sweden with Champions League experience to plug the gap. And Alan Fettis. We did actually have a reserve keeper signed in the summer, but he was deemed useless (he was signed as a result of a video)! and not to be trusted. After two howlers even Danny Baker would reject for his videos, Baxter was subbed at half time. Michael Brown was sent off, never to return and we lost 3-2. A week later, the Ornets came north for a TV game and left with a comfortable 2-2 draw, despite being down to 10 men for 40 minutes or so. The exact details are a bit hazy - we had the same sort of day as Mr Rowson and co - but we were fatally holed beneath the waterline in those two games. The whole team just unravelled, could defend, overrun in midfield, couldn't score. Performances deteriorated, loanees and signing were drafted in and made no difference. If anything, they aided the descent into mediocrity. Christmas onwards was woefully short of even taken-for-granted things like passing, let alone entertainment. The performances through till April would normally have got the manager sacked, particularly as he publicly refuted all suggestions that we were, in fact, awful and not doing passable imitations of France circa 1984 every week. Twas only the huge bank of goodwill generated the previous season that kept a lid on large-scale demonstrations against him. Of course, last season is now the season before last and I think he will come under the microscope if the football is as dire as it was in spring.
What's going to happen next season?
Whisper it very carefully, but the Board and Manager may have had a wake up call. We take for granted now the fact that the powers that be refuse absolutely to speculate even a modest amount - as Norwich did - in an attempt to hit the Premiership pay-dirt and the merest mention of money causes patronising harrumph-ing and pointing of fingers up the M1 to Leeds - Football's 9/11 equivalent. But this summer has seen a range of incoming players - Harley, Hayles, Liddell - that will actually improve the quality of the first team and a host of outgoing ones - Page, Rankine, Whitlow, that will clutter up someone else's squad. It remains to be seen whether they can be knitted into the side they could be and whether the back-up of young shavers from our very highly rated Academy sides will do a better job of plugging gaps that the bunch of has-been who have been cleared out, but neither Norwich last year, nor Pompey the year before would have been many peoples favourites in the past either. No, I'm NOT going to tip us for the title....but there's not many others I would tip. Cliché, I know, but it really is wide open this year.
Soundbites (from assorted Census correspondents)
"The traffic lights, they turn blue tomorrow"
"I have drunk more cups of tea than you"
"Your website is well named!"
"im going to ayia napa in two more sleeps"
"Sheffield United's new away kit is putting me off going to places where we may have to wear it eg. Sunderland, Stoke etc."
"Still can't finish Harry Potter 1 or 2 Playstation games. Thanks for all your help last season. Does anyone actually read these bits or is it a wind-up?"
"i can overtake old people & retards on me bike....... it`s the speed you know"
"Sheffield is by far the nicest place to live. By far."
"watford are shite.