What a strange season this has been. We have our second highest points total at this stage of the season since we were promoted in 2013, we are virtually guaranteed safety and will therefore have at least seven seasons in the Premier League. The best we have ever done previously since 1905 is four consecutive seasons in the top division, so why is everyone so unhappy?
Since the new year our form has been more or less win one, lose one with the odd draw thrown in. If we had kept that up for the whole season we would end up with at least 50 points. We have dished out Manchester City’s sole home defeat (so far) and thrashed Leicester City and Burnley away from home. If we keep up our current form (and Bournemouth and West Ham continue their miserable form) we could finish in the top half of the table.
So why are so many people saying Roy Hodgson should go at the end of the season?
Personally, I cannot understand it. My view was and has been that Hodgson has been the best manager we have had for years, if not ever. He has a training regime which is tried and tested, he has spent virtually no money since he came in and has been proven tactically clever enough to get the results to keep us comfortably away from the relegation zone. Yes, we hovered above it before Christmas but since then we have steadily moved away from danger.
If I was being harsh I would say we are following in the footsteps of Charlton Athletic supporters and becoming spoilt and entitled, thinking we should be winning every match as a matter of right. I am, however, not that harsh and I think it would be more accurate to say we are suffering from “be careful what you wish for” syndrome.
At the start of Frank de Boer’s (very short) reign, I longed for a season of steady, unexciting, mid-table mediocrity. We all know how that ended up. However, after the thrilling end to last season, we all (including me) dreamt of a whole season playing fast intricate attacking football with a solid defensive base at the other end. Sadly, we have only seen glimpses of that style of football this season and when we have, often we have ended up peppering the opposition goal without scoring. What we have ended up with is a season where we have been fairly predictable, generally beating the teams we should, and losing to the better teams with some draws thrown in against Arsenal and Manchester United. The gleaming exception is the defeat of City of course. That, however, is not that exciting a season.
Clearly losing home and away to Brighton and our other (sort of) rivals Watford has hurt and the disappointment of the cup defeat to the Hornets (again!) has not helped the mood.
In many ways, this season has resembled the 2005-6 season in the Championship. We had a squad designed to bounce straight back up to the Premiership and although we ended up in the play offs we never really generated enough momentum to push us into the automatic promotion places. Every time we won a couple of matches we would come unstuck with a draw or a loss and then have to start again. The disappointment of the home defeat to Watford in the play off semi final capped off an underwhelming campaign. Similarly this season we recently have had the promise of the Leicester City and Burnley away wins snuffed out by the Brighton home loss and the Watford cup defeat.
The difference of course is that in 2005-6 we were freshly relegated from the Premiership and had top two aspirations. This season we might have dreamed of a top 6/7 finish but previous history would suggest that was likely to stay a dream. Mid-table respectability with a fairly predictable but unspectacular strategy was always more realistic and that is what we have got.
At the moment every win is met with a relieved smile and a shrug and every loss is treated like it is the end of the world with much raging at Roy Hodgson for poor tactics, team selection and substitutions. The reality is we are likely to end up mid table (ish) at the worst without enduring long spells in the relegation zone. Based on our recent seasons that is solid (but clearly not spectacular) progression. For me, that is not to be sniffed at and another season like this will be fine with me. Of course I want more and better but being realistic I am happy enough.
There is also the other side of the “be careful what you wish for” saying. I am sure two of Roy’s former clubs Fulham and West Brom would be absolutely delighted to be in the sorry state we are in. Okay, Liverpool might not be but we are not quite Liverpool yet, despite the wishes it seems of some Palace supporters.