After 37 games of mostly s**t football, my team Wolverhampton Wanderers could be back in the Championship come 6pm on May 22. Survival Sunday, as Sky Sports have so creatively dubbed it, sees us, Birmingham, Blackburn, Wigan and Blackpool fighting it out to retain Premier League status. It’s squeaky bum time, ladies and gentleman.
Just thinking about tumbling back to the nether regions of English football’s second tier fills me with sickening dread. Why couldn’t I have been born in a town or city with a football team that at least ambled to mid-table obscurity in the top flight every season? No, my b****y parents had to stay rooted in Wolverhampton, thus consigning me to a lifetime of utter misery supporting one of English football’s biggest underachievers.
Of all the sides facing relegation, we are the only one that has home advantage this weekend. The Wolves fans know a win against Blackburn would guarantee us top flight football for a third consecutive season. Our opponents will also secure safety if they pick up three points at Molineux, while a draw could see one or both of us banished back to the Championship depending on other results.
Only one point separates us from Blackpool and Wigan, with both sides playing away at Manchester United and Stoke respectively this weekend. Meanwhile, Birmingham head to Tottenham knowing an unlikely win at White Hart Lane against a side fighting for a Europa League spot could keep them up.
I’ve spent the week agonising over the permutations of what a draw against Blackburn would mean should our relegation rivals pick up away wins. And what’s happens if we lose? We’d then have to rely on other teams’ results, a prospect that chills me to the bone even in the swelteringly hot surrounds of Dubai. Premier League survival could even go down to goal difference, it’s that b****y close.
But I cling to a small glimmer of hope, knowing a Wolves win will keep us up irrespective of whether Blackpool hammer Man United in front of those insufferable glory supporters assembled at Old Trafford or Wigan smash Stoke in Staffordshire.
Mick in particular has made mistakes, putting striker Steven Fletcher on the wing when the bloke is clearly our best goal scorer and failing to bring in any decent defenders
Having amassed 40 points, we’d already be contemplating another season of Premier League football in years gone by. Not this time. Only West Ham, a side that has consistently played more sh*t football than any other team during the past nine months, have slipped through the trapdoor. But there’s no point moaning about our predicament – we just have to beat Blackburn to remain in the league and continue surrendering six points to most other teams throughout the 2011-12 campaign.
And I wouldn’t want it any other way. If someone offered me the chance to breach Angelina Jolie’s defence or spend another season watching Wolves regularly drop points to Premier League opposition I’d settle for the latter. In 18 years of supporting the old Gold and Black, we’ve only spent three seasons in English football’s top flight. The rest are littered with miserable play-off exits, long away trips to the likes of Grimsby and Plymouth where we’d inevitably lose, and countless seasons of continuous underachievement.
God knows, watching Wolves this season has been hard work. A mixture of s**t performances, baffling tactics courtesy of manager ‘super’ Mick McCarthy and some shocking refereeing decisions have contributed to our season-long struggle. Mick in particular has made mistakes, putting striker Steven Fletcher on the wing when the bloke is clearly our best goal scorer, failing to bring in any decent defenders, consistently playing left-back George Elokobi even though he’s s**t (sorry George, but you ain’t no Roberto Carlos)… The list goes on.
But there have been some high points this season, such as home victories against Man United (Wolves were the first team to beat them in the league this season), Chelsea and Man City, and surprising away wins at against Aston Villa and Liverpool when Woy Hodgson was still in charge of the scousers. We also beat “the sh**t”, or West Bromwich Albion 3-1 as they are better known, at home a few weeks ago, followed by a 3-1 win at Sunderland last Saturday to keep our Premier League dream alive.
Sam Allardyce, a boyhood Wolves fan born in Dudley, has been touted – a candidate I wouldn’t object to based on his record of establishing teams in the Premier League.
As for Sunday, I expect a drab, cagey affair between us and Blackburn with both sides sharing a point. I can’t see two of the other three relegation-threatened teams winning away from home, ensuring a party atmosphere at Molineux among the Wolves and Blackburn supporters. Elsewhere, it will be the Birmingham and Wigan fans bawling their eyes out on Sky once the curtain comes down on the current Premier League campaign.
If we survive, Mick must immediately address the defence. Wolves’ backline has capitulated far too easily this season, so we need a strong centre-back and a left-back who doesn’t go missing for the best part of 90 minutes. McCarthy also needs to play a decent winger on the right as defenders have learned to double up on the impressive Matt Jarvis who usually operates down the left.
The big question is whether Mick McCarthy is good enough to take Wolves to the next level should we stay up. I’m not convinced he is, so perhaps bringing in a new manager might be the answer. It worked for West Brom when they sacked Roberto Di Matteo and brought in Woy Hodgson mid-season following his dismal showing at Liverpool. Sam Allardyce, a boyhood Wolves fan born in Dudley, has been touted – a candidate I wouldn’t object to based on his record of establishing teams in the Premier League.
All the noises coming from the board suggest Mick will be in charge next season regardless of which division we’re in. But now is not the time to debate whether he is the right man for the job. The task in hand is to beat Blackburn and make sure the old Gold and Black retains its Premier League status. Over to you, Mick.
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