Friday, 6 January 2012

Wolves - Fighting Spirit May Not Be Enough For McCarthy

Written By Brad Smith

Staying up in spectacular fashion last season, few can question the passion that both the crowd and players put into the games, and have tried to make Molineux a place that instils fear into sides.

Not much business happened in the Black Country this summer, mainly loans and free transfers out, with two big names coming in, the centre back Roger Johnson from relegated neighbours Birmingham, and the creative Jamie O’Hara from Tottenham.

On to the season, and 7 points from the first 3 games left them with the big guns near the top of the table, after wins against Fulham and Blackburn, whilst their derby against Aston Villa was a bore 0-0 draw.

They then shipped 5 goals without reply in home against against QPR and Tottenham, before they also lost their next 3 games, including a loss against their bitter rivals West Brom. After 5 straight losses, they somewhat fortunately picked up a draw at home to Swansea, with 2 late goals, after fans had be vigorously booing their team and manager, Mick McCarthy.

A loss to Man City was far from surprising, but Wolves briefly got their campaign back on track with a 3-1 victory over relegation rivals Wigan. They were then left flattened after a late penalty sunk them at Everton, whilst Chelsea comfortably beat them at The Bridge.

Again, the Molineux faithful were baying for blood, especially when the Sunderland came and were seemingly coasting to victory, before a Steven Fletcher double sent the orange-bathed stadium into raptures. They didn’t help themselves though, and after 2 losses, they drew 3 on the trot, before being cruelly beaten by Chelsea last time out, despite looking great value for the draw.

Mick McCarthy is his usual calm self, and in previous seasons, their passion has rolled them across the line, but in a very competitive league again this season, you have to wonder whether that alone with be enough, and whether anyone else can help Steven Fletcher with his goals tally.

Best Player So Far - Steven Fletcher. A decent goals return, and all of his goals seem to have rescued points for the Wolves this season. His spirit optimises what is needed at this level.

Biggest Flop So Far - Roger Johnson. Highly rated at Birmingham, and thrown in as captain, cannot fault his work-rate, but with the 4th worst defensive record in the league, you would have expected him to be controlling the back 4 more impressively than he has been.

Predicted Finish. 19th.

Wigan - Di Santo Claus Brings Holiday Cheer to The DW

Written By Brad Smith

It seems there isn’t a season that goes by without people either condemning Wigan to relegation by February, or asking how on earth they stayed up “with the squad they have”.

As has been proved in seasons gone by, teams that have been labelled “too good to go down” have indeed gone down, and there are always surprises like the Hulls, Readings, and Ipswichs who take the League by storm. Whilst Wigan simply go by their work every season and do just enough to stay up, although selling the influential winger N’Zogbia will affect them massively in my opinion.

Ali Al Habsi was the biggest name to come through the doors at the DW in the summer, in a £4m move from Bolton, whilst Albert Crusac came in from Almeria to add a bit of spark to the midfield.

Wigan were handed the ominous task of facing all three promoted teams in the opening 3 weekends. They drew the first 2, before beating QPR 2-0 through a Di Santo double in front of their own fans at the DW.

However, the fun stopped there for Wigan, as they were thrown back into reality with no less than 8 straight defeats in the league, scoring just 4 goals. Home losses to Fulham and the out-of-sorts Bolton hurt the Latics the most.

However, they took advantage of teams in turmoil in the next 2 games, as they were denied 3 points at home to Blackburn, when they inexplicably gave away a 99th minute penalty in a 3-3 draw. However, justice prevailed in the next game, as a horrendous defensive error allowed them to steal all 3 points at the Stadium of light.

Despite a 4-0 loss at home to Arsenal, they managed to pick up draws against both Liverpool and Chelsea at the DW, whilst picking up a maximum versus West Brom in between.

Since then, they have been struggling to plug gaps in the defence, conceding 5 at Man Utd, 4 against Sunderland, although they did manage a 2 all draw at the Brittania.

It is no surprise they have the worst scoring record in the league, just 18 goals in 20 games so far, they are only off the bottom due to Blackburns similar poor form.

With not much money in the coffers, they are unlikely to invest much in January, but if they want to stay in the league, they may have to, or this might just be the season they don’t do quite enough.

Best Player So Far - Ben Watson. The midfielder is central to anything positive that is coming from Wigan at the moment, if Wigan do drop this season, he should have no problems getting a move back up into the big time.

Biggest Flop So Far - Hugo Rodellega. The Colombian has been here a few seasons now, and along with N’Zogbia, has been the key to this team, but has had a poor season so far. Must improve in 2012.

Predicted Finish. 20th.

West Brom - Long Way To Go For Baggies

Written By Brad Smith

Last years 11th place finish was their best in over 30 seasons, with the Nigerian Odemwingie in particularly good form. This term, fans seem to all agree that avoiding the bottom three is still the aim, although a finish above both Villa and Wolves would sweeten the deal.

After Hodgsons poor spell at Liverpool, many sceptics dismissed him as a manager that could simply avoid relegation, as he has done with both Fulham and West Brom, but one that is unable to improve and progress with teams.

The signing of Reading striker Shane Long seemed to be heading in the right direction, as was the loan deal which saw the highly rated Ben Foster join on loan from neighbours Birmingham. 13 players left for minuscule sums, on loan, or on free transfers, as they were very keen to decrease the wage bill at the Hawthorns.

The Baggies lost their first three games, albeit to Man Utd, Chelsea, and Stoke, as they were treated to one of the hardest of opening schedules. In spite of this, with the next 5 games considerably easier, they picked up just 5 points, including a solitary win at Norwich.

In mid-October, they recorded two derby wins in 6 days, which won over any sceptical fans there might have been, a controversial 2-1 victory at Villa Park the pick of the two, with Paul Scharner scoring the winner, as well as leaving himself in hot-water with the authorities, for what seemed an innocent display of affection towards the Baggies fans.

The Hawthorns was a much brighter place, before 4 defeated in the next 6 games quashed the atmosphere somewhat, the most unbearable on the 4 being at The Hawthorns as they were defeated 2-1 by a disappointing Wigan team.

Hodgson rallied the troops, and wins away at Blackburn and Newcastle saw them climb the table, before a 0-0 draw against freely-scoring Manchester City left the Midlands team in a much more comfortable position. Since then, they have been beaten by the single goal to both Everton and Spurs, but with no goals in three games, fans will be hoping they can find that scoring touch soon, before the teams below them catch up with them.

Best Player So Far - Shane Long. Has scored important goals for the team, and despite only 5 goals so far, he brings a lot, and a great work rate to the team, that is needed when you are languishing in the bottom half.

Biggest Flop So Far - Peter Odemwingie. Fans will have been calling for the Nigerian to replicate his scoring abilities of last season, but has been poor up until a few games ago. Strong second half to see the season is a must for the 30yr old.

Predicted Finish. 15th.

Tottenham - Redknapp Spurred On By Bale Form

Written By Brad Smith

Slightly aggrieved by finishing 5th last season, Harry Redknapp and Co. were looking to capitalise on the European games by using it as match practice for their fringe players, whilst concentrating on making another push into the coveted Top 4 that has been so hard to break in previous seasons.

With neighbours Arsenal busy in the transfer market, Spurs raised most of their funds by Crouch, Palacios and O’Hara, whilst several more players left for small transfer fees, or on loan deals. Whilst in came American Brad Friedel on a free, Adebayor on loan from Manchester City, and Redknapp finally completed the signing of Scott Parker, after seemingly chasing him for decades.

The best piece of business done by Spurs was arguably keeping Luka Modric from Chelseas grasp, after several bids from Roman Abramovich and his diamond encrusted cheque book.

Both sides of Manchester we’re quick to dispel any title murmurs around White Hart Lane, as United beat them 3-0, and City went one better by annihilating them 5-1 in front of the Spurs faithful at the Lane.

In true “knocked down but not out” spirit, they kept back-to-back clean sheets, beating Wolves, before destroying Liverpool 4-0. 3 of their next 4 games they won 2-1, including a massive one over their rivals Arsenal in a pulsating game, restoring hope and belief into the stands at White Hart Lane.

Just in case memories of the opening weeks we’re still in the minds of the Lilywhites support, they won their next 5 games, with Adebayor in extremely impressive form during his loan spell from Man City.

A minor black spot on the Tottenham card came in the form of a 2-1 loss at Stoke City, in which every betting man had lost money on Peter Crouch being the villain. Three of their next 5 games were victories, including a win away at the newly-promoted Norwich where it seemed as if the Welsh-Wizard Gareth Bale was playing by himself.

With just 1 loss in their last 17 games, they have fired themselves into title contention, as they keep picking up points whilst the Manchester sides falter, leaving them just 6 points off the lead with a game in hand.

Injuries to key players may force ‘Arry to add to his squad in January, a defender and striker are on the lists of most Spurs fans, whilst a midfield cover would be welcomed if the right man comes along. However, it is well-documented about Daniel Levy and his tight purse strings at the Lane, so don’t be too surprised if any business done is late, if at all.

Best Player So Far - Gareth Bale. Consistent, and has the ability to win games all by himself. Simple invaluable to Tottenham, but in fairness it is hard to see where he would move if he did.

Biggest Flop So Far - Younes Kaboul. The weak link in the Spurs defence, has the ability to be world-class, and also Sunday-League class when he wants to be.

Predicted Finish. 3rd.

Swansea City - Goal-den Graham a hit for Welsh Boys

Written By Brad Smith

Just a few years ago, you may have been arrested for suggesting that Swansea would be playing Premier League football this season, as they languished in the lower reaches of English Football, and in fact, we’re only a game away from being relegated to the Conference less than 10 years ago.

It has been a fairytale ride since then, and promotion capped it all off last year, as they overcame Reading in the final, with a hat-trick from the highly rated Scott Sinclair.

They continued to strengthen their side in the summer, with manager Brendan Rodgers adding Leroy Lita and Danny Graham to the attacking ranks, along with Michael Vorm who joined from Utrecht, Wayne Routledge from Newcastle, and a host of other small money purchases.

Their season started promisingly, despite being beaten by Arsenal and Chelsea, they recorded a 3-0 victoy over the Baggies, and drew a stalemate with Sunderland on the opening day. In early October, a two-goal victory over the impressive Stoke City ensured fans they were adapting to life well in the Premier League.

Although being soundly beaten by fellow promoted team Norwich at Carrow Road, they recorded away draws aagainst both Liverpool and Wolves, both of whom have stellar home records. In between those two away points, was a comfortable home win over the struggling Bolton, with newboy Graham getting on the score sheet for the fourth game running.

Just 1 point was collected from their next 3 games, the 4-2 loss away at Blackburn being most damaging for the Welsh side. However, their home form continued to impress, turning Fulham over, and drawing with QPR and Spurs in their next 3 games at the Liberty Stadium.

The 3 away games sandwiched in between these, they just conceded the one goal in a loss to Everton, and overturned the hosts at Villa Park by two goals to nil, which arguably could’ve been a lot more.

They sit in 12th place, and have just lost the once at home in 10 games, but will be looking to turn more of the draws into victories come 2012, if they want to avoid relegation, in a very competitive bottom-half of the table.

Brendan Rodgers is unlikely to do anything spectacular in the transfer window, and will believe he has a squad very capable of pushing on towards the top half of the table if they can keep their defence as tight as it has been.

Best Player So Far - Michael Vorm. Signed for just £1.5m, he has been spectacular in goal, collected 8 clean sheers already for the Swans.

Biggest Flop So Far - Vangelis Moras. The Greek defender was signed on loan to add a bit of experience to the team, but obviously hasn’t shown anything to merit more than the 4 minutes on the field he has managed this season.

Predicted Finish. 12th.