24: Season Review, Part Six: SHE to WES
Decidedly mixed fortunes for this final foursome. West Brom sprang back into the Premier League with ease but will the string once again be elasticated? Swansea were tidy but punchless in a failed play-off bid, Watford relied on the loan system to just about keep themselves afloat and Sheffield Wednesday will still be pinching themselves at how horribly wrong it went.
Well that was avoidable. A determined performance in a 1-0 defeat at St. James’ Park in August and a Luke Varney inspired coast to victory at Home Park soon after and the Yorkshire Owls were looking a fair bet to improve on the solid mid table finishes of previous seasons. Young trio Tommy Spurr, Mark Beevers and Sean McAllister had been supplemented by a Darren Purse enjoying an Indian Summer and even the malign presence of sicknote Jeffers did little to dampen spirits at Hillsborough.
But results dipped in the Autumn: Purse began to show signs of wear and tear and Richard Wood was inexplicably transferred to a relegation rival in Coventry. Creative forces Marcus Tudgay and Jermaine Johnson flickered inconsequentially and gloom enshrouded the terraces of Owlerton.
Brian Laws, now vilified as a dreadful choice of coach for Burnley, was harshly fired as Alan Irvine stepped in. Three back to back wins suddenly provided Wednesday with breathing space, but it was a false dawn, as was Leon Clarke’s sudden winning over of the terrace boo boys – the ex-Wolf was later to skip ungratefully to QPR. Decay set in rapidly over the final weeks leaving the club with a still eminently achievable task on the final day. That they eschewed the opportunity sums up a season that should never have been allowed to develop how it did.
Final League Position: 22
Our Pre-season Prediction: 10
Marks out of 10: 3
TTU Player of the Year: Luke Varney
Does Jason Scotland and Jordi Gomez’s somewhat less than prolific first Premier League season make Swansea City fans feel better or worse? Certainly, the least skilled of statisticians could point readily to the reasons for the Glamorgan club’s failure. Craig Beattie was never going to adequately plug the gap and most of us had predicted a far worse finish than the Libertarians finally achieved.
That the team dominated a lot of games and continued with the Martinez inspired grassbound style is a credit to Paulo Sousa and to their fine phalanx of defenders and midfielders, as Dorus de Vries was once again a titan in goal. Injuries didn’t help the Swans’ cause, with Ferrie Bodde missing practically the whole season again and the cultured Darren Pratley, Leon Britton and Joe Allen also suffering spells on the sidelines.
Despite that lack of goals, Nathan Dyer continued his menacing of defences, Ashley Williams remained terrifically consistent at centre half and a famous win over the easterly enemy was chalked up amidst an eleven match uninterrupted procession as the leaves fell. Given all the obstacles, the Jacks emerge from 09-10 with credit and their off field behaviour continues to shame that of their neighbours.
Final League Position: 7
Our Pre-season Prediction: 18
Marks out of 10: 7
TTU Player of the Year: Ashley Williams
Seething after Brendan Rodgers legged it, Watford settled into the new season rather well. As under the Ulsterman, loans from the nation’s finest spurred the side on early on, with Malky Mackay, always a leader in his playing days, adapting well to management. A sparkling 4-1 televised win over Sheffield Wednesday and the match that signalled QPR’s implosion were highlights as Red Devil Tom Cleverley in particular looked every inch a future international.
But financial considerations had left the squad lightweight. Tommy Smith, Mike Williamson, Jobi McAnuff, John Joe O’Toole and Tamás Priskin had departed and if ‘Orns fans weren’t sorry to see all of them go, this wedge of talent was always likely to leave a chasm. Enforced absences to John Eustace and future World Cup hero JayDeMerit didn’t help and a 10 point deduction was only narrowly averted.
As the Spring wore on, nervous shoulder glancing made way for outright panic as Crystal Palace came to Vicarage Road and dominated. Thankfully for the Hornets, a nervous penultimate day visit from Reading saw Heiður Helguson and Danny Graham rise to the challenge and Coventry were walloped for good measure the following week.
Final League Position: 17
Our Pre-season Prediction: 16
Marks out of 10: 5
TTU Player of the Year: Lloyd Doyley
West Bromwich Albion
From the moment he took over, Robert Di Matteo had the steely air of man who regarded this season as a mere staging post in his own personal development. Quickly realising the need to instil backbone in Tony Mowbray’s slightly effete blend, Youssuf Mulumbu was installed as water carrier and, as the campaign developed, well judged signings Gonzalo Jara and Gabriel Tamaş constituted an up in reliability and class from those who featured before: limpet like harriers who could play more than just a bit.
Not that Albion were purely efficient. Jerome Thomas relaunched his career with left field bursts and Graham Dorrans always seemed to have that extra second to dwell on the ball, quickly developing into the purist’s favourite Championship player. He and Chris Brunt were prominent in the best single game of the season: an attractive 2-2 draw at St. James’s Park in January. The Baggies swept into the Premier League.
It was up front alone that Albion struggled to find the right blend. Roman Bednar let nobody down as he confirmed his potency in the lower divisions but big money signings Simon Cox, Ishmael Miller and Luke Moore all struggled. Di Matteo will have registered where improvements need to be made and having negotiated one leap in divisional level, he’ll be confident of his abilities.
Final League Position: 2
Our Pre-season Prediction: 3
Marks out of 10: 9
TTU Player of the Year: Graham Dorrans