The (bottom) end of the Premiership 2004/2005
Where some attention had been focused on the top battle between basically the finishing top three teams for the title, the battle at the bottom was where the most excitement ended the season. Chelsea seemed destined to win the title after creating a wide enough berth between themselves and everyone else, and to have wagered against them would have been something comical. The battle at the bottom, however, went literally to the last game for the respective teams. None of them were clear participants for the Championship. Norwich were in the best position outside of the relegation zone, entering their last match needing a win to guarantee avoiding the drop. WBA were very unlikely to succeed, bottom at Xmas and therefore subject to the hoodoo, and same position on Sunday. The likelihood of any of the other three not enjoying a result was very remote.
I voted to watch Fulham v Norwich, switch over to Southampton v Man Utd at half-time. Norwich hadn't won away all season but I felt they would have really hit Fulham with a strong display because it was make-or-break, and it was Norwich who seemed favourite to score first, such was their initial pressure. Then it was announced that Southampton had gone ahead and this was after Fulham scored through Brian McBride. In the end, for Norwich to concede six without reply, the game seemed something Norwich wanted over and done with, accept they were not strong enough on the day, possibly due to pressure of requiring a win to guarantee safety without doubt, and prepare for the Championship.. That's not to say they gave in. They had the urgency in the beginning, but the pressure took its toll eventually why they not only didn't win, they conceded the six.
Robert Green and Darren Huckerby could be two departures, the former hit the England squad and the latter has featured very well for Norwich this season.
I was one of those who anticipated a Man Utd onslaught in response to their defeat against Chelsea and their draw against West Brom before that. Yet Utd conceded an own goal sloppily and it seemed Southampton may use the goal as a confidence boost to seek more. Henri Camara was playing well and Brett Ormerod was as good himself. Yet to allow Darren Fletcher to run forward without a player marking him, jump to meet a John O'Shea cross and score showed yet again the Southampton defence were ball-watching. Even then at half time Southampton were not in danger, another goal and they would have been in the forefront of staying up, Crystal Palace were losing, Norwich were losing and West Brom were drawing. Yet when Alan Smith was allowed to bustle his way towards the touchline and chip a ball across goal, I thought a Southampton player or even Niemi would fight to keep that ball away from goal with any and every limb. Ruud Van Nistelrooy was terribly unmarked. Camara had a chance to make it 2-2, finally succumbing to pressure from Rio Ferdinand and then Roy Carroll.
Harry Redknapp had a hard task ahead of him when he took over and he very nearly overcame it. He's a manager who manages with a lot of heart and passion for his team, and looks on hard work and commitment to succeed, being use to working on a streamline budget. If he remains at Southampton I feel he could return them back to the Premiership, given a whole season rather than part to manage there. Southampton have been in the recent past seasons one of Liverpool's bogey teams, and they can match the best in the top league on their good day. Camara will probably return to Wolves, Antii Niemi and Kevin Phillips could be possible transfer targets.
Palace was the team I felt would actually survive. I felt goalkeeping by Gabor Kiraly, some stern midfield control by skipper Michael Hughes, and Andy Johnson scoring would help them beat Charlton. Charlton seemed too weak to me to put a stop to their recent poor run of 6 defeats, 3 draws and a single win. At 1-1, with a nice equaliser by Dougie Freedman, the penalty decision seemed harsh to give, I didn't think Jonathan Fortune intentionally handballed. He had then been instrumental in gifting Palace's two goals. But for me, why did Mikele Eigertwood jump all over the Charlton player in the first place? Still, Palace could have defended strongly and cleared the danger but the resulting cross was met by no one other than Fortune, clearly making amends for Palace's goals. He was marked by Tony Popovic who alarmingly allowed Fortune to jump practically unchallenged, Kiraly coming out to no avail. How could Palace, like Southampton when Van Nistelrooy scored, allowed danger to happen in their box in such a crucial moment?
Andy Johnson could be leaving, he too, like Robert Green, featured for England and I believe at least two teams will make a bid for him, like maybe Portsmouth who have released Aiyegbeni Yakubu to Middlesbrough today, or even a short trip to Charlton. Wayne Routledge has declared his interests elsewhere, and looks to be engaged by Spurs. How Iain Dowie, who I believe will stay on, will replace them will be interesting.
Congratulations go to West Brom. I didn't think they'd get anything more than a point against Portsmouth but their nerves held, they scored well with two clear goals, the second coming after Palace went ahead. The footage where the players and staff awaited the final whistle from The Valley was great, players celebrating straight away with each other, the crowd likewise and then the home pitch swapped with fans in jubilation.
Commiserations to Palace, Southampton and Norwich. They took it to the final game and I wish them the best in returning back up. Sunderland have done it, Wigan have waited ten years to come up. Those relegated three with Premiership experience, particularly Southampton, have the capabilities to bounce back next season.