Congratulations to Birmingham, Preston North End, Sheff Utd, Burnley & Reading; damnation for Joey Barton
Additional to the congratulations to Wolves for their clinching of promotion and the Championship title, the English Football League Championship has finished and further congratulations go to Birmingham on reaching the automatic-promotion packed 2nd place with an away win at Reading. That defeat meant Reading, Sheff Utd, Burnley and Preston North End will all battle in the play-offs for the coveted third avenue to promotion to the proverbial 'big league'.
Is there a favourite of anyone's to emerge at the end? I personally would like either Burnley or PNE. Nothing against Sheff Utd nor Reading, but neither of the other two teams have been in the Premiership. But a favourite for who I think will go through is Reading. It will be a tight battle as we've seen Burnley grab a few Premiership scalps and can produce good attacking football and so can Reading. I think PNE will have to battle deep to get through and Sheff Utd likewise.
Now for the commiserations. Former Premiership teams Norwich City, Southampton and Charlton Athletic have gone down further into League One. I find it being something else to link League One with those teams, they seemed better than to be dropping leagues. They were, to me, definite Championship material and then questionable Premiership quality, not questionable Championship material and then poor enough to drop into League One.
Four seasons back, Norwich was in the Premiership, doesn't seem that long ago. They relegated alongside Southampton that season. Charlton's fall was as recent as two seasons ago. The likes of Jeremy Goss, Robert Fleck, Steve Bruce; Darren Huckerby, Gary Doherty, Leon McKenzie of Norwich. Mick Channon, Matt Le Tissier, Alan Shearer; Theo Walcott, David Prutton, Brett Ormerod for Southampton. Clive Mendonca, John Robinson, Scott Parker; Darren Ambrose, Richard Rufus, Darren Bent. Seems a shame.
My last note is on Joey Barton. What is it that needs to happen for this young man to actually wise up? Newcastle United, one from rock bottom in the Premier League, go off to face Liverpool, at Anfield, a team who are biting at the bits in chasing Man Utd for the title, therefore are fevering for three points, have lost only twice in the league thus far, who thrashed Newcastle at St James' Park 1-5. Alan Shearer is in control and chooses Barton to spearhead the assist behind Mark Viduka as the lone striker, with Peter Lovenkrands and Obafemi Martin either side of Barton on the flanks. A 4-2-3-1, ambitious but a potential to thwart Liverpool's efforts and aid the away side.
That's the plan. But it crumbles with two Liverpool goals in the first half. Not the end of the world, bring the players in, maybe change one or two positions, maybe not, maybe encourage one or two players, a draw could be obtained if nothing else, but fundamental to that is focus. No silly tackles, giving the ball away, needless dangerous free-kicks, keep it simple, keep it safe, keep it firm. And what does Joey Barton do? It's what he didn't do. With Newcastle under attack and the ball going wide with Xabi Alonso following it, Barton just needs to shadow the Spaniard, keep him away from supplying towards goal or passing back to a team-mate.
Here's what Barton did do. He runs up and leaps into a 'tackle', with almost two feet and contacts Alonso on the ankle. A sore injury results to Alonso, thankfully, while Barton pleads innocencebut is straight red-carded nonetheless. Absolute reckless 'challenge', Newcastle a man down, a manager's hopes (which were probably slightly cracked at half-time) just obliterated. Not only that but Barton, looked on as the kind of central attacking midfielder with grit that Shearer needed for the remaining games, is now banned for those remaining games. The one player shouldn't make a difference but you never know.
Those remaining games at home to Middlesbrough and Fulham and lastly away at Villa Park, are pivotal. Middlesbrough cannot seem to score for life, which almost matches the current qualities of their North-East rivals. Fulham, despite now smarting from a Chelsea defeat, still harbour good qualities and intentions for that now all-important seventh spot for Europe. Not to mention Aston Villa, who crucially picked up three points last night to cement their European spot for next season.
Now it is stated that Barton and Shearer came to in the dressing room over Barton's red card, and the player is not only suspended from further games, and out for the rest of the season, but is now suspended from the club "until further notice". Notice that I think he won't be getting from the club. Shearer may move on afterwards but he has some influence at SJP. Would you deny a player like Barton from playing under your management or do you think you can put up with the threat of him behaving in the manner that has him disciplined more by the authorities than actually playing?
I argued for Barton on his return to Newcastle from prison while others consider him too dangerous a threat to any club while playing. I thought prison would curb him, hopefully push him to channel his aggression in the right manner, he could return to football and show us the better side of him. Maybe I was wrong.