Six of One – Do players get let off the hook in a relegation scrap?
Six of One takes a look at the week’s big sporting issues.
This week, we consider the Curious Case of West Bromwich Albion. After an unlikely resurgence at Old Trafford, we’re asking whether it’s players, not managers, who should take more of the blame for a doomed campaign…
Should players take more of the flak?
The hardy West Bromwich Albion supporters who headed up to a rainy Manchester on Sunday have had little to celebrate in 2017-18, and probably headed up north expecting relegation to be all but rubber-stamped. Instead, they live to fight another day, with popular caretaker Darren Moore securing only their fourth win of a horror show of a campaign.
The Baggies ripped up the script at Old Trafford to put in a performance full of pride, grit and determination, and fully deserved to head back to the Midlands with all three points thanks to Jay Rodriguez’s second-half stooping header. Their long-suffering away fans more than deserve some late season cheer. The big question is – why has it only arrived now when it’s too little, too late?
Firstly, a quick case for the defence. It’s not uncommon for teams staring down the barrel in any league to enjoy a new lease of life when the exhausting threat of relegation finally gives way to inevitability.
With the pressure off, there are countless examples of strange results at the end of the season when a team freed from disappointment suddenly ups their game to the shock of their opponents. Let’s look at a case in point from last season’s Premier League campaign.
Hull City fans won’t forget already relegated Sunderland’s visit in May 2017 in a hurry. The Tigers, impressive at home under Marco Silva, welcomed the Black Cats to the KC Stadium fully expecting an easy three points to move them a step closer to safety. Instead David Moyes’ side notched up a rare away victory that did neither team any good. The Tigers never recovered. Funny things can, and often do, happen, at the end of the season where pressure (or a lack of it) affect teams in very different ways.
Different managers, same results
Now, the prosecution. West Brom’s inspired performance on Sunday suggests this group of players – who, let’s not forget, finished 10th last season – still have enough latent talent within their ranks to pull off a memorable victory against a Big Six side.
Neutrals looking at The Baggies squad would be hard-pressed not to vouch for their depth being far stronger than this season’s promoted clubs, with the Premier League nous required to be nowhere near the relegation spots.
Yet they have completely failed to consistently perform this season – despite two vastly experienced managers being at the helm in Tony Pulis and Alan Pardew.
Yes, both Pards and Pulis have become perennial figures of fun in English football for their revolving cameo roles in the Premier League’s managerial merry-go-round, but few pundits would have predicted two such vastly experienced figures would muster a paltry 18 points between them this season (Gary Megson picking up two inbetween).
Both managers adopt vastly different styles, and yet couldn’t get a rise out of a respectable Premier League squad. That suggests, in a season where mistakes have been made at all levels of the club, the root cause of their decline falls firmly with the players who have all too often resembled extras from The Walking Dead.
Taxigate in Barcelona is now seen as the defining moment of Alan Pardew’s reign with the club, with many pundits pointing out that the incident would not have occurred under a disciplinarian like Pulis. Despite several of the elder statesmen of the squad fronting up and taking responsibility for the incident, the club’s dramatic fall from grace subsequently led to the bulk of fan and media ire falling on the hapless Pardew and away from players who for weeks have looked like they are already dreaming of life after the Hawthorns.
Game management – should it all be in the manager’s hands?
With social media fuelling an insatiable rush amongst fans and pundits alike for instant scapegoats, managers nearly always fall headfirst into the firing line. But there’s only so much one man can do to control events on the pitch.
Sometimes players – particularly experienced pros – need to stand up and be counted in managing difficult spells within a game. On countless occasions this season, the Baggies have been unable to weather a storm even when playing well in patches during a game – and it’s one of the main reasons they will be playing Championship football in August for the first time since 2009-2010.
One team who would actively welcome the prospect of Championship football next season are Sunderland. Hugely experienced managers including Martin O’Neill, Gus Poyet, David Moyes, Simon Grayson and Chris Coleman have failed season after season to get a song out of a nucleus of players that should at the very least be competitive at Premier League and Championship level.
Are they all bad managers?
After years of turning against the man in the dugout, the finger of blame has rightly been firmly pointed on an underperforming squad for this season’s failings. The 50,000-seater Stadium of Light is now set to host third tier football for only the second time in Sunderland’s 139-year history, mostly due to gutless home performances from Black Cats players.
Relegation can have its upsides – particularly when it allows clubs the chance to take stock, clear dead wood and bring through a new generation of hungry players. Baggies and Black Cats fans will be hoping that, once the pain subsides, the post-mortems will be ruthless in freshening up two stale-looking squads.
Should players take more of the blame for relegation?
Follow us and tweet @Marathonbet
All image sources from PA Images
Read more Six of One debates here.