It Was a Bad Season For…

It Was a Bad Season For…

High Expectations DashedFootball wouldn’t be football without broken hearts and shattered dreams. That’s the problem with high expectations: there’s only one way they can go. If that seems like a slightly downhearted way to start a season review, ask Roberto Mancini for his take on inflated expectations.

For some, the inevitable pain arrived mercifully quick. Queens Park Rangers ended last season hanging onto survival by their fingernails, but after a summer of spending under the respected manager Mark Hughes, 2012/13 was expected to be start a lot brighter than the previous term's opening 4-0 home defeat to Bolton. Instead, QPR started with a 5-0 home defeat to Swansea. And then got worse.

But Rangers' relegation wasn’t a total surprise – not in the way that, say, Wolves’ demotion to League One was. Widely tipped for promotion at the start of the season, the Midlands club endured a miserable campaign that will have had fans almost wishing for the return of Terry Connor. Almost.

Elsewhere, the likes of Middlesbrough in the Championship and Tranmere Rovers in League One teased their supporters with lightning starts to the season before dropping like Gareth Bale as the season wore on. Both sides ended the campaign marooned in mid-table and will spend the summer trying to convince those fans to reinvest in season tickets for more of the same next time.

But it’s not just clubs who can let you down: players and managers can, too. We all expected more from Wayne Rooney this year than sulky performances and transfer requests and there can’t be many football fans that weren’t disappointed to see James McClean, Grant Holt and Adam Lallana mostly fail to deliver.

Though Robertos Mancini and Di Matteo can count themselves the unlucky victims of high expectations, Harry Redknapp raised expectations himself at QPR before suffering a reality check, while Paul Dickov struggled to match cup success with league form, and Michael Appleton's moves enhanced then ruined his reputation.

Low Expectations RealisedExpectations. Who’d have them? Is it worse to hope for better, only to have your dreams trampled on by 11 sets of studs? Or is it preferable to expect the worst, so that the blow is softened when it eventually does happen?

You could start by asking Barnet supporters how it feels to return to the Conference after three years of dodging the drop (or Wigan fans, come to think of it). You could also ask Portsmouth fans, expecting a rough ride after financial woes, what it’s like to be relegated for a second consecutive season or the Liverpool faithful who feared they’d end the season behind Everton and that Luis Suarez wouldn’t be able to behave himself.

Premier League watchers have learned to expect little in the way of entertainment from Stoke City side and suffice it to say that 33 goals in 38 games (with 14 draws along the way) tells its own story – as does Pulis's subsequent exit.

Throughout the leagues, low expectations were met as the likes of Peterborough, Hartlepool, Bury, Bristol City, Barnsley, and Dagenham & Redbridge all struggled throughout the entire campaign. For most of that group, the season ended with relegation which should do nothing if not raise expectations for next year.

The PlayerAs far as alternative awards go, the FourFourTwo Bad Weekend awards aren't quite up there with the Razzies, but there was still a fiercely fought contest in each category.

From the hundreds of players across the four divisions, a case can be made any number of people – from Leicester City’s Anthony Knockaert, whose season's work will be remembered for just one penalty, to Jamie Cureton, whose fabulous season ended in disappointment when Exeter's failure to reach the play-offs cost him perhaps his last chance of playing in the third tier.

But narrowing down the nominees to just three meant harsh cuts, and it's in the Premier League where the spotlight burns brightest and bad seasons are laid bare.

In third place is Danny Graham. He started the season shivering in the shadow of Michu, who burst into Swansea's team with an opening-day brace and never looked back. Nor did Graham, who disappeared off to Sunderland in January for £5m. As a Geordie on Wearside, Graham was always going to struggle to ingratiate himself to fans but could have done so with goals, goals, goals. Twelve games in, he’s still to score.

Second place goes to Luis Suarez, who undid months of reputation-building with one chomp of Branislav Ivanovic’s arm. The Uruguayan scored 30 goals in all competitions for Liverpool before his on-pitch snack ended his season and worse was to come as his side proved that they don’t necessarily need him, racing to a 6-0 win over Newcastle in their next game before Daniel Sturridge netted a hat-trick at Fulham last week.

But the award has to go to Scott Sinclair, whose first season at Manchester City has gone from bad to progressively worse. Labelled a mercenary for leaving regular football Swansea for the champions’ bench, Sinclair has been limited to just three starts for the Citizens and become very much the forgotten man of the Premier League. Early this month, Sinclair had surgery on his shoulder, ruling him out of the FA Cup Final and the rest of the season. Nobody noticed.

The ManagerThere has to be a place on this list for Stale Solbakken, who arrived in Wolverhampton with an impressive CV, having won five league titles with FC Copenhagen (oh, and overseeing the majority of Cologne’s recent relegation campaign). Solbakken’s record at Wolves wasn’t terrible – compared to Dean Saunders’ – but FA Cup elimination to non-league Luton proved to be the final straw after just five months in charge.

That was a relatively good campaign when compared with that of Michael Appleton. Appleton started the season at Portsmouth, wrestling semi-decent results out of a dispirited and depleted squad of players. With reputation burgeoning, Appleton moved in November to Blackpool where, after winning just two of 12 games in 65 days, he attracted much criticism for switching to Blackburn Rovers. After 67 days in charge at Ewood, Appleton was shown the door.

But the joint winners of this award are Mark Hughes and Harry Redknapp, both of QPR. It was Hughes who oversaw the disastrous start to the season which saw Rangers sink to the bottom of the Premier League. Calls for Hughes’ head, while never reaching the decibels of the jeers directed at Steve Kean or Rafa Benitez this season, reached such volume that eventually Tony Fernandes has no option to fire him. Or did he? Fernandes admitted later that Hughes had only been fired because Redknapp was making noises about taking over Ukraine, forcing the QPR head into action.

With six months of the season remaining, Redknapp should have been able to save QPR but despite the odd decent result, the media darling has led the side to the Championship with the lowest win percentage of any manager in Rangers' Premier League history. Well done ‘arry.

The TeamAldershot Town can lay claim to having the worst season of all 92 clubs, after turning a top-half 2011/12 League Two finish into a campaign that ended with them propping up the Football League – despite a pre-season visit to the EBB Stadium by the Dalai Lama. But the Shots were just the unlucky losers in an amazing League Two relegation battle that saw seven teams scrapping for safety on the last day.

Aston Villa, Wolves, QPR, Hartlepool and Middlesbrough have all appeared regularly in Bad Weekend this season, with Villa at one point being so at home here that they'd applied for planning permission to build a conservatory.

But all of those pale into comparison with the one and only Blackburn Rovers.

Rovers aren't so much a car crash waiting to happen as a car crash that just keeps on happening. Ever since being bought by the clearly bonkers Venky’s a few years ago, the former Premier League champions have been turned into a laughing stock. Whether it's the ridiculous turkey commercials, the 2010 sacking of Sam Allardyce or the hapless relegation under Steve Kean last season, Rovers went into this term as something of a joke club.

Which wasn’t helped when Venky’s eventually lost patience with manager Kean, just when things were going well. Third in the league with only one defeat to their name, Blackburn were riding high when Venky’s gave into fans’ demands and replaced him with Henning Berg.

But Berg was a disaster, leading Rovers to just one win in 10 games before being sacked and replaced with Michael Appleton. Appleton’s failure has been noted above so the season was played out with Gary Bowyer at the helm guiding the side to 17th in the table, four points above the relegation zone. Who knows what would have happened had Jordan Rhodes not been around.

The hope for Blackburn fans must be that the owners take their time to appoint the right man to guide a still talented squad into promotion contention next season. Unfortunately, in the two and a half years since Venky’s bought the club, they haven’t done a single thing to suggest that might be the case. Maybe theye’ll bring Kean back.

But Bad Seasons aside, there’s no doubting one thing: we all loved it.

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