As promised in Part 1 of this post, here we go with the bottom half of the table.
SWANSEA CITY are the newest club to debut in the Premier League and also the first Welsh club since 1992 to play in it. And they have done spectacularly well for their first season. Coach Brendan Rodgers rode a mixture of skill and spunk to lead his wards on an impossible quest last season. The Swans were relentless away from home and very difficult to break down at home in Liberty Stadium. The club made the big guys play hard for their points and even Sir Alex Ferguson praised the work ethic of the new team. This of course attracted unwanted attention as, at the end of the season, Swansea lost their manager to Liverpool. But even so, Swansea took a parting shot, ensuring a contract with Rodgers that prevented him from poaching any players off the Swans’ squad to build the Liverpool squad. Swansea have shown determination to fight in their first season and they look to be here to stay. New manager, Michael Laudrup, has already gone on a buying spree and has promised supporters that the coming seasons would see his team performing better and finishing higher in the league table.
NORWICH CITY were the second of the three promotees to the EPL last year. Paul Lambert guided his side well from the lower divisions to earn two successive promotions finally landing up in the big boys’ league. Captain Grant Holt has led his side by example for the last few years and the team has responded well. While they do not boast the quality or facilities of one of the heavy weights of the league, the Canaries are known to pull their own weight, making life especially difficult for sides visiting Carrow Road. Norwich, however, will start the new season on the back foot after Lambert was poached by Aston Villa. New manager, Chris Hughton, has huge shoes to fill and will have his work cut out if he wants to see his side survive in the top league in England.
SUNDERLAND were in the thick of things last season. Unfortunately, none of the publicity was due to their playing form (or lack thereof). Instead, the side courted controversy when manager Steve Bruce was sacked from the top job four days after his side slumped to a 2-1 loss at home to bottom of the table Wigan. The arrival of Martin O’Neill at the top turned Sunderland’s season around as they went on a giant killing spree claiming the scalps of Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool while drawing the game with fierce rivals Newcastle United. The Black Cats did finally run out of steam towards the end of the season going down 4-0 to Wigan and finally finishing only 13th in the table but Martin O’Neill had made a statement of intent as had his wards. O’Neill will begin his first full (hopefully!) season with Sunderland next week and given his choice of selections may yet be able to put Sunderland in a position to claim European football next season. The mid table clubs would do well to not take Sunderland lightly as they have proven able rivals to even the top teams especially at home at the Stadium of Light.
STOKE CITY: Tony Pulis pulled off a coup of sorts when he was able to sign Tottenham and England striker Peter Crouch to Stoke City. The Potters were having the time of their lives as they managed to qualify to the knockout stages of the Europa League out of a group that boasted the likes of Beşiktaş, Dynamo Kyiv and Maccabi Tel Aviv. Stoke however were drawn opposite Spanish giant Valencia and expectedly got dumped out of the Europa Round of 32. In the EPL, activity was on a simmer as Stoke churned out match results being highly erratic in performance. While Crouch upfront had provided much needed teeth to the attack, the midfield creativity was definitely lacking and more than once the final pass to Crouch was missing. This season Stoke have failed to qualify for European football but the taste of it must linger from last year and keep the players interested enough to fight for European football in the coming season. Stoke City could provide an exciting mid table spark as the clubs vie for a qualifying spot in Europa league in the EPL and/or the FA Cup.
WIGAN ATHLETIC: For the last three seasons, Wigan Athletic have epitomised the survivor spirit of the EPL as Roberto Martinez has kept the club afloat for the last 3 years. The same story repeats itself every year. Come March and Wigan find themselves languishing in the relegation zone with only a bunch of games to go. Then the club miraculously rejuvenates and fights tooth and nail to climb out of the death zone. This does beg the question as to what could be if they played like this throughout the season rather than the last 6 weeks. Wigan had a decent start to the season but quickly slumped to eight straight defeats. Between August and February, the Latics managed to win only four of their matches sparking predictions that they would get relegated to the Championship. However, Martinez and his men had other ideas as they surged late to record seven wins in nine matches including the prized scalps of Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United and Newcastle United. Wigan finished 15th in the season, 7 points clear of the relegation zone but the DW Stadium faithful will pray that their side spares them the late season heartburn and ensuing calisthenics this season.
ASTON VILLA‘s campaign started off on the wrong foot when Alex McLeish was signed as the new manager following the exit of Gerard Houllier on health grounds. McLeish’s appointment was mired with controversy with his previous club, Birmingham City filing a complaint claiming he was still under contract while Aston Villa claiming he signed as a free agent. To make matter worse, McLeish’s appointment was not received well by supporters chiefly due to his being the manager of city rivals, Birmingham City. There were mass protests in games at Villa Park as well as at the club’s training grounds and even the signings of Shay Given and Charles N’Zogbia were not enough to appease the irate fans. Aston Villa, then, floundered a good start to the season slumping to new lows. The only bright spot in the otherwise non-descript season was a surprise win over Chelsea. The club however had a horrible season by most standards finishing 16th overall in the process also setting the unwanted club record of least wins at home (4). McLeish paid for it with his job as he was sacked a day after the season wrapped up going down in history as the club’s worst manager in terms of percentage wins. Star Norwich manager, Paul Lambert will be taking over the reigns at the helm of Villa Park and the management have reposed a lot of faith in the new manager to elevate the club back to its old glory days especially after escaping relegation by the skin of their teeth.
QUEENS PARK RANGERS are the last of the promotees and also the last of the clubs to make the cut last season. The London club was, expectedly, totally overshadowed by its more illustrious city neighbours but what the club lacked in skill they made up with effort and heart. But diligence can only get you so far in the toughest league in the world and very soon QPR found themselves in what was described by the club’s management “in a dangerous position”. The club was placed 17th and the 1-2 home defeat to Norwich set into motion a string of events that culminated with the sacking of incumbent manager, Neil Warnock and the appointment of ex-Fulham manager, Mark Hughes. Hughes was able to raise the performance of the club sufficiently to escape relegation and on the last day of the season QPR became part of a fateful match with would-be champions Manchester City. Before their respective matches, Manchester City lead Manchester United on points. Wayne Rooney’s solitary goal at the Stadium of Light sealed the victory for Manchester United and it was upto QPR to seal the title for United in their simultaneous match with City. Pablo Zabaleta scored for City and at half time it looked like the title was heading to the Etihad after 40 odd years. Djibril Cisse however equalised for QPR in the early minutes of the second half and with a man down, QPR went up on City through Mackie’s goal. City then went on an all out offence but failed to break down the gutsy defence of the Londoners and at the 90 minute mark it was still 2-1 in favour of QPR. Then in a flurry of attacks City scored 2 goals in as many minutes through strikes from Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero to seal the title. QPR however survived the relegation and lived to tell the tale. In the new season, much would be expected of the club under their new manager, especially after their promising play at the end of season. Their best player Joey Barton, who also happened to be their captain, also happens to be a temperamental and volatile fellow on the pitch. He has been stripped of the captaincy and was also left out of the club’s Malaysian tour following an FA inquiry that found him guilty of physical violence on multiple counts.
Bolton Wanderers, Blackburn Rovers and Wolverhampton Wanderers were the three teams to be relegated to the Championship last season. They will be replaced in the top flight by Reading, Southampton and West Ham United.