Report Card: Tottenham, West Brom, West Ham, Wigan & Wolves
We wrap up a week of 'rating and slating' on FourFourTwo.com with a look at the five teams ranked lowest when it comes to that darned alphabet. Our ratings are a reflection of pre-season expectations and the campaign as a whole - not just the Premier League...
League position: 5th - W16 D14 L8 F55 A46 Pts62
FA Cup: Fourth Round
Carling Cup: Third Round
Champions League: Quarter-finalists
Had you approached any realistic Tottenham fan at the start of the season with the offer of a Champions League quarter-final and a fifth placed finish in the Premier League, they would probably have accepted it as a more than adequate campaign.
Few wouldÃ¢ÂÂve had Harry RedknappÃ¢ÂÂs side down as likely winners of Group A when they were drawn alongside FC Twente, Werder Bremen and holders Inter - but thanks largely to a commendable if naÃÂ¯ve commitment to attacking football, they topped the group with 11 points. Even if the manner of their dismantling at the hands of Real Madrid in the quarterfinals served as a reminder of how far they are from the very top, highly impressive wins at home to Inter and away to AC Milan will live long in the memory.
Yet, despite making a considerable splash during their first dip in Michel PlatiniÃ¢ÂÂs big fancy swimming pool, this season should be considered one of missed opportunities on the domestic front. They were eliminated from both cups in humiliating fashion, while a string of disappointing home results in the spring cost them any chance of taking the race for a top four spot to the wire.
While only Wigan left White Hart Lane with three points, the Lilywhites drew nine home matches, including clashes with West Ham, West Brom and Blackpool during the run-in. In fact, RedknappÃ¢ÂÂs men took just 11 points from ten matches against the bottom five, twelve fewer than Manchester City managed in the same fixtures. ItÃ¢ÂÂs not a stretch to conclude this is where Spurs fell short - and William Gallas and Rafael van der Vaart have said as much themselves.
While Harry Redknapp was quick to dismiss fansÃ¢ÂÂ concerns by reasoning that catching City was a nigh-on impossible task given the clubsÃ¢ÂÂ respective budgets, Yaya ToureÃ¢ÂÂs alleged gargantuan wages werenÃ¢ÂÂt what stopped Spurs scoring a goal in 180 minutes against a West Ham side who finished bottom, and merely bettering last seasonÃ¢ÂÂs points total by one wouldÃ¢ÂÂve seen them finish joint-second.
The club are already feeling the first effects of failing to return to European footballÃ¢ÂÂs top table next term, with the likes of Luka Modric, Gareth Bale and Sandro being linked with moves away from N17. While itÃ¢ÂÂs questionable whether RedknappÃ¢ÂÂs apathetic claim that this season was Ã¢ÂÂas good as itÃ¢ÂÂs gonna getÃ¢ÂÂ will encourage his stars that their long-term futures lie at White Hart Lane, his evident popularity with those regularly involved in the first team should see most commit to the club for at least another 12 months - which Ã¢ÂÂappily for Ã¢ÂÂarry is about how long heÃ¢ÂÂll be planning to hang around himselfÃ¢ÂÂ¦
STAR MAN Luka Modric. While Gareth Bale and Rafael van der Vaart hogged the headlines (and the above picture), the 5ft7 schemer was the man who really made Tottenham tick. They simply must hold onto him.
Words: James Maw
West Bromwich Albion
League position: 11th - W12 D11 L15 F56 A71 Pts47
FA Cup: Third round
League Cup: Quarter-finals
West Bromwich Albion supporters are well versed in the art of success followed by failure, having seesawed to and from the top tier on four occasions since 2001/02. So avoiding relegation with so much to spare will have been particularly pleasing, despite having to dispose of their manager halfway through.
Roberto Di Matteo had guided Albion out of the Championship at the first attempt, but fans could be forgiven expecting yet another tale of woe among the big boys as champions Chelsea welcomed them back with a 6-0 drubbing.
But the former Blue had other ideas, as his side embarked on an eight-match unbeaten run over September and October. A 3-2 victory at Arsenal preceded a 2-2 draw at Manchester United Ã¢ÂÂ with the Baggies the only team to pick up anything at Old Trafford all season Ã¢ÂÂ and progression to the last eight of the League Cup, all done in the style you would expect from the Italian.
All appeared rosy in the West Midlands, but the storm clouds were circling as West BromÃ¢ÂÂs fortunes took a dramatic turn for the worse. A 4-1 win at Everton was a rare highlight as the Baggies lost 13 of 18 games in all competitions, with a 3-0 loss at Manchester City in early February proving the straw that broke Di MatteoÃ¢ÂÂs back, with results steadily conspiring against the Italian.
Two places, and two points, above the relegation zone after 25 games played; supporters had seen this all before. Yet few would have predicted what was to follow. Roy Hodgson, fresh from his humiliating ousting at Anfield, took the reins just in time to see them take a 3-0 half-time lead against West HamÃ¢ÂÂ¦ only to draw 3-3.
But that collapse would be as stressful as it would get for the Hawthorns faithful, as WoyÃ¢ÂÂs structured and disciplined approach Ã¢ÂÂ which had worked wonders for Fulham Ã¢ÂÂ began to have a similar effect on Albion.
The Baggies were beaten just twice in their final 13 outings to comfortably finish eight points clear of danger. And having blown a three-goal lead in the opening game of the Hodgson era, West Brom ended the season by coming from 3-0 down to draw at Newcastle.
The challenge now is to replicate that mid-table finish, which alone should breed confidence among supporters Ã¢ÂÂ so used to struggling at the foot of the top division. Keeping top scorer Peter Odemwingie will go a long way to achieving that goal, as well as strengthening in defence. Gareth McAuley has already arrived from Ipswich, while hot prospect Craig Dawson, who spent the season on loan at former club Rochdale in League One, awaits the opportunity to prove his worth at the highest level.
STAR MAN Peter Odemwingie. The NigerianÃ¢ÂÂs 15 league goals played no small part in the club preserving their top-flight status Ã¢ÂÂ 25 of the BaggiesÃ¢ÂÂ 47 points came from games in which he found the back of the net.
Words: Gregg Davies
West Ham United
League position: 20th Ã¢ÂÂ W7 D12 L19 F43 A70 Pts33
FA Cup: Quarter-finals
League Cup: Semi-finals
After surviving the drop last season, West Ham succumbed to AvramGrant-itis: having a nice cup run but finishing the season relegated.
No doubt reaching the FA Cup quarter-finals and the League Cup semis were two massive achievements, but with nothing coming at the end of either journey, all each campaign did was distract from the league battle and deprive an injury-wracked squad of rest time. While the cup runs did bring some happy moments for the fans - not least a freak thumping of Manchester United in the League Cup - ultimately, they will have been small comfort to fans still fondly remembering glory days.
West Ham should have stayed up. Indeed, they were doing just that in March, but one point from their last eight fixtures condemned them to the Championship. In contrast, survivors Wigan took 12 in the same period.
There were some bad ventures in the transfer market. Winston Reid may be young and have a World Cup goal to his name, rare in New Zealand, but he was never going to live up to a ÃÂ£4 million fee. Pablo Barrera, with the same pricetag, never looked the part. Then came the loans. Victor Obinna was fast but lacking in direction, Robbie Keane seemed unmotivated and Wayne Bridge endured a nightmare debut against Arsenal, at fault for all three of the GunnersÃ¢ÂÂ goals. And when youÃ¢ÂÂre paying an overweight striker ÃÂ£1.5 million just to leave you alone, as happened with Benni McCarthy, you have to question whether the clubÃ¢ÂÂs finances were being prudently handled.
But West Ham had bad luck, too. Gary OÃ¢ÂÂNeil performed well before he was Reo-Cokered and Thomas Hitzlsperger, out with a thigh injury, didnÃ¢ÂÂt make his bow until February, leading fans to wonder Ã¢ÂÂWhat if?Ã¢ÂÂ as he marked his first two appearances by setting up two goals and scoring a stunner himself.
At least Demba Ba was a superb acquisition. The Senegalese forward scored more goals in his 12 appearances than any other West Ham player managed all season. What happens to him now remains to be seen.
In short, West Ham had the players to avoid the drop Ã¢ÂÂ but not the manager. The only question was whether more blame should fall on Avram Grant, a leader so uninspiring he famously left a rabble-rousing team-talk to captain Scott Parker, or the board for appointing then sticking with him.
But West Ham will be back Ã¢ÂÂ most likely next season, if Sam Allardyce can work his magic.
STAR MAN Scott Parker. Who else? Hammer of the Year for a third season running, his stock has risen indescribably, even if his one-man crusade against relegation did eventually fail.
Words: Huey Davies
League position: 16th Ã¢ÂÂ W9 D15 L14 F40 A61 Pts 42
FA Cup: Fourth Round
League Cup: Quarter-finals
Complete with record-breaking signings, a snazzy new kit and a raft of weaker-looking teams to keep them off the bottom, Wigan must have had relatively high hopes for the 2010/11 season. Yet things looked less rosy going into the final seven games, as the Latics sat rock bottom of the league with five away games to come.
What had happened? Most of all, Wigan lacked consistency: terrific results (a smash Ã¢ÂÂnÃ¢ÂÂ grab 2-2 draw with Arsenal) were followed by dire displays (a terrible showing in a 1-0 loss to Newcastle), and dire displays (a 6-0 home hammering from Chelsea) were followed by terrific results (a 1-0 win at Tottenham). This was a team that won its first back-to-back league matches under Martinez after nearly two years in charge, in the final two games of the season.
On the plus side, James McCarthy, signed from Hamilton, proved what a rising star he is Ã¢ÂÂ not to be confused with James McArthur, signed from Hamilton, who didnÃ¢ÂÂt.
Ali Al-Habsi was an inspired signing on loan from Bolton, pulling off a string of unlikely saves throughout the season to keep his team in the hunt. With the Omani keeper on top form, Wigan werenÃ¢ÂÂt as porous at the back as last season, yet they lacked a serious and reliable threat upfront, too often relying upon Charles Nzogbia to dig them out of a hole. For an attacking side, albeit not a great one, Wigan rarely troubled the net Ã¢ÂÂ in fact, only Birmingham scored fewer goals. Part of this, of course, was down to the failure of Mauro Boselli, WiganÃ¢ÂÂs record signing at ÃÂ£6.5m, who failed to score in the league and was shipped off to Genoa on loan.
Ultimately, Wigan pulled it out of the bag at the very end, most memorably with an incredible comeback against West Ham, dooming the Hammers to relegation.
That second half demonstrated the LaticsÃ¢ÂÂ strong will. Roberto Martinez is obviously handy with a half-time team talk: across the season, his charges gained eight points from losing or drawing positions in the second half. Indeed, half of RodallegaÃ¢ÂÂs goals under Martinez have come in the 15 minutes after the break Ã¢ÂÂ thereÃ¢ÂÂs definitely something in the oranges.
Is mere survival a success? Yes. But they donÃ¢ÂÂt appear to be improving. Perhaps this last gasp escape will act as a kick up the backside...
STAR MAN Charles N'Zogbia. Goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi was superb, but had it not been for the French wide-man's four goals in three matches at the end of the season, Wigan would be down.
Words: Huey Davies
League position: 17th place - W11 D7 L20 F46 A66 40pts
FA Cup: Fourth Round
League Cup: Fourth Round
Although understandably celebrated as joyfully as any cup win, Survival Sunday was the finale to a season on which Wolves have to improve. They finished two places lower than last year's 15th, they were in the drop zone after 28 of the 38 rounds and didn't notch consecutive league victories until May Ã¢ÂÂ but that timing says a lot for their bottle.
Although Mick McCarthy may not have the most talented squad in the top flight, few managers can call upon so many who will Ã¢ÂÂ to use Mick's words Ã¢ÂÂ "put a shift in". They beat Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool, in addition to beating local rivals West Brom, Aston Villa and Birmingham, and not just through scrapping.
After the dour 2009/10 vintage, this season Wolves became far more expansive Ã¢ÂÂ literally: no team put more crosses in. Although they lost and conceded more than the previous term, they also collected more wins, points and goals. Kevin Doyle, Steven Fletcher, Matt Jarvis, Jamie O'Hara and Stephen Hunt give them the firepower, but McCarthy needs to improve the players behind them.
If Wolves are to leap up the table, it won't be by throwing money at the transfer market. Since promotion in 2009 they've spent relatively little, with the ÃÂ£6.5m fees for Kevin Doyle and then Steven Fletcher accompanied by three or four ÃÂ£2-3m signings per summer.
Even so, McCarthy has had the most success by astutely plucking lower-league players with the ability to make the step up: Jarvis (signed from Gillingham), Kevin Foley (Luton) and George Elokobi (Colchester) have all featured in the Premier League more regularly than, say, Jelle van Damme (a ÃÂ£2.5m signing from Anderlecht last summer who was back in Belgium by Christmas).
McCarthy obviously has good feelers in the Football League and he may need them again if Jarvis is bought by a bigger club. But don't expect Mick to throw all the incoming cash at one player; he's far more likely to strengthen the squad, and may even have a ready-made replacement in Michael Kightly Ã¢ÂÂ signed from Grays, excellent in the Championship, injured almost ever since.
This cash-careful philosophy sits well at Wolves. The club is financially secure and well-run Ã¢ÂÂ debt-free, and only the big earners Arsenal and Manchester United spend a lower percentage of turnover on wages Ã¢ÂÂ and owner Steve Morgan believes Wolves can establish themselves in the top flight without risking the lot. He was right this season, but only just.
Within 24 hours of surviving relegation the club commenced a 12-month ÃÂ£16 million redevelopment of the Stan Cullis Stand into a two-tier affair. That will only tweak the capacity up from 29,000 to 31,000 but there are further options which would raise capacity to 36,000 and then even to 50,000. Whether these expansions are affordable or desirable will depend on the level Wolves are playing at, but in an economy conspicuously underpinned by borrowing and leveraging Ã¢ÂÂ in football as elsewhere Ã¢ÂÂ it's good to see a club retain both ambition and sense.
STAR MAN Matt Jarvis. An obvious choice for a reason. The former Surrey breast
troke champion helped Wolves find pleasing width and deserved his England call-up.
Words: Gary Parkinson
Report Card: Arsenal, Aston Villa, Birmingham, Blackburn & Blackpool
Report Card: Bolton, Chelsea, Everton, Fulham & Liverpool
Report Card: Man City, Man Utd, Newcastle, Stoke & Sunderland